Monday, 23 June 2014

Summer solstice

What to do on the longest day of the year? And, in Britain, it really is long: 4.43am to 9.21pm, that's over 14 and a half hours of daylight. Head for the countryside, was our answer, so after making enough picnic to choke a horse (a phrase my brother is fond of saying), we took off from London for western Hertfordshire. Less than an hour later we were parking up in the Ashridge Estate, though we hardly went into it this time, opting instead to follow paths that took us 'round the edge, past wheatfields that rippled like the sea in the softest breezes, and into pocket nature reserves, protected as sites of special interest.

One such was Aldbury Nowers, which claims to be home to more than 30 species of butterfly (not all active at once, unfortunately), though we did spot a Marbled White, which looks like a chequerboard, and a Common Brown, which looks, well, brown. Also a few Red Admirals, which I have decided are the British equivalent to the USA's Monarch. That is, they're abundant, similarly colored, and are pretty much the only one everyone can name.

At any event, after going uphill into the National Trust-protected reserve, there was a handy seat, where we ate most of the lunch, which was starting to weigh heavily, and got to look out over this view while we munched.

There were so many pretty spots and it was an incredibly varied walk, that took in woods, fields and, probably our favorite bit, when we came out on the ridge of the Chiltern Hills and had the vast view out toward, I suppose, Oxford and the Cotswolds. Of course, I don't think I actually took a picture of this, so you just have to picture fields, villages, hedgerows and, of course, the ubiquitous roads that seem to criss-cross everywhere, stretching off to the slightly hazy horizon.

On the return, we made for the actual town of Aldbury, which I'd read has been used as the location for various films and TV shows (Midsommer Murders, Morse, Bridget Jones's Diary...). I liked it, though it was terribly twee (translation for north Americans: a Brit word for something that's over-cute), my walking companion less so, who described it as "nothing special". We were making for The Greyhound pub, but as it was closed for a private engagement, we went on and found another, helpfully signposted from the central crossroads, called the Valiant Trooper (tel: +44 (0)1442 851203), which had a large sunny garden with plenty of picnic tables to sit at, a clean loo and a cosy inside, with a chalkboard promising good food. We didn't eat any, so I can't say, but it made a perfect resting point.

One last detail: as we entered Aldbury, we passed this barn which has its building date worked into its construction: the bricks across the top, in the point of the roof, spell out 1757. 

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