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Stage 8 - Letty Green to Dobbs Weir  (10.65 miles)

 

The stage starts next to the old platform of Cole Green Station on the Cole Green Way, a disused railway line which has been converted to a cycle path and bridleway. The railway opened in 1858 and connected Welwyn to Hertford, but was closed in 1966 as a consequence of The Beeching Report.

 

The route follows the Cole Green Way to Hertford. It passes through the old part of this county town taking in the castle and grounds, then joins the River Lee Navigation through Ware to finish on the bank of the canal at Dobbs Weir.

 

There are many wood carvings of insects and birds around the car park and in the woods next to the start. There is a picnic area and a short gentle walk with a pond to enjoy and just north on OS maps is marked the site of an ancient settlement. At the bottom of the lane which leads up to the station is the Cowper Arms, a friendly country pub (once named The Railway Hotel) with home cooked food, a selection of real ales and a pleasant beer garden. The pub’s name is derived from the Cowper family. They were Lords of the Manor and lived at Panshanger Park just north of Cole Green, and at Hertingfordbury Park a mile east of here. William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper (1664 – 1723) was MP for Hertford, Lord Chancellor and made Earl Cowper for his services to Queen Anne in unifying England and Scotland in 1706.

 

Immediately south of Cole Green Station is the village of Letty Green. As children, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret would often come here, to Woolmer’s Park – a large house on the banks of the River Lea – to stay with their grandparents Lord and Lady Strathmore. During these visits they would attend Sunday service at St John the Baptist’s Church in the centre of the village.

 

The route follows the leafy tree lined Cole Green Way east from Cole Green Station for just over two miles to the outskirts of Hertford.

 

The trail is mainly flat or gradually gently downhill using old Victorian bridges to cross over roads. The first bridge, after 650 yards, passes over Birch Green next to its junction with Chapel Lane and Pipers Lane. After another 650 yards Woolmers Lane is crossed with the option of a subway or level crossing. The trail continues for 0.75 miles, then crosses over St Mary’s Lane via another bridge and immediately past this is the old platform of Hertingfordbury Park Station.

 

Just north along the St Mary’s Lane is the village of Hertingfordbury. The manor here dates from at least Saxon Times and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The village has some lovely old buildings and the 15th Century St Mary’s Church contains many memorials to the Cowper Family. In the churchyard is the grave of Sir Benjamin Truman (1700 – 1780) owner of the Truman Brewery in East London. Also buried here is Dorothy Paget (1905 – 1960), champion racehorse owner winner the Derby, the Champion Hurdle four times and the Cheltenham Gold Cup seven times (five were with one horse – Golden Miller 1932 – 36). She was the daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough and Pauline Payne Whitney (1874 – 1916), an American Heiress who is also buried here.

 

Spencer Gore, post-impressionist painter, often came to stay and work here at his mother’s home, Garth House. He died at the young age of 36 in 1914 and is buried in St Mary’s churchyard. His funeral was attended by fellow artists Jacob Epstein, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash. Many of Gore’s works are in the Tate Collection.

   

Under the tower of the church is an effigy of Lady Calvert (1678 – 1721) (aka Charlotte Lee). She was also Lady Baltimore and the granddaughter of Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers. Her family founded Maryland in 1634, and the City of Baltimore in 1729. Later descendents and family included Robert E. Lee, Sir Anthony Eden and George Washington.

 

Other buildings of interest in the village include Epcombs - a Georgian brick house often visited by novelist Jane Austen. The Old Rectory was home to the Addis Family, the first mass producers of toothbrushes. Their factory was based at Hertford from 1920 to 1933. The White Horse Inn is over 400 years old, but has Georgian frontage and was a staging post for coaches.

 

Hertingfordbury Park borders onto the north edge of the trail, just east of the village, and is home to the Independent Preparatory St Joseph’s in the Park School. The park at Hertingfordbury is first mentioned in 1285, when was much larger and for centuries was used as a royal hunting ground.

 

Half a mile after St Mary’s Lane (at 2.1 miles into the stage), in front is a large overhead railway viaduct. Before reaching the viaduct turn right to follow the Cole Green Way signs for a short distance to and through a kissing gate onto a lane. Turn left along a lane and under the viaduct. The viaduct carries the London Euston line north on its way to Edinburgh.

 

Follow the lane for 350 yards to the car park of Hertford Town Football Club. Go straight on through the car park, then across a bridge over the River Lea onto a lane which leads uphill to a T-junction. At the junction turn right then almost immediately left onto an enclosed path (Wallfield Alley) which climbs uphill behind the houses and after 300 yards turns left and falls back down to rejoin West Street, next to The Black Horse Pub. Turn right along the pavement staying on the RHS of the street.

 

There is a huge amount of history associated with Hertford, a lot which through the years gives a running history of the country. Some of it I have documented below. I hope I don’t dwell too much on certain aspects and you enjoy the pieces I have chosen.

 

West Street is one of the oldest in Hertford. It has lots of interesting buildings and many hundreds of years ago the area around the street was important enough to be classified as a settlement in its own right. On the left at the end of West Street, on a building called “The Maltings” is a plaque to Richard & William Westall, both painters. Richard was the most acclaimed of the two half brothers, sons of Benjamin Westall of Norwich. He was born here on 2nd January 1765. His paintings included portraits of Queen Victoria and Lord Byron. Some of the finest British engravings from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries were designed by Richard Westall. During the 1790's he was commissioned by the famous publisher John Boydell to work on his large engravings for the Shakespeare Gallery and The Poetical Works of John Milton. These now famous works of art established Westall as a major designer of individual engravings and engravings for illustrated books. Richard Westall was elected an Associate of the prestigious Royal Academy in 1792 and a full Academician in 1794. In 1827 he was appointed as the drawing master to then Princess Victoria and remained in the post till his death in 1836. His younger half-brother William (1781-1850) also born at Hertford was a much travelled landscape painter. He was taught to paint by his older brother Richard, who secured him a place at the Royal Academy in 1799. Constable and Turner joined the Academy at this time. His work was noticed by Sir James Banks, the botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his expeditions, and a consequence of this, in 1801 he sailed in the Investigator under the command of Matthew Flinders on the famous voyage of discovery to Australia. He was the first professional artist to draw the landscape and outline of Australia and the first European to accurately record Aboriginal cave art. His work helped Great Britain to claim sovereignty over Australia. His sketches and paintings from the journey are still acclaimed to be some of the best of Australian landscape.

