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Great Wells at Great Amwell

From Hertford Heath to Great Amwell and the New River.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 200ft (61m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Bridleways, field paths and canal tow path, 4 stiles

Landscape Well-wooded deeply cut ridge and wide valley of River Lea

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley

Start/finish TL 350116

Dog friendliness Some horse paddocks and bull warning notices

Parking Green at Church Hill or Mount Pleasant Road, Hertford Heath, off B1197

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk east along Mount Pleasant Road and by the Mount Pleasant sign take the left fork along a metalled track.

2 At the end the bridleway bears right on to the wooded heath, then left at a bridleway post. Descend through hornbeam and oak woods, marked by occasional waymarker posts. As it becomes a sunken lane, bear right out of the wood, then left. Cross an access lane and descend alongside the embankment of the A10 .

3 Go under the A10, turning immediately left up to a stile, signposted 'Ware Road'. Continue alongside the A10 to a high, chain-link gate. Go through this to ascend alongside a conifer belt and reach a metalled lane at the crest.

4 Turn right. At the next road, with the Van Hage Garden Centre on your right, turn left by the Gothic-windowed Amwellbury Lodge. Shortly turn right into Church Path and follow the footpath to Great Amwell.

5 Pass the George IV pub and turn right into the churchyard, with its fine monuments. From the churchyard descend some steps, cross a lane and descend further, to the New River - the Myddelton Monument urn island is to your left. Turn right to follow the New River footpath, shortly passing Amwell Marsh Pumping Station.

6 Leave the New River at the road, turning right, uphill. Past Hillside Lane go left to the 'Road Used as a Public Path' sign. The track runs between fields, over the A414, and continues to the A1170. Cross this and go over a stile into pasture. Climb to the crest, go over one stile then another and turn right to descend to the A10 roundabout.

7 Turn left under the A10, cross to the footpath sign and go left up the bank. At the top turn right to walk alongside woods, now in the grounds of Haileybury College. Continue straight on past the end of the woods on a track.

8 At a crossroads continue straight on along the tarmac drive, with Haileybury College on your left. The college road merges with the B1197. Turn left at the Jolly Pindar Hotel, soon with the scrubby heathland of The Roundings on the right. Where the road bears left, fork right on to the heath, through trees, to bear left into a wide greensward. Follow this to the road and turn right on to a track.

9 Now on the Roman Ermine Street, you follow it northwards to merge with the B1197 through Hertford Heath. At the Country Stores shop turn right into Church Hill and back to the green.

Perched on the edge of the river cliff above the Lea Valley, is the small and most attractive village of Great Amwell. It has a pub, the George IV, and a Norman church nestled in a steeply sloping, leafy churchyard. Here are some good monuments and mausolea, including the Mylne family's, crowned by an urn.

Below the church hill is a most attractive small lake with an island, on which stand weeping willows and an urn on a pedestal, commemorating Sir Hugh Myddelton. He constructed the New River between 1609 and 1613. Its purpose was - and still is - to carry fresh drinking water to Stoke Newington and on to London. The memorial was designed by Robert Mylne, the architect to the New River Company from 1767 until 1800. The inscription on the memorial reads: 'From the Spring at Chadwell 2 miles west and from the source of Amwell the Aqueduct meanders ? conveying health, pleasure and convenience to the metropolis of Great Britain?'. On another island Mylne erected a second monument inscribed 'AMWELL! Perpetual be thy Stream Nor e'er thy spring be less?' Mylne was buried in the nearby churchyard in 1811.

Unfortunately, soon afterwards the stream failed in dry weather and the New River had to be extended northwards to the Lea between Hertford and Ware. Here the New Gauge, rebuilt in 1856, controls how much water enters the New River, the rate being 22.4 million gallons (102 million litres) a day. Remarkably, the New River is still an important element in London's water supply.

Further west, away from the Lea Valley and at the south end of the well-wooded Hertford Heath, is Haileybury College. It was opened in 1809 as a training school for the East India Company. Its architect was the Greek Revivalist William Wilkins, who also designed the National Gallery and University College London. The principal front is stone with three temple front porticos, but the walk passes along the rear where Wilkins' buildings are mostly in yellow brick. The whole is dominated, not to say overwhelmed, by Sir Arthur Blomfield's giant dome, added in 1876 (by which time Haileybury was a public school). The west arm of the walk follows a stretch of Ermine Street that is merely a track. Sections of its 'agger' are still clearly visible, and prehaps more evocative of the original Roman Road than those stretches that remain as main roads today. Named 'Ermine Street' in Anglo-Saxon times, it ran initially from London to Lincoln as a military road, probably by ad 47, within four years of the Roman Conquest. It extended to York around ad 70.

Where to eat and drink

In Hertford Heath are the Silver Fox, the Townsend Arms and the Country Stores, selling take-away soup, tea and coffee. On Church Hill's green the Goat is a popular choice with classic car enthusiasts. In Great Amwell try the George IV.

While you're there

East of the New River is another artificial watercourse, the River Lee Navigation. Authorised by Act of Parliament in 1739, it gave Hertfordshire's huge malt and corn trade direct access to London. The great engineers, John Smeaton and Thomas Telford, were commissioned to provide improvements, including a continuous tow path in the 1760s.

What to look for

On the New River, south of Great Amwell, you pass Amwell Marsh Pumping Station. This rather fine, Italianate building of 1884 is built in yellow and red brick with stone dressings. Its function is to pump water from a well 392ft (120m) deep at the amazing rate of 3.5 million gallons (15.9 million litres) per day to supplement the New River.

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