Lost Towns & Secret Rivers

Saturday (7th) did Merry Lundow’s The Glass Sea. 9 mile circuit from Gordon Hill Station (Enfield) – across Clay Hill and golf club on King’s Oak Plain, down rather unpleasant Cattlegate Road – although there was a grass verge to perch on all of the way so not suicidal just unpleasantly busy with fast cars – across Turkey Brook & under M25 then through Cattlegate Farm views to Cuffley ahead, then bending right under Soper’s Viaduct – saw guilty looking couple with dog at edge of nursery plantation: what they were up to is anybody’s guess. My guess was burying kittens, but I could be wrong. The private woods and public tracks today were crawling with ‘untin’, shootin’, fishin’ types in Dad’s Army trucks, pheasants, still warm hung on poles on back of jeep. I – dressed in jeans and black hoody – was eyed, I thought suspiciously: a hunt sab. I had travelled 20 mins from Finsbury Park but had travelled back about a hundred and twenty years – I thought you had to go out to somewhere like Wiltshire to get such a country vibe – the Range Rovers had real mud on them! View S to London and the new pyramid on the skyline; then walking parallel to M25 before cutting north to Silver Street (interesting name) before turning back south past edge of glass sea and crossing M25 via a footbridge and through fields to the King and Tinker pub.

Wednesday (4th) 12km circuit from Elstree – bit of a yomp. Very gray and muddy. Light rain. From station joined Loop link across golf course to Aldenham Reservoir – there were wild garlic leaves through already in the wood from the main road. Round res finding notice boards annoying and still bristling at the parking charges – hopped fence to save a few hundred metres of pavement but not nice crossing at that point could have cut up even earlier and crossed field – there didn’t appear to be a fence. Said hello to fellow walkers doing loop from Stanmore and retraced path from few weeks ago to corner of Orthopaedic hospital. Here I set off N down abandoned footpath which became impassable and detoured as best I could to end by side of gypsy camp in lea of motorway – couple of kids playing w/ a Shetland pony. Hopped a fence, crossed under M way and cut down A41 for a short way before cutting up A5 on a pavement over Brockley Hill and front entrance of Orth hosp opposite which was sign in strip of wood alongside road (fields other side) saying site of Roman pottery at Sulloniacae.

Wednesday (11th) I walked from Gordon Hill to Cockfosters. Very mild. Took a left (following the Loop signs) before the golf club and ducked under railway past red house and Rectory Farm which appears to be defunct though there are some occupied farm cottages and a sign advertising clay pigeon shooting – all welcome. R along the busy Ridgeway past Hotel – wedding venue – with helipad. Then through unremarkable if gentle farmland mostly alongside Salmon’s Brook, a tributary of the Lea, which must have been named after a farmer not a fish. [John Salemon of Edmonton c. 1274? according to Wiki] Lots of bird song and very large crows which I thought were buzzards at first.

I didn’t take any photos and was happy not to. I was enjoying being in the moment and often, rather than take out the camera, got out the map instead and enjoyed working out what I was looking at on the spot, putting names to the farms and hamlets like Botany Bay on the ridge.

With Hotel in sight cut left uphill for obelisk in Trent Park – views back to big barns at Vault Hill – which is an interesting name. I crossed road and entered Enfield Chase at Moat Wood soon passing Camlet Moat – which made me think of Roger Deakin who used to swim round his moated house in Suffolk everyday. Then through Trent Country Park to Cockfosters Station. Job done. Or it would have been but I made the mistake of deciding to take a bus to Barnet which took about 40 mins – it was interesting infilling my psychogeographical map of north London, but not the quickest way from C to B.

More drama yesterday Wednesday 18th – lots of sirens and Hornsey Road closed – a hit and run the newsagent thought giving me change for a kit-kat – but of the drama, when I returned a few hours later, no sign. As though the afternoon tide had simply covered it up or washed it away – or like a blood clot, it had been removed and the blood was now flowing freely ’round the old corpse. Which is about how I felt when I started my walk at Welham Green, a couple of miles south of Hatfield.

The signs all said “No Incinerator Here” – emails were called for, health risks laid out in A4 plastic pockets on the bus shelter. Nothing I couldn’t agree with and anyway I was far too hot which meant I was doubly surprised to see at the swallow holes sheets of ice, ridged like tidal mud, oblivious to the ambient mildness of the vertical world.

I saw a red kite above Home Farm and gave way to two quod bikes as I joined the byway parallel to the A1 (M) which provided the soundtrack to the entire walk, punctuated by shooting from woods on the higher ground on the Mymms estate.

Where the footpath left the A1 at right angles, I kept straight on a concrete track to have a look at South Mimms Motte & Bailey Castle. The castle was built by Geoffrey de Mandible during the civil war between Stephen and Mathilda in the 11th century. Geoffrey – it is said – sold his soul to the devil and became convinced that he could turn flint in to Gold. When workmen found a seam of rare quality flint during repairs to his moat he ordered them to keep digging. The quarry is still in evidence today – as is the castle but you can’t see either from the path. Geoffrey never got to see the fruits of his labour – he drowned in a sink hole a couple of miles north of here at Water End. His body was never found but a gold ring turned up three days later in a spring feeding the River Lea, sixteen miles away. [see Corrections 24th February 2012]

I crossed back across A1 and Mimmshall Brook and through Home Farm – a fantastic building shame about the noise of the road – perhaps you get used to it – then via Warrengate Farm (bonfire and bungalows – big woodpile – egret) to join nameless stream through Potters Bar’s light industrial fringes. Just beginning to feel a bit scuzzed and muddied out when I was overtaken by a kingfisher which turned before reaching a concrete culvert and flashed past me again flying a few centimetres above the middle of the stream at great speed. An edgeland moment I suppose. A thrill anyway. I looked at the abandoned coffee cups and felt both a sense of relief – that I could measure out my Wednesday afternoons in ornithological delight – but also a sense of dull drudgery: this was after all work. Finding a reason to write – which is the same as saying finding a reason to exist in the vertical world. I fell asleep on the train home.


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