The ice had melted and the temperature had risen. The sun even threatened to make an appearance, and the birds were singing loudly as we parked in a housing estate in Hadham Cross. Things were looking up as a nuthatch landed in the tree next to the car as we were getting ready to set off.
Parking for these later legs is proving a little complicated and we were faced with a two kilometre run to get to where we left off last time. This was across some large open fields and it soon became apparent that the rise in temperature had brought back the mud. The path went past houses with a rope attempting to keep people off the grass and signs warning that the spring flowers wouldn't appear if people kept walking on the verge.
We emerged onto the road that we had run along last time. The muntjac wasn't in the field and the automatic gates didn't open but the main road down to Hadham Mill was still a bit narrow. After a brief stretch of new road we turned off onto a path through woodland along the River Ash. There were views of lakes and large houses through the trees towards the river. On the other side was a short steep wooded slope. We reached the point where the Hertfordshire Way headed up the slope along the edge of the trees but first had to do the loop around Much Hadham. A red kite flew over and then a smaller bird of prey that on balance I decided was a sparrowhawk.
The wooded slope through the imaginatively named Sidehill Wood continued until we got to a road and crossed a grassy field to the river. There was a ford at the field corner where the river crossed the road but there was also water flowing down the road. We ran up the road and then had to jump this extra stream to get into the final few fields before the church. Several more red kites flew over, and we started to see large balls of mistletoe in the trees. There is a lot of mistletoe around Much Hadham as we were to discover.
By now we were running past very large and very old houses and soon arrived at St Andrew's Church. Somewhere behind the church was yet another large house, this time the former palace of the Bishops of London, surrounded by tall tress full of more mistletoe. Builders were busy taking scaffolding into the church and we soon discovered that we couldn't get inside, so we had to settle for a tour of the outside.
I had come prepared with a checklist of items to look for, but it hadn't included the bee's nest in the gutter that we spotted first. The outside of the porch didn't seem to have the statues I was expecting, but the Arts and Crafts Cross by Henry Wilson was glinting nicely in the sunshine outside the east end. The north side then revealed the chequerboard flint decoration around the windows.
The west end provided what I had mistakenly been looking for on the porch with Henry Moore's carvings of the heads of a King and Queen on either side of the door. Unfortunately, these seem to have been in a very soft stone and were much more weathered than I was expecting given they only date back to 1953. After dodging several loads of scaffolding I also managed to get a quick look through the door to see the sun streaming through the stained glass at the east end.
There was now a long stretch of road as we ran down the High Street past the succession of old houses, many of them neatly restored and maintained. There was endless thatch, half-timbering, overhanging eaves and Georgian brick, often with bright colours. Having written that sentence I did a quick check and discovered that Pevsner had written "Of its own kind Much Hadham is visually probably the most successful village in the county. Its kind is that of the wealthy, in a way almost urban, village, with big Georgian houses in contrast with the more varied c16 and c17 cottages. The main street is long, of very high architectural quality and beautifully maintained..."
The museum at the forge was painted a bright yellow. Outside it stood another "Best kept village" sign, the first one since Northaw on Leg 17. We passed the War Memorial and then Helen started getting seriously upset as we debated which of the various paths we needed to take to get back to the river. The main problem was that the route on the map wasn't the route in the book. This was a minor difference getting through Much Hadham but a much more significant issue a bit later where the map shows a southerly approach to Bishops Stortford but the new route in the book heads in from the west to avoid a new housing development.
Having found the right path we found ourselves back at the ford and footbridge. A small bird flew fast and low across in front of us towards the river. The sun was behind it, so it just looked a uniform dark colour. Starling was my first thought but it clearly wasn't as it had a very long thin beak. Helen hadn't seen it. James thought that it had been bluish. It was almost certainly a kingfisher.
We headed back along the bottom of the wooded slope and got back to the crossroads. The short sharp climb was a good excuse for a walk, and we then set off across another large stony field towards Perry Green. A cold wind blew across the field despite the hints of sunshine. A small grassy hill behind a distant hedge was topped with an enormous bronze statue with the sun glinting off it. We had reached the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens. Further statues loomed behind the hedge but all proved difficult to see properly until we went through a gate and found ourselves on a path passing right through the middle of the gardens. Further statues were scattered around.
Setting off through the fields between Perry Green and Green Tye it was obvious that someone had put a lot of effort into improving the drainage. A newly dug ditch ran alongside the path nearly all the way, with the excavated soil (mainly clay) spread along the edges of the field. Water was flowing freely in the new ditch and the paths were remarkably free of mud. The old route of the Hertfordshire Way disappeared off to the right and we turned left towards Green Tye. A large patch of bright lime green vegetation by the side of the path stood out in the sunshine and after later investigation turned out to be stinking hellebore, also known as amongst other things bear's foot and stinkwort. Green Tye itself can best be described as a small village. Indeed from what we saw it was almost a village sign and village green without any associated village.
But it did have a big farm and nursery. We ran around this, passing woodland full of snowdrops, yet more trees full of mistletoe and then a mysterious windowless dome almost big enough to be another indoor football pitch like the one at Shenley. From the smell we guessed it was a chicken farm. We never worked out exactly what it was but looking at the planning applications later it got even more mysterious since all I could find were references to a covered lagoon.
We were now most of the way back to Much Hadham but luckily could turn right along the road and start heading for Bishops Stortford. The road led to Dane Bridge where we crossed another road and set off along the edge of Great Hadham Golf and Country Club, totally devoid of any golfers of course. The path passed through an area of grassland with a stream running through it between the golf course and the open fields. Signs warned of cattle but there were none obvious. Two buzzards circled the far field as a change from red kites. We soon reached more woodland with increasing amounts of mud and emerged from the woods onto a track which was today's random stopping point.
Turning left we set off towards Bury Green. The bottom of the hedgerow displayed a bright patch of yellow and white where winter aconite was flowering amongst the snowdrops. A Brimstone butterfly flew past. Reaching the houses we found the track blocked by a parked ambulance with a post van parked behind it. That explains why we had seen the postman walking down the track earlier. From here it was under four kilometres back to the car, and in fact we had never been further away than four kilometres for the whole day. We set off across a series of muddy fields with a strong chilly southerly wind seeming to be against us all the way. Helen decided it was time for snacks even if I had forgotten to put the water bottle in, and all three of us were finding it hard going for some reason.
I was pointing out yet more muntjac prints in the mud in the final wood when the real thing appeared ahead of us crossing the track and running off into the thick undergrowth. And then we were back in Much Hadham. We got views of the church and Bishop's Palace from the other side and then set off down the High Street again. This time we turned right by the War Memorial to take the path across the parkland around the large house at Moor Place. A great spotted woodpecker could be heard drumming in the distance above the noise of the two men with lawnmowers who had decided that it was already time to cut the lawn for the first time this year.
The path took a final strange route up the front drive of what looked like quite a new house, passing through a narrow gap between the garage and main house. Quite how that got planning permission we never worked out. And then we were back into the housing estate where we had parked in Hadham Cross.
For some reason we decided to check out car parking for the next leg on the way back. That first involved a third trip through the middle of Much Hadham to reach Hadham Ford which turned out to have a perfectly adequate lay-by for next time. From this point it made sense to head north and then take the A120 back, but this all went wrong when the A120 turned out to be closed for three days as part of the Little Hadham by-pass works which is going to mess up the next leg as well.
The next idea was to go back through Barwick Ford, which required a fourth trip of the day along Much Hadham High Street. And finally we worked out that the traffic lights we had been through earlier were on the junction we wanted and that the Barwick Ford road was closed as well, so we had to settle for going back via Ware.