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Messing about on the river in Broxbourne

PUBLISHED: 17:54 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013

The perfect place for some peace and quiet

The perfect place for some peace and quiet

Sue Armstrong has been out and about in Broxbourne enjoying the peace and quiet of the waterways

Sue Armstrong has been out and about in Broxbourne enjoying the peace and quiet of the waterways

THE month of February can be as harsh as any, with snow and freezing winds. But it can also bring bright, blue sky days and, in recent years, some exceptionally mild weather.
Those first glimmers of better things to come bring the realisation that spring is just a few weeks away and that it's time to make the most of the great outdoors - and Hertfordshire's waterways provide plenty of opportunity to do just that.
Broxbourne, in the south east corner of the county, makes an excellent starting point to enjoy the calm and tranquillity of the River Lee and the Lee Navigation canal. The man-made New River also winds its way through the countryside here and adds to the watery surrounds. Built in the early 17th century to take drinking water from local springs to London, this incredible feat of engineering accurately follows the contours of the land to allow the water to flow. Even after nearly 400 years, the river still supplies the capital with drinking water and provides a beautiful environment for people and wildlife to enjoy.
A stroll or cycle along the river banks or a cruise on the water will bring an instant escape from the everyday chaos of busy roads, shopping centres and the other trappings of modern life. The sound of traffic is replaced with bird song and there's time to notice how nature is springing back to life. By now the snowdrops are starting to show their delicate heads, the first primroses are sheltering amongst the debris of leaves and hazel catkins dangle from the trees like golden tassels.
Life on the water moves at a gentle pace and an assortment of boats are available for hire or a leisurely cruise from the Lee Valley Boat Centre. The centre is open all year round, except for November, and amongst the various craft for hire are two narrowboats, Mr Badger and Mr Toad, which can be hired for a day and can take between eight to 12 people. Seasoned boaters will enjoy the experience and novices will be equally at home after tuition and a short while at the helm.
For anyone wanting to explore the waterways further afield, a selection of narrowboats are also available to hire for a week or a long weekend. These are deceptively spacious and have plenty of headroom and usually ensure that even the tallest person gets a comfortable night's sleep. The boats are fully equipped with pots and pans and bed linen - towels and toothbrushes are about the only extras people need to bring.
'March will see the start of our programme of passenger cruises on the Lady of Lee Valley and Pride of Lee, which are both accessible for wheelchairs, says Peter Woodley, managing director of the centre. 'We have cream tea cruises, fish and chip suppers, Sunday roasts and, amongst many other things, Mothers' Day lunch, which is always very popular and makes a lovely treat.
'Our passenger boats can also be hired out privately for wedding receptions, parties, business lunches and outings - there are lots of options and all at a leisurely pace of four miles an hour.'
Once Easter arrives, small electric boats, pedeloes and rowing boats are available too from the Lee Valley Boat Centre. Circular trips on the Pride of Lee also begin, taking passengers on an hour's cruise up to the picturesque Carthagena Lock, the point where the meridian line divides the lock between the eastern and western hemispheres.
There's certainly plenty to see and enjoy whilst cruising along the river with ducks and swans paddling alongside, all hopeful of being thrown some tit-bits to eat. There are grand houses to spy with lavish gardens spilling down to the waterside, herons and kingfishers to look out for and fellow boaters to share a friendly wave and greeting. And of course there are plenty of tempting places to stop off for a meal or something to drink.
The skills of expert rowers from the Broxbourne Rowing Club can also be admired whilst enjoying the peace and quiet of the river and may even inspire a new hobby. Away from our cars, it's easy to appreciate that boats propelled by oars were the most efficient form of transport before the wheel revolutionised travel.
Broxbourne is fortunate to have the only rowing club in Hertfordshire and Essex and its members, of all ages and backgrounds, are drawn from as far away as Barnet and Chelmsford. The River Lee has been home to this club for more than 150 years and its narrow and winding course ensures a steep learning curve for coxswains and scullers alike.
All prospective members of the club can be assured of a warm welcome and it prides itself on being friendly and informal. The new boathouse opened last year and has a full range of rowing boats, a training room and a licensed bar. Regular social events are held, including monthly jazz evenings and there's a breakfast club every Saturday to help restore energy after a morning row. Members can tuck into a sausage sandwich and a cup of steaming tea and catch up with their crewmates. Courses are run to introduce complete beginners and members have the opportunity to compete at regattas in the UK and abroad. The juniors' section is also developing links with local schools.
All the waterside activities in Broxbourne are conveniently close to the mainline station. Even though London is just a 20 minute train journey, this corner of Hertfordshire provides a refreshing, away from it all, holiday feel.

Looking ahead
A lot more waterside activity will be going on in the Borough of Broxbourne when the Olympics take place in 2012. The Lee Valley Regional Park will be home to the Olympic White Water Canoe Slalom course with seating for 12,000 spectators. Having the Olympic Games on our doorstep will bring huge opportunities for businesses, tourism and individuals. It will give people in the county a fantastic opportunity to get involved and go to the events either as spectators or volunteers.

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