diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 16, 2009

The River Lea Walking the Lea Valley
Hatfield → Hertford
(6 miles)

Mill Green MillMill Green Mill: There's been a mill on the Lea between Welwyn and Hatfield since medieval times. Around it grew a small village called Mill Green, and the the mill's now known (rather circuitously) as Mill Green Mill [photo]. Usual story - fell into disrepair in the early 1900s, restored by a team of volunteers in the 1980s, now run as a museum by the local council. And all rather lovely, apart from one tiny technicality which was that every single person who works there completely ignored me when I visited. The volunteer sitting out the front in a chair by the 'Open' sign, he ignored me. Neither was there anybody at the entrance desk - not that the mill costs anything to visit, but I could easily have walked off with all sorts of local goodies from the shop. Downstairs were a few tiny well-stuffed galleries, including the Miller's Kitchen, some stuff about local railways and a temporary exhibition on Murphy wireless and television sets. Upstairs another volunteer was milling grain - properly with stones and spinning wheels and things [photo] - whilst explaining carefully to a father and young son how it all worked. As visitor number three, I didn't even get a nod. I slunk off to check out the millrace (dark and damp) before exiting to the delightful garden where cream teas were being served. I'm assuming that the scones were made from ultra-locally-sourced flour, but I felt 20 years too young to stop and find out, and nobody at the café entrance paused to entice me in. I suspect you might get rather more attention if you turned up.

Hatfield House: The young Princess Elizabeth (Tudor version) spent much of her childhood at the Royal Palace of Hatfield. The present Jacobean house dates from 498 years ago, and was built by her courtly favourite Lord Cecil. Today Hatfield House is a very popular tourist attraction (rather more so than Mill Green Mill), forever putting on big special events during the summer season to attract paying guests inside. I decided to give the place a miss, partly because of the £10.50 entrance charge, but also because of the three mile detour required to reach the other side of the wall from Mill Green. I missed out on seeing the 16 acre Broadwater, formed by a dam in the river Lea and landscaped with a spectacular oak backdrop. Instead I trudged along the A414 dual carriageway, following the estate boundary, as far as the Cecil family's sawmill [photo]. It still churns out profitable stacks of timber - including at some point (I suspect) the chopped-down remains of the oak tree beneath which Princess Elizabeth discovered she was Queen.

Harvested field near EssendonAt the sawmill I took a risky decision and chose to abandon the official route of the Lea Valley Walk. This has been revised recently due to the closure of a permissive path (somewhere), which requires a detour to the suburbs of Welwyn Garden City followed by a featureless three mile walk along a disused railway. Not a scrap of river in sight, no thanks. Instead I took a delightful bridleway along the banks of the Lea, past secluded angling platforms and a plankless bridge [photo], with not a single other walker in sight. The surrounding cornfields were the first I'd seen harvested, and a reminder that summer's glories won't last forever. A faded sign on a farmyard post revealed that I was on the original LVW, which could only mean trouble ahead.

So then the grim bit. There was no footpath for a mile and a half, nor any sensible off-road detour, so I was forced to walk along a busy B-road avoiding all the traffic for 30 minutes. I strode carefully (swish) round a series of shielded high-hedged bends (swish), and was surprised by how many of the oncoming (swish) vehicles (swish) had personalised numberplates (swish) (swish). After Holwell Bridge the Lea was completely out of sight, either lost within the estate of an exclusive polo club or merely hidden inside a private wood. I was glad to finally escape from the road at Water Hall Farm... until I discovered that I was entering a rubbish tip and had to step carefully to avoid being mown down by huge yellow dumper trucks.

Cole Green WayEventually the rubbly hillocks gave way to grassy fields - the latter reconditioned from the former by the tip owners. I passed one of the Environmental Agency's official gauging stations - a weirside hut where the Lea's flow is constantly checked to alert the authorities of flood or drought. Then on up the valleyside ridge, beside fluffy teaselly hedgerows, for a fine view of distant Hertford nestling amongst the surrounding hills [photo]. Ah, I thought, this route sure beats trudging along a dull old disused railway. And then I reached the dull old disused railway (now the Cole Green Way) and reluctantly trudged along to its shady conclusion.

A railway viaduct (and a lone horse) [photo] heralded the outskirts of Hertford, followed swiftly by the stadium of the town's football team. I say stadium, whereas I really mean a couple of rickety grandstands and a few portakabin huts. Hertford FC aren't having the best start to their league season (played 2, lost 2), and you'll get some idea of their professional standing if I tell you that they've already been knocked out of the 2010 FA Cup. The Lea flows up the eastern side of the ground, where it then joins with its first major tributary - the Mimram. Bolstered by additional supplies, the river flows into the centre of town noticeably wider than before.

Hertford CastleHertford Castle: As many as four different rivers combine at Hertford, so it's been an important settlement for more than a millennium. A castle appeared around 1066, of the motte and bailey type, and its grassy mound is still visible beside the Lea today [photo]. A succession of royal owners took charge, and made regular visits, until Henry VIII finally upgraded the castle to a proper palace. Queen Elizabeth brought Parliament here when London was beset by plague, although King James I was less enamoured by Hertford (poor hunting nearby) and the palace left royal possession. The castellated 16th century building that survives to be called 'Hertford Castle' is really only the gatehouse. Today the building is used as council offices, and opened to the public once a month. The surrounding area is a lovely quiet spot [photo] - a patch of municipal parkland bang in the centre of town surrounded by an (unseen) busy ring road. If you worked nearby, this is surely where you'd bring your packed lunch for a Leaside nibble.

Griff Rhys Jones is heading down the Lea for his BBC1 Rivers series at 9pm tonight. He'll be spending almost all of the programme visiting the lower half of the river - the bit I haven't reached yet.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream