Your lips of tenderness
Oh, I've loved you faithfully and well
Three years, or a bit less
It wasn't a success
Thank God, that's done and I'll take the road
Quit of my youth and you
The Roman road to Wendover
By Tring and Lilley Hoo
As a free man may do
For youth goes over, the joys that fly
The tears that follow fast
And the dirtiest things we do must lie
Forgotten at the last
Even love goes past
What's left behind I shall not find
The splendour and the pain
The splash of sun, the shouting wind
And the brave sting of rain
I may not meet again
But the years that take the best away
Give something in the end
And a better friend than love have they
For none to mar or mend
That have themselves to fend
I shall desire and I shall find
The best of my desires
The autumn road, the mellow wind
That soothes the darkening shires
And laughter, and inn-fires
White mist about the black hedgerows
The slumbering Midland plain
The silence where the clover grows
And the dead leaves in the lane
Certainly, these remain
And I shall find some girl perhaps
And a better one than you
With eyes as wise, but kindlier
And lips as soft, but true
And I dare say she will do"
That poem, The Chilterns, was written by Rupert Brooke in 1916 but in so many respects did it echo the walk ahead, the foundation of TADS, the foundation of this blog, and just life in general and how it pans out that I thought I might try and fool my fellow walkers into thinking I'd written it. It wasn't the first time Brooke had appeared in one of my TADS blogs, 1914's The Soldier kicked off my match report on last August's trip to Cambridge, but now I'm a published poet myself I couldn't help wondering if I could get away with it.
In the end I decided against it. I'm not, at heart, a liar. Not only that, Brooke deserves posthumous respect for his half-bitter, half-resilient ode to both the Chilterns and lost love. If Brooke may seem too highbrow a note to kick off an account of what in effect was essentially an afternoon walk through the countryside perhaps the film Grease (back in theatres as from Friday to mark its forty year anniversary) is more appropriate.
When I decided that April's walk would take us through the Chilterns I liaised with my Grease megafan friend Alex for a suggestion of a snappy title. I knew she'd say I've Got Chilterns, They're Multiplying and she didn't let me down. But by the end of the walk it was blisters, aches, and joint pain that was multiplying.
I'm fairly new to this walk arranging and writing thing and I'd miscalculated the distance by a couple of miles which led to a few understandable gripes, having to miss out a couple of sights in Berkhamsted, and some very sore legs the next morning. It did, also, however, lead to a very well earned pint or two and to Pam totting up a remarkable 46,467 steps in the course of one day. For the second Saturday in a row I'd notched up somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles.
Pain, however, is temporary and though experiences may be, in themselves, fleeting the memories of them stay with us. It'd been a glorious week in England and to be able to spend the best part of a whole day with good friends in beautiful countryside with the sun high in the sky meant that the pleasure had the upper hand over the pain at all times.
Shep, Rachael, Kathy, Pam, and I had met in Marylebone and Bee, Eamon, and Neil had joined us on the train at Harrow-on-the-Hill (Adam and Teresa were otherwise engaged on family duties and Virginie is still on long term maternity leave) which meant we were in Wendover for 1145hrs and ready to make an early start. It was one we'd be needing.
Wendover is a busy little market town. It seems friendly enough but the extraordinary amount of Daily Mails piled up for purchase outside Budgens suggest some of the locals may hold views that may be considered a little reactionary by any sane person.
Notable Wendover residents have included David Jason and former radio and stage wit John Junkin and the town, whose name derives from the Brythonic word for 'white waters', was once part of the property of Anne Boleyn. It looked spectacular under the April skies from the road side, walking down to the church before peeling off to a path on the right that took us along the side of a babbling brook and some pretty cottages to a small lake and the surprisingly large, and immaculately groomed, St.Mary's church.
We were on the Ridgeway proper and not for the first time. The Ridgeway runs for eighty seven miles from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon and though it's an ancient path it was only opened as a national trail as recently as 1973.
The Chiltern Hills cover 322 square miles across the four counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire. They stretch from Goring to near Hitchin (forty six miles) and are eleven miles across at their widest point. Our walk was taking us from Buckinghamshire to Hertfordshire.
It would take us along such evocatively named places as Hogtrout Lane, Cock's Hill, Barn Wood, Grim's Ditch, Hengrave Wood, Northill Wood, Pavis Wood, and through the village of Hastoe and Hastoe Farm where, briefly, the Ridgeway would join with the Icknield Way Trail (a path that goes from Suffolk to the aforementioned Ivinghoe Beacon).
Pavis Wood is the highest point of the not exactly mountainous county of Hertfordshire but many sections were unmarked and it was difficult to ascertain exactly which wood we were in most of the time.
