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Life Line

Walking: St. Albans to Berkhamstead

After two weeks away from the trails, this Saturday I set out for another walk to clear my head. I walked from St. Albans to Berkhamstead via Hemel Hampstead, again following some of the SlowWays UK routes.

St. Albans' Cathedral

Leaving the station at St. Albans I walked along its shopping streets for a while, before going past its magnificent cathedral and into Verulamium Park, named after St. Albans' Roman name. There are still some Roman things to see, such as mosaics and remnants of the old city walls, by which I left the park on the Western side, but not after having admired the many snow drops that lined the path.

Park Wood

On the other side of King Harry Lane sits a newish development which I had to cross through narrowish public footpaths to be able to go up a hill through farmland to the A414, which I crossed with a bridge. On the other side sits Park Wood, with many (incorrect) signs saying "private land, no access". The council recently has established a few new public foot paths in the wood, which would have allowed me to take a little short cut. I did not find out about it after I had already crossed it and ended up on a narrow lane.

I did follow the new footpaths for a bit to avoid the lane, but after not much distance my only option was to actually follow the lane. There wasn't much room in the verge, but there was not a lot of traffic, which could have made walking along here dangerous. A blind summit was a little on the scarier side.

From Potters Crouch to Bedmond my route went along more lanes, and to be honest, this was the least nice part of the walk. Unfortunately the extensive network of public footpaths in England does not always help with the directions you're trying to walk in.

Top of the Hill

On the other side of Church Hill in Bedmond, my route continued along the edge of a field, followed by a public footpath sign pointing straight across a newly ploughed field. I always feel a little bad about crossing these, but it was my only way through, and I saw other people walking on a different footpath across the same field. By looking through my camera's zoom lens, I found the exit point on the other side of the field, and went for it in a (mostly) straight line. I hope that the next walked can follow in my footsteps.

After crossing a lane, a stile, a field and another stile, my route was suddenly blocked by a field of horses. OpenStreetMap did not actually contain that specific public footpath, and although I have now added it, I did decide to take a small detour around it. I don't like messing with horses.

I followed a path first along the edge of the farmland, where I suddenly came eye to eye with a Muntjac deer. I was too slow to get my camera out to take a photo of this tiny creature, as it trundled through the brambles to a safer space.

Grand Union Canal

After going around Abbot's Hill school's vast estate, I ended up along the Grand Union Canal which I followed until the big Sainsbury's on the other side. For some odd reason, the people who drew the SlowWays route made you leave the tranquil canal for a few busy roads, and up a steep path through a tiny bit of lovely woodland, to end up on a dangerous crossing across the A414 where it joins the A41. There were some great views from here, but I do not think it was worth it, and I would have preferred to follow the Grand Union Canal all the way to Hemel Hempstead's station. I will be proposing an alternative route, which also adds the shortcut through the aforementioned Park Wood, and avoids the field of horses.

The second part of my walk, all the way to Berkhamstead was very straightforward. I just has to follow the canal! I walked the length of the Grand Union Canal, from London to Birmingham, a few years ago, but that was in summer and autumn. Now it is just about spring, with the trees still fairly bare, and no little birds to be seen. The path wasn't very muddy luckily, and although it was lovely to walk along the canal again, it was fairly monotonous. I do always like watching boats go through the locks though, but it was too chilly to linger too much.


I left the canal at the Port of Berkhampsted to take the train home into London, where I enjoyed a lovely pint to celebrate yet another successful walk.


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Walking: Didcot to Goring

Last Saturday I decided to walk across some humps that I had seen a few times before, but never ascended.

I found myself in a very full train towards Oxford. I was luckily to have gotten a seat, by virtue of walking fast and claiming the first non-reserved seat that I spotted. I didn't ride the train all the way to its destination in Oxford however, and got out at Didcot Parkway.

From here I intended to walk two more SlowWays routes — from Didcot to Wallingford, and then continuing along the Thames to Goring.

Leaving the station I soon found myself through parks in Didcot for a while, before going in the wrong direction at a new housing estate. Unfortunately the maps on my GPS watch had not been updated yet, so it was hard to follow the paths. OpenStreetMap was of course already up-to-date, which helped me find the right direction.