 

On reading about William Westall, he was young; he seemed to have had his own agenda and took his time to return with his work. He got shipwrecked on the Porpoise and many of his drawings were lost or damaged. He enjoyed some extra sightseeing in China and Ceylon delaying his return home with his eagerly awaited drawings. This as you can imagine frustrated the British Government as they were in a race with France and other countries to claim Australia as their own.

 

Stay on the pavement on the right hand side of West Street approaching the opposite end as a continuous metal railing blocks the pavement from the road. At the T-junction turn right along the pavement and parallel to a dual carriageway, Gascoyne Way (A414), and past a car dealership. After a short distance, stay on the right of the pavement to descend to a well positioned subway which leads under the dual carriageway and comes out into Castle Street.

 

A Castle Street Party is held each year in August for charity and just to the left along the street is the White Horse pub, dating back to the 14th Century. In 2008 the pub won a “Good Pub Guide” national award as you can see from the press cutting below.

 

“BARGAIN PUB OF THE YEAR – White Horse, Hertford, Hertfordshire

Impressive range of real ales and very reasonably priced food at this unpretentious homely town-centre pub. They also have around 20 country wines. Parts of the building date from the 14th c, and you can still see Tudor brickwork in the three quietly cosy upstairs rooms.

Licensee: Tel: 01992 501950”

 

Go straight across Castle Street and into the small park on the opposite side. The route has just entered the grounds of Hertford Castle.

 

The path through these well laid out gardens descends into an area which once formed part of the moat around the castle. On the left is the “Ice House”, built by the Marquis of Downshire around 1800, and in front is the old flint perimeter wall of the castle. Ice would be collected in winter and stored here throughout the year. The ice house is connected to the castle by an underground passage.

 

Follow the path into the park, soon past an ice house, then veer left and up to the corner of a wall. Turn right through an opening to enter the inner grounds of the castle.

 

To the left is Hertford Castle. The castle is in fact the gatehouse to what was a Royal Palace for over 300 years. This was one of a number of castles built over the years on the site.

 

Hertford owes its origins to four rivers which flow through it. The rivers Beane, Mimram and Rib all flow into the River Lea within the town boundaries. The town’s name is Saxon and is derived from the “ford” here, where deer (or “harts”) would cross the river. A hart standing in water can be seen on the town’s coat of arms.

 

The earliest known record of Hertford is to be found in the writings of Venerable Bede, who recorded the first meeting of the Synod of the English Church. This took place here in 673 AD, where the Bishops of East Anglia, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex met to resolve their differences. The agreement the reached resulted in the union of the church in England under the See of Canterbury. This laid the foundations for the later political union of England. The event is remembered by a stone memorial at the entrance to the gatehouse. During the Synod they all united to confirm the date for Easter. The quote below is taken from what was recorded at the synod.

 

Chapter I. “That we all unite in observing the holy day of Easter on the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month.” . . .

 

 

It is not known when the first castle was built here. However, records suggest two fortified places (burghs) were established by Edward the Elder around 911. By the time of the Norman Invasion in 1066, Hertford had a motte and bailey surrounded by a moat.

 

After the Battle of Hastings (1066) William the Conqueror granted the castle to Peter de Valoignes, one of his followers and the Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex. At this time the Norman occupiers fortified the castle to protect themselves from the people as many resented their new Norman rulers. After Peter died the castle was passed on to his son Roger de Valoignes by Henry I. When Henry died in 1135, Stephen de Bois, grandson of William the Conqueror, was crowned King Stephen I, even though the throne had been promised to Henry’s daughter Matilda. Roger supported Matilda during the 18 year civil war with King Stephen. Stephen died in 1154 and Matilda’s son, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II. To reassert his authority of the Crown over disloyal barons he constructed many castles, and because of Hertford’s support for his mother, he much improved the castle by adding flint walls, drawbridges and gatehouses. Roger de Valoignes died in 1184 leaving no male heirs and the castle passed back into the hands of the Crown.

 

Henry II died in 1189 and was succeeded by his eldest son Richard the Lionheart. Richard spent most of his time overseas fighting in the crusades and defending his French provinces. William Longchamps, the King’s Regent strengthened the castle’s defenses in his absence. Richard died in 1199 and his disloyal brother John became king. He ruled to 1216 and left a divided country. He is probably remembered most for being forced by the barons to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. After John’s death Henry III was crowned king. With the country divided some stayed faithful to the new king whilst others supported the French Prince Louis. The French had already arrived in London by the time of John’s death. They made their way north, and after a month-long siege captured both Hertford town and the castle. However, within a year the support for Henry grew and the French were forced to leave. Henry reigned for 56 years until his death in 1272. He was succeeded by Edward I (Longshanks) who brought stability to the country. With its military role now secondary, the castle became a royal residence and in 1299 Edward gave it to his second wife Marguerite of France (1282 – 1317).

 

Edward I died at Burgh on Sands on 7th July 1307 on route to do battle with Robert the Bruce. He was succeeded by his son Edward II. The following year Edward II married Isabella of France (daughter of King Philip IV of France). Edward II was not a confident king like his father and there were many questions about his sexuality. He suffered a huge defeat to the Scottish under Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn on 24th June 1314. As a consequence he became more dependent on his distrusted barons and thus never regained full control of his realm. Although Edward was not a good husband, Isabella bore the king two sons and two daughters. Isabella is sometimes referred to as the “She-Wolf of France” because of her violent temperament. She eventually got fed up with his neglect for her and on refusing to return from France in 1325 took on a lover, the exiled Baron Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Together they plotted against her husband eventually deposing him and putting her 14 year old son on the throne. Edward was captured and imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where it was rumoured he meet a very horrible death. This rumour was elaborated much later in history by Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535),

 

“On the night of October 11 (1327 AD) while lying on a bed (the king) was suddenly seized and, while a great mattress... weighed him down, a plumber’s iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his secret parts (up his anus) so that it burnt the inner portions beyond the intestines”.

 

If the above is true, it describes the death of a homosexual king, where a tube was inserted first and then the hot rod inserted through the tube so no external damage could be seen and it could be reported that the king dies of natural causes.

