Halfway between Harlow in Essex and Bishop's Stortford in Herts, the small town of Sawbridgeworth decorates the English countryside elegantly.
With a railway station that links directly to Liverpool Street in London, this beautiful relic offers the visitor an immediate respite from the regular stress and pressure of daily life in the British capital.
And that was to where a few weeks ago a party of six decamped: my wife, our two children, my mother-in-law, her boyfriend and me. It was actually my mother-in-law's other half who had the idea of walking along the placid river Stort whilst admiring the lush surroundings and we could not thank him enough after our short trek.
Hertforshire (is that first 'e' pronounced 'a' as in 'cat' or as in 'hunger'? It's the same 'a' as in 'Derby', thanks in advance), the county in which Sawbridgeworth is located is full of interesting places to visit. This town in particular has a very rich history dating back to Saxon times. Following the Norman conquest the area was bequeathed to the First Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville. The town centre is witness to the rich history of Great Britain; many of the buildings dotting its pavements hark back to Tudor and Georgian times.
Contrasting with this cultural legacy, the visitor will come across more modern developments nearer the river. The new buildings we saw there were architecturally beautiful but in my view rather impersonal. I wrote in a previous post about east London about a native's disillusion with the phenomenon of gentrification; in the same way these complexes had no allure to me, no personal signature.
Although it was a surprise for me at first to hear the nasal inflection of the typical Cockney accent when talking to the locals, this should not have been unexpected. As I mentioned before the town is very close to Essex, a place that has seen an influx of east Londoners. Some other areas in the Home Counties have had a similar inflow such as Luton and Bedford. There are people who argue that it was Thatcher's policies in the 1980s, trying to create a new 'middle-class' amongst the working-class that gave people the opportunity to buy their own council accommodation and 'trade up', whilst low taxes enabled new small and medium-sized enterprises to emerge. Suddenly it was not very hard to make money. The housing boom in the 90s was allegedly due to this laissez-faire attitude. I am not here to condone or condemn someone under whose rule I did not live but many people to whom I have spoken have showed their displeasure with the fatal effects caused by Lady Thatcher's agenda. In the end this pursuit of wealth implemented by her government did not generate the desired result since most of the members of her own party (Conservative) were dead against the nouveau riche and their inclusion in British society. As popular lore has it, it was the Falklands war that saved her premiership.
The walk as such was a treat and it is one of those activities I would recommend to anyone who loves the outdoors and wants to become acquainted first-hand with the exuberant English countryside. For starters we were welcomed by a delegation of swans belting out a great rendition of David Bowie's timeless classic 'Cygnet Committee'. After that we proceeded down a path stopping here and there to admire the flowers, the shrubbery and the animals. My son carried a book about British fauna and many a time he became our lecturer when we wanted to find out the name of a specific creature.
The temperature was nice, neither too warm, nor too fresh and the placid water along which we walked brought back childhood memories of swimming in the river whenever I went to the countryside with my school on our work experience.
The only sad sight was to see the legacy of our human presence in this place in the shape of empty Coke cans (the fact that they were Diet did not lessen the crime, fish do not diet), plastic bottles and similar detritus. On a couple of occasions what we thought at first to be an animal turned out to be yet another golden wrapper.
We finished the first part of our walk at a restaurant/pub where a short recess was called for. We wolfed down our sandwiches hungrily and after a short, luxurious and relaxing break, went back, this time taking a shorter route, but not less panoramic than the previous one.
This time around we came out to the back of an old church from where a road led us to a few local, picturesque shops selling all kinds of merchandise: antiques, jewellery, bric-a-brac and clothes. A real beauty was a store advertising French products. Most signs were in the Gallic language and the goods on display were exquisite. And quite dear.
By the time we returned to our car we were all feeling rather invigorated by the walk and by the visit to the local shops. I had another reason to be happy, my football team, Chelsea was beating Everton in the final of the FA Cup, although, I must admit that at some point I came to regret my decision of wearing my Chelsea shirt in a town where most locals root for the Hammers (West Ham) or Spurs. Believe me, in another time it could have got ugly.
In the end, the Hertforshire countryside, and Sawbridgeworth, specifically, did not disappoint. Another walk is planned for some time in the immediate future in an area nearby and I am already looking forward to it.
All photos were taken by the blog's author.
Next Post: 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' to be published on Sunday 28th June at 10am.