Just after the housing estate I walked past a lovely farm, with the snowdrops out in front of a little lake.

Snowdrops at the Little Lake

Crossing Lady Grove road was a little annoying, and I had to wait a little while before it was safe to cross. I ended up chatting with a lady walking her dog for a bit about what I thought I was going to capture with my camera. I mentioned that I was hoping for some deer, kites, and whatever the Thames would have on display. I hadn't quite realised how many kites there actually would be! And I spotted my first few very soon after, albeit to fast to get a decent photo of, and one in a tree, which was too far to get a decent photo of.

This part of the walk was through some farmland, which was easy to walk with not too much mud, and more importantly, no cows. There was a tiny bit of road walking, before I got onto Earth Trust land which maintains the land around the Wittenham Clumps, which started to loom larger and larger in the distance.

Round Hill and Castle Hill — The Wittenham Clumps.

I had seen the clumps before while walking the Thames Path, and they're also easily spotted from the train going towards Didcot from London.

It was a pretty steep climb up, and I deliberately took the "long way" around the top of the slightly taller Castle Hill to get a better look at the Thames Valley, and the other slightly smaller clump which housed an iron age hill fort back in the days where that was popular.

Kite in the Trees

The route did not make an immediate bee line for the Thames, and instead meandered through a wood where I spotted this kite sitting on a branch in the trees. After going around a farm my walk finally got me to the Thames at Shillingford. From here on my plan was to walk the Thames Path all the way to Goring. I did walk this before a few years ago in the middle of summer.

Boats on the Thames

Once I crossed the bridge across the Thames, there were many small birds in the hedge roads chirping happily along. The paths on the Thames Path were all very muddy, which wasn't quite a surprise as it was winter, but I think I would prefer walking it in summer instead.

At Benson the weir was blocked off, which unfortunately meant a diversion away from the Thames Path, first through a little village, then along a busy road for a short stretch, and then along residential roads into Wallington where the first section finished at its historic market square.


From Wallingford onwards, my walk was along the Thames for the rest of its length until Goring. Most of the paths were fairly easy going, but there were muddy sections, and very muddy sections. As I said, I walked this before and I sort of had forgotten that the Thames Path can be quite monotonous, and I think this section is probably the least interesting part.

Cholsey Marsh

Cholsey Marsh made for a nice photo though, and along this section there were quite a few snowdrops out, with the other side of the river sometimes showing large (and expensive) houses. At other sections, the cackle of geese was hard to miss, and quite loud at times. A man fishing didn't pay them too much attention though.

One of my least favourite sections of the Thames Path is the "Moulsford" diversion. It starts just after crossing underneath the Moulsford Railway Bridge, and diverts you away from the Thames around a prep-school, and along the A329 which was too busy to be comfortably walking along. I hope at some point better access can be negotiated here, or perhaps the Thames Path can be relocated to the east side of the river instead.

I was quite pleased once I got to the Thames Path again, although it became even more muddy here, and I was sliding all about.

Colourful Houses and Boats

Closer towards Streatley and Goring more and larger houses appeared on the opposite side of the river. Just before crossing Goring Bridge, there is a little nature reserve which was quite pleasant, whereas the walk into and through town, except for the bridge across the Thames itself, was a bit of a drag.

I made it to the train with a decent amount of minutes to spare to get all packed and relaxed, before taking it home with a transfer at Reading — and having a well deserved pint once I got home.


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Walking: Hemel Hempstead to Amersham

I had originally planned to continue last week's walk from Amersham to Chorleywood, but I had decided against that as it would have made that walk a little too long. So instead, I incorporated that section into this next walk, where I walked from Hemel Hempstead (not "Hampstead" as I just found out!) via Chorleywood to Amersham.

Before I set off to the beginning of yet another Chiltern walk, I had done a little research on how I could get to Hemel Hempstead as easily and cheaply as possible. I found out that I can actually buy a national rail ticket at my closest overground station (Kilburn High Road), which would also allow for me to use my Network Railcard, giving me 30% off. I would only have to transfer onto a proper train once, at Harrow & Wealdstone. If you travel by train a lot in the south east of the UK, a Network Railcard at £30 is well worth the money.

