I round the corner of Gilston churchyard onto a confident, straight track. Perhaps it might have been a through way, and the church might have provided a centre for the village, but somehow that has not happened, and the track will peter out only three fields ahead, and the church will be left alone on the hillside, a mile from the big house at Gilston Park and two from the pub and the road to Harlow.


High Wych and Sawbridgeworth lie dead ahead of me, and I have an appointment with a friend, but the grid square to my right has few rights of way and I need to take the opportunity. Approaching Sayes Park Farm I hear gunshots and am quickly on the defensive. I'm always aware that I walk on remnant paths, suffered to exist only by the council. Have I committed some offence, straying from the path? Or staying on the path, have I blundered into some hoary dispute between landowner and local government? I rehearse my apologies, but there is nobody to apologize to. The farm is a base for training in clay pigeon shooting. Safe but light-hearted, is their motto. I am more likely to come to grief on the busy road up to High Wych, squeezed between its earthen banks.


The airfield is now for the most part laid to a single crop, but its wartime extent can be inferred from the tracks that remain: two runways and a curving perimeter road. Beyond the crossing point the runways are still used by a local flying club. Four public footpaths enter the field, but rather than meeting at a point, they form a rough rectangle, which the landowner has fastidiously cleared through rows of winter vegetables. Through the diligence of the council, the footpaths preserve a memory of the field boundaries that existed before the land was requisitioned, the farm track from Hunsdon village that then crossed it, and the corner of the long felled Wickland's Wood. I feel a fleeting urge to abandon the grid project and condense the whole thing down to this tiny orbit, to pace round and around it while all the memories of Hertfordshire and Essex seep out from the soil.