I'm continuing my walk along the New River (n.b. not new, not a river). Still very much in Hertfordshire, still more than 20 miles from central London, and still somewhat amazed that drinking water for the capital continues to flow along this 400 year-old aqueduct. Today I'm starting in a village that celebrates the New River's creator.
“Amwell. Perpetual be thy stream.
Nor ever thy spring be less.
Which thousands drink who never dream
whence flows the streams they bless.” (John Scott, 1818)
Great Amwell is a lovely village, probably the nicest the New River flows through, or at least that's how it appears from the waterside. The channel opens out to a broad pool, the site of Amwell Springs, in the middle of which are two ornamental islands overseen by towering trees. On one island beneath the willows is a stone urn, a memorial to Sir Hugh Myddleton, creator of the New River. His portrait appears on the other island, temporarily, as a 400th anniversary commemoration from The Amwell Society. And alongside is the poem reproduced above, carved into a block of stone and accessibly only via a private bridge. Take time out to walk briefly up the hill to St John the Baptist, a medieval flint church with Romanesque windows, and hunt down the Mylne family tomb. Robert Mylne was the New River's chief surveyor for 40 years in the late 18th century, and also had responsibility for the maintenance of St Paul's Cathedral and construction of the first Blackfriars Bridge.
Heading out of the village the New River again passes close to the River Lea, which lies just the other side of the Amwell Nature Reserve. That's Amwell Marsh Pumping Station ahead, in yellow stock brick, with water bubbling up from a pipe into the channel outside. And this is where I met Ben and Joe, two very lively golden retrievers who took exception to an interloper on their riverbank. They glowered in my general direction and considered bounding towards me, before their astute owner yelled to call them back, and the trio returned to their home on nearby Meridian Way. Because yes, the Greenwich meridian passes through the village of Stanstead St Margaret's, almost precisely along the towpath for 100 yards or so on either side of Station Road.
It was briefly unexpectedly muddy here, this before the latest autumn deluge, so I was glad I wasn't wearing pristine trainers. The A414 roars overhead ahead, the fast track to Harlow, and yet another pumping station (that's Rye Common, if you're keeping count). Here the path doubles back along the road into St Margaret's Community Woodland, away from the river for the first time, and up and over a steep ridge. When you're used to an utterly flat walk, this is a bit of a jolt. For the next half mile the New River runs again alongside the railway, first at private level crossing level, later on a slight embankment. Visible to the east is the barley-sugar chimney of Rye HouseGatehouse, a local treasure alongside the River Lea, and to the south the three tall chimneys of Rye House Power Station. If you fancy breaking the walk here the platforms at Rye House are but a stone's throw away - I watched a workman scrubbing the station sign as I walked by.
The adjacent industrial estate isn't the most attractive, although ideal if you're looking for a bespoke leatherbound corporate diary. We've hit the edge of Hoddesdon here, although the only hint is an increase in the number of residents wandering along the New River to walk their dogs. And now a choice of route, as a low green railing runs along the riverbank and you can select either the left or right hand side. There are a lot of low green railings up the northern end of the New River, low green railings were clearly the infrastructure of choice when the long-distance footpath was created. Those and kissing gates, repeatedly installed at entrances to prevent cyclists from trespassing where two wheels aren't supposed to go.
Hoddesdon Pumping Station follows a particularly hairy road crossing, with awkward bends and no obvious pedestrian assistance. And then, if you had any sense, you'd follow the track down across the meadow past the horses away from the New River. Down there is Dobbs Weir, one of the more picturesque corners of the River Lea, because beauty occurs more often on rivers that change level. Instead this artificial channel runs almost-horizontally south, round the back of some rather expensive properties whose manicured lawns back down to the water's edge. Broxbourne station is coming up, past yet another Victorian pumphouse, with direct access down the embankment from the New River Path to the station entrance. This brick monster marks the outer limit of the Oystercard zone, and is by far the most convenient transport connection for several miles hence. You might well head home here. I'm carrying on.