Today I take the train back to Cheshunt and walk up the river Lea to Broxbourne. This is the same walk I did a few weeks ago, but I walked nearly all the paths in reverse to give us all some different views.
Last time I was wearing a tshirt and jogging pants and was boiled. Today I have my fleece on and some nice thick trousers (the ones that fall off if I wriggle a lot) that I want to get more wear out of before they are finally too big altogether. Concentrating on not wriggling. Definitely not trousers for hulahooping in.
So, get off the train and walk along the road a couple of hundred metres stopping to photograph some Himalayan Balsam by a stream.
Reach the edge of the river and turn left (or north, if you want to be precise about it). Set off nice and briskly. I've got iPod with me, and am trying to up my walking speed.
This comes unstuck of course, very quickly. It's a beautiful, beautiful day, and I'm stopping roughly every 50 metres to take photos. I am just going snap snap snap with the camera.
The outward walk is along the river all the way. That's to my right. To the left of me is a lake with a group of people having a canoeing lesson. When I was in my teens I did some canoeing. It also involved endurance training because we had to drag the canoes a quarter of a mile across a field to the river, and back again after the lesson. The actual canoeing was great, though, so I'm a bit envious.
I can see that in the few weeks since I was here, autumn has got to grips with the countryside. The blackberries are nearly finished, the elderberries have peaked and there are bright red hips and haws.
Last week in Essex I only saw one dragon all day, I think because it was overcast. Today it's sunny and warm and there are loads and loads. You can tell when you're passing the dragonfly sanctuary because the blighters are everywhere. I dance a little, passing the sanctuary. What you would call the 'dragonfly's excuse-me'.
Is it just me or does an outward journey always seem longer than the return one? I got off the train at about 12 and was already ravenous. Napoleon was right: armies do march on their stomachs and so do Sparkers. By the time Broxbourne comes into sight, I'm ready to eat my own trainers, stewed.
Fortunately, I don't have to. I grab half pint of cider, pick a table where I can watch the action on the water (not much, it's Saturday lunchtime and the atmosphere is somnolent) and sit down to rest my feet. After a full 15 mintes' contemplation of the menu, I go in and order steak and mushroom pie with mash and peas and broad beans.
I would have LIKED scampi and chips but this is a compromise. The pastry is actually very thin and I feel virtuous that I didn't have anything fried. (On rereading this sounds like a lot of lame excuses to me. No I shouldn't have had pastry. Yes I did. Slapped wrist.) Interestingly, last time I was here it was a Sunday and the menu was much more expensive. Will have to test this again another time. Just for research purposes of course.
I would really really like a pudding. Here's the pudding menu.
Let's hear your orders! For me, it's the ginger sticky toffee pudding. I didn't order it of course, only in my head. Not after that pie and that mash.
Examine map, pausing briefly to look down nose at small girl who is running around being a pest. It'll end in tears, and sure enough within three minutes she's fallen and bumped herself and is howling blue murder about it. Her mum says exactly what all mums say in the same circumstances: 'Stop running about and sit down quietly.' Small girl does this for about three minutes.
Return attention to map. A quick prod at the sole of my right foot has informed me that yes! I've got a blister. Why, I do not know. I haven't walked that far, or that fast, my feet have been wearing Birkenstocks all summer so my soles are quite tough, but a blister means there's no chance I'll risk getting temporarily mislaid and walking further than I intend. So I pick out a return route and start back, the first bit retracing my steps.
Now, I haven't gone very far when something interesting happens. A largish bird flops down into the river near me. It dives for a bit, comes up, fixes me with a basilisk stare and paddles off, but not before I have taken a photo of it.
'Hm,' I say to myself. I come from a family of birdwatchers but am an anomaly. I mean I can tell a budgie from a blackbird and a feral pigeon from either. This bird looks like a diver to me and the only diver I know of is the Great Northern Diver, which I don't think you would get here. Hm. File it away for reference.
Reach the grassy spot with picnic tables that marks the place where I turn inland for the other path and turn inland for the other path. Come across this notice:
The person who wrote that has clearly got a mind above double entendres, wouldn't you say? I haven't, of course. It looks positively Shakespearian to me. 'Groping for trout in a peculiar river.'
Walk along a bit of road, through a gate, along a bit, through another gate, encounter a bench and sit down for some of the tea I brought with my in my shiny new flask.
The flask is a present to encourage me to save money and not go in teashops where there is cake.
I'm still working on ways to avoid pubs.
This is the view I get while I drink my tea. Black, no sugar, no calories. Fortunately for me I don't like milk or sugar in tea and coffee. Cake is another matter.
Set off again, and find a nice straight footpath to avoid cyclists. Just look at the sky on this one! It's been magical all day, but at the point the clouds are sort of incandescent. If I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have believed it. You lot have to take my word for it of course.
Keep going, come out on the cycle track after a bit, then see a sign to 'Nightingale wood and pochard hide'. Since I can't get more than moderately lost, being in a band of countryside half a mile wide between a railway and a river, I turn off to have a look. I'm not expecting nightingales which are extremely rare and I'm not sure I would know a pochard if one bit me in the ankle (they are a kind of duck).
Walk along a twisty path which resolves itself into a walkway between two lakes. At intervals blokes are sitting fishing on little platforms. This fishing business is nothing to do with a bent hook and a bit of string either. They've got little barrow things they've clearly wheeled along the path with all their stuff in. It's all toys for the boys, innit?
Then the path is blocked by this fallen tree. Impossible to go round it, there's water at either side. I have to crawl under, I mean literally hands and knees on the ground under. Thank heaven nobody's looking. When I bend over it's like the sun going down. Bit further on is another fallen tree but this one I'm glad to say is higher off the ground. Keep following the path, and I can see that I will shortly be linking up with the river towpath again.
Only I won't, because the path ends in the middle of the lake.
Hmph. I have to walk back then.
Oh double triple hmph with bells on!
I have to crawl under that adjectival treetrunk again.
Ten minutes later, I'm back on the path. No wonder all the fishermen gave me funny looks (A woman? down here? this is bloke territory, this! we've got our toys, we've got our lake, all we need is fish.)
Pick up my speed a bit, pass under an apple tree that must be very old because this is not cultivated land and it's a while since it was. And start to see bits that I recognise from the first time I was here. Some lovely trees, absolutely gigantic poplars and willows.
Here's one for the dog lovers:
I've never seen such a thing before, it made me chuckle. There were plenty of dogs about, but they weren't trying the course out. Maybe they couldn't read the sign.
And back to the station. Six and a half miles and the blister was caused by the Cath Kidston logo knitted into the sock, can you believe it? It's slightly bumpy. Will have to look into special walking socks. The vacuum flask is a qualified success - I've been drinking tea since I got home and still haven't finished the flask. This is because I bought a 1 litre sized one in the hope of making myself drink more.
The bird by the way is a lady red throated diver, I think. No red throat because she's a girl.