Thursday 25 June 2009

Britain, my Britain (Sawbridgeworth)

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.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' to be published on Sunday 28th June at 10am.


  1. What a terrific tour – I feel like I was walking with you. I love how the English maintain paths along rivers instead of roads and highways. Cockney rhyming slang is good fun. I’m missing England already – the 9 days there went too quickly.

    I enjoyed listening to Bach in the post below. He is one of my favorite composers. What an amazing venue. I listened to it all while catching up on blogs. Thanks for bringing some glorious music to my summer evening.

    I’ve been working hard these past few days and saving a visit here as my reward. I was not disappointed.

  2. HI Mr C

    thanks for giving me a walk today...I am feeling restless already...

    I loved the photo of the worn path beside the river. Yesterday I was thinking of Robert Frost's two paths and re read the poem and was surprised to find that the two lines preceding the now famous quote suggest he will be reflecting in future with a SIGH over his choice...and that got me thinking whether it was a good or bad choice that he originally made... I have always thought when you read the quote in isolation that he was grateful for taking the road less I wonder....

    Happy Days

  3. Many thanks to your mother-in-law's boyfriend. Whoops, thanks, to you, too, CiL.

    I think that if I actually were to live in "another country," I would choose England so I might absorb the history and the heritage. My ancestors raided England and, in fact, conquered it in the form of the Northmen of Normandy, so I suppose I would not be drifting too far outside some sort of birthright.

    You are very adept at carrying the reader along with you, describing what you see and what you feel. It is fun to be an actual part of "your family" as the walk continues, and to learn how your children are responding to their adventure. You son's activities remind me of "my role" in family trips when I was a boy.

    I believe these travel tales are my favorites among your posts, CiL. Thank you, for a memorable walk.

  4. Superb post, absolutely superb. You made me want to get in the car and drive out there straight away. I can't, of course, but some day I will. The walks by the water did it for me.

  5. Thank you for sharing your reflections on the walk in English countryside. This is a beautiful country, a couple of friends of mine and myself go off on weekend walks to the country on regular basis and it really helps to recharge batteries. And I'm particularly fond of Hertfordshire because that's where I live! Nice pictures, hope the weather holds and you can go on many more walks this summer.

    When I heard the news today in the morning I immediately thought about the comment you left on my blog yesterday. What a coincidence, life is strange indeed... it's a real shame that he died so young, despite his apparent wackiness I still think he was one of musical geniuses.

  6. Many thanks for your wonderful comments.

    Polly, about a year ago to the day I wrote a post about 'synchronicity' a propos the death of the great Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. I hope I am not a harbinger of doom :-).

    Greetings from London.

  7. This tour has everything..walking with you, one sees shops, churches, flora and fauna, even swans, and an evocation of David Bowie, to boot.
    Unfortunately the engulfing trash is there to..trouble in paradise.
    Thank you so much...

  8. I love when I get to see what other people are doing, it almost feels like a little adventure for me.

    I have to tell you I burst out laughing at 'the fact that they were Diet did not lessen the crime, fish do not diet' how well written.

    When you commenting on my blog about Angola it totally reminded me Didn't Cuba comprise of the largest foreign army in that battle in Africa?

    Love Renee xoxo

  9. Lovely

    Thanks for the virtual walk.......

  10. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Renee, not only did we make up the largest army, we lost the most men. I was a shoo-in for the draft. Young, good shoter, heck, excellent shooter, a sniper you could say. Just one problem: gastritis. That saved me from mixing my blood with Angolan soil. An unnecessary war and a totally unnecessary waste of precious Cuban life.

    Greetings from London.

  11. Thanks for telling me that. I remember reading about it a long time ago and I think Cubans were the largest foreign army fighting.

    Horrible. Thank God for gastritis. I would have gone as far as to cut off half my son's hand before see him in a war.

    Love Renee xoxox

  12. Hi Cuban...never been to this particular place but to many similar...English country walks are hard to beat and this one looks beautiful... am looking forward to catching up with good old London town very soon... as being a SE Londoner my firts language is Cockney Rhyming slang which never fails to delight my students here... especially when we are studying something like Clockwork Orange!! Greetings from mexico

  13. Captain! my Captain!
    What a great trip!
    y uno aquí de la casa para el trabajo y el trabajo para la casa... kAndelaaaaaa chicoooooo

    ;) tu gente G.A.

  14. "...welcomed by a delegation of swans belting out a great rendition of David Bowie's timeless classic 'Cygnet Committee'" Love that! This looks like a charming little town; I hope you take us along on your next walk.

  15. Thanks for your kind comment on mine and for the great post here. Really enjoyed your walk. Now I think you should try some walking in the Welsh borders!

  16. Thank you for the exquisite virtual walking tour! It was as if I were walking along with you and your family. Excellent post, thanks for sharing!

  17. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  18. A lovely walk thru your England indeed. The swans must've been most fun. I agree it is awful to see the trash everywhere. I don't know what people think when they don't dispose of it properly. Maybe they think it just evaporates? Out of sight out of mind?

  19. That was perfect, Mr. Cuban - I enjoyed every step along the way and, in particular, your commentary. Thank you for introducing Hertfordshire - it's a county I don't know at all, and now you have inspired me to visit! Good biking country, too, I would think?

  20. wonderful - i want to go to all these places because of how you've described them - so glad to have found your blog!

  21. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments. Yes, Tessa, I find the British countryside more cycl-friendly than London.

    Greetings from London.

  22. This was a wonderful walk in the British countryside, bringing back fond memories of when I worked in London for two years. I miss the narrow streets, the pubs, the parks, the people. A trip ought to be planned for next year to relive all the sights, sounds and return to favourite haunts to savour the food.

  23. Thanks a lot, Barbara, much appreciated.

    Greetings from London.



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