Today was another day of bright sunshine and blue skies, although the overnight frost was still visible on grass shaded from the sun. We parked in the carefully researched lay-by in Hadham Ford. A sign on the Nag's Head opposite us gave a date of 1595. Just along from the pub was a water pump "erected by subscription April 1880" and a distinctive wooden village sign "erected 2000 AD", although for some reason this was for Little Hadham.
We set off across the River Ash on a footbridge and started to climb up through fields and woods towards Bury Green. The top of the hill turned out be Silver Leys Polo Club with three large flat grassy fields, the largest polo arena in Hertfordshire (according to the website although we never saw it), and a wooden shed full of stacked white plastic chairs for spectators should polo ever start up again. A short debate at the road in Bury Green confirmed we were where we wanted to be and we set off past all of the nice houses we had seen last time to reach the path junction and pick up the Hertfordshire Way again.
After some pleasant woodland in Stocking Wood and Stocking Wood Plantation the path ran round the edge of one of the many very large fields that we would see today. A light scattering of small white pellets indicated that it had recently been fertilised. In the corner of the field we came to what you need to fertilise fields this big: a trailer full of one-tonne fertilizer sacks. Each sack was roughly a metre cube and helpfully marked "not to be sampled by spear" so we didn't.
Instead we set off along the edge of the field parallel to the power lines and soon arrived at the path crossing which marked the start and end of the loop into Bishop's Stortford. This caused quite a debate about which way round we should do it. The signs had various extra stickers saying "Leg 12" and "Leg 13" in an attempt to be helpful. For added confusion the map showed something else entirely since it still had the original route to Little Hadham. I was adamant the book said the loop should be done clockwise so that's what we did even if it turned out that isn't really what the book says.
Things were still remarkably rural across the final field but then we crossed a road and were into a large housing estate that marks the edge of Bishop's Stortford. We had agreed we didn't need to do the full trip into the centre of the town so we settled for going to the alternative end of Leg 12 and start of Leg 13 at Tesco. After the photos to prove we had made it as far east as we were going to get we set off back into the estate.
The person in charge of road names had decided that once you have a theme you need to stick to it properly so we ran down Dukes Ride and Lords Avenue, passing Knights Close, Squires Close and Princes Gate on the way. In fact there had obviously been some spare names since the stone sign set in the wall at the entrance of Squires Close said Barons Court. And the stone sign at the entrance of Knights Close said Kings Gate. And the stone sign at the entrance of Lords Avenue said Queens Gate.
We reached the end of
Queens Gate Lords Close and picked up the path towards the underpass. Soon after we stopped and gazed out over the extensive lake that filled the underpass and the fifty metres of path leading down to it as well. "It will only be knee-deep" James and I both suggested as Helen set off to test it. "It's cold" she said, somewhat predictably. She stopped when the water reached her thighs with some feeble excuse about not getting her knickers wet. I decided to go in to see if that was as deep as it was going to get. It wasn't. I stopped when it reached my thighs as well. We still hadn't even got close to the underpass let alone get through it.
At this point we decided this was probably not a good idea. Luckily, it looked like we could climb the bank through the scrubby vegetation to cross the road. This did turn out to be feasible but required quite a lot of ducking through various trees, thorn bushes and brambles. We sprinted across the road in a suitable gap in the traffic and found a way into the far field and back to the path we wanted. I went back to check the underpass from this side and still couldn't get anywhere near it for water.
The sun shone brightly, a yellowhammer appeared in a tree next to the path and skylarks sang above the fields on each side of the path. We completed the loop and kept going straight on to Green Street. A long hedge of bright orange willow was glowing in the sunshine. It's not there now since people were harvesting it as we ran past and the first few stumps were already completely bare. The path came out into the corner of a big grassy field which turned out to be one of the polo fields we had run around earlier. We had almost made it back to the car but now headed north and dropped down across the A120 and towards St Cecilia's church in Little Hadham.
At this point we should have been heading off towards Hadham Hall but the by-pass construction project meant that instead we needed to take the "official" detour. This involved setting off through the light industrial estate beyond the church. This had a wide variety of occupants including the Hertfordshire and Essex Air Ambulance and a metal fabrication unit which had a neat row of what appeared to be walkway sections for a ship lined up outside it.
The long driveway out to the road offered good views of the by-pass works in progress, as well as 20 fieldfares that flew noisily ahead of us from tree to tree until they all decided to head off somewhere else in a large flock. Reaching the road we came to a bridge over the roadworks and got a proper look at what was going on. The first comment was that they would be lucky to open in Autumn 2021 which is what the signs claimed. There then followed a competition to see who could remember the most lines from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with reference to Arthur Dent's house being demolished to make way for a by-pass followed by the earth being demolished to make way for a hyperspace express route. "Beware of the leopard" featured in there somewhere.
The detour took as along the road for a while and then back down into the fields towards Upwick Hall. James pointed out the first red kite of the day which on closer inspection turned out to be the first buzzard of the day. At the bottom of the hill we came to what should have been the River Ash but which at this point was a surprisingly dry large ditch. Then it was a climb up to Upwick Hall and then on to Upwick Green. Today's post van stopped to deliver to a house which had its own post box set in the wall and turned out to be Pillar Box Cottage. The van then drove down the lane in front of us and was last seen heading down the drive of the next large house with several large dogs chasing it.
We followed a very neatly planted new hedge across the next field and James pointed out another red kite which yet again wasn't. This time it turned out to be six red kites circling over a distant wood. We passed Bogs Cottage which was more attractive than you might have imagined and very soon arrived at the edge of Patmore Heath and the end of today's section of the Hertfordshire Way. Patmore Heath is a small area of heathland very similar to parts of Nomansland Common. A handy bench next to the car park provided a good opportunity for snacks in the sunshine before we set off back on the relatively short stretch to the car at Hadham Ford.
A brief trip along the Harcamlow Way took us down over the River Ash again and then up to a series of oddly named woods around the edge of the Albury Hall estate. We ran along the edge of Ypres. Munich and Suez were just beyond where we turned back south. The next leg will take us further into the estate. The path across the fields came out at St Mary's church, Albury. More fields took us up towards Tilekiln Farm at the top of the hill with a distinctive brick tower in the middle of all the buildings.
The path came out on the A120 next to the by-pass site office and a new roundabout that will eventually mark the start of the by-pass. A slow-moving excavator was holding up the traffic as it chugged back towards the site office. We managed to get across the road in front of it and set out through the final series of undulating fields back to Little Hadham. Thankfully this was mostly downhill since it was now getting quite warm. I spotted another horseshoe in the grass and that made it back to the car to go with the one we collected on the first leg. And with that we were done. Three legs to go and four weeks of March to do them in to finish within six months.