10 reasons to visit Great Amwell
- Credit: Archant
Water plays a big part in the life of this pretty village near Ware – and there’s fine food, history, wildlife, family fun and good walking too
1. The river that’s not a river
Visionary Sir Hugh Myddelton completed the artificial New River, which is neither new nor a river, to supply London with much-needed fresh water in 1613, taking it from nearby Chadwell Spring and Amwell to Clerkenwell. Two monuments celebrate his achievement on the islands at Amwell Pool (above). Each year in June, a concert is given by Haileybury Madrigal Society from one of the islands to an audience on the banks, with the floodlights catching the water and trees to make for a magical spectacle.
2 Fine food
Chef Oliver D’Arcy has returned to the pub which inspired him to pursue his love of cuisine. It was while working part-time at the George IV that he became interested in cooking and left a career in quantity surveying to pursue his passion. He honed his skills with stints at Auberge du Lac in Welwyn and Thompson@Darcy’s in St Albans under the watchful eye of Phil Thompson. He took over the George in September and intends to retain the country pub feel while offering ‘an imaginative European-influenced menu’.
3 Sculpture trail
The Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail takes in 31 small bronze sculptures made by pupils at St John the Baptist Primary School in the village. The children drew inspiration from Perry Green-based sculptor Henry Moore and each piece has been designed to reflect the history of the area or its natural habitat. The trail starts at Great Amwell and goes through Ware, Hertford and King’s Meads, following much of the waterways. Maps are available at waretourism.org.uk
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4 Nature reserve
Lose yourself in the outdoors at Amwell Nature Reserve, a former quarry which has been returned to the wild and is now a popular place with all kinds of wildlife spotters. In winter, the lakes support large numbers of wildfowl including gadwall and tufted duck whic can be seen from hides that give views over the reed beds. In summer, take the boardwalk trail on Hollycross Lake to see the dragonflies and damselflies.
5 Runners rest
The picturesque St John the Baptist church is the last resting place of athlete Harold Abrahams, who lived in the village. If the name is not familiar, Chariots of Fire will be – it was his success in the 100m at the 1924 Paris Olympics that inspired the 1981 film. Abrahams ran the race in a time of 10.6 seconds, beating the Americans to become the first Brit to take the gold medal.
6 Circular walk
Ramblers will enjoy the circular walk from Great Amwell to Hertford Heath, taking in the New River. The 6.4 mile (about 2.5 hours) route takes in bridleways, woods, fields and a trail along the canal towpath. Recommended map: aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest and Lee Valley.
7 Emma’s Well
The spring named Emma’s Well was once one of the sources of the New River. At its entrance is a stone inscribed with the poem Emma by John Scott. There is much deliberation as to how the well got its name and if the village took its name from it: ‘Emmewell’. Folklore suggests it was named after Emma, wife of King Canute, while another story tells of a young girl who was found drowned here. Some suggest that at times you can hear her sobbing.
8 Van Hage
For gardeners, the award-winning Van Hage Garden Centre is a must. Theodora Warmerdam and her husband Cornelius Van Hage started from humble beginnings, buying a run-down pig farm and converting it to a nursery. In 1968, they bought the well-known rose nursery at Great Amwell and the rest is history. As well as all things horticultural, the flagship store also sells a wide range of gifts, clothes and food. The ice rink is popular during winter and the Animal Garden has more than 300 mammals, birds and reptiles and is run by qualified zoo keepers. Look out for the creepy-crawly and reptile events, where you can see bearded dragons and tarantulas not normally on public display, or see the newest additions – reindeer and alpacas.
9 Catch of the day
The oldest fly-fishing club in England, Amwell Magna Fishery has been fishing the same stretch of waters that Izaak Walton fished in the 17th century. He wrote about his observations and experiences in his famous The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation. Many fishermen will agree with Walton’s observation that ‘angling may be said to be so like the mathematics that it can never by fully learned’.
10 Social spirit
Formed in 1975 to preserve the character and amenity of the village, the Amwell Society has expanded over the years to some 260 members. The club hosts regular speakers on matters of interest to the village, social events, including meetings with the Amwell Society of Islington, a book club, theatre club and walking club.