Planning is essential in any endeavour like this. Without proper planning it is unlikely that I will succeed in my ultimate objective. So I sat down to plan the next leg carefully. There are three words that I like to use to describe my approach to planning. Vagueness, indecision and contingency. These shall be my watchwords.

In keeping with these principles I set off with no real idea where I was going to get to. Of course I had a map. Two in fact. And had noted various spots, St Albans, Hatfield, Harpenden and Luton, with train stations that could bring me home again. I hoped to make it to Luton but realised that it was a long shot and a long way. Indeed, meticulous map measurements informed that it was more than twelvtey miles from High Barnet.

However, I decided to set off really early to maximise my chances. Unfortunately I woke up quite late. Never mind. I bought a couple of croissants from the Yildiz Kurdish bakery and into Archway tube. No tubes beyond Finchley Central said the notice. Argh! The dreaded bus replacement service.
Nor did I get a quick start at High Barnet. I had promised myself a cappuccino and really fancied a Costa one. I didn’t know for sure that High Barnet had a Costa but it is the sort of place that should do and I was damned if I was going to give up without a thorough search. Eventually, I tracked it down in a little shopping centre. Had my cappuccino, grassed up some off their faces druggy kids who were annoying me, to security, and finally I was off.

A bit of road west took me to a byway called
Arkley Lane which turned into a footpath. The best sort of footpath for this kind of country as it was enclosed by shrubs and trees. Just before I left the road I saw a fantastic Chicken of the Woods on a tree, but it was in someone’s garden so I couldn’t grab it. That was the last pic before my battery gave out.

The footpath took me to the A1, the first major barrier. There was a footbridge a few hundred yards away but I could not be arsed to detour, so waited for a gap in the traffic and ran across to the central reservation. That was fine but the other carriageway turned out to be much busier and as the cars were all doing about 80 I thought I would be stuck there all day. Eventually a gap came though and I legged it.
More footpaths took me to the village of Ridge and some slightly confusing paths on towards Shenley, but before Shenley I took a path north. This was long and plain on the map and I thought it might be a bit of a plod through wheat prairie. Not a bit of it. First I saw what looked like a boat in a shed in the distance. As I got nearer I realised it was a small plane. Beyond it were microlights and a bunch of guys chatting. I was walking over a tiny little airfield. The men were friendly enough, giving me a wave as I went by. And on to what the map said was a football ground.
In fact there were dozens of full size football pitches on my right whilst on my left I came to a sort of earthwork covered in an impenetrable hedge of evergreen shrubs. Strangely, though it was Saturday, no one was playing on any of the pitches. Cameras on poles kept vigil on the earthworks. A notice on one of these resolved the mystery. I was walking though Arsenal Football Club’s training facility. And no one was playing because Arsenal had a match.
Just after the training ground I crossed a bridge over the M25. Now I felt like I had really escaped from London. Perhaps too soon. There was a fine looking pub The Green Dragon, en route but I decided to press on, up by the Tyttenhanger lakes which I knew were good for bird life. I guess I was expecting something like the Lee Valley gravel pits. But this was not quite the same, being more like a fishing theme park. On my right things were even stranger with a kids petting farm like the one that had just been closed because of E Coli. That had not put people off. The place was hoaching; stressed parents, over-excited kids, perplexed looking llamas.
All very odd. Eventually the madness gave way to calmer country and I flushed my second green woodpecker of the day (altogether I saw three greens and two great spotted woodpeckers). And then I came to Colney Heath. I was tired and hot now and had developed some unfortunate chafing so was ready for a break. But I found myself on the wrong side of a little river and ended up walking an kilometre or so to the pub I had seen on the map. This looked pretty grim so I then walked back (now right side of the river) to another pub which was fine, apart from the unnecessary kilometre detour.
Never mind, I had toad in the hole in the garden whilst a couple of amorous dykes fed each other bits of dinner on the nearest picnic table before starting to chew each other’s faces. I decided to give them some privacy and set off from the back of the garden on a little footpath.
This got very rough very soon and I decided to bail and go by the shorter and easier road route, crossing the busy A 414 (this time sensibly by footbridge) and heading past Sleapshyde to Smallford. It was all a bit tacky and scabby and slightly strange. I passed two women, one of whom held a Yorkshire terrier that was snarling at me. Beyond them the porch of the house was a shrine to Elvis, complete with a full size cardboard cut out of himself in a satin jumpsuit.
But I made good progress until the next handy footpath and that was fine at first until it was diverted from the route shown on the map around some new gravel diggings. I ended up plodding though a rough stubbly field with no discernable path, a few feet from the road which would have been easier to walk on but I could not get to through a thick hedge. Eventually I got onto a byway though, which led into the pleasant village of Sandridge.
The next stage was a real delight. A track downhill to a little plantation became a footpath before turning into a track again. As I got to the next little wood I saw a sign. “Heartwood Forest” it said. I had never heard of it so read the rest. I was in a piece of land bought by the Woodland Trust to create the biggest new piece of Woodland in England. It was almost enough to make me regret cancelling my membership (in disgust at the way they closed all their woods during the Foot and Mouth Panic of 2001). There are a couple of existing fragments and other parcels are being planted, whilst some of the site is still being farmed for the time being.
The path went uphill and then down again. A bit from the top I came across a family of cyclists. Dad with little boy in a seat on the back. Mum on her own, and daughter of about seven or eight struggling with her bike.
Actually, I think I heard them before I saw them. The man kept up a constant barrage of encouragement.
“That’s it, you are there. You are doing great. You are there. Its flattening out now,’ he lied relentlessly. ‘You are doing great. You’ve done it! You’ve done it! Look it’s flattening out…’
I was very, very tempted to say to her ‘he’s lying, there is loads of uphill yet,’ as they passed but I managed to resist the temptation. But as they went round the corner I heard the little girl cry out. “I…HATE… THIS… BIKE!”

I had long since given up any hope of Luton. I was in enough pain to be just hoping to get to Harpenden now. I limped along a bit of road and onto Harpenden Common which pierces that town like a wedge and gives access to the centre from the south with no urban walking whatsoever. The first bit was golf course but very municipal and used by everyone. Dog walkers, kids playing football, etc. My kind of golf course I would say.
And at last I got to the station. I was exhausted (far more than I should have been for the miles walked ) and in some discomfort now. I will need to work out what to do about that chafing!

 But at least I was well and truly out of London.

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