Enough about trains! Once I got to Hemel Hempstead, I had some trouble getting to the south side of the station. Apparently you can only get out on that side if you have a special swipe card. So instead, I had to walk around and cross the very busy London Road to get to the start of the "real" walk, which also shares the same route as The Chiltern Way for some sections.

Hedges and Paths

Once I got there, there was a fairly long climb up through Felden along a road with no pavement, but also luckily with little traffic. Much of the first half of the walk would be on a path, track, or road with hedges along each side. But it was never unsafe as there was very little traffic, and the traffic that did show up wasn't moving very fast.

I still prefer walking on actual footpaths, and after crossing Rucklers Lane, there was a long trek up and down a hill through grassy farmland. At the bottom a lovely track brought me to "Tower Hill", where footpaths through fields were easy to walk. I did not like the signs "bull in field" though. Luckily, these signs were a lie. After a lovely walk through some woods, with some good views of a village in the valley below, I ended up crossing a road.

My pre-planned route had me go along the road, but luckily there is now a permissive footpath that avoids the road, where there was fast traffic. At the end of the field, there was now a pavement to make the walk safe, and a path through the woods allowed me to avoid another road walking section.

I soon left the small village of Belsize behind and ended up on a lane, again with hedges on each side. There were soon some field-edge paths against where were quite welcome.


After walking past Rosehall Wood, my set-out route suggested I go through some fields to Dawes Common before going over another hill to get to the river Chess. However there were a fair amount of horses in the field, and as I don't really trust these animals I decided to walk around them. Unfortunately that meant a little road walking, but luckily again, there was little traffic. I have proposed a new route that should avoid the horse problem.

The new route avoids a hill, and another few fields of horses. It also meant that I walked along the lovely river Chess for a fair distance, as part of the Chess Valley Walk.

Little Egret

I spotted the first snow drops of the year along the lanes and the Chess Valley Walk themselves, and in the river a Little Egret. Once I had crossed the river on a wooden bridge, the rest of this first section went through the Chorleywood House Estate, and Chorleywood Common to end up close to the tube station.

I have walked from Chorleywood to Amersham before (or rather, in the opposite direction) as part of my Tube Walking project a few years ago. This time however I did not have to visit Chalfont & Latimer's station, which made the whole walk a lot nicer. The route that I ended up walking was not quite the one that I originally was planning to do (Amecho 1). But it turned out that it was the better variant that was also already verified (Amecho 2).

From Chorleywood's "High Street" I walked along an avenue for a while before crossing into Carpenters Wood. From here on until Amersham, all of the walking was through woods, with no cows insight. There were a few places where I had to cross a road, but that was generally not a problem.

Chenies Manor

After crossing one such road, Amersham Road, the walk brought me along Chenies Manor and through the estate. I very much liked going through all the woods, and there were often also great view of the Chess Valley, and another stately home, Latimer House.


I also spotted my first daffodils of the season, and a Muntjac (a tiny deer), but it was too fast to be caught on camera. This was not a problem with the daffodils.

The last woods that I walked through was the Market Reading Wood. From there on the walk was along pavements and a sports centre, before finishing the walk at Amersham station.

Views of the Chess Valley

Unfortunately, when I got there, the station was shut and there were posters with "rail replacement buses": there were no Metropolitan line services, nor Chiltern services into Marylebone at all. Although I was quite diligent doing research to get to the start of my walk, I neglected to do the same for the return journey!

I managed to get on the hourly bus to Rickmansworth quite soon, because it was 10 minutes late. At Rickmansworth I had to wait a while to get onto my second rail replacement service to Wembley Park, another Metropolitan line station. I was hoping to get off at Northwick Park to walk to Kenton, where I then could take the Bakerloo line home. But although the bus stopped at every Met line station, it went straight from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Wembley Park, and didn't stop at Northwick Park. I did make it home about three hours after I finished the walk. Next time: more train research!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk though, and I bet it would be even nicer when there is more green on the trees again.


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