04 May, 2007

Hertford to Broxbourne on the new river path

"He maketh the wilderness a standing water
And water springs of a dry ground
And there He setteth the hungry
That they may build them a city to dwell in"

"He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out;
They ran in the dry places like a river."

Thus says the psalmist and this was Hugh Myddleton's vision. London was thirsty and Hertfordshire was wet (it still is). A new river was needed to quench the thirst of the capital and bring water to London. Royal Jeweller to King James I and VI Myddleton was main promoter of the new river.

It wasn't too easy to find New Gauge, the official start of the New River and the New River Path from Hertford East Station, but I made it eventually. The gauge measures the amount of water Thames Water takes from the River Lea to supply North London with its drinking water. It is many millions of litres a day. The New River is then fed by an enormous spring, forming a small lake at Chadwell with an old gauge building, more of a shed really. The New River still provides around 8% of London's drinking water and the route passes Amwell where there are stone monuments to Hugh Myddleton. These are inscribed with poems which has inspired me to begin each section of this walk with a poem. After Great Amwell the path passed by the Great Amwell War memorial and passes Stanstead St Margarets. At Stanstead St Margarets there is a very large ecclesiastical looking building which I believe is a school. It is also the home to SM Coaches, which always amuses me when I go to Harlow.

I had to deviate from the path at this point, walking past a school at chucking out time - a most unpleasant experience. I got back on to the New River and came to Rye House. By this time I was in need of refreshment so I called in at the pub for a refreshing lime and soda. Rye house is now an RSPB Bird sanctuary but it was at the centre of a (possibly manufactured) plot to assasinate Charles II and his son James who had converted to Roman Catholicism and prevent a return to the throne of a Roman Catholic. The plan was to ambush Charles and James as they came back from the races at Newmarket, a regular haunt of the 'merry monarch'. Unfortunately there was a fire in Newmarket and the races were cancelled and thus the King his son went home early. All that remains of Rye House is as shown in the photo. The New River has a gentle slope of about 1:100 which means it is very level. The next point of interest was Ware as in the great bed of Ware, now in the V&A Museum. The Great bed is around 11 feet square and was made as a tourist attraction. It can sleep five or six people, which must have been very warm. "'ere: stop poking me!"
Ware is a pleasant town for a stop to eat lunch and visit. It has a lot of buildings that would be black and white if the plaster was removed, although black and white buildings were traditionally covered with plaster giving the origin of the name 'Pargeter'.
I didn't see much in Ware but was soon back on the New River. Passing some pumping stations and the backs of houses and crossing busy roads was not ideal but functional. The river runs on an embankment which is most peculiar. I decided to stop at Broxbourne, where there is a bus service to Harlow, and where I also once saw three young men use the river as a urinal after a drunken night out (on their part, not mine).

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