|Lee Valley - No sign for the Magic Wood?|
Having allowed the non-stop deadline pressure that comes with freelancing, and my lack of a mental off switch, take its toll on me over the past few years, I finally decided that it was time to take a proper break. Without the funds to disappear on a round-the-world trip, I decided to do some exploring closer to home in Cheshunt, where I had moved with my wife at the end of last year.
Luckily, I have Lee Valley Regional Park on my doorstep, all 26 miles and 20,000 acres of it. Having spotted a wooded hilltop when walking in the park with friends recently, my curiosity told me that it was now time to go for a nice wander and explore it.
After about 90 minutes of marching around the winding paths and waterways, I was so close to the woods I could almost smell them. Google Maps (which told me it was called Galleyhill Wood) had suggested I walk along B194 but I decided cross-country was better, wisely I thought. However, following a cycle path saw me overshoot the wood and somehow I still ended up on the B194.
The B194 is a road with absolutely no footpaths and speeding vans and trucks hurtling in both directions. But I was determined to reach the promised land so I kept diving into gaps in the hedge to avoid being hit. Some people waved at me gratefully (having me smeared across their windscreen may have been a bit of a day-changer) while one van driver beeped his horn, perhaps at me, perhaps to alert other people up ahead.
Then, on a blind bend I looked behind me and saw a truck speeding towards me, I looked ahead and saw another truck speeding towards me so I dived back into the hedgerow. Now I had a choice. 10 more minutes of white knuckle, near-death experiences involving large metal objects or try to attempt to get through the hedgerow.
Thankfully there was a telegraph pole behind me, which meant the hedgerow was less thick at that point. Thorns stuck in my hands as I bent branches back to create a gap. Then manmade, barbed wire thorns scratched and cut my hands as I tried to create a space to launch myself through.
Initially, I tried to put me leg over the barbed wire fence and got some rusty little spikes in my leg. So plan B it was. I decided to put my flimsy jacket on for protection and to crawl on my belly underneath the barbed wire, assault course-style. But something stopped me. My hood had become ensnared! So I twanged the barbed wire off of it and I was FREE! Well sort of.
|The beautiful meadow.|
Then a horrifying sound that made me shout, “Aaagggh!”
Had I been shot? No. It was just a couple of pheasants that I'd disturbed flapping their way out of the long grass. I felt like an idiot but at least no one was around.
I walked through into another field, this time using the conventional entry method of a gate, to see a bonfire in the distance. Civilisation! As I approached the bonfire it appeared to be a pile of burning shit. Or perhaps it was a previous trespasser? Anyway, it was clear there was a farm there at least, and the possibility of a road back to public land.
I was hoping nobody was around but was mindful of a Tony Martin incident happening so shouted a weak “Hello?” A few more paces and there he was, the farmer. As broad as he was tall and definitely not smiling at me welcomingly. I decided to blurt out my (true) story in the hope he wouldn’t call the police, or shoot me in the face.
“Where are you trying to get to?” he asked.
“I’m trying to get to the woods up there. I got stuck on the road and was in danger of getting hit by the traffic. So I had no choice but to go through the fence into your field. I realise I’m trespassing. Sorry.”
“You’re not allowed in those woods, you’d get arrested straight away.”
“Where are you from?”
“Cheshunt. I’d seen the woods from the park and wanted to go and have a look.”
"Well, there is a footpath up the side of the wood but you’re not allowed inside them. It’s dangerous. They use them for shooting.”
“They probably shoot trespassers too,” I joked.
Not so much as a smirk from the farmer. I’d decided to turn back now anyway though; of the options of death by truck or angry farmer, neither was very appealing.
“What's your name?” I asked.
“Ian. Nice to meet you.” (Or rather thanks for not shooting me.)
As I shook his huge, dirt-caked, sandpapery hand, I was just glad it wasn't clamped around my throat.
I stuck faithfully to the paths on the way home, shamefaced but laughing every now and then at what a misguidedly tenacious arse I can sometimes be.