Nature Trail

Once upon a time, when Caralyn and I started walking together, we would speed from A to B as fast as possible, carrying only keys, tissues and – if we were feeling extravagant – a carton of juice. Things have changed over the years, partly due to age and health issues and partly because we have become more interested in what’s going on around us. Nowadays we rarely set off without picnic items, enough money for cafe-breaks, and fully-charged cameras. It was in this more leisurely spirit that we set off yesterday on a 33-mile training walk. (Yes, I know that a leisurely 33-mile walk is an oxymoron, but even so, it’s all relative).

Our journey began with a 13-mile trek along the canal from Boxmoor to Tring, where we did a loop around the reservoirs, finishing with coffee at the Bluebells Tearooms. We have walked this stretch so many times but never get tired of the changing colours of the seasons: the boats, blossom and countless shades of green.

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Although disappointed by the lack of kingfishers, we saw lots of herons and a little cluster of ducklings, peeking out from underneath their Mum.

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Now, although this all looks very picturesque, some stretches of the canal were not quite as beautiful. Returning towards Tring station, the water was decidedly murky in places and we came across a number of dead creatures floating along: a magpie, a fish and a small deer. So in this context, when we saw what looked like two small black squares being carried along by the current, we were not sure if they were dead leaves or dead-something-elses. We stopped to look closer, zooming in with our cameras. Lo and behold it was two tiny moorhen chicks, seemingly lifeless and passive: but then their feet wiggled and they started cheeping. Their parents were not far away and we deduced that this was perhaps their first outing on the water. It was amazing to watch them!

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A short while later, we reached Tring station, where we left the towpath, and began a strenuous 10-mile loop, beginning with a short, uphill section of the Ridgeway to Ivinghoe Beacon. We don’t get much practice on hills, so we found it a bit steep in places, but the panoramic views made it worthwhile.

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From the Beacon, we walked along the road to Dockey Wood, probably the most bluebell-y (and most photographed) part of the Ashridge estate. The colour and fragrance was just breathtaking.

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Leaving the bluebells, we walked for half an hour or so through peaceful, shady woodland, emerging at the Bridgewater Monument and cafe, where we stopped for a cup of tea, along with what seemed like half the population of Hertfordshire. Then, refreshed, we left the crowds and took the steep downhill path towards the village of Aldbury, continuing down through the meadows to rejoin the canal. It was a particularly beautiful descent as the grass was glowing green in the afternoon sun and the verges were full of flowers: cowslips, speedwell, celandines, forget-me-nots, wood anemones and violets.

Not long after joining the towpath, we knew we were in prime kingfisher territory so we stopped for a few minutes, eyes scanning the banks and trees. We were just about to give up when Caralyn was alerted by an insistent bird call, and spotted two kingfishers on a branch. A second later, one sped off, followed by the other, two sapphire streaks vanishing from sight. A few miles further on we were treated to the sight of a huge (18 inch) fish and then a pair of goldfinches, who stubbornly refused to be still enough for a photograph. A mandarin duck was more obliging.

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All these beautiful sights had distracted us from our aching limbs but we became seriously weary on the final stretch, from Berkhamsted to Boxmoor. We shared a packet of crisps to keep our spirits up, and trudged on, over what seemed like unnecessarily flinty and rough ground. Eventually we reached the Fishery bridge and five minutes later, we were home. Although we were exhausted, we rated it as one of our best ever walks. We hope this selection of our photos has done it justice.

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3 thoughts on “Nature Trail

  1. Whenever I see photos of the English canals and the sidewalks I am always envious; they always look so simple and easy-going compared to so much bushwalking here in Tasmania. Yesterday again I was up the Derwent covering some new territory (more to go into the ‘walkingthederwent’ blog as soon as I have time) and into the pristine bush. Wonderful stuff. But no more or less wonderful than the country you are covering. I love your stunning photos. And I smiled at the thought of aging bringing on a need for a few more things as you walk. Well done ladies. Always impressed.

    • Thank you as always for your encouraging comments! Yes – your bushwalking sounds impossible to me! This was the issue we encountered when we did Race to the King last year: as the ground was much rougher than we are used to, we realised what a difference terrain makes. Towpaths and pavements are all very well but we struggle when it gets less defined. Your recent post about not being able to pick out surfaces because of lichen reminded me of how exhausting it is when doing these big walking events overnight when the light fades and you can’t see what you’re doing properly. So well done for your more adventurous exploits – I look forward to reading more!

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