Grand Union Canal Cycle:  

Cassiobury Park (Watford) - Tring

2nd May 2011



Bridges 150 and 151 accounted for Hemel Hempstead, a new town that is quite uncharacteristic of the smaller, somewhat old-world villages close to it. Soon I found myself in the Hemel suburb of Boxmoor, the name of which is derived from the box tree, a bushy inhabitant of the chalky hills that surround the location. This is linked together with the word 'mor' which signifies a marshy spot; Boxmoor's ancient water meadows are still a major feature of the locality. Robert Snooks, in 1802, the last highwayman to be hung and buried at the scene of his crime robbed a post boy on the turnpike on Boxmoor meadows. His remains are interred in Boxmoor meadows near the place where he was hung and the likely spot is marked by two stones, erected by the Box Moor Trust in 1904.  I reached the Swing Bridge No 147 at The Three Horseshoes pub, where locals enjoyed a drink in the sunshine. I realised this was not far from Nettleden, located in the Chiltern Hills, about four miles north west of Hemel Hempstead, which is surrounded by Little Gaddesden, Great Gaddesden and Frithsden. Both Nettleden and  Potten End lie in the civil parish in Dacorum District. The village name of Nettleden is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means 'valley where nettles grow'. In manorial records of the late Twelfth century the village was recorded as Neteleydene. Since 1984 it is the place of the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, where Kavida once took me. Nettledon sits on the periphery of Ashridge, an estate and house in Hertfordshire; part of the land stretches into Buckinghamshire and it is close to the Bedfordshire border, in the Chiltern Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The estate comprises 5,000 acres of woodlands (known as Ashridge Forest), commons and chalk downland which supports a rich variety of wildlife. It also offers a good choice of walks through outstanding country, particularly to Ivinghoe Beacon, where I walked on numerous occasions, once with our hiking club, on a truly stormy day in Hertfordshire (documented elsewhere on this website). The estate is currently owned by the National Trust.

At Swing Bridge No 147 near Winkwell, the West Coast Main Line crosses the canal. A short distance on, the Hertfordshire Way crosses over via Little Heath Lane at Bridge No 145, a red brick bridge in an exquisite setting, the lane running up to Little Heath Farm, near Potten End. Near Bull Beggar's Lane at Bridge No 144, a man sat in a deckchair on the towpath with his three dogs by his side. The surrounding rural nature of the landscape along this stretch of the canal seemed particularly attractive. I was now on the outskirts of Berkhamsted, an upmarket village in Hertfordshire. At Bridge No 143, I crossed via over the the right-hand side of the canal in the direction I was heading. At Lock No 55 I reached The Rising Sun Pub, one of many along the waterfront of Berkhamsted, all of them packed with customers. Emblazoned across Raven's Lane Bridge, a bridge without a number, it would seem, positioned as it is between No 141 and 142, "Port of Berkhamsted" reflects on a bygone era. The Grand Junction Canal runs through Berkhamsted parallel to the High Street. The section from the River Thames at Brentford to Berkhamsted was completed in 1798 and the extension to Birmingham in 1805. The canal later became part of the Grand Union Canal in 1929. The town also stands on the River Bulbourne (non navigable). With the advent of canal transport, Castle Wharf became a hub of inland water transport and boat building activity. It is still known as the Port of Berkhamsted.


The Three Horseshoes pub, Bourne End, at Bridge at Winkwell Swing Bridge No 147.


A narrowboat moored near The Three Horseshoes pub, Bourne End, at Bridge at Winkwell Swing Bridge No 147.


View (looking back) from Winkwell Lock No 59, Bourne End.


View along the Grand Union Canal between bridges No's 145 & 146, Bourne End.


View (looking back) along the Grand Union Canal between bridges No's 145 & 146, Bourne End.


Water reflections at Bridge No 145 (looking back), Little Heath Lane, along the Grand Union Canal.


Berkhamsted is a historic town situated in the west of Hertfordshire, between the towns of Tring and Hemel Hempstead. Berkhamsted was the terminating point of the Norman invasion of 1066. Having defeated Harold II and the English at Hastings, William the Conqueror led the Norman invading army to circle London crossing the Thames at Wallingford making for Berkhamsted. Here he accepted the surrender of Edgar Aetheling (the English heir to the throne), the Archbishop Aldred, the Earl Edwin and the Earl Morcar. They swore loyalty to William and thus in Berkhamsted William of Normandy became William the Conqueror. However, he declined to accept the crown in Berkhamsted saying he would receive the keys to London in Berkhamsted and would have the crown in London. However, following the Norman Conquest Berkhamsted Castle became a favourite country retreat for the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties. Berkhamsted Castle is a ruined Norman motte-and-bailey castle at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, England. The original fortification dates from Saxon times. Work on the Norman structure was started in 1066 by William the Conqueror who later passed the castle to his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain. In the 12th century, the castle was home to Thomas Becket, Chancellor of England. In the 14th century, it became the residence of Edward, the Black Prince, and Geoffrey Chaucer was appointed Clerk to the Works. The River Bulbourne runs from Dudswell in Northchurch, through Berkhamsted , Bourne End and Boxmoor to where it joins the River Gade at Two Waters in Apsley near Hemel Hempstead. The total length of the river is 11 Km. Its actual source is disputed. Claims are made for the village of Bulbourne and also for springs above Dudswell. Much of the Grand Union Canal was dug along the course of the original river.


