Helen's exotic trips to Bushey, Elstree and Stevenage to volunteer at vaccine centres meant that we needed to fill up with petrol at the Savacentre on the way to Cuffley. This was also a convenient place to stock up with snacks since the mince pies have finally run out.
That then meant a trip around the M25 and Helen spotted a fox as we came off at Junction 24. That started a long debate about whether we could count that as something we had seen on the Hertfordshire Way. We then got to a set of roadworks with traffic lights which turned out to be stuck on red at both ends, but luckily people worked it out quite quickly and just drove through.
We parked at Cuffley Football Club which we had passed in the fog on Leg 17. I could now see right across the adjacent field but there was no sign of the red-legged partridges that had been hiding in the fog the last time we were here.
The track down to the railway was as muddy as expected, but somebody had still managed to drive most of the way down it before abandoning a car in deep mud in a field entrance. After crossing under the railway we turned right to start the eastern loop to Hertford. The missing railway viaduct that had been hidden by the fog previously was now visible and provided early interest on what would turn out to be a somewhat dull day.
Northaw Brook flows under the viaduct and we followed it for a while until it joined Cuffley Brook. A red kite flew overhead but the brown splodge in the far corner of the field turned out on closer inspection to be a large pheasant rather than a small muntjac. At least the path was reasonable, and a lot of locals were out to enjoy the sunshine.
At a crossroads we turned left and headed up the hill on what was an old surfaced road. Redwings and fieldfares flew out of the hedges as we approached and another red kite showed up. We had now reached Goffs Oak which turns out to have few attractions. The Goffs Oak tree (a replacement oak tree planted in 1950 for the alleged eponymous oak tree) stands in a fenced enclosure with a memorial stone outside of the Goffs Oak pub. Nothing else sticks in the memory or was worthy of a photo.
The paths and fields started getting seriously wet and muddy but also started giving views eastwards across the wide Lea Valley and into Essex. A kestrel provided a short distraction as we splashed down through the standing water in the long grass and we then had to climb through a fallen tree that blocked the path in the stream at the bottom. There was a short run along the wonderfully named Bread and Cheese Lane and then the final drop down to Turnford Brook. This took us past a large building site where several very big houses were being fitted in a very small space, even if they did have splendid views down the valley.
Crossing the brook took us into the start of a large section of ancient woodland in Broxbourne Woods National Nature Reserve. Today we would pass through Derry's Wood, Wormley Wood and Bencroft Wood which were already very familiar since this is a mapped orienteering area.
The mandatory photo stop on this leg is the coal post in the middle of the wood. This post dates from around 1860 and marks a place for the collection of duties on coal and wine being taken to London. There are several scattered across Hertfordshire but this is the first one we had passed. The wording on it reads "ACT 24 & 25 VICT CAP 42" should anyone ever ask you. And having bothered to write that I of course had to find out why so your next stop is the Coal Duty Posts website.
We continued on through the wonderful runnable undulating open oak and hornbeam woodlands. Wormleybury Brook at the bottom of the valley was full of small children splashing along it, and we then headed along the edge of the woods past a large newly cleared area before reaching the central track. In November 2010 this had been the finish for the British Schools Orienteering Championships that Helen organised and I planned. It should have been the British Schools Orienteering Championships in 2020 as well but that event was unsurprisingly cancelled.
West End Road was littered with parked cars that clearly didn't fit in the normal car parks and reflected the large number of people out walking. One hundred metres up the road and we reached White Stubbs Lane and the end of today's leg. There are limited options to get back to Cuffley and in the end we decided to take in a large block of woodland at Thunderfield Grove that neither of us had been to before, and then risk another visit to the outskirts of Goffs Oak.
There was slight confusion as we tried to work out how to get through the Woodman and Olive pub. It eventually turned out that the footpath did indeed go through the middle of the beer garden. There was then further confusion as we discovered lots of planning notices and signs warning of diverted paths across a field and farmyard. The path still went vaguely across the field as shown on the map but will probably get diverted around the edge now that a large new house has been built.
Thunderfield Grove itself turned out to be pretty much as expected with a selection of brambles and coppice with very muddy paths. There was also a section of pine plantation as a variation but overall we decided it would be marginal to try to use for an event. There then followed an extremely muddy, wet, slippery and slow slog for a kilometre up what should have been a green lane to get back to Goffs Oak via Hammond Street. We passed several groups of walkers picking their way carefully down toward us, mostly with totally inappropriate footwear given the underfoot conditions.
The house at the top of the lane had a garden adorned with a red telephone box, a concrete cow and the back end of an aeroplane planted in the ground to provide some light entertainment before the trek through the housing estates of Hammond Street. The path went down a long fence line separating the houses from a large expanse of litter-strewn brambles and blackthorn that somebody seems to have forgotten to build on. We eventually found a place to sit down for a quick snack, although it wasn't the sunny field with views of the Lea Valley that we had been looking for.
St James church turned up, which would be the only church of the day. We passed yet more acres of derelict greenhouses, which seem to be a feature around here, and then struck out across a ploughed field with just the vaguest indication that anyone had been this way before. A distant view of Docklands appeared through the trees and we were soon back to the crossroads from earlier in the day. That meant we just had to retrace our steps back towards the viaduct and then along the muddy track to the car. Two buzzards and a red kite did their best to liven things up, but we were both very happy to stop.
The day had been a real slog and both of us were wondering quite why we were doing this. Average weather, little of any particular interest to see, horrible underfoot conditions. The next three legs take us into the canals, lakes and nature reserves along the Lea Valley so hopefully the bird life will improve if nothing else. And to end the day on a more positive note there were at least 20 red-legged partridge in the field next to the one they had been in previously.