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It hasnt exactly been a great summer but this was the third sunny walking day in succession. This time was a Sunday in late September but it turned out just as hot as the last two Saturdays.

Aware that I had further to go to start I got up really early this time. Too early it transpired. Archway tube was shut. So was just about everything else. But eventually I got a 390 down to St Pancras and just had time to buy a cappuccino before my train took me back to Harpendon.

My route took me away from the centre and I was short of provisions (I had some water and an overipe banana) and I soon realised that I was not going to be passing any shops before Luton. Never mind.

I should explain that when I say never mind it should be read with a Cypriot accent as this is how I say it in my head. I once had a driving instructor called Stephos who used to say it all the time. "Careful! Not so fact, You just killed that old lady. Never mind!" And so on. So it is pronounced Nevair maind really.

Anyway, quiet roads along the railway took me to a path, indistinct on the map but a strip of tarmac in reality, running alongside the River Lee, north to Luton.

I love the Lee or Lea which must be the most schizophrenic river in Britain if not the world. It cannot decide how to spell its own name and for most of its length it splits into various bits. The Lee navigation, the Old River Lea (or Lee) the Coppermill Stream, even the New River is another bit of the Lee really. And the word really is derived from this confusion. Which is the real ly (or Lee) . Oh alright I just made that bit up.

It didnt feel that rural really. The trainline was a few hundred meters to my left whilst there was a fairly busy road over to the right, within earshot, and I could see the planes taking off from Luton airport in front of me. But it was pleasant easy walking and it was good to see the lazy little stream that the Lee had become. At one point I detoured a few meters to a bridge and saw a dabchick diving.

But I wanted to press on. Soon I was walking beside a massive sewerage works and then alongside the railway above the road. On the other side was the vast estate of Luton Hoo but I could see little of it from my walk. Eventually the path took me into Luton. A railway bridge led to the roundabout in front of Luton Airport station. My walk had led me to a perfectly sterile landscape designed for cars and only cars. I hate this usually but it was such an utterly inhuman, functional world of concrete steel and consumerism that it had a slightly awe inspiring property.

Past the station and the retail park and before long I was in central Luton. It was now about 11.00 and to my surprise hardly anything was open. But there was a pub boasting cooked breakfasts. I dont like eating factory farmed meat but I was ravenous and though they also did cornflakes I didnt think that that was going to cut it. So I had a full English breakfast with predictably horrible sausages, dry baked beans and drying mushrooms. It was horrible, technically, but I was starving so I did sort of enjoy it. And at least I got free refils on cups of tea.

Setting off again I had got disorientated by the pedestrianised town Centre and had to trudge round the ring road for a bit before getting back on track up the A6. This soon became quite strange. I was aware of the lee running in a culvert on my side with lots of little bridges to houses and blocks of flats. Most of these had locks so only the residents could use them. The Lee had become a moat. But then I noticed the same sort of railings on the other side of the street. The good old Leelea had got schizoid one last time!

The river led me to a park. A last hurrah I thought as there it had been made into a series of ornamental lakes. There I saw another dabchick and got a crap photo of it. The elegant bridge across the lake was notable for a little rat which barely bothered to get out of my way. But the real treat was at the far end of the lake. Here a group of people, mostly men, of course, had fabulous model boats set out on display. One or two were being sailed around the lake but most were just out on tables apparantly to be admired and discussed.

Beyond the park were playing fields. Actually they were really a cricket pitch though the wicket was barricaded off. Two teams of youths were playing football, all of them looked Asian and I wondered about this. Though they could not have used the proper wicket there was plenty of space for them to have played cricket and it made me wonder if there was a major change going on in the taste of kids from Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. On the way out of the playing fields I passed another group of younger kids, they had footballs too.

And so on through the northern suberbs of Luton. I followed the course of the Lee which largely has open space around it. After re-crossing the A6 I decided to follow it through some rough ground rather than take the route marked on the map. My mistake. There was no way out but back the way I had come as the onward route was blocked by allotments.

Eventually I found my way back onto the route and, still following the little river made it to Leegrave.

This was my aim for the day. There was a station and it was near the source of the Lee. I decided to find it and tracked it to a grim looking concrete bunker near a trio of tower blocks. Romantic it was not. There wasnt even any water there. I know this is supposed to be the source but another stream went off a bit further to the west. My route, however, was north.

What to do? I was still feeling reasonably fresh and it was only about 1.00 so I decided to walk on to the village of Streatley. I thought if I was lucky I might be able to get a bus back to Luton and if not I could walk on to the next station.

The next stage was an odd one. It started pleasantly enough in the open ground by the blocks of flats that guard the source of the Lee. Then the path turned into a strip of linear beechwood. But eventually this finished and it was just a sort of broad alleyway through what looked like a huge council estate. It wasnt scenic but it went in my direction and it was dead straight, eventually debouching near a water tower right on the edge of Luton. This was very well defined. On one side of the road were houses and flats, on the other side a huge field with stubble and little else execept for a hedgerow and a couple of distant little wooded islands.

The footpath went along the town edge line for a good way before striking off into the country, but there was no barrier to the field. Indeed a bunch of kids were playing off by the hedgrow with planks and flat bits of wood. I considered striking straight off across the field. Decided to be good and go the footpath way, and then saw a whole bunch of very bouncy alsations being exercised further up by a couple of shaven headed guys.

Bollocks to it. Thought I and struck off across the field diagonally. As I did I passed the kids. I had thought that they were getting ready to make skateboard or bmx ramps but they trotted off towards one of the little wooded islands so I guess that they were going to construct a den.

Eventually I reached the line of the footpath by another, further hedge and followed it round to the path that led to Streatley.

Predicatably there was no bus, or at least any information about one. So I carried on. The country became much prettier. A pasture with sheep and well wooded hedgerows, and a raptor (I think it was a sparrowhawk but it was very pale) sitting in a tree and watching me as I reached a sign announcing that I had reached the Markham and Moleskin Hills, adjoining the wonderfully named Sharpenhoe Clappers.

Clappers they might be for all I know but hills seems a bit of a misnomer. The land had been dead flat for a couple of kilometers. Really it is the wooded scarp of the Chilterns, and very pretty too.

I had planned to make this stage a short one and take the time to explore the area but I was too tired for much dawdling. A little way along the path and suddenly I got a glimpse of the view north through the trees. I could see the Midland Plain.

It wasnt that plain to be sure. Further south east at Ivinghoe the view from the top of the Chiltern escarpment is of flat country, poorly wooded with big fields. An abrupt change from the ancient, well-wooded countryside of the Chilterns to the clay plain where the agricultural revolution had the most impact.

Here the low hills of the Bedfordshire Greensand made the change less abrupt and less dramatic, but it was still a clear dividing line.

Halfway down the path to the plain I passed a cowslip in bloom. Nothing strange in that except that it was late September. I must come back here in spring when the pasque flowers and orchids are in bloom.

From the bottom of the escarpment well signed and worn paths took me to Harlington. I passed a few walkers now, making their way to the slopes I had come from. I stopped in a pleasant pub in Harlington to rehydrate with soda water and lime, and then hobbled off to find the station.



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