 

The film Braveheart (1995) is based around this time and features Edward I (Longshanks), his gay son Edward II, and a love affair between Isabella and William Wallace. However, by visiting Squidoo you will find the timing of events makes the affair almost impossible.

 

The Hyperlink gives some writings of happenings at the time and some wonderful illustrations.

 

The young Edward III’s rule was greatly influenced by his mother and Mortimer in his early years as king. However, on coming of age in 1331 he took control and realising the treachery of them both had his mother imprisoned and Mortimer tried and hung. Isabella was eventually freed and spent most of her remaining years at Hertford Castle until her death here on 23rd August 1358. Whilst at Hertford she was often visited by her son.

 

In 1337 war broke out with France – The Hundred Years War – and Hertford Castle was used to detain prisoners of royal and noble rank. They included King David II of Scotland, whose country was backing France, and King John II of France. The nobles were usually treated well by their captors and often used as bargaining tools.

 

In 1360 the castle was granted to Edward’s III’s son John of Gaunt. He used it as his main country home and repaired and strengthened the defenses.

 

Edward III died in 1377 and his 10 year old grandson was crowned Richard II. John of Gaunt had a huge influence over his young nephew. However, he was a supporter of the religious reformer John Wyclif, and this put him at odds with the church. His unwise decisions on taxation resulted in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, led by Wat Tyler. There is no evidence of disturbances in Hertford, but in St. Albans there was rioting and eighteen peasants from the town were imprisoned in the castle dungeons.

 

On coming of age Richard distrusted his uncle and confiscated the castle. John was dispatched to Spain as an ambassador, but was recalled and returned the castle when Richard’s misrule almost led to a civil war.

 

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster died in 1399 and his Lancastrian estates including Hertford Castle were seized by Richard. The previous year John’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, had been exiled to France. Henry returned to England shortly after his father’s death. At the time Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland. By now Richard was not a popular king and this allowed Henry to gain enough power and support to have himself declared king. He was crowned on 13th October 1399 as Henry IV. Richard was captured at Flint Castle in Wales and died in mysterious circumstances on 14th February 1400 while imprisoned at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.

 

Henry IV granted Hertford Castle to his second wife, Joan of Navarre (1370 – 1437). He died in 1413, and his son Henry V was crowned. Henry V was envious of his stepmother’s estates and had her wrongly accused of witchcraft and she was imprisoned at Pevensey Castle from 1419 – 1422. He repented on his deathbed and she was released and her dower returned. Joan died in 1437 and was buried next to her husband in Canterbury Cathedral.

 

The castle remained a royal residence through the reigns of Henry VI (r 1422-61), Edward VI (r 1461-83), Richard III (r 1483-5), Henry VII (r 1485-1509) and Henry VIII (r 1509-47). Henry VIII spent much money on the castle, which included work on the gatehouse, originally built in 1465 by Edward IV and which still stands today.

 

Henry Tudor died on 28th January 1547. Prince Edward, then only nine years old and his successor, was at Hertford Castle when he was informed two day later of his father’s death. Edward VI, although very intelligent and well-educated, was not a well child and died age fifteen on 6th July 1553. His half-sister Mary I (r 1553-8) succeeded him. She became known as “Bloody Mary” because of her persecution of Protestants and attempts to re-establish the power of Rome over the Church in England. At this time the castle was used to imprison Protestant martyrs.

 

Mary died on 17th November 1558 and having failed to bear an heir, her half-sister Elizabeth I (r 1558 – 1603) became queen. She re-established the monarchy as head of the Church.

 

Elizabeth spent much of her childhood at Hertford Castle in governess care and had many fond memories of the town. In the British Museum there is a book of prayers written by Princess Elizabeth at the age of nine and dated “Hertford 1535”.

 

The country prospered during Elizabeth’s reign. She granted charters to the town and was a regular visitor. After the outbreak of the Plague in London in 1563 it is thought that the Law Courts and Parliament were relocated to Hertford for a short period of time. Parliament Square, when built was named so to commemorate the event.

 

Elizabeth was the fifth and last Tudor monarch. After her death on 24th March 1603 she was succeeded by Charles James Stuart. great grandson of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor, James VI of Scotland became James I (r 1603-25) and the first Stuart King of England. He had very little knowledge of English tradition and Hertford Castle ceased to be a royal residence and fell into decay. His successor Charles I (r 1625-49) gave the castle to William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. The Cecil’s main home was at Hatfield and for years the castle was leased out to many different people. These included William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper, Lord Chancellor of England (1665-1723) and some of his successors.

 

In the 18th Century the castle was home to The Tower School and from 1806 to 1809 was the site of Haileybury College until it moved to its current site at Hertford Heath.

 

In the late 20th Century the castle was given as a gift to the town by Lord Salisbury. Today the grounds are now a public pleasure garden and the gatehouse is home to Hertford Town Council. However, there is still much on view as a memory to the history which has gone before. The only known map to show Hertford Castle still standing is John Speed’s map of Hertfordshire (c1610). The castle section of the map can be viewed by following the link to the “Discover Hertford” website.

 

After entering the walls go straight on along a footpath next to the wall, keeping the castle and gardens to the left. At the far corner the path turns left with the wall still on the right. After another 80 yards turn right through a gate and stay right across a car park with a modern building to the left and soon to a pelican crossing at a busy road.

 

The road is The Wash (so called because of its tendency to flood) and the modern building to the left is Castle Hall. Also just further to the left along The Wash is Millennium Statue of Samuel Stone and just past this is the Mill Bridge over the River Lea (or Lee as sometimes spelt). A short distance to the right is the entrance to Parliament Square and running east off it is Fore Street one of the town’s oldest thoroughfares.

 

At the junction of Fore Street and Parliament Square a large Hart (male deer) sits high on a plinth signifying where the name of this small county town originates from. The standard of the town has the hart crossing a ford of the river – hence Hertford.

 

Samuel Stone was born in Hertford on 18th July 1602 and lived with his parents in Fore Street. He left Hertford at 18 years old to study at Emmanuel College Cambridge, was ordained at Peterborough in 1626 and a year later became curate at Sisted, Essex.

