Dick & Gloria & Lesley & Michael's
Chiltern Way Walk
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Hemel Hempstead Station to Chenies - Sunday 2nd July 2006 - 9 or so miles, 23,000 or so steps

We met in Chorleywood at 10am and drove to Boxmoor. The start of the walk took us alongside the Hemel Hempstead by-pass and was noisy but we quickly arrived in lovely open countryside. On April 1st this year a drought was declared in this corner of England and some of the vegetation is suffering but we passed many beautiful flowers including rose and elder. There were no poppies in the cornfields we passed – we saw one lone specimen on a roadside verge near Flaunden. The sun was shining on us very brightly as we walked alongside a shady-looking wood, wishing for shade. We passed Bovingdon and some huge glasshouses: Dick and Glors are awaiting delivery of some blinds for their intolerably hot conservatory (their words!) – keeping those glasshouses cool must be impossible… The wheat fields gave way to a fine crop of barley, much more ripe than the wheat.

When it was nearly pub-opening time, we stopped for a banana break: we had just come off a lane near Flaunden and into a field. We all sat down, grateful for the rest in a shaded corner. As we ate our very welcome fruit, Glors noticed that we were all facing the barbed wire rather than the view: we were so hot and bothered we hadn’t noticed. Michael performed a heroic dash to capture an image of the 'Guantanamo' prisoners including himself.

On we trotted (Glors was setting a cracking pace!) passing some beautiful cows before spotting two squirrels sitting on the grass, They were small and probably young – they were so small that I couldn’t see them in the viewfinder and they only just made it into this photo! We weren’t the only ones feeling the heat – this is the first year I have been aware of summer blankets for horses, presumably to protect them from sunburn.
After another shady stretch, we emerged into a barren wasteland with a long and very exposed track crossing it. Had we known that our path would take us past the far corner of this field, we could have crossed it and cut three sides off our square! Not that we would cheat like that, of course… After the intense heat of the open field, it was a treat to enter some well-managed cool woodland. Astonishingly, a small pond contained quite a lot of water – it must be in the shade all day. The pond contained a dragonfly larva which had not survived the journey up a blade of grass, either that or it was an empty larval case. Michael shot some video footage of us walking towards him: as he dashed off ahead to take up his spot, we hid in the wood edge, only to be disappointed when he did not call out to us: he had gone so far ahead that he couldn’t see us anyway and had missed our little trick!

We emerged from the woodland onto a road very near The Bricklayers Arms in Flaunden – naturally, we made the short detour to visit this hostelry. We sat in the garden and had a very welcome and extremely cold drink. Apparently it is very popular ‘gastro pub’ although the Sunday lunch menu was a bit limited with two meat, one fish and one veggie dish: maybe on weekday evenings they offer more choice. Dick checked the book for the next stage: notice his recently-acquired London to Brighton 2006 t-shirt: plans changed at the last minute so he did the ride solo but he enjoyed it hugely.

It was definitely lunch time by now so we stopped in a newly-mown field. No neatly tied bales of hay these days: bales are now huge plastic-wrapped things. Sadly, my team photo did not come out but I know Dick took a good one which will feature here later. We set off again and found ourselves on a narrow track alongside a field of rape: there was the most magnificent umbellifer growing alongside the track which we passed at about the same time as we met our first walkers. We met our second lot very soon afterwards: she was wearing flip flops which must have been nasty in the stubbly field they emerged from! The stubble gave way to a fabulous crop of hay in the next field – the tractor (can you see it?) arrived to start mowing it as we crossed the stile. Have I mentioned that it was a hot day? The tar took my boot impressions as I walked. (I was wearing my boots not only because they are supremely comfortable to walk in but also because I have a cut on my right foot – it is very sore and the boot offered it some extra protection. No photo, you’ll be glad to hear!)

Descending towards the river Chess, we passed an amazing number of very large badger setts. We also saw some very large bracket fungi. We met the Chess at the watercress farm, although from the number of baby trout in the water you’d think we were at the nearby trout farm. A fantastically bright and quick insect hovered around and later Dick took a photo of a dragonfly. Having strayed slightly from the path, we walked alongside the Chess for some distance before passing some houses in Sarrat Bottom which would be the most perfect place to live were it not for the footpath in such close proximity! We saw at least two green woodpeckers, although they moved far too fast to have their photos taken.

Eventually, we faced a dilemma: there were two routes to get to Chenies. Did we take the 1.25 mile route in the sunshine or the ¾ mile route through the woodland (did I mention how welcome the shade was?) This was a lovely wood with ferns and a plant whose name I once knew, a delicate little thing but obviously very tough – the dog’s mercury all around it had wilted from the drought. The canopy of leaves provided some wonderful shade but we soon emerged into bright sun again, of course. Due to not having had the book of the walk to hand at 01:30, we had parked in The Wrong Place and now had to walk beside the busy main Watford road to reach the car. The consolation was that there was an ice-cream van parked in the cricket field car park and Michael provided 99s all round. Hooray!

It had been a long hot day after very little sleep, but it was a lovely walk and we have started at last.

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