Can't make up my mind where to go for a hike today. In the end I take the train to a place called Tring in Hertfordshire which is not a synthetic fibre although it sounds as though it should be, but a small town, inconveniently situated 1.5 miles from its own railway station (what do they think this is , France or something?). Just how inconvenient this is becomes clear when I enquire about a lavatory at the station.
'No, sorry. Only if you go into town.' Peruse the bus timetables outside the station (three miles is a long way to walk for a pee) and discover that there are no buses from Tring station to Tring on a Sunday. In fact having asked google, it seems this is not true. You can travel by bus from Tring station to Tring via Hemel Hempstead which is 12 miles away from Tring, a journey of 45 minutes or so.
I've got a horrible feeling that this is not an error on my part. You know how you guys say 'Only in America' with a sort of rueful pride? In England, we wrote the book.
As I leave the station I note with interest that there are a few flakes of snow blowing in the breeze. Quite a stiff breeze too, and it's nearly freezing so it's . . . er . . . bottom-numbing.
Anyway, walk up the road to the start of the footpath. This is the walk I was going to take Stonecot on a few weeks ago when we ended up in Maidenhead. I'm pleased and proud to say that the footpath is part of the Ridgeway www.nationaltrail
which I've always wanted to walk along. You want old? This path at least 5,000 years old and very likely more. We're talking Stone Age motorway here.
So, I walk up a little lane, take a pic of the view which would be a lot better if it were sunny.
The National Trust own this bit of land (they own many of the best bits in England) and tell me this is Aldbury Nowers. Please don't ask me what a nower is. I've just been looking and apparently the name looks old but isn't and I can't find the etymology of nower. I did try. It has loads of butterflies and rare flowers but not today, today it's sort of grey-green and muddy.
Keep walking. Pass a seat without sitting on it and come to some woodland and slither about in it for the next mile or so. It is very muddy (surprise) because we had some rain a few days ago. Try to pretend I am a Stone Age herdswoman driving sheep along it and feel increasingly glad that in fact I'm not and am wearing 21st century synthetic wadding to keep the cold out with.
There are very nice views despite the weather and I'm sure this woodland will be beautiful if we ever have spring again.
Walk up some mud steps and after further slithering and cursing, reach the end of the woodland and meet with some interesting signage.
You do get the impression they don't really want you here don't you? There are bovine things about and I think they are bullocks because they have the tuft of hair under their tums that you tend to get with male cattle. I'm not going close to look though. Without going close I can tell you that they are Belted Galloways. That'll impress all the farmers amongst you. This is a Scottish breed, not all that common in England (we get a lot of Herefords and Friesians which are chestnut brown with white faces, and black and white blotchy respectively).
So anyway, I haven't got a dog for the cattle to chase but a couple come up behind me with a red setter that is not on the lead and seem happy to sacrifice it so I follow them at a safe distance. The cattle ignore us. There are loads of people on the path and they've clearly seen it all before.
The weather has been thinking things over for a while and has decided to sleet for a bit. However I am ignoring it and giving it the opportunity to behave better. I also have a new download on iPod, you could call it opera's greatest hits. Actually it's called 'The best opera album in the world . . . EVER!' Don't beat about the bush guys, big yourselves up. So I'm striding up chalk downland with some of the most sublime music ever created in my ear, the Toreadors' Chorus from Carmen, and wishing I had a 'voice' so I could join in. www.youtube.com/w
Get to the top of the hill, and look at the view. It's not looking too clever, to be honest. I keep walking and come to a road, and it's another 1.25 miles to Ivinghoe Beacon, where I'm headed for. The wind's like a knife and the point about the beacon is it's high up. The snow has decided to snow a bit harder.
Now you know me, I don't usually wimp out, but the only way back is more or less the way I've come, and things are looking increasingly blizzardy. I'm what 'real' hikers call a fair weather hiker. I may have proper hiking boots on but I'm not wearing a waterproof and I'm not geared up for snow or rain. The weather forecast today, curse it, said cloudy and cold but no rain or snow, so the person who wrote that is coming off my Christmas card list because I wouldn't have gone out for a hike in weather like this if I'd known it was coming.
Say humph to myself, take a photo of the beacon (the high bit in the distance) and turn round to walk back.
As I'm walking along the path back I see that there is a lot of low cloud forming, and realise that I turned back at the right time.
Somehow I miss the path (there are several tracks all going in the same direction) and come to a signpost that points downhill a bit saying 'Ridgeway this way'. As I look the way it points, one of the cattle settles itself down in the middle of the path for a snooze. Two of the other cattle are already lying on the path.
Now I like cows. And bullocks. I do prefer them on the other side of a stout fence, to be honest, but I will walk through a field of bovines rather than a field of horses. However given the warnings about these particular cattle I'm less than keen on walking right under their noses. So I make a detour across the downland and slither back on to the right path and through the wicket gate into the woods again.
I'm looking for signs of spring but the only thing in flower is Dog's Mercury, which has a beatiful name but is not much to look at.
Half an hour later I am back at the bench I didn't sit on before and sit on it this time and have my lunch. I seem to have sort of identified my own personal iron rations for hiking: peanut butter sarnie, lentil soup and usually a banana but I didn't have any today. Also water with Rose's lime cordial in it. There is much debate on hiking websites about food etc but the above seems to suit me quite well: cheap, nutritious and plenty of protein. There's also very little work involved because I make the soup in large batches and freeze it.
After ten minutes, get up and continue, finishing with a shortcut that gets me back to the station just in time to miss a train by 30 seconds and have 45 minutes' wait for the next one.
Some days are just like that.
6 miles, 15,000 steps, two hours 15 minutes.