Anastasia French: hiking to Hertfordshire

Day Two: follow the yellow brick road

“Bins! Bins! I forgot to put out the bins!”.

I woke groggy and confused, where was I? What was the annoying beeping noise going on outside? Why was there a strange Scouse man shouting about bins?

As sleepiness subsided and I began to awake, a gradual understanding kicked in. I was sleeping on the sofa of my friend Joe’s house in Edgware. The annoying beeping noise was the bin-men. It was Joe’s brother jumping up and down in his boxers swearing because he’d forgotten to put the bins out the night before.        

Not how I’d planned to start my second day, but it all added to the adventure.

After the bin drama subsided, I dressed and got ready for my second day’s stroll, from the 'beautiful' Burnt Oak to historic St Albans.

View from under a tree

I was joined on Day 2 by my best friend Nicola. I met her at Burnt Oak station, and apologised for the grey start to the day. The greyness was both the weather and the location.

The first hour, felt very similar to the final 3 hours of yesterday’s walk – walking along a dull road to reach the edge of Edgware. Our first footpath was supposed to be the first sign that we were putting London behind us and walking towards the countryside. Unfortunately we struggled to spot the sign itself.

Sprinting across the A41, we searched for a sign to lead us through Environment Agency land to Elstree. We followed a track that we thought was the path, and the rain began to fall. It soon became apparent that the path was leading us to nowhere and we’d have to trek back in the rain to the A41 and find a new route through Edgwarebury.

In hindsight these gloomy 20 minutes were very apt. In my 8 days of walking, this was the only rain I’d get and we were lost, wet and in Edgware. I can think of better moments in my journey. Consulting google and OS maps, I carved a new route through a nice park to get to Edgwarebury farm. Passing walkers were beginning to smile at us, so we knew we were heading north.

We had quite a hike up a hill to reach Elstree. We were both puffing away, but trying not to puff too loudly, as there was an older woman a few paces ahead who was striding up the hill with no problems whatsoever.

When we reached Elstree, we’d officially left London and joined Hertfordshire. As a Londoner this made me sad, as a Rambler I was happy. Hertfordshire County Council were now responsible for signposting and maintaining paths. I knew the man responsible for making sure Hertfordshire’s paths were in ship-shape. If I found myself lost or stuck, there’d be an angry email going to him – even if it was my poor map reading that led to it, rather than anything in his control.

Elstree quickly merged into Borehamwood, our lunch spot for the day. Elstree and Borehamwood are most famous for the BBC studios, and I walked through hoping to spot an Eastenders actor or Strictly Come Dancing star. Unfortunately, all we spotted were a couple of drunks.

One drunkard bellowed “you’re really beautiful”.  After he passed us, he turned around to clarify his remark “I mean the one on the left!” Nice.

I was hoping to spend my money in local businesses rather than national chains. But I was failing a bit. Day one’s lunch came from Tesco, day two’s – Nandos. Every day after this would be a local pub, I promise!

After our lunch break, we wandered through Borehamwood’s charming parks and along a stream. It was a nice bit of suburbia that reminded me of the second day’s walk on last year’s adventure, along the Hogsmill River. I liked the symmetry of these experiences.

Pathway between trees

Borehamwood petered out and we took a path leading to Radlett. We stopped for a second to consult our map over which path to take, and a woman walking her dogs stopped to help us ─ another sign we’d left London behind us. Unfortunately her directions were so complicated that we stopped listening and instead smiled and nodded and found our own way after she passed.

“You walk up here, then take the path left of the hedge, and then in the right-hand corner of the field you’ll find a path leading here and then there and then over that and under this….”

Radlett is very much a village for rich people working in London wanting their slice of the rural idyll. The houses were huge, the views were beautiful and every car was a range rover. We stopped for a lime and soda in a local pub and felt very shabby with our backpacks and boots.

The stretch from Radlett to St Albans was supposed to be the final leg, but tiredness kicked in and it felt a lot longer than that. Thanks to a combination of poor map reading and a new footpath diversion, we got lost outside Radlett. We eventually found our way and continued north until we passed under the M25, the final sign that we weren’t in London anymore, Toto.

After the M25, we followed the river walk through parks, fields and nature reserves. In one field we found some cattle. In hindsight they were probably the least threatening cows in the world, but we walked through them with utter dread that we would be stampeded to death. In actual fact they completely ignored us!

For the past 18 miles, Nicola and I had been chatting about anything and everything. For the final two miles, we walked in complete silence. The kind of silence that says ‘you’re my best friend, I’m too tired to talk to you right now, but I know you understand’.

Once we reached St Albans we agreed, (telepathically) that we’d stop at the first pub that we found. St Albans is renowned for its pubs, there’d be one on every corner, we thought. Not on the route that we took. The silence and the plodding continued as we walked towards the station. Eventually we found a pub and stopped for a lime and soda and to high-five ourselves for walking 20.5 miles.

We were exhausted. Nicola went to the toilet and came back claiming that her legs were so tired that they’d forgotten how to walk. Ironic considering that she’d walked 20 miles, but I found the same when I tried to hobble to the toilet. 

After our lime and sodas, I waved goodbye to Nicola at the station, grabbed myself a dirty kebab and checked into my home for the night.

As I sat on my single bed, in my rather basic bed and breakfast, mental and physical exhaustion hit me.

My mood plummeted even further when I got a text from my travelling companion for the next day saying that he would no longer be joining me. His excuses were a mixture of trains, money and time, but they added up to one thing – he couldn’t be bothered.

I felt let down and lonely. If he couldn’t be bothered to head to Hertfordshire, how on earth was I to walk to Norfolk?

Total Distance – 20.5 miles (7 miles longer than predicted)
Highlight – Leaving London behind me.  

Anastasia French walked from London to the Norfolk coast. Stay tuned for her next installment! You can also follow Anastasia on twitter @RamblingFrench.