 

Stone was a 17th Century Puritan minister. The Puritans were Protestants who wanted to purify the Church of England of its ceremony and any other aspects which they thought were Catholic. Eventually they came into conflict with The Crown and were suppressed. In 1633 Stone and his friend Thomas Hooker fled across the Atlantic Ocean in The Griffin. They landed in Boston and Stone became a Teacher of Church and then a Freeman of the city. In 1636 Stone and Hooker led their congregation from New Towne (Cambridge, Massachusetts) to House of Hope and formed a colony there. They befriended the local Red Indians and renamed the town Hartford after his home town in England, changing the “e” to an “a” for the benefit of the locals for pronunciation.

 

The area between the Castle and Mill Bridge is now the site of Castle Hall and public gardens. However, for nearly 900 years until 1967 a mill stood here. This was one of four Hertford mills which are recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1087 AD. In 1944 the last mill buildings were damaged by a V2 flying bomb and in 1967 were demolished. On the other side of Mill Bridge is the Woolpack public house. From 1832 to 1891 this was the site of McMullen’s Brewery. They started brewing in 1827 in Railway Street before moving here, and then eventually moved to their present location, just over Mill Bridge and around the corner, at Old Cross. Of the original five breweries in Hertford, McMullen’s is the only one remaining.

 

Go across “The Wash” via the pelican crossing and straight on into Maidenhead Street, staying on the LHS (now 3 miles into the stage).

 

A long distance path me met earlier – the Hertfordshire Way – is crossed as we cross over The Wash. I comes along the road from the south and goes north over Mill Bridge and along Cowbridge.

 

Maidenhead Street is one of Hertford’s oldest streets and is named after the old Maidenhead Inn. The inn closed in 1933 and up to recently Woolworths occupied the site. On a Saturday the street hosts a weekly market.

 

At the other end of Maidenhead Street turn left into Bull Plain.

 

On the corner of Maidenhead Street and Bull Plain is Hinds Jewellery Store, but this was once the site of Hertford’s first cinema, the People’s Electric Theatre which opened in 1910. Bull Plain gets its name from the Old Bull Inn which is now Hertford Cameras. On the right side of the street is Hertford Museum which has recently celebrated its centenary. In 1915 the street suffered extensive damage after a German Zeppelin raid.

 

At the end of Bull Plain cross Folly Bridge and turn right into The Folly.

 

To the left, just over the bridge, is a peaceful green area overlooking the river where it forms a calm pool as the river splits into two – one flowing under the bridge and the other going off to the right. This area is at the south west tip of Folly Island which is surrounded by the two branches of the river. Folly Bridge is the only road access to the island.

 

Stay right along the road for just a few yards and on approaching the Old Barge Pub go straight on along the footpath to the right of the pub and next to the canal.

 

Folly Island has its own Crayfish Festival each year at the end of August. This takes place at the Old Barge Pub. The pub is listed in the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Good Beer Guide and has featured in the TV drama “Inspector Morse”. A famous former landlord, Harry Curtis Garner, at one time held all the national walking records between 1 and 30 miles. In New York in 1891 he also set a world record for ¼ mile (1 min 23 secs).  

 

It is here where we join the River Lee Navigation. For the next 15 miles the route follows this well defined canal path to Enfield Lock. There is much to see on the way.

 

It is just beyond Folly Bridge where boats coming up from the River Thames can navigate the Lee and have been doing for hundreds of years along the same stretch of waterway.

 

The River Lee Navigation flows from Hertford Castle Weir to the River Thames at Bow Creek. Whereas most canals are wholly manmade, the Lee Navigation is a canalised river, incorporating the River Lee (or Lea). It follows the course of the River Lee along its valley, sometimes joining and using the river’s natural course as the navigable stream. However, for most of the route, as the River Lee meanders along the valley, the Lee Navigation takes a more direct route. Firstly, it goes due east from Hertford to past Ware, then gradually turns south and continues almost directly south to the Thames. The route south follows close to and sometimes crosses the Prime Meridian Line.   

 

Before leaving Hertford there are a few other things I would like to mention about the town. I could go on for pages and if you want to read more you can visit Discover Hertford” website which has been really useful in helping with my research and has a mountain of information to read. The website has many old writings, maps, photos and links. It is well worth a visit to discover more about this historical town.

 

Jane Wenham of Church Lane, Walkern, Hertfordshire was the last convicted witch in England. Her trial took place in Hertford in 1712 and to the disbelief of the judge; she was found guilty and had no choice but sentence her to death. However, she later received a Royal Pardon and was given shelter by the Earl & Countess Cowper at Hertingfordbury, near Hertford, where she died in 1730 and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in an unmarked grave.

 

The Shire Hall in Fore Street was built between 1769 and 1779 and is home to the Magistrate’s Court. The ballroom on the top floor is thought to have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Assembly Room at Meryton, in her novel Pride and Prejudice.

 

The Friends Meeting House in Railway Street was built in 1670 is the oldest Quaker Meeting House in the world still in use.

 

Sele Mill on the River Beane, near Hertford North Station was opened by John Tate in the late 15th Century and was England’s first paper mill. The original mill was destroyed by fire in 1890 and was replaced by a newer mill. The building has now been converted to residences.

 

William Earl Johns the author of the “Biggles” novels was born in Bengeo on 5th February 1893. He lived at 41 Cowbridge, Hertford between the ages of 7 and 19 and was a pupil at Hertford Grammar School (now Richard Hale School).

 

Christ’s Hospital School moved to Hertford in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. Between 1902 and 1906 the boys moved to their current site near Horsham. The girls finally moved there too in 1985. Some of the school buildings still remain today and have been converted to flats. There is still much evidence of the famous “Bluecoats” school’s time in the town.   

 

Recently as reported by the Hertfordshire Mercury, the Knights Templar seemed to have come out of hiding after almost 700 years. There are stories of secret tunnels under the town where they still meet and they have requested an apology from the Vatican. It comes in the form of a letter, signed by the Secretary of the Council of Chaplains on behalf of the Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon Grand Preceptory. It has a PO box address in Hertford and formally requests an apology “for the torture and murder of our leadership”, instigated by Pope Clement V.

 

The order was founded in 1118 by French knights Hughes de Payns & Geoffroy de Saint-Omer as the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon”. Their main goal was to protect pilgrims on their journey into Jerusalem after the 1st Crusade. Originally they only numbered nine. However, over the years their numbers increased and the Vatican made them exempt from taxes. They soon became a very powerful and wealthy organisation. They became bankers to many kings and nobles throughout Europe and it was their great power which proved to be their downfall.

 

In England their main base was in Hertfordshire. They founded the town of Baldock between 1199 and 1254 and it became their headquarters. At Temple Dinsley (now the Princess Helena College at Preston, Herts.) they built a Preceptory where some Templars lived and where they often held meetings.

 

In France on Friday, 13th October 1307 (possibly the origins of this unlucky date) King Philip IV of France (Philip the Fair) had all the Templars in France arrested and accused of many wrongdoings. With these actions Philip could forget the large loans he had borrowed from the Order and was able to steal their lands and treasures. Philip also persuaded Pope Clement V (who attained his high position mainly thanks to the king) to side with him against the Order.

 

Knights Templar from all over Europe fled to England and especially Hertfordshire, where they had many properties and lands and enjoyed great respect from the locals. Eventually, with pressure from France and the Vatican, King Edward II arrested six Templars at Temple Dinsley and had four imprisoned in the dungeons at Hertford Castle and two in the Tower of London. However, because of their influence and popularity in the area, the king’s action caused a lot of local unrest.

 

The Order was officially disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. The 24th and last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay and his fellow knight, Geoffroy de Charnay, were burnt at the stake on the Ile de la Cite in Paris on 18th March 1314. Just before the flames took their lives Jacque de Molay is reported to have spoken his last words:

 

“Clement, iniquitous, judge and cruel torturer, I assign you to appear in forty days, in front of God’s Court! And you too, King Phillip!”

 

Both men died that same year, Pope Clement on 20th April and King Philip on 29th November.

 

What was one of the most powerful bodies in the world disappeared completely. A lot of its possessions were given to the Knights Hospitaller and the rest were confiscated by the Kings and the Vatican. Some people believe the Order never disappeared but went underground. Tradition had it they still met in private in secret caves, tunnels and basements. The Templars at Hertfordshire were believed to be in possession of great treasures (including “The Holy Grail”), but even with extensive searching, nothing was ever found.

 

At Royston in Hertfordshire in 1742 some workmen accidentally discovered the entrance to a cave hidden under a heavy millstone covered with soil. Royston Cave lies below the crossroads of two ancient roads, Ermine Street and Icknield Way. Inside the cave there are carvings and drawings to suggest it has Templar connections. Whether this provides proof that the Order continued to function in secret is still debatable.    

 

13th October 2007 was the 700th anniversary of there suppression by the Vatican and King Philip. Hertford may seem a strange place from which a request for an official apology is now asked, but as you can see from above it does have many connections to the Templars. I can’t find a link to the original Mercury article, but the links below do tell the story.

 

The Times “24th November 2004” (link dead)

The Insider “16th September 2004” - Secret Tunnels under Hertford

The Insider “13th September 2004” - Royston Cave

The Insider “30th April 2005” – Pope investigates Knights Templar before his election

 

In October 2007, by coincidence a librarian at the Vatican found the files from 700 years ago on what actually happened and on the trials of the Templar, they had been misfiled for a long time – so the news article says. These are to be published soon. Is this really a way of the Vatican taking ownership of their actions and saying sorry for an injustice to the Knight’s Templar from 700 years ago? Let’s see what the documents eventually say.

 

On joining the Lee Navigation at The Folly the path is easy to follow. The old cottages on the left face onto the Lee. Across the canal, just where the cottages finish, was the site of Hertford Priory. It was established as a house of Benedictine monks shortly after the Norman invasion, by Ralph de Limesi, a strong supporter of William the Conqueror. The Priory was built on the banks of the Lee and dedicated to St. Mary. It was dissolved in 1536 and nothing remains apart from the name of Priory Street which now occupies the site.

 

John Barber was Hertford Town Centre Manager for 7 years before stepping down on 31st March 2008. His own personal website has lots of information on the town which he collected over the years. According to John Barber, there is also a suggestion to claim the recent Templar’s news as a hoax.

 

After 400 yards the towpath leads to a footbridge over Hertford Weir and brings us off Folly Island. Here the river and the canal meet but soon part company again for about a mile. Once over the footbridge turn right along the road and cross over the canal, then turn left to rejoin the towpath on the opposite bank.

 

There has been much redevelopment here in what was once the area between Bluecoats School and the river. The water is wide at this point with lots of long boats in the basin. New blocks of flats look down on the river from the right. To the left is Hartham Recreation Grounds within which are playing fields, the town’s swimming pool and bowling greens. Since the 12th Century Hartham Common was used by locals. For many hundreds of years they grazed their animals here for a small fee. Today locals pay a slightly larger fee to use the facilities. The River Beane borders the northern edge of the fields and there it is joined by the River Rib. You can see both their waters join the Lee from the left after another 0.65 miles.

 

Hertford Lock is passed 700 yards after the weir and it marks the point where our route leaves the town. The open area to the right of the path after the lock is called Kings Meads. The Meads are a flat area of land between Hertford and Ware covering 96 hectares and managed by the Wildlife Trust. The whole area has a chalk base with hills on either side. In older times the Lee was navigable from London and was probably much wider in this area. This is ancient marshland and a haven for wildlife. Today there are many ditches cut to drain what is really a fold plain. One of these ditches is the start of the “New River”. The local council has produced a tasteful glossy leaflet which takes you on a walk through the area. Presently, most of Kings Meads are still not accessible and wildlife thrives here.  

 

The New River is not new and is not really a river. It is a man-made water supply aqueduct, started by Edmund Colthurst in 1604 and completed by Sir Hugh Myddleton in 1613. The river’s purpose was to bring drinking water from Hertfordshire to North London. Its original source was at Chadwell Spring, on The Meads near Ware, but was later extended to start as an outlet of The Lee Navigation. The current source is at New Gauge, which we pass a mile after Hertford Weir. A footbridge takes the path over the source, with the Gauge Building (built in 1856) to the right, which controls the water intake from the River Lee. Today the New River still provides up to 48 million gallons (or 8%) of London’s daily water supply. In 2003 Thames Water (in partnership with The New River Action Group and others) completed a 27 mile footpath along the New River from its source to New River Head at Stoke Newington.

 

After another 550 yards the towpath passes under the Kingsmead Viaduct which carries the A10 (The Great Cambridge Road) over the Lee Valley. The viaduct was built in the early 1980s to make it easy for traffic from London to bypass Ware town.

 

300 yards after Kingsmead Viaduct we are joined by the Hertfordshire Way from a footbridge to our LHS – this is an extension of the original path and it stays with us until Rye House. After another 300 yards the towpath passes Ware Lock and shortly after enters the town.

 

According to archaeologist Robert Kiln (1920 – 1997),

 

“Ware is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Western Europe. It is of regional and national importance and yet none of it is classified as an area of archaeological importance”.

 

In his book, ‘The Dawn of History in East Herts’, he describes how excavations in the area from the Glaxo Wellcome site (just northwest of Ware Lock) to the west of the bridge in the centre of the town, have unearthed proof of settlements going back through Medieval, Saxon, Roman and Iron Age times to a Mesolithic village of about 5000 BC.

 

There are some good photos of the route from Hertford to Ware on the luphen.org.uk website.

 

Ware’s attraction was its position. It was where one of this country’s oldest roads crossed the River Lea. The Romans built Ermine Street in the 1st Century to allow their legions to march north. It linked London to Lincoln and eventually York and was about 200 miles long. Its current name derives from Saxon times 'Earninga Straete' meaning road to Earningas People - an Anglo-Saxon tribe who lived in Cambridgeshire and whose lands the road passed through. In later years it became known as “The Old North Road”.

 

Roman remains and the large number of burials found at the Glaxo site (north of Ware Lock) suggest a substantial settlement grew up along the road around the river crossing. It was because of these Roman burials this part of the town became known as Buryfield in the 16th Century. Some of the findings revealed a darker side to the Roman occupation, suggesting Ware was an important centre for their slave trade. The course of the old road crosses the Lee Navigation a few yards south-east of Ware Lock.

 

Many hundreds of years later in the 9th Century a Danish Invasion overran the Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, with only Wessex still Saxon controlled. In 878 AD, with the agreement of “The Peace of Wedmore” between Guthrum’s Danish held territories and “King Alfred the Great’s” Saxon kingdom of Wessex, the Lee formed part of the boundary between Danelaw and the Saxons, thus Ware became an important frontier town.

 

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 895 AD a large Danish force came 20 miles up the Lee from the Thames and established a fortification. Alfred attacked them but was repelled. However, learning from their own tactics, he built a number of weirs to divert the river and thus leave the Danes and their boats stranded. The place he build these weirs is now believed to be at Ware and this is where the town is thought to get its name from.

 

After the Norman Invasion of 1066, Ware began to grow. Hugh de Grentmesnil was awarded the Manor of Ware by William the Conqueror for his support during the invasion. In 1078 he built a Benedictine Priory to the north of the High Street in the area of St Mary’s Church, as a daughter house of his family’s Abbey of St Evroul in Normandy. Like many others, it was suppressed by Henry V in 1414 as it was classified as an “Alien Priory” whose loyalty was only to their parent house in Normandy, France.

 

A Franciscan Friary was established at Ware in 1338 by Thomas Lord Wake of Liddel. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII it went into private ownership and many changes were made. During World War I it was used as a hospital and after the war was given to the town. The building is now Grade I listed, has attractive grounds backing onto the river, is called Ware Priory, is owned by the local council and is used for functions.

 

Ware’s town centre was laid out as we know it today by Hugh’s great-granddaughter Petronilla de Grandmesnil (wife of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester) and her son Robert, 4th Earl of Leicester in the late 12th Century. They diverted the course of the road east along the south side of the river to cross at a new bridge, half a mile downstream from the older one. The new High Street they built was wide enough for shops, a market and a fair. Attractive plots of land were created between the street and the river and were let or sold to free merchants.

 

Henry III declared the bridge as part of a part of the King’s Highway. Royal charters for a market and an annual fair were granted.

 

Over the years Ware’s importance and size grew due to its position on the main road between London and the North and as a crossing point of the Lee. To accommodate the travelers many coaching inns opened in Ware between the 15th and 18th Centuries. Around 1590, as probably a promotional gimmick, “The Great Bed of Ware” was built for one of the local inns. It spent time in different inns in the town and was said it could sleep up to 15 people who often enjoyed a bawdy experience. It is included by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, by George Gordon Byron in Don Juan and by many others over the years in their writings.

 

The malting industry also thrived in the town and from the 17th Century Ware could claim to be the premier malting town in England. Grain grown in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, to its north, was transported by road to Ware to be turned into malt and shipped to London along the River Lee by barge. By the 18th Century “Ware Brown Malt” was such an important commodity it had its own quoted price on the London Corn Exchange.

 

Ware’s success would also prove to be its downfall. The road found it difficult to cope with all the traffic and to ease the flow England’s first turnpike was set up just north of the town at Wadesmill in 1663. As a result travelers sought alternative routes and with less business many of the inns closed.

 

In order to attract more customers the inns which had gardens running down to the river built Gazebos on the river and they moved The Great Bed of Ware from inn to inn. However, through the years most of the inns closed and are now restaurants, shops or private dwellings, yet many of the coach entrances still survive as part of the buildings. Ware still has the best concentrations of river Gazebos in the country – these can be seen across the river as we follow the towpath through the town. Today the Great Bed of Ware is on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Some of the old inns still survive, but Ware is no longer as it was once described by poet William Vallens in the 16th Century - “the guested town of Ware”.

 

The last maltings in Ware was closed in January 1994. This brought to an end a 600 year history of malting in the town. What was once a busy town on one of England’s greatest roads is now bypassed by motorways and dual carriage-way and transport by barge to London is no more economical. On approaching Ware the A10 (T) diverts around the town and over the King’s Meads to take traffic away – The A1 (M) and M11 motorways going north from London are only a few miles to the west and east of the town. So why would one want to visit the place, apart from to see the history it has and the importance it once held. 

 

Another Ware attraction worth a mention is Scott’s Grotto in Scotts Road. It was built by poet John Scott in the late 18th Century and restored in 1990 by the Ware Society. It is a Grade 1 listed building and is open every Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday from April to the end of September between 2.00pm and 4.30pm.

 

The towpath eventually leads to Amwell End at 5.7 miles into the stage. To the left is the bridge over the Lee leading to Ware High Street. Go straight on across the road and back onto the Lee Towpath.

 

As the path leaves Ware it also enters the Lee Valley Regional Park and stays along the bank of the Lee Navigation, the old course of the river can be seen disappearing off to the left. The park follows the River Lee for 26 miles from Ware to the River Thames, at East India Dock Basin in Bow. It covers an area of 10,000 acres, is the largest open space in the London area and is managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.

 

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The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority was formed by Royal Assent on 1st January 1967. It came into existence after an Act of Parliament. However, the reason we have this huge park (or green lung) running from Hertfordshire into the centre of London dates back many millions of years.

 

For most of the journey down the Lee the park is less than a mile wide – at times it is only the width of the navigation and the towpath.

 

To look at why the park came about we need to go back to between 145 and 65 million years ago (the Cretaceous Period) when a tropical sea covered this land. A chalk layer was formed by deposits on the sea bed. It now forms the bedrock on which the London Basin sits on.

 

At the end of the Cretaceous Period the original Thames Basin came into existence. The waters drained deposits of the tropical dry lands – rock sediment, dead trees, undergrowth, bones and much more - into the sea forming thick clay deposits on top of the chalk. The sea was shallow and still covered most of what is now southern England. This decomposition of the forests, wildlife, protruding rock and other ground continued to be taken down by the rivers and deposited on the sea bed for many millions of years.

 

Between 40 and 20 million years ago movements in the earth’s crust in Europe, with landmasses coming together caused dramatic changes. The most significant was the formation of the Alps. It also rose up most of southern Europe above sea-level to form new areas of dry land, including what are now the lowlands of the southern British Isles. At this point Britain was possibly joined with mainland Europe.

 

From 64 to 2 million years ago these deposits went on to form the clay under London on top of the much older chalk layer. The chalk is permeable (can absorb water), whereas the clay is impermeable and blocks the water. This explains in places like the Chiltern Hills and the North Downs, where the chalk has been pushed up to form hills, that sometimes the rivers can seem to dry up, but really disappear underground and into the chalk, yet reappearing at times back along the surface where the chalk layer is shallow.

 

Up to about 480, 000 years ago the River Thames flowed north of its current route, through the Vale of St Albans and onto the sea through Essex. The ice sheets gradually came down and during this ice-age reached as far south as Bricket Wood (next to where the M25 motorway is now). They pushed the Thames southward, originally through the River Lee Valley and later forced it further southwards along its current course.

 

This was not the first ice-age and would not be the last. Through the ice-ages the ice glaciers, as they moved south, would weather mountains, scooping up the rocks and rounding their peaks. They would carry vast quantities of rocks and earth with them on their journey. Their eroding power would smooth mountains and flatten land as they slowly moved over them in a sandpapering effect. The rocks they carried would abraise against other and be broken down to small pebbles and sand. However, as the glaciers melted, they would drop their loads and the melt waters would form rivers carrying much of the smaller particles with them, depositing these along the way. The scale of it all was huge.

 

It was the retreat of the ice and the flow of the rivers which came from this that was to leave the lowland areas through which these waters flowed, rich in gravel and sand. The Thames corridor and the Lee Valley were the two of the major beneficiaries.

 

Today the London basin consists mainly of underlying bedrock of chalk. In many places above this, especially in the lowlands, lies a layer of clay and above the clay, mainly along the flood plains of river valleys, a rich layer of gravel and sand.

 

Much of the lowland along the Thames and Lee valleys were not suitable to build settlements because of their susceptibility to flood. It meant these areas were left untouched. However, the rivers did provide natural communications links. The Romans built roads along them; the Vikings used them to row their boats upstream to pillage many inland settlements including Chertsey Abbey and Ware. Their flow was a source of energy to power water mills back to Roman Times – many Roman villas were built on the lower slopes of their valleys. Later at the end of the 11th Century, the Domesday Book records a huge amount of mills feeding of the flow of the Thames and its tributaries.

 

With the growth of the population and the onset of the Industrial Revolution the clay, the sand and the gravel were all in great demand. The clay was used to make the bricks, the gravel in the building of roads and the sand in all forms of construction. Hence the large open pits along the flood plains to extract these minerals. The Thames and Lee valleys took a hammering. Massive pits were dug along both valley floors. During the excavations of these pits remains of many prehistoric animals were found and today adorn museums and company headquarters. When exhausted of their gravel, sand and clay the huge holes were left to fill up with water, leaving the large amount of lakes we see today. The Lee Valley Park area was left with a great concentration of lakes but with gaps between them to give access to carry away the gravel and clay to be used in construction. The Thames Valley lakes start at Hampton Court and extend westwards and can be seen along our route to Little Marlow – they probably extend further west. However, with the Lee almost all the extractions and resulting lakes are no more than a mile wide, the Thames ones go much wider. Some of the huge resulting pits have been built up around the edges to form large reservoirs used to supply Greater London with fresh water. These are greatly evident along the lower Lee Valley and Thames going west from Hampton Court through Staines and Windsor.    

 

The potential of the River Lee was first recognised by Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683) in his book “Compleat Angler”, published in 1653.  In the book he could see how the Lee Valley could benefit man as a playground and even described the Lee as his “lovely river”. You can watch a video about the book on YouTube.

 

This potential was not acted on until many hundred years later. However, in the mean time the New River and the Lee Navigation were constructed. These took water away from the river and made the valley less susceptible to flooding. Mill streams powered the industries which grew up. They diverted more water away and gravel pits and reservoirs came into being and would contain some of the waters. For many years the Lee Valley was one of the areas which contributed to the great industrial growth in Britain. In more recent times with less use of waterways for transport and with cheaper imports from abroad, the Lee became less important as an industrial area. However, what remained was a landscape which was to provide a new industry; a natural area for wildlife and recreation.  

 

It is not surprising that before the Second World War it was suggested the River Lee be rescued, cleansed of its industrial past and used to create a great playground for Londoners to enjoy. With the onset of the war, all plans were shelved, but in 1944, Sir Patrick Abercrombie in his Greater London Plan revived the idea by suggesting that:

 

"the valley gives the opportunity for a great piece of constructive, preservative and regenerative planning. ... every piece of open land should be welded into a great regional reservation".   

