With the relaxation of Covid lockdown rules over the Christmas period having been reversed in the south-east at the last minute, plans to spend the festive period with my niece and her family had to be shelved, so celebrations were being spent in solitude. Despite temepartures being around 3-4 degrees, the absence of rain provided an opportunity to make the most of the outdoors, so I donned my muddy boots, jumped in the car and drove the short distance to Shaftenhoe End, just outside Barley, near Royston, parking along Shaftenhoe End Road. Imprints in the mud along the churned up paths leading south from Shaftenhoe End indicated that the route was used by horse riders.

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I reached the junction of Park Farm Lane and Bell Farm, which I recognized on previous walks starting out from Barkway. I knew that the former Royal Air Force station, RAF Nuthampstead, lay just to the east. I made my way directly across the field where the main runway would be been located, so as to reach the top end of the wood, thus saving myself the unnecessary detour. Here I located an airfield service road heading north, past a structure that had patently remained from the war era, though I’ve not been able to determine its function or significance.

As I reached the end of the airfield service road near Gypsey Corner Farm, I located what I initially assumed to be a man-made canal which I figured to be Water Lane, a hedgerow lining one side and a thick grass verge on the other. After consulting the map again, I realized that it formed the border between Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Despite no signs indicating that it was a public footpath, I was sure that the local farmer wouldn’t begrudge me the hospitality of a trespass on his lands on Christmas Day, so I decided to to hedge my bets and take my chance. Up ahead I saw a large herd of deer and as I pressed on, their spoor was in evidence everywhere.

At first light the next day, Boxing Day, the outlook seemed gloomy initially, as a new dawn was ushered in. The forecast had predicted a high probability of rain, when last checked the previous evening. Miraculously, blue skies unfolded and I found myself buoyed with optimism and promise.I drove from Royston to Great Chishill around midday only and found myself distracted as the windmill outside Great Chishill came into view in the distance, presenting a photo opportunity that would inevitably result in a shortening of the walk, the exact route of which hadn’t fully crystallized in my mind.

Almost every small town and village across the length and breadth of Britain commemorates those who gave their lives in the Great War, Great Chishill being no exception. A memorial at the junction of Barley and Heydon Roads lists just 13 names. Though Great Chishill lies only 4 miles east of Royston, it is located in Cambridgeshire, in fact, the area being the highest point in the county.

An abundance of cyclists seemed to be out and about, perhaps due to the air being relatively windless. I strolled back along Little Chishill Road until it joined May Street. Here I encountered a father on foot, his son riding his bicycle. I was about to head off, when I recognised the accent so familiar to me, as he addressed his little boy, so I approached them instead. Gustav hailed from Milnerton, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. It turned out that he had been living in Portugal with his Angolan wife and after being in America for a while, where his son Luca had been born, they had relocated to the UK only a year ago.

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