diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
3: Broxbourne → M25
(5½ miles)

I'm continuing my walk along the New River (which, you'll remember, is neither new nor a river) to celebrate its 400th anniversary. Today I'm walking the remainder of the Hertfordshire stretch, from Broxbourne to the M25, through some lesser known Lea Valley suburbs. A fairly long walk this time, because the best bits are a little further apart.

Shortly after passing Broxbourne station, the New River Path deviates away from the New River. It's only a short break, round a single building, but it is a hint of what's to come. A board on the riverbank suggests you follow the Broxbourne Heritage Trail, starting at St Augustine's Church, which is the late medieval building with the tower across the water. This is one of the New River's more sociable spots, sewn into the edge of Broxbourne Recreation Ground which I'd say better resembles a park. What follows is more a road than a path, between sports club and allotments, past a locked-off bridge to nowhere. And then, oh dear, the New River goes private. You'll get no further than a low stone bridge dated 1926. Beyond are pristine banks with gleaming grass, the sole preserve of select houseowners who own appropriately-located property. No complaints, the New River Path isn't a public right of way, it's down to Thames Water who can and who can't follow alongside. But this particular diversion is briefly annoying.

This is the first point along the walk where I got lost. Two roads later the signs petered out, and what looked like the right route alongside Water Cottages turned into a blunt dead end. I eventually worked out that the correct route was further back, along the edge of a playing field, with a signpost positioned at the far end only. To return to the river it felt strange cutting across a meadow between high grass, but that's because I'd been conditioned to waterside walking all the way from source. The adjacent settlement is Wormley, with several fortunate residents boasting gardens that back directly onto the New River. Some have trellises, tubs of flowers and picnic tables, and a bench for doing the Daily Mail crossword, but they have to put up with the public rambling by on the opposite bank.

Wormley sees the first significant 'loop' on the New River, caused by a natural stream and its associated valley. The 400-year-old aqueduct had to divert to follow the 100 foot contour, creating a lengthy notch, which soon proved uneconomic. This problem was solved in 1855 by the Mylne Aqueduct, a direct diversion of the water channel along an embankment over the Turnford Brook. The sloping drop to either side looks entirely artificial, and the view isn't helped by a bland housing estate built more recently to either side. Also unpleasant is the subway ahead beneath the A10, a very dark tunnel, thankfully brief. Along the subsequent mile of river there's only one public access point, tucked away round the back of a large retail park. Nobody exiting Next or Boots or Argos wants to walk along the New River, they have heavy shopping to carry to their cars instead, so the footpath was unexpectedly serene - just me and the ducks.

Most of today's walk has been along the edge of open space, at least on one side of the river, but at Brookfield the golf course makes way for full-time housing. This used to be Cheshunt South Reservoir, a long thin Victorian creation that never reached its potential and was eventually used for fishing. A few years back Thames Water worked out its development potential and sold it for residential use, and now a bog-standard estate is slowly growing down the site from top to bottom. A harvest of plastic bags hangs from the gated entrance partway down, used as litter bins (and god knows what) by passing dog walkers. And so the New River Path wiggles from one bank to the other through the heart of Cheshunt, ever so close to the noisy A10 and past Broxbourne Council's main offices. I took time out on College Road to visit my grandparents, but you probably won't do that unless they're buried in Cheshunt Cemetery too.

And the things improve dramatically. Beyond Bury Green there are fields on both sides - one a school playing field but the other proper farmland. And that's just a warm-up for the stretch beyond Theobalds Lane. This exclusive cul-de-sac leads to two recreational hideaways, one the Tesco Country Club, the other Theobald's Park. The latter dates back to the 17th century, just after the New River drove through these parts. Local landowners were firmly against the advance of this artificial waterway, and Hugh Myddleton only succeeded in his grand plan by getting the king onside. James I had a royal palace on Theobalds Lane, and was eventually persuaded to go 50/50 on construction costs and profits, creating one of the world's first shareholding companies.

Temple Bar was relocated to Theobalds Park in 1889 when traffic on Fleet Street became too large to fit through, but was returned to the City and rebuilt in 2004. The estate's mansion is now a conference centre and is invisible to passers-by through the trees, but a long lush sweep of foliage marks the boundary. I'd recommend pausing (on a rare bench), where the river widens to an ornamental pool, to enjoy the peaceful scene. A field of maize keeps the A10 at bay, and that long grey shed beyond is the world's largest printworks. It belongs to News International - it's their post-Wapping bolthole - and is extremely conveniently located for M25 Junction 25. Hertfordshire ends here, just west of Waltham Cross, with a final flourish.

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