I leave Hertford accompanied by Stewart Hillin and Si Brandon as far as the village of Wadesmill. Si, journalist completing his MA from the Unversity of Westminster, has been trying to catch up with me to do a piece of photo journalism since Totnes, but with the exciting event of the birth of his first child, a baby girl called Elena, things have been rather hectic for him.
We walk and talk and I find I am really struck by how green and empty everything is after having walked through London. I am surprised that I do not feel more euphoric but actually I start to feel quite uncomfortable and it isn’t until much later in the day that I am able to identify why. Si, Stewart and I pass a piece of disused industrial landscape
We are all struck by it and take photos. For me it is a testament to our disconnectedness, to build a thing so out of keeping with our natural environment, so sharply contrasting to its surroundings, to create so alien a creation. Si tells us that his thesis is to be a project on nuclear power stations and how they are placed in the landscape.
We continue along our way and after a false start that takes us through private property and having to double back upon ourselves as the path that Stewart remembers so well has been diverted by the farm, we pass through Chapmore End of the lovely village sign, and the Woodman, another pub of the name, suggesting a past for Hertfordshire involving woodland, not that there is much to be seen now amongst the giant sized farms.
We continue along the path entertained by Stewart’s grandchildren story of the Brockham chocolate cake, the best cake ever.
The way is very peaceful apart from an abrupt meeting with a fast road
At Wadesmill where the others will get picked up Stewart tells us about Thomas Clarkson, who had a vision to abolish slavery whilst sitting on a hill near here. There is now an obilisk to commemorate him.
Jane comes out to meet us at the Anchor and to take Stewart back home and Si and I walk a little way until it is time to meet his family. He takes some pictures of me, not forgetting the famous flip flops, and I head off in to the unknown again.
It is a little lonely at first, after the pace of London, and then the company in Hertford, and then gradually I begin to get a sense of what has been bothering me all morning; it is the intense green of our surroundings. Stewart was first to spot that there are no poppies growing between the wheat and the barley; a sure sign that these crops have been sprayed with pesticides.
I have been unhappy at the monoculture and recount the tale I heard in Chichester about mixed farming. Si had been enjoying the clumps of native trees the farmers have left in the midst of their huge fields of crops. Further along the path wends its way past some of those clumps and I am shocked to find them replete with barbed wire, and big signs announcing Private Property.
It is all very fine then to walk though field upon field, mile upon mile, of heavily sprayed monocrops , but to step into a tiny corner of our natural woodland – not a chance.
The uncomfortable feeling I have had all morning, so similar to how I normally feel when walking past signs of industry, is now explained; this green is not natural, is not the nature we all need to connect with for our well being. No, this green is factory farming, tightly regimented rows of plants, devoid of all their natural companions, poisoned by a form of chemical warfare, and no access to real countryside except for those that own vast tracts of this; and this barely 20 miles from a city so overcrowded that it cannot even begin to think how it will feed itself.
There is something somehow quite disturbing after looking at 4 full OS maps that make up London that are full of the grey shaded areas that signify built up areas, with only tiny pockets of parkland to relieve the greyness to suddenly get a map of the region between London and Cambridgeshire and find there is nothing on it; hardly any towns or villages, hardly any green depicting natural woodland and countryside; instead vast areas of empty white signifying cultivated land. Huge tracts of monoculture complete with hangars and gliders from where the toxic pesticides can be sprayed down on unsuspecting wildlife that dares set down a root on any of those depleted soils where only one crop must be allowed or grow, and that heavily fertilised by chemicals to make up for what is no longer in the soil thanks to the pesticides.
How did we end up being so ignorant of the natural cycles of nature so beautifully painted on the ceiling of Waltham Abbey barely 150 years ago?
I find myself remembering my walk with Tom the architect from transition Wimborne Minster and his amazing ideas for living in the future, where everyone would have their patch of forest garden, there would be a network of grassy pathways interconnecting them all, and all more urban situations would have wide edible edges. I think of all this poisoned soil, each tract with one owner, and wonder how many plots it could all be divided up into so that some of those overcrowded city dwellers could move out here and replenish the ground by farming and or gardening in a traditional manner altogether.
The incongruity of the changing landscape from London to the Hertfordshire countryside must be walked through to be believed!
Things improve for me once I have put my unease into words and I am able to appreciate the villages I pass through. My favourite is Standon. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
The church is St Mary’s; it feels right that it should be so, a female guardian in the centre of all this devastation in the name of order and progress. It would be nice to think that in a transition future the seemingly logical focussed but often harsh and damaging solution finding of recent generations be balanced by the seemingly more chaotic, but infinitely softer and more tolerant acceptance that nature shows. With the recent volcanic eruptions I have a feeling that the all powerful “enough is enough” last resort stance of the earth is re asserting itself.