Following the River Lea through a secret hole in the hedge

When I left for the Lea Valley Walk I had no idea I would not be doing all its 4 stages in one go. Everything was pointing towards a successful walk: the weather was going to be glorious and breezy, the trains were running and my walking boots had been trained to be my loyal friends for 6 months. Fine, my starting point in the Leagrave Marsh being next to a spot called Rotten Corner should have maybe given me a hint of something going amiss. And perhaps, my path sharing a bit of its course with the oldest road in England (Icknield Way, predating Roman times, that old) should have served as a possible reminder that not everything is achievable in one, fresh attempt. But all this is just my Finno-Ugric reasoning, full of deep belief in linguistic superstitions. (Well, I also saw paw prints of light in a tunnel of arched trees disco-ing away under the shivering leaves, so my Finno-Ugric mind translated that into a good sign. The suburbs of Luton are surprisingly lush.)

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Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.
Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.

Twice I thought I had strayed, and twice I was proven wrong. During those times I either reached the needed path within couple of moments or found myself in places where Julius Caesar had walked, George Bernard Shaw had lived and elephants had accidentally damaged rustically heartwarming bridges — only to find myself back on the path again. The village of Wheathamstead was there like a comforting stranger, offering a place to take my boots off, and encouraging me not to take a direct (!) road to my next destination (Lemsford).

Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.

The third time I decided to follow the voice of reason instead of my gut feeling – this is how great trekkers seem to keep themselves from harm, I thought. I even had help on the way: when prancing merrily across a hilly slope in Hertfordshire and reaching a road I had not fully planned on taking (the Ayot Greenway), a very old man stepped out from the hedge and pointed me towards the needed direction (still Lemsford). I know now that it is not only fables and fairytales where wise old men appear out of thin air to offer you their guidance. This is just what happens when you step out of your door with nothing but your walking boots and a bit of money for ale.

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It was the Ayot Greenway that broke my stride, however. That was the path where my right boot actively decided to show my right ankle what it’s made of. (The boot, not the ankle.) Limping along, the only thought that kept me going were the meters ticked off from those last miles I was walking. Keeping straight to the path (this is where my gut feeling started screaming), I later found myself at the full end of it – and with still 6 miles to go to reach Hatfield. Six miles is mountain-loads when you can’t walk all that well any more. And it comes with the added psychological quirk: when you have prepped yourself up for those last 4 miles, and are already whispering to your knees that there’s only a little to go – then to find yourself in the beginning of yet another journey becomes a wicked mental barrier to limp over. I did mention the ankle, right?

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Honestly? The last couple of hours of Stage 1 were strenuous. Weirdly, I never thought of giving up, though. No one gives up when they are having fun, even if that fun is painful. It helped that this bit of the walk was also chequered with many benevolent encounters: I ended up a little lost and a little stuck in the middle of a massive bean field, shouting greetings and questions towards the nearby houses and being soon pointed to a secret hole in the hedge (!). From there I was then advised to carefully cross a golf course which’s gatekeeper – the casting agency for Harry Potter had clearly overlooked this guy – directed me to yet another hole in another hedge. From where, walping (yes) towards the Hatfield train station, a man with a stuffed falcon and an alive pointer dog confirmed my choice of direction. This is what makes a glorious day out without even reaching proper wilderness (I probably walked as much as Roman legionaries walked in one day) – the people with stuffed falcons wishing you good luck on your way.

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At the very end, I almost did not have time to be with myself any more. Reaching a place to sit down became an all-encompassing need. Even the train station became difficult to find, as did the platform. You know you must be tired if you can’t even find your way to the platform from the station. My journey of rational and gut feeling choices came to an end 11 hours after its beginning, and was followed by Stage 3 of the walk after one day of ankle healing. No chants, just ibuprofen.

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Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 40 km.

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km.

Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.
Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.
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