 

However, this was not acted on until 1963 when it was brought to the fore again by the local councils. After much debate, planning, a bill in Parliament and backing from The Duke of Edinburgh, on 1st January 1967 the Lee Valley Regional Park came into existence.

 

Today most of the land within the park is owned by either The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority or the local councils. There are some parts which are privately owned but still part of the park and have access to the public.

 

The Lower Lee Valley at Stratford is home the Olympic Park, the venue used for the 2012 London Games. This is the only site where such a huge regeneration project could be undertaken so close to the centre of a large city such as London. We owe this to the what has went before, as described above, through nature over tens of millions of years and man just in the last few thousand – maybe it was all planned?

   

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For the next few miles the river and towpath are peaceful and well secluded. All you are likely to come across is the odd walker, cyclist, angler or pleasure craft. 0.8 miles after Ware is Hardmead Lock and a mile later is Stanstead Lock. Almost immediately after Stanstead Lock the old River Lee rejoins the Lee Navigation. Just before Stanstead Lock the path crosses the “Meridian Line” for the first of four times, three of these are in the Lea Valley Park. As far as I know there is no sign along the towpath to mark the line. However, shortly after the lock the towpath crosses under Stanstead Abbots Bridge, and along the road above and to the left, 100 yards past St. Margaret’s railway station and next to the bridge over the “New River”, is a black post marking the position of the line.

 

Next to the old stone Stanstead Abbots Bridge is the Jolly Fisherman pub a McMullen’s house and beside it is a modern sculpture made of stone. The road in the opposite direction, over the river, soon leads to the historic village of Stanstead Abbots.

 

Continue along the towpath, shortly passing under the A414 viaduct (at 8.35 miles) and then under Rye Road and past Rye House (at 9.2 miles).

 

Rye House Gatehouse is across the river and can be reached by Rye Road. The gatehouse dates from 1443 and is all that remains of a large manor house built by Sir Andrew Ogard. It is the oldest surviving example of a brick building in Hertfordshire. In recent years it has been restored by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, is now open to the public and contains an exhibition on the history of the manor. It is a Grade 1 listed building and a Green Flag Award winner.

 

Rye House was where in 1683 the “Rye House Plot” was planned. The aim was to murder Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York (later King James II) on their way back from Newmarket Races to London. Luckily for the king and duke they had to set off early for London because their lodgings caught fire. As a consequence the plot failed. Richard Rumbold, owner of Rye House, was implicated along with Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl Shaftesbury and leader of the opposition to Charles’ rule. Others included Lord William Russell, son of the 5th Earl of Bedford, Algernon Sydney, Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of Charles II. Of the conspirators, Russell and Sydney were executed, the Duke of Monmouth and Earl Shaftesbury were forced into exile, and Essex committed suicide. Richard Rumbold (aka Hannibal Rumbold) was executed in Edinburgh on 26th June 1685 after another failed plot - this time to kill James II in Scotland. It was instigated by himself and Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll. At his execution Rumbold made a “speech on the scaffold” which was to go down in history. An excerpt from the speech is below.

 

“.. this is a deluded generation, veiled in ignorance, that though popery and slavery be riding in upon them, do not perceive it; though I am sure that there was no man born marked by God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him”

 

This speech must have been debated by the forefathers of the USA at the Philadelphia Convention (25th May 1787 – 17th September 1787) in drawing up the American Constitution. Section 33 of the constitution entitled “The Liberty of a People is the gift of God and Nature” seems to take much from the speech and even a quote. Part of the same quote was used by Thomas Jefferson in his last letter. You can read Rombold’s full speech at www.strecorsoc.org/docs/rumbold.html .   

 

In front and to our right the large building with the three towers is the gas turbine driven Rye House Power Station. It was completed in 1993, was built on the site of an older coal power station, and can supply enough power for over 1 million people – basically all of Hertfordshire. On passing the power station Fieldes Weir Lock is to the left and just before the lock the River Stort Navigation can be seen joining the Lee from the left. From here it’s only a mile to the finish of the leg at Dobb’s Weir.

 

On approaching Dobbs Weir (the river widens), follow the towpath left over a long footbridge next to the weir and through a small grassy area to reach the road. Turn left over a bridge then turn right and back down to finish on the canal path and next to a public car park.

 

On one side of the bridge is the weir feeding into the Dobb’s Weir Basin and back into the old path of the River Lee; on the other side is the Lee Navigation and across it is the Fish and Eels Pub. – I apologise about the music which comes with the link, but the website and the photos do capture the area well.

 

The weir is the only one which can still control the flow of the Lea. The whole area is very popular with anglers and was a huge draw for canoeists and other water sports until they were banned in 2003. The area next to the river at Dobbs Weir is very scenic and is a popular picnic area. It forms part of an island, but you don’t get the impression that you are on an island as a road cuts it in two. However, thanks to a Google satellite view you can see this for yourself.

 

Although I like all of the changeover points on the Green Belt Way, this has to be one of my favourites. It has free car parking, an lovely English pub with a beer garden onto the river, a great café owned by a very friendly lady called Joan, a campsite just a few yards north of the river, an old single lane bridge over the canal and so much activity going on all around the area.

 

Many years ago, and before the bridge was built, a ford crossed the river here. From this time there are stories of horses, carts and their loads often being lost during times of flood – thanks God it’s less hazardous now.

 

The Fish and Eels dates back to the 19th Century when it was owned by the local Christie’s Brewery. The current owner is Vintage Inns. A previous landlord was the notorious Reverend Samuel Thackery. After loosing his chaplaincy he changed profession to inn keeping, and would on occasions preach sermons to his customers from the bar. Vintage Inns seem to be very selective about the pubs they acquire – our route passes many on its way around London. Most are set in pleasant surroundings, next to rivers or in quite country areas. Others passed on route include the Thames Court Hotel at Shepperton Lock, the Kingfisher at Chertsey Bridge, the Fish and Eels at Dobbs Weir (at the end of this stage), the Ship at Farningham and the Magpie at Little Warley. Their beers are well chosen and not expensive and their food is traditional and good value.

 

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