20 Jan. The day the 45th and possibly final nail was hammered into the coffin of American democracy seemed like a good day to kick start a road trip along some of my homeland’s most iconic routes. This one, operated by EOS, and the first of many, I hoped, turned out to be a circular from Waltham Cross, the south-easternmost town in Hertfordshire.
The route, echoing the thirteenth century funeral procession that gave the town its name, crosses the River Lea and the Greenwich meridian into Essex where it speeds through Epping Forest, slowing to a crawl at the Wake Arms roundabout, before looping through Loughton and Debden, and returning to do the whole thing again.
In the library I downloaded the Washington Post and peeped at some local history books. I also read about the pied wagtail I had spotted on my walk from the station. I didn’t know they were migrants. Wagtails from the Scottish Highlands are often found in Hertfordshire outside the breeding season and birds ringed in Hertfordshire in autumn have turned up in Spain and Portugal.
I had lunch in Loughton at the edge of the forest and read about Trump’s crooked friends and an article about John Kerry’s recent meeting in Vietnam with a former Viet Cong soldier, Vo Pan Tam, whose colleague Kerry had killed in a firefight on February 28 1969. I was suspicious of the story: not that it wasn’t interesting or sadly believable but because I find it difficult to attach an inner life to a powerful politician – especially today.
But there was some warmth in the sun. The birds were singing and spring could be felt, if not actually seen, in the wintry trees. I resisted a strong urge to walk up to Edward Thomas’s old home at High Beach. Instead I took my own path less travelled, skirting round the forest on tarmac and track before turning inward to retrace the bus route from a safe distance, passing the remains of the cottage at Goldings Hill where Keeper Woolley and his wife lit the house with oil lamps and had water brought down from Loughton by forest fire-tanker after their rainwater tank had been condemned by the Guildhall.
I took the little egret which led me back into Waltham Abbey to be a good omen: a superstition, like the sunshine and frost, that my head did not altogether share.