Enjoy a five-mile walk along the River Stort from Bishop's Stortford down to Sawbridgeworth
18:04 20 April 2011
Down by the river...
Enjoy a five-mile walk along the River Stort from Bishops Stortford down to Sawbridgeworth courtesy of the Countryside Management Service.
Bishopss Stortford is an ideal centre from which to explore the River Stort. Before people settled here and cleared land for farming, the valley floor was a series of extensive marshes with undisturbed forest on nearby slopes.
Bishops Stortford grew up at an ancient river crossing and the Iron Age settlement at Wallbury Dells, two miles downstream on the Essex side of the river, dates from about 400BC.
Many water mills were built along the course of the river and several, such as Burnt Mill and South Mill, have disappeared but Hallingbury Mills remain. In 1769, the river was canalised to enable barge traffic to use it. The navigation was used to transport timber and grain, particularly barley on its way to maltings in Bishops Stortford and Sawbridgeworth. Later, the building of the railway and improvements to London Road, the old A11, took freight away from the canal. In 1962, British Waterways Board took it over, principally for recreational uses.
Some marshes survive in the valley to this day and the area is extremely important for birds, not only as a breeding ground and wintering area, but also as a feeding and resting place during migration.
Wet grassland provides insects, worms and other invertebrates as food for waterfowl and other birds as they pass. Breeding birds are numerous and include reed and sedge warblers, little grebe, water rail, moorhen, kingfisher and the occasional snipe. The area is also good for flocks of finches which in autumn and winter feed off seeds of teasel, thistle and other plants.
In spring, marsh marigolds carpet some of the wetter places and you can often find ragged robin and ladys smock. Marsh orchids occur in several places together with yellow iris, meadow sweet and hemp agrimony.
During a walk along the quieter stretches of the river in summer it is still possible to find the yellow water lily and the white flowers of arrowhead. The banks of many waterways are also coloured by a scattering of the tall spikes of purple loosestrife and occasionally by the pink umbels of flowering rush.
In summer, shoals of fish can be seen basking near the surface of the river. Damselflies and dragonflies are often visible, particularly the bBanded demoiselle, easily recognisable by its blue colour and deep purple wing patches. In the backwaters life is particularly rich with freshwater sponge, crayfish and sometimes stone loach.
Starting at Bishops Stortford Railway Station main entrance, head for the town centre and before the Riverside Bridge, walk down to the left to find the path along the Stort. Walk with the river on your right and take care as you cross the main London Road.
From here, you cross to the other side of the river for about 600 yards (550m), then back to the left side at South Mill Lock. The walk becomes more rural from here.
Past Rushy Mead Nature Reserve (7)and Twyford Lock, exercise caution crossing Pig Lane. At the mid-point of the walk and on your left before you reach Spellbrook Lock is Wallbury Dells. Watch for traffic at Dell Lane and continue past Hallingbury Marina, at Gaston Green, and Tednambury Lock.
You have some lovely views of the countryside and its flora and fauna as you continue to Sawbridgeworth Lock. From here, you can pop into Sawbridgeworth (right) for refreshments or walk (left) to Sawbridgeworth Railway Station and travel back by train. Two or three trains run per hour and the journey only takes a few minutes.
This walk is based on the Bishops StortfordSawbridgeworth Station to Station Riverside Trail leaflet, produced by East Herts District Council, British Waterways Board and the Countryside Management Service.
Distance: Approx 8km or 5 miles
Map: OS Explorer Map 194
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Description: The route is flat and most is well surfaced with slopes at access points for buggies or wheelchair users
Start: Bishops Stortford Railway Station
Toilets: Bishops Stortford and Sawbridgeworth railway stations