A walk into London along a 400 year-old waterway
In late April 2019 we spent a couple of very pleasant days walking the whole 28 miles of the New River Path.
The New River was opened in 1613 and was designed to supply London with clean drinking water by linking springs in Hertfordshire to the capital.
The walking trail follows the waterway for its entire length. It starts in scenic wetlands and ends up in a busy built-up corner of central London. A walk along it offers not only the chance to see some diverse scenery but also a fascinating insight into the history of the New River itself.
Here is a brief account of our journey, together with some advice and guidance on how to plan a visit to the New River by train.
Neither New nor a River
I first came across the New River about 5 years ago. It was quite by accident: I was wandering around Canonbury looking for a pub when I stumbled on what looked like a small linear park with a water feature. Then I noticed a large sign near the entrance which was inviting me to “Discover the New River”. The sign started off by explaining that the New River was “neither new nor a river”.
It was actually an “aqueduct” or “conduit” that began near the town of Hertford about 30 miles to the north, ran almost due south into London and terminated in the vicinity of Saddler’s Wells Theatre, Islington. It certainly wasn’t new either: it had all been constructed between 1609 and 1613 with the aim of bringing fresh drinking water to the capital.
The sign also explained that there was a long distance footpath alongside the New River all the way from its source back into the capital. I will admit that until then I had never heard of the New River nor had I ever given much thought as to how London obtained its drinking water. Nevertheless, I thought it all sounded very interesting and so I resolved to try to do the whole journey one day.
In early 2019 I finally formulated a plan to walk the whole path south from Hertford to London. My wife said she wanted to come along too and we decided to complete the walk in two days.
Thames Water, who created the path more than 20 years ago, divided it into three distinct sections and we used these sections in our planning.
We would spend our first day walking their 14-mile Hertfordshire Section to just past the M25. We would then return a week later to complete the 11-mile London Section to the East Reservoir and then, after a short coffee break, the 3-mile Heritage Section on to Islington.