This needed to be a quick leg since Helen had to be back by one o'clock for a meeting. Things started badly with internet problems meaning I struggled to send some work emails so we were already late when we left home. There was then another delay whilst we scraped ice off the car. And then we discovered a police van blocking the road at Tylers Causeway.
I speculated that it was a crash caused by ice on the steep hill ahead. Whatever it was we had to turn round and take the scenic route past places we had seen on Leg 18 including Cucumber Lane, Little Berkhamsted and Stratton's Tower. But it all added an extra fifteen minutes.
It was still very cold as we set off but with bright sunshine and a blue sky. The cold had at least frozen most of the mud and puddles and made them slightly easier to run over as well as producing crunchy sound effects. We soon made it to the main part of Broxbourne Woods and I pulled out my map from an event in January 1982 that was still reasonably accurate. More recently it was used for the British Student Orienteering Championships in 2019.
The path along Spital Brook was suitably muddy and required slaloming from side to side to avoid the worst of the mud and frequent jumps over the many ditches running down to the main stream. The sunshine was enough to encourage the first real bird song of the year, and I spotted blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, robins and redwings. A buzzard flew off through the trees as we approached but this would finally be the leg where we wouldn't see a red kite. A cleared area with earthworks next to the stream was clearly not natural and turned out to be the remains of a medieval moated enclosure thought to date from around the 13th century.
As we got to the far end of the woods a post van was making its way down the road to an isolated farm. This farm turned out to have its own array of solar panels carefully screened from view of the farmhouse by a large clump of bamboo and a eucalyptus tree. It also wasn't as isolated as it looked since the A10 was at the bottom of the field. We followed it south rather than crossing at the underpass and climbed up past large areas of gorse and scattered silver birch, not really looking like Hertfordshire at all.
We crossed the A10 and after a short detour caused by an overgrown path we set off across the Lucy Warren Open Space around the edge of Broxbourne. This led to Top Field Cozens Grove with views down into the Lea Valley. At the bottom of the woods the path was blocked with a large metal fence and notices advised of a diversion whilst more building work went on at Broxbourne School. The diversion took us along the edge of the golf course, across the New River and then back along a main road, but more importantly added an extra kilometre and ten minutes to our day.
But eventually we got to a bridge and dropped down onto the path along the New River. This is a water supply aqueduct completed in 1613 to take drinking water from Hertfordshire to London. I used to run along bits of it when I lived in Stoke Newington and had got as far north as Waltham Abbey. We would now be following it from Broxbourne most of the way to Hertford.
The river has very obvious artificial banks and long stretches of the west side are now lined by large houses with impressive gardens. To the east lies the railway line heading to Hertford or Cambridge, and the River Lea. There was plenty of bird life even if it was just the usual suspects: mallard, coot, moorhen, Canada goose, black headed gull. Things will hopefully get more interesting further north. The river led us past St Augustine Church and we got one step closer to seeing a fox when a large dead one turned up on the path. But I don't think we can really count that one either.
The multi-storey car park next to Broxbourne station had a scattering of cars on the ground level but was otherwise empty. A very large new car park further north was completely empty and had obviously been built to meet demand that may not exist for a very long time yet. The scenery kept coming with an old pumping station, rock gardens, topiary, river-side patios and random statuary and finally the iron footbridge that marked the end of today's leg. Looking at the photos later I made out the maker's mark which showed the bridge had been made in 1896 by Head, Wrightson & Co in Theraby-on-Tees.
We crossed the bridge and found a way through a supermarket car park to reach Hoddesdon town centre. The intention was to break up the road route back to the A10 by picking up a footpath behind the houses. This cost us another five minutes since the path was closed and yet another housing estate was going up. Instead we had to settle for the road route which took us past High Leigh Conference Centre, another place familiar to Helen through guiding, and then back over the A10.
There were various options to get back through Broxbourne Woods but with time getting tight we settled for pretty much the shortest. We saved a few minutes by having snacks on the move, although it was no more than some water and half a hot cross bun each since stocks had run out. We ploughed on through the mud in Broxbourne Wood and then headed down the route of Ermine Street, the ancient Roman road from London to York. This turned out to go past Danemead Scout Camp where Helen and Peter had stayed on a scout camp.
After a last section through the woods we followed the road to the back of Paradise Wildlife Park. The large car park was the scene of one of Peter's early dramatic highlights when he won a prize for best fancy dress at a Friends of Great Ormond Street event. He was dressed as a gorilla and received his prize from actress Linda Robson. On the other side of the road is a large house with its own wolf enclosure. Finally the path took us past the dinosaur park with two large dinosaurs looming over the fence in the sunshine.
That got us back to the car but time was still tight. We guessed that whatever had caused the road closure at Tylers Causeway would be cleared by now. This turned out to be correct, and the probable cause of the closure also appeared when we passed a very large crane sticking out into the road as it lifted steelwork for a new house. And so we finally arrived home to give Helen ten minutes for a shower before her meeting started. A huge improvement over the previous leg, greatly helped by the sunshine.