A narrowboat passes under Bridge No 145, Little Heath Lane, along the Grand Union Canal.


Bridge No 145.


A narrowboat, dog and his master, Grand Union Canal - in the distance, Bridge No 144.


Bankmill Bridge No 144, Bull Beggar's Lane, near Berkhamsted.


Bankmill Bridge No 144, Bull Beggar's Lane, near Berkhamsted (looking back).


Approaching Top Side Lock 56, Berkhamsted.


A narrowboat navigates through Top Side Lock 56, Berkhamsted (looking back).


View (looking back) along the Grand Union Canal, between Lock 56 and Bridge No 143, Berkhamsted.


The Rising Sun Pub, Berkhamsted (looking back), with Lock No 55 in the distance behind it.


Port of Berkhamsted - Raven's Lane Bridge - Bridge no 141?


Berkhamsted's industrial past depicted.


A narrowboat at Raven's Lane Lock No 54 (looking back).


View from Raven's Lock No 54..


Cow Roast is a small hamlet in the civil parish of Wigginton, Hertfordshire, England. It is located between Tring and Berkhamsted along the A4251 and nearby Grand Union Canal. Today it comprises a row of 20th century cottages together with one or two older properties including a public house. Cow Roast is on the site of a Romano-British settlement close to the route of Akeman Street. Archeological finds suggest it was occupied as late as the 5th Century, although the byway through the Chiltern Hills would have been an important conduit throughout the Roman occupation. Subsequently it was known as a drovers' route with the area around the present day Cow Roast providing grazing.
During the construction of the nearby Grand Union Canal including a lock in 1813 a bronze helmet was discovered. The present day Cow Roast pub was built around 1800 on the site of the previous toll gate erected when the Sparrows Herne turnpike road was improved in the 1760s. The A41 Berkhamsted to Tring road passed by Cow Roast until the bypass was opened in 2004.

Northchurch is a village and civil parish in the Bulbourne valley in Hertfordshire lying between Berkhamsted and Tring. The village is celebrated locally for the grave of Peter the Wild Boy. which lies in the grounds of the Norman parish church of St. Mary. Peter the Wild Boy (fl. 1725-February 1785) was a mentally handicapped boy from Hanover in Northern Germany who was found in 1725 living wild in the woods near Hamelin, the town of Pied Piper legend. The boy, of unknown parentage, had been living an entirely feral existence, surviving by eating forest flora; he walked on all fours, exhibited uncivilized behaviour, and could not be taught to speak a language. Once found, he was brought to Great Britain by order of George I, whose interest in the unfortunate youth had been aroused during a visit to his Hanover homeland. Northchurch stands on both the River Bulbourne and the Grand Union Canal. The main road running through Northchurch, the A4251, is built over Akeman Street, the original Roman road from London (Londinium) to Chester (Deva). Earlier names for Northchurch include Berkhamsted St. Mary and Berkhamsted Minor. Both names indicate that Northchurch may have been the site of the original Berkhamsted which expanded down the Bulbourne Valley following the construction of the Berkhamsted Castle 2 miles to the south west.


View along the Grand Union Canal towards Bridge No 141, Berkhamsted.


Taking a break from fishing at Bridge No 141, Berkhamsted.


View from Bridge No 141 towards Lock No 54 (looking back).


Bridge No 141, Berkhamsted, just before Berkhamsted Railway Station (looking back).


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Links to other websites:

  • History of British Canal Systems - wiki

  • Grand Union canal locks & bridges, London - Kings Langley - webpage

  • Grand Union canal locks & bridges, Kings Langley onwards - webpage

  • Narrow boat design - wiki

  • Grand Junction Canal - wiki

  • Grand Union Canal - wiki

  • Cassiobury Park, Watford - website

  • Hemel Hempstead Canoe Club - website

  • Amaravati Buddhist Monastery - wiki

  • Berkhamsted Castle - website

  • Cowroast Marina - webpage

  • Grey Heron - wiki

  • Mute Swan - wiki

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