Ashridge and Grand Union Canal walk

Today I did a ‘there and back’ walk – I walked 7 or 8 miles, turned round and came back the same way. It was only after I got home that I realised this was the first time I’d  done such a walk since I finished  the Swan’s Way, almost a year ago. Most of the walk was along the Grand Union Canal – there’s been an awful lot of rain recently and I thought a canal walk would be a good option as the towpaths are often hard-surfaced and therefore less muddy than other rights of way.

I started at the Monument at Ashridge, and followed the popular track that goes steeply downhill to Aldbury. I noticed that this track, in common with several other major bridleways here at Ashridge, had recently been resurfaced and re-engineered. Every so often a hole had been cut in the right-hand bank to allow rainwater to escape from the track. From Aldbury I took the usual path past the stables, but instead of crossing the golf course towards Aldbury Nowers I turned left and followed a bridleway which took me to The Ridgeway path. I followed The Ridgeway, which soon joined a road and passed Tring Station, then I turned onto the towpath of the Grand Union Canal and followed it eastwards.

Initially I had the canal on my right, and there were tall trees flanking either side of the canal. Further on the trees were replaced with hedges as I approached Cow Roast, where there was a marina and the first of numerous locks and bridges I would come to. A few yards further on I saw a Kingfisher fly by, the first I’ve seen in a long while (since January 2006, in fact). At the next bridge the towpath switched to the right of the canal. Further on, I saw a Cormorant land in the canal just ahead of me – it kept diving under water, then reappearing, keeping pace about 10 yards ahead of me as I walked along. It came up with at least one fish, so it did better than the various anglers I passed today!

I continued along the towpath, heading through Northchurch and on into Berkhamsted. When I passed a bridge just before the railway station, I entered new territory as I hadn’t walked this section of canal before. At the next bridge, the towpath switched back to the left of the canal, but two bridges later it switched back to the right. All along this section through Berkhamsted there were some very interesting notice boards about the history of the town – one stretch of the canal was once known as the Port of Berkhamsted, and boat-building was carried out there.

Beyond Berkhamsted the canal entered countryside again, though there was a railway line to the left and a main road to the right. Like the canal, they were following the valley of the tiny river Bulbourne, which I occasionally glimpsed to my right, sometimes little more than a drain, other times quite a pleasant and clear-flowing stream. I continued on past the village of Bourne End, reaching part of the towpath I’d walked on the Hertfordshire Way (I thought of taking a detour to visit the Outdoor shop at Bourne End, but decided not to). I chose to turn round when I reached the lock at Winkwell –  I remembered the notice board here which mentioned, amongst other things, how a lock keeper drowned in the canal here one Christmas Day.

It was about 12.10pm when I turned round, and I’d been walking for just over 2.5 hours. I stopped and had my sandwiches on a park bench in Berkhamsted, almost opposite the railway station. When I got back to Cow Roast, I considered taking a different route back by following the Chiltern Way to Tom’s Hill, but as I’d walked that way about a week ago I decided to stick to my outward route. Of course, the only uphill part of the walk was right at the end as I made my way from Aldbury back to the monument. I got back to my car about 3.05pm – allowing 10 minutes for lunch, I’d been walking for 5 hours and 20 minutes.

The forecast was for sunny intervals – in fact it had remained grey and overcast all day, so I was glad I hadn’t tried to photograph one of my usual local walks. I still want to put my local walks on my web site, but I want some nice weather so I can get some good photographs. Despite the gloomy conditions,it was an enjoyable walk – I always think canal towpaths are a bit boring after a while as they are by definition flat, but I didn’t get bored today. It was good to see the Grand Union Canal being so well-used – I saw numerous narrowboats going up and down, and passed several more as they negotated the many locks.

I’m hoping to do a walk with my friend Stu from Ipswich this week, probably around the Royston area. Stu’s the one who likes canal walks, so he’d have been right at home on today’s walk!

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