I set off for Ashridge just after six this morning. I was looking forward to walking off-road now that the Paris training was over: I had a vague plan for a 7 mile walk through the woods, based on memories of past trips. At only two degrees, it was a cold start for late April: the car was iced up and the ground was covered with frost.
On arriving at the Dockey Wood car-park, I was surprised to find it full. I had to park on a verge, even though it was only 6.30 am. Yet the other drivers (presumably dog-walkers and photographers) were nowhere to be seen. I was all alone as the early sun slunk through the branches and cast long shadows across the bluebells.
I walked towards the Bridgewater Monument, enjoying the solitude and the sound of birdsong. It was so lovely that I recorded a few minutes-worth of chirruping tweeting and woodpecker-hammering with the hope of including it here. Unfortunately, as this is the “free” version of WordPress, I can’t upload audiofiles, so you will just have to imagine the sounds.
From the Monument, I continued down towards Aldbury and then headed left, where I eventually found more bluebell woods and a large herd of deer.
I spent a lot of time standing still, trying to photograph the deer and my fingers started to freeze up. It was time for a quick retreat to the cafe at the Monument – deserted at that time of day – where I grabbed a takeaway cup of tea and set off to retrace my steps towards the car. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn somewhere along the way and ended up in an unfamiliar part of the wood. I was lost, but it was so beautiful that I didn’t feel too worried for the first half an hour. I was sure that the path would eventually lead to where I needed to go.
After what seemed like an age, everything was looking less and less familiar and I realised I would have to ask for directions – but who could I ask? I had barely seen a soul all morning and I seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, just minutes later, amid another stunning carpet of bluebells, I came across a “serious photographer” (big lenses, tripod, spare camera). Surely he must have parked nearby with all that equipment? He affirmed that I was going the wrong way and sent me off on a new path. Meanwhile, the sun was warming everything up and making the leaves glow, so I remained cheerful.
Before long, the new path had forked and forked again and there was still no sign of the car park. While I stood hesitating, I saw someone approaching at speed: a “serious runner” (muscular, fast, sweaty). I was reluctant to stop him as he looked so focused and, for all I knew, was timing himself and aiming for a personal best. I took the plunge and asked for help. He assured me that I wasn’t far off and he gave me further directions. Off I set again, but as before, the path forked, twisted and turned. Each bit of wood looked the same as the last and there was no obvious sign of progress. But all was not lost. Approaching through the mud was a “serious dog-walker” (big parka, big dog, big smile). He said that I was going the right way for the road and was nearly there. He also said he’d lost his way a number of times, which made me feel a bit less foolish. Sure enough, ten minutes later, I arrived at my car feeling very relieved.
It had been a glorious walk. It would have been even more glorious if I’d had a proper map. Next time I’ll try to be better prepared!