My wife, Marie nearly fainted when she heard I was staying in a youth hostel at Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire, England, in October 1993 on my walk from London to Birmingham on the Grand Union Canal tow path.
Not that there was anything improper about it, because people of any age can stay in youth hostels. (I had just turned 41).
She just thought I would not be adventurous enough.
Well. I never!
It was the fourth night of my 10 day trek, with night three having been spent in a hotel (more along the lines of what Marie expected) in King’s Langley, Hertfordshire.
Soon after I left King’s Langley, I passed the Ovaltine factory, where a worker was enjoying a hot drink – probably coffee. Well you would get sick of the free Ovaltine, wouldn’t you! I know I got sick of Lucozade, when I worked at their Brentford factory in West London in 1978.
The Kodak building at Hemel Hempstead came into view, and memories flooded back of Marie and I going there in 1978, to get our European slides developed. Still have them. And the Rollei Projector still works.
My (walk) guide book (written by Anthony Burton and Neil Curtis) described the Albion pub as a friendly place, so I popped in for a coffee. It was before opening time, but the cleaning lady let me in and the barmaid sold me a coffee for 70p. From the posters that adorned the walls, this was a music pub.
At Boxmoor Top Lock I chatted to a keen nature photographer, who was cycling this part of the canal path. When I reached the Three Horseshoes pub, in the hamlet of Winkwell, there he was again. He wanted to photograph me and send it on to a friend in Australia! What do you say? I allowed him the privilege, and didn’t see him again after that, which may have been a good thing.
The Three Horseshoes, which dates from 1535, was a great pub in a pleasant location, and the menu looked pretty good, with the steak and ale pie (four pounds 55p) catching my eye. The staff were friendly as well.
Next stop was the Rising Sun, Berkhamsted, which was once a grocer’s and alehouse, before being granted a full spirit licence. I had to show self control as I carried on, because there were pubs everywhere on this stretch of the canal.
In Berkhamsted, I checked out the castle, which was an important Norman fortress, now in the care of English Heritage. William the Conqueror received the offer of the English Crown here, from Saxon bishops and nobles, in 1066. The castle stood between two moats, but only a few flint walls remain.
Berkhamsted was the birthplace of famous author, Graham Greene, who was educated at Berkamstead School, where his father was headmaster. ‘The Quiet American’ was the last Graham Greene book I read. My brother, Andrew is a great Graham Greene fan.
On leaving Berkamsted, there was a Government ‘Buffer Depot’, which held emergency food supplies, in the case of a national crisis, like a Chinese virus!!!
Long distance paths, the Ridgeway National Trail and Upper Icknield Way crossed the countryside here, as I walked from Berkhamsted to Tring, and then up the Marsworth flight of seven locks. At Tring there are five reservoirs, to supply the canal with water, from the nearby Chiltern Hills.
In the distance I could see Ivinghoe Beacon, a hill with the remains of an Iron Age fort.
I left the canal at the Ivinghoe Bridge, and walked past Vicarage and Ford End farms, over Whistle Brook, to Ivinghoe, a hill top village, where I checked into the youth hostel, which occupies ‘The Old Brewery House’.
I had a whole dorm to myself, and it was so much cheaper than hotel and bed and breakfast stays. ‘How long has this been going on?’ I thought to myself.
I had dinner (smoked haddock) at The Kings Arms, before retiring. Ah. The peace and quiet.
The next morning, for my dues, I did the drying (after breakfast), while a lady from a family group (the only other people in the hostel) did the washing.
Then it was back to the canal for the next leg of the walk, to Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire. More on that at a later date.
For previous legs of the trip, refer to ‘Grand Union Canal Walk’ and ‘A Grand Pub Crawl’, this website.
1 Canal guide book
2 Ovaltine works, King’s Langley
3 The Kings Arms, Ivinghoe.