Despite temperatures hovering around zero in the south-east of England, snow had not yet fallen during the cold spell leading up to New Year’s Eve. I drove to Buckland, just south of Royston and planned a route across farmland to the tiny village of Wyddial. A light touch of frost covered the trees and the landscape. Puddles of water had frozen to ice. The sodden, waterlogged terrain, soaked from the winter rains, had now hardened and with every step, the ground crunched underfoot. Bare tree branches, bereft of all foliage, exposed the nests of birds sheltering from the cold. In the tree tops, groups of crows cawed loudly, perhaps at being threatened by other foreign intruders or merely expressing their indignance at the world and my presence. Somewhat sinister in nature, they don’t strike me as exceptionally friendly birds but are arguably misunderstood.

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I was surprised to see a few folk out walking too, braving the cold as I was, either in pairs or as solitary individuals taking their dog out for some exercise. I set off from Buckland Bury via St Andrews Church, which, despite being fairly old, the nave and chancel having been built in about 1348, is now a redundant Anglican church. The paths from Buckland head across the farmland as indicated on the map but had been ploughed over by the farmer, perhaps out of spite or more likely sheer indifference, making it an entirely unattractive prospect to negotiate in the current conditions. The alternative was to take the longer route around, following the edge of fields but still arriving at the same chosen destination. In this way I reached Dade’s Wood but was able to take a more direct route to the larger Capons Wood, which I then circumnavigated. On the horizon, towards Chipping, I could faintly hear the sound of cars making their way down the A10.

Wyddial is first attested in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it appears as Widihale, and means ‘willow nook’. The parish church of St Giles dates from the 14th century, when the nave was built. Wyddial Hall, situated just north of the church and accessed via the churchyard, is a Grade II listed building, originally built in the early 16th century, with 12 bedrooms, a lawn tennis court, swimming pool, sauna, gymnasium and butler’s quarters. One wonders who gets to own a place like this. A bit of research provides some insight into the underbelly of privileged society.

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