Instead we took delight in cute baby lambs, bluebells stretching as far as the eye could see, and the wonderful effect of dappled light through the surprisingly dense canopy of trees that flanked us for the next five miles or so. At the little village of Hastoe (once closely associated with the Rothschilds and still a wealthy looking place) we passed hundreds of participants in something called The Big Walk and a few bored looking teenagers who appeared to be suffering for their Duke of Edinburgh awards.
Crong pylon and some discarded farm buildings that looked like the set for a horror film led us to a ridge and a break in the trees which offered commanding views of Tring (a place, we learnt, that means a hill with trees on it) before we passed an obelisk and another folly from the day when the gardens of King Charles II's Tring House stretched out for miles all around.
This led us to the village of Wigginton and a well earned pub stop. The Greyhound had a lush, spacious beer garden but as 'Camilla's Baptism' was taking place we couldn't get a table. Nevermind, we'd had plenty of sun. We supped our drinks (Shep took a Side Pocket For A Toad) before departing. It was a pleasant, if unspectacular, pub. We'd seen better but we'd seen much worse.
Taking an alternative route back through Wiggington we rejoined the Ridgeway just as gentle rain began to accompany a gentle breeze. The path took us slowly, and gently, down to an astonishingly high footbridge that got us over the busy A41 (where multiple police cars and an ambulance suggested an accident had taken place), through a few more fields, over the A4251 and on toward Tring Station which doesn't seem to be particularly near to Tring.
Just before you reach Tring Station you pass over and then descend down to the Grand Union Canal and its towpath. This meant we were on our home stretch. I'd estimated this to be three miles but it turned out to be more like five. I sensed I was not the most popular person in the group so I apologised and then strode ahead as if to demonstrate some purpose. Let's say that lessons were learnt!
We passed the oddly named village of Cow Roast (or Cowroast, either option seemed okay), several locks, some donkeys, loads of pretty barges, and I threw a large stick in the canal which make a very satisfying splash as it landed.
Eventually, red-faced, creaking, and dying for a pint, we reached the beautiful canalside town of Berkhamsted. I put on my dictator's hat and insisted we pass the first two pubs, the unremarkable Crystal Palace and The Boat, and continue on to The Rising Sun. The Rising Sun is lovely. A choice of ten real ales on tap (and plenty more in cans, Shep had some weird marshmallow concoction), reductions for CAMRA members, piles of board games and books, quiz nights, dogs, and plenty of seats to leisurely waste one's afternoon in good company by the canal. One of my favourite pubs in the country I think.
I had a pint of Drop Bar from the local Tring brewery and we were soon joined by Rob (who I'd not seen for about four months) who'd driven down from Bicester to join us. We moved on to The Fat Buddha (quite a walk down the long thin but very pretty, check out Carluccio's (!), High Street) where we met with Susannah (who I'd not seen for about four years) who'd got the train up from Hemel Hempstead. It was great to see both Susannah and Rob but it was a pity that Belinda and Neil had had to shoot off early due to Belinda suffering, mostly silently, with a migraine. It was sad that they missed the riverside drinks and the curry but it was sadder still to see a friend in pain.
The fact the walk had taken longer than expected meant there'd not been time to see the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle (a motte-and-bailey Norman specimen built in 1066 by Robert, Count of Mortain, the second Earl of Cornwall and William the Conqueror's half-brother) or Berkhamsted School (founded in 1541 with famous alumni including the architect Zaha Hadid, Michael Meacher, and the novelist Graham Greene).
Robert, Count of Mortain was one of the few proven companions of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and the castle, over nearly one thousand years, has been sieged, used as a palace, and, after falling into ruin in the mid sixteenth century, was nearly destroyed when the London to Birmingham railway was built. As a result of protests against its destruction it became one of Britain's first listed buildings.
Graham Greene's father was a housemaster at Berkhamsted School but the wonderful writer of Brighton Rock, Our Man In Havana, The Quiet American, The Power and The Glory, and The Ministry of Fear appears not to have been over enamoured with his fellow Berkhamstedians (if that's the correct demonym) describing them as 'slitty eyed and devious'.
That certainly didn't prove to be the case on our visit and definitely not in the Fat Buddha. The staff were courteous, quick, the food and beer came promptly, and it tasted great. No wonder the place was so busy. I had paneer moglai, paratha, and, again, shared some pulao rice with Rachael. It was great to catch up and, after Rachael and Kathy departed for their train, we continued the catch up in a couple more pubs before indulging in a game of Heads Up on our train back to Euston (via Hemel Hempstead).
It may've been a tougher walk than planned but I hope I'm not alone in thinking it was also a more beautiful and rewarding one too. Next month we're off to Eastleigh to follow the course of the River Itchen into Winchester so I need to get reading up on Alfred the Great. It should be a considerably more gentle trek than I've Got Chilterns, They're Multiplying but even so I paraphrase the words John Farrar gave Olivia Newton-John to sing in Grease four whole decades back:- 'I better shape up, I better understand. To my heart I must be true.'.