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14 June 2014: Highest point of Herts, Tring

Event route planned and designed by David W in 2014.

Weather: overcast with some light showers, followed by sunny intervals after lunch.  17-19°C.  Slight wind NE up to 10mph. Humid.

Attendance: 17 members, all male.

Time: start 1113, finish 1625, including mid-route pub stop.

Terrain: footpath, bridleway, woodland track, road, towpath.

Number of highest points in Hertfordshire: 1.

Number of military fly-bys: 1.

This walk was a circular route of 9.43 miles from Tring railway station, SW to Wigginton and Hastoe, to the highest point of Herts at Pavis Wood, then returned NE via Wigginton Bottom and Cow Roast, then N on the Grand Union Canal towpath to Tring railway station.  The route used parts of the Ridgeway, the Icknield Way Trail and the Chiltern Way.  Notable woods visited included Bull's Wood, Tring Park and Pavis Wood.

Although overcast, the walk boasted a generous spread of wild flowers - plus a smattering of garden escapes - with some fieldside verges clearly left without herbicide.  One verge in particular had crop growing alongside poppies, speedwells, forget-me-nots, and four species of thistle, amongst numerous others.  In meadows, the rich orange-yellow colour of birdsfoot trefoil competed with the seasonal carpet of buttercups.

Bull's Wood was the first notable woodland on the route, part of the Woodland Trust's land that includes Tring Park.  Trees in this part of Herts seem taller than elsewhere in Herts, probably due to the slope of the landscape, meaning trees on the lower slope need to grow more to compete for sunlight.  The footpath is enclosed by a cathedral-like canopy.  This year, with spring arriving earlier than expected, the tree canopy was already at its maximum, making ground level quite dark.  The tree cover extends from Bull's Wood into Tring Park, eventually opening a little to give a wide panoramic view of Tring and the Mansion of Tring Park.  The Woodland Trust notes the areas as the second-largest area of unimproved chalk grassland in the county, therefore a key habitat for wildlife.

Throughout the first half of the walk, we received a perpetual reminder that this walk is all about the highest point in Herts.  This means climbing uphill.  To put this into context, our friends in the Welsh, Scottish and Mid-English GOC groups have hills and the occasional mountain, some of which might actually need crampons to climb.  Herts' highest point is 244 metres.  Herts can access its highest point via a nice public road, the countryside equivalent of an escalator.  Nonetheless, the group reserved the right to howl in complaint about vertigo, altitude sickness and oxygen deficiency.

Other groups have something to show for their highest points, too.  Wales has a mountain with a cafe on top of it, very posh.  Cambs - a county so flat that its GOC group campaigns the Ordnance Survey to map speed bumps with contour lines - celebrates its highest point with a sub-station.  Herts?  An administrative border.  Yes, Herts' highest point is the border with Buckinghamshire. Bucks allegedly considers this to be its lowest point; clearly, this is geographically incorrect, so one has to wonder what Bucks might mean.  The group photograph is taken at Herts' highest point, immediately before crossing the border; the only thing we could find to gather around was a slightly dilapidated signpost.

The walk continued through Pavis Wood and into part of Grim's Ditch, a key component of the Ridgeway National Trail, although this section forms part of the Chiltern Way.  At this point, the sky grumbled loudly, and we were treated by a fly-by of some military aircraft, presumably returning to base from having parachuted a box of tea bags to Her Maj Liz 2 on her official birthday.  The fly-by included an AWACS aircraft, a fueller and escorting fighters.  (Must have been some very valuable tea bags.)

Lunch was at a nice spot in High Scrubs Wood.  It would have been quite uneventful but for a thundering crack and howls of shock.  It turns out that three members chose to sit on a fallen dead branch for their lunch.  Unfortunately, as they gained weight eating their lunch, the branch unconditionally surrendered, broke in half and sent all three sprawling to the ground, legs waving in the air, sandwiches flying like butterflies (low-fat-spread-flies?).  As it was the Queen's birthday, the group awarded Mel C the LBE: Log Breaker of the Empire.

As the start point was Tring railway station, known for being devoid of anything other than a railway station, the pub stop was mid-walk.  The pub was the Cow Roast Inn, at Cow Roast.  Its sign announces its "traditional pub food": Thai.  The pub is comfortable, serving numerous ales from the Tring brewery.

Cow Roast itself isn't much to look at.  It has a marina for the canal, and a pretty lock with lockkeepers' cottages.  Yet it has quite a story to tell.  The local council refers to it as "one of the most important Late Iron Age and Roman industrial landscapes in England".  Excavations from 1972 reveal that Cow Roast was a major centre for the mining, processing and trade of bog iron in Iron Age Britain.  The quantity of Roman artefacts resulted in English Heritage designating the area as a Roman town.  Excavations also found bones of up to 40 cows, suggesting that the name Cow Roast is probably a corruption of "Cow's Rest" - a rest more permanent for some cows than for others - and probably a trade route for the London beef market.

One member was slightly upset by the name Cow Roast, and requested a vegetarian equivalent of the walk stopping at a place perhaps called "Nut Roast".  So the quest is on to find a major Roman industrial trading point that rested nuts on their way to the London nut market and left the bones of up to 40 nuts in the ground.  This could be a tall order.  In Herts, the only place whose name comes close is Nuthampstead, and "hampstead" means "paparazzi zone", not "rest".

The walk's leader was David Walter, who completed his hat-trick of highest points with this walk, to mark GOC's 40th anniversary.  David had covered the highest points in Cambs and Essex with a walk for GOC Cambridge.

Photographs by Peter O'Connor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_places_in_Hertfordshire
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cow_Roast - cow rest?  ancient industrial landscape.
http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/wood-information/tring-park/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tring_Park
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim's_Ditch#Chilterns
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ridgeway_National_Trail#National_Trail
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/restaurants/5983952/Restaurant-review-Summit-Cafe-in-Snowdonia-and-Castle-Cottage-in-Gwynedd.html

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