Last year we listed a few walking-off-Christmas-by-public-transport ideas and here are another three. Living in south London, I’ve tended to look further south to Surrey, Kent or Sussex for days out, to places like Box Hill and Knole Park. Recently, I’ve cast an eye north, in search of some variety.
A day in the country is a genuine need for some. It certainly is for me. A 35 minute train journey from Euston takes you to Tring in Hertfordshire. The station sits on the edge of town and a right turn lands you plum in the countryside.
Our plan was to head north on a stretch of the ancient Ridgeway Path and then to circle back through the wooded hills of the Ashridge Estate. We made a mistake very early on and ended up doing the walk in reverse. It didn’t matter a jot, of course.
This is one of those walks studded with points of interest, man-made and natural. In the Ashridge Estate, there is a striking monument to the Duke of Bridgewater, known as the “father of inland navigation” for construction of the Bridgewater Canal. Very close to this is a Moneybury Hill Barrow, a 4,000 year old Bronze Age burial mound.
A woodland path offering views of the valley below eventually brought us out on to the Ridgeway and Ivinghoe Beacon, once an Iron Age hill fort. From up, the views are expansive and on our visit, an exhilaratingly cold wind whipped down from the north. We doubled back towards the south, following a muddy path for a while, towards Pitstone Hill before diving back into woods at Aldbury Nowers nature reserve.
If you’ve a tolerable sense of direction and enough daylight, you can take any number of paths and still make it back to Tring station.
For a gentler walk, Epping Forest is a good bet. At the far end of the Victoria Line is Walthamstow Central and from there it is an eleven minute rail journey to Chingford. A right turn out of the station and a five minute walk will put you on the edge of Epping Forest.
It’s a mix of meadow and forest, with some muddy streams and ponds and lots of beech, oak, birch and blackthorn. This is Sunday stroll territory, rather than hike. Connaught Water qualifies as a lake rather than a pond and is suitably picturesque. In the woods nearby, we saw mobiles of string, stick, leaf and acorn dangling from branches, with a touch of the Blair Witch, though they were charming too.
There are walking routes (the Holly Trail, the Willow Trail and so on) but we followed wandered wherever our feet took us. The paths changed from broad to narrow, surfaced to grassy and popular to empty.
Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge gives a focal point. It’s free to enter and offers a potted history of the Epping Forest and of the 1217 Charter of the Forest that re-established some rights of common people. These included collecting fire wood, pasturing and grazing live stock and cutting turf. When the nine year old Henry III signed, it reversed some of the Normans’ trampling on people’s rights.
The third suggestion is along the River Lea Navigation, on the Hertfordshire Essex border. This is one of those walks you can start or finish from a variety of places, all on the same line from Liverpool Street. We began in Ware and ambled south as far as Broxbourne.
Residential narrow boats and barges dot the banks, there’s a decent pub or two and Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve is there to explore if you’ve time and inclination. There are also a few reminders of the working life of the river too.
At Dobb’s Weir, we skirted Admiral’s Walk Lake and found ourselves on the banks of New River. This water course is a 17th century aqueduct that was constructed to take water from the River Lea and Chadwell Springs to a fast-growing London. The water is fast flowing and full of long, trailing tresses of weed. This was my favourite bit of the walk and enough to suggest exploration of the upper and lower regions of the aqueduct.