diamond geezer

 Monday, September 26, 2016

Beyond London (14): Broxbourne (part 1)

Broxbourne's the last of four Hertfordshire districts on my orbital tour of the capital, and one of the smaller boroughs surrounding London. Essentially it's a string of merged residential areas threaded down the A10 to the west of the River Lea, plus a bit of countryside tacked on for balance. Hoddesdon and Broxbourne are the towns at the top of the chain, and Cheshunt and and Waltham Cross at the bottom. Two of the most obvious places for sightseeing are the New River and River Lea itself, but I've walked both of those before so gave them a miss. And whilst Broxbourne's not otherwise an obvious destination for a day out, I hunted down a few hopefully interesting locations. [11 photos]

Somewhere to begin: Lowewood Museum

Broxbourne's museum is housed in a Georgian mansion at the quiet end of Hoddesdon's High Street. It's part of a municipal cluster which includes a police station and Broxbourne's civic hall, the latter recently rebranded 'Spotlight', and soon to welcome Julian Clary and a Little Mix tribute act (separately, you'll be relieved to hear). The museum has a couple of rooms downstairs and three up, plus a central hallway with a video camera which allows the unseen lady on the desk to say hello to you as you walk in. The borough has a fair bit of history from its location on the road north out of London, and as a favoured spot for royalty, which I'll come back to in due course. There's also a goodly collection of Victoriana from an era of long-gone shops, and souvenirs from when local towns were favoured weekend destinations for leisure-seeking Londoners.

Hoddesdon gets rather more of a look in than the rest of the district, perhaps not surprising when it's on the doorstep, but a bit of a disappointment if you're a visitor whose family grew up at the Cheshunt end. A rather broader approach was taken by the travelling exhibition in the main gallery which showcases musical talent from across the East of England, including the not-local Depeche Mode and the very local Cliff Richard. This exhibition closed yesterday, so I won't go on about it, but I did relish the opportunity to press a button and play my Mum's favourite song in her local museum, and the discordant clash this made with the wartime ditties playing outside. Meanwhile the gift shop so prominently advertised outside on the pavement probably won't solve your Christmas gift problems, sorry, unless you're a resident with an interest in local history, in which case there's every chance.
by train: Broxbourne

Somewhere random: Hoddesdon

I'm not sure how I've never been to Hoddesdon before, although this may have a lot to do with badly-spaced stations. The town's had a market since the 13th century and grew later as a coaching stop, being not quite halfway to Cambridge, before the railway whisked that trade away. A surprising number of old buildings remain - the downloadable Heritage Trail lists 52 separate locations - including a charming tavern from 1532 and an repurposed office block from 1622. The High Street in particular is bubbling over with character, much of it timber-framed, and remains a popular location for weekend shopping. The Victorian clocktower at the north end was built on the site of a medieval chapel, hence still belongs to the diocese of St Albans, and retains two of the original clock faces. Looming behind is an ill-advised block of flats above a Morrisons, plus a modern shopping mall that looks wholly out of place (and is mostly dead). So yes, a nice town to have on your doorstep, but not even the Heritage Trail could fire my enthusiasm for a longer stay.
by train: Rye House

Somewhere retail: Tesco HQ
If you have a tin or packet from Tesco in your kitchen cupboard, and it's been there for a year or more, it probably says 'Produced for Tesco Stores Ltd, Cheshunt' on the back. Jack Cohen's company rolled into town in 1973, opening up New Tesco House on Delamare Road to act as its headquarters. At the time Tesco wasn't the retail behemoth we know today, just a high street stalwart diversifying into grocery, but the scale of its new office suggested high hopes for the future.

Delamare Road is one turn back from Cheshunt station, a one-street industrial estate running for quarter of a mile beside the railway. It's not the kind of place you'd expect to house such a major brand, indeed the immediate neighbours are a printing company and a Monster Gym. But there it is, a five-storey concrete bunker with several rows of identically indented windows, either magnificently brutalist or oppressively no-frills, depending on your perspective. Look closely at the white plastic fascia above the entrance and you can just make out the company logo, while underneath a security guard sits waiting for a workforce who will never return. For alas New Tesco House is a casualty of the company's recent accounting scandal, closed to save money with the loss of 2000 staff, and all business merged into existing premises on the dull side of Welwyn Garden City.

The electric car charging points installed out front now seem a complete waste of money, and the sign pointing round the back towards Deliveries is no longer true. Two further buildings across the road have been sealed off with low concrete blocks, sufficient to deter invasion by vehicle if nothing else, together with a forwarding address and map for anyone who turns up here by mistake. No lorries turn up any more, and judging by the scale of one rear depot there'd once have been dozens of them. Instead the site waits to discover its future, with housing the most likely ultimate fate. Thousands of new residents will be able to commute easily to jobs up in London, which'll be convenient, there being rather fewer opportunities on their doorstep.
by train: Cheshunt

Somewhere sporting: Lee Valley White Water Centre
When London's 2012 sporting infrastructure was doled out, Hertfordshire got canoe slalom, the original intention being to build a circuit by the Lea near Broxbourne. But that site was too contaminated, so instead an overspill car park beside the county boundary with Essex was acquired, which is how several medals came to be handed out just off the main road between Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey. And four years later the resulting infrastructure at the Lee Valley White Water Centre is still being well used, indeed at the weekend it was absolutely thriving.

There are two slalom circuits, one wild and Olympic standard, the other for more intermediate paddlers. You'd likely have more luck on the latter, the Legacy Loop, where children skim round in what look like tyres and middle-aged men in wetsuits haul themselves out of the water after an unfortunate kayak tumble. But all eyes are on the main cascade, a rough descent over artificial grade 4 rapids, where the white water of the centre's name is all too apparent. Canoeists use the weirs to practise turns and tumbles, but the main commercial event these days is rafting. Groups of nine tog up in protective layers and inch (or hurtle) round the course, watched over by a coach who encourages and cajoles, and a team of staff who watch from the sidelines ready to help anyone who flies loose. Several participants came unstuck while I was watching, one flopping out like a dead salmon as their raft descended into the foam, before hauling himself back on board further down the course.

It's not for me, I have enough trouble swimming, and I'd have been weeded out by the safety assessment in the lake at the beginning. But corporate clients lap up this stuff midweek, while stag and hen parties are amongst those taking advantage at the weekend. At £50 a seat it's not cheap, but it is a nice little earner for the site, and goes to pay for the hydraulics which keep the waterway churning over. The other thing management got right was the The Terrace, a cafe bar plus BBQ which overlooks the start of the descent. The first time I saw its exterior decking five years ago I thought it far too large, but this Saturday it was packed with friends and families and hangers on of those out on the water, plus those who'd already been round, totally ignoring the action while they tucked into coffee, prosecco, beers and meat. A rip-roaring post-Olympic success, I'd say, in a way the Velopark back in Stratford rarely seems to be.
by train: Waltham Cross

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