Saturday, 25 January 2014

Woke to watery grey sky, followed by brilliant blue and sunshine, then window-rattling wind, heavy rain, and thunder and lightning. British weather trying to be unpredictable.

On Monday (today is Saturday and, in case you're wondering, I have been working all day - except for when I broke off to hang pink satin curtains, which look exceedingly good against the green of Farrow & Ball's misnamed French Grey...), we went for the long-anticipated 'Amersham Tour' out of London Transport's Country Walks, First Series (first published 1936). There was something about following a walk with accompanying map from a time before the Second World War, across London's Green Belt, I found irresistible. What would have changed? What would be the same? Would it still be possible to use the old map?

We had mixed results. Old signage was gone completely and a lot of it was renamed the South Buckinghamshire Trail, but it was just about still do-able.

Most notable was the early confusion about where exactly we were, as our 2014 signage took us over a little stile that didn't exist back in 1936, across a very fast road, and then over another stile on the other side and downward into a wood. None of this corresponded with what the book said and the only recognisable landmark was a church, which we headed for. When we arrived, its yard contained graves marked with a head and foot stone, and an almost bed-like stone in between (see handy picture). I'd never seen anything like them before and there were quite a number. 
My walking companion suggested that the fast road might be new and we continued with that idea in the back of our heads. We managed to get all the way to Amersham Station (also on the old map) and began the walk back, which took us through the beautiful and very elegant high street of Old Amersham.
It was dotted with original pubs, courtyards and doors that opened directly onto the pavement, and the general impression was that the only change since 1936 was that it had all probably been vastly loved up since those days and probably cost a fortune to live on now - while in those days they might have seemed like small little workers cottages left over from late Georgian/early Victorian times. I liked this little shop tucked into the arch of a courtyard.

After a little while, as the new road began to come into sight and hearing distance, my walking companion was proved right: the new road is undoubtedly a bypass, to divert traffic from the delicate old high street, and so our earlier confusion over where we were was explained.

Much tramping on and upwards, as well as discussion about where exactly we were on that old map, continued as we went on. A stately home, Shardeloes, and its surrounding parkland, remained virtually unchanged - even the book said it was part of London's Green Belt, land that has (hopefully!) been put aside for protection from development - but trees have obviously grown and enough subtle changes have taken place that we began to have serious doubts about where we were.

With the light fading and an ominous-looking electrical sub-station looming to one side, my companion suggested we turn around and go back to where a path had led off to the right, in the general direction of where we'd left the car. I have to admit the idea of retracing our steps and still not knowing if we were really going in the right direction didn't appeal, so I did the sneaky thing and took out my iPhone - google maps to the rescue!

So, much mud and up and down followed, but we made it back with a feeling of accomplishment and adventure having taken place.

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