A day out in...Stanstead Abbotts

Rye Gatehouse

Rye Gatehouse - Credit: Archant

Patsy Hudson explores an enigmatic village in the south-east corner of the county and discovers more than just a river runs through it

Stanstead Marina

Stanstead Marina - Credit: Archant

Before you set off to sample summer in Stanstead Abbotts, you really must do your homework. That doesn’t mean delving into the Domesday Book – which records the village as Stanstede. And nor is it near Stansted Airport. In fact, its nearest transport hub is St Margaret’s railway station on the Hertford East line to Liverpool Street via Ware – which provides a platform-level parking area, with a bus-stop outside. Right opposite, is a pub and riverside picnic area. So, if watching others messing about in boats while you eat at wooden tables with a carpet of grass at your feet is enough of the Great Outdoors for your family, why not let the train prevent the ‘are-we-nearly-there-yet?’ strain of driving with children, and head for this attractive village.

The sarson stones make the Meridian Line

The sarson stones make the Meridian Line - Credit: Archant

The other treasures in Stanstead Abbotts’s trove are more off the beaten track, which is why you should do the website-checking homework before heading off. Otherwise, you’ll end up going from one end of the High Street to the other, wondering where all the fun-stuff is – and what exactly are those two sarsen-like stones you can see from the river bridge.

Children looking for insects under log pile with RSPB staff member. Visitors to Rye Meads RSPB reser

Children looking for insects under log pile with RSPB staff member. Visitors to Rye Meads RSPB reserve, June - Credit: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com

This charming corner of Herts must rate as the one of the county’s best-kept secrets. What is no secret, judging from the healthy glow on the faces of groups walking with rucksacks on backs and water bottles in hand, is that the real preparation for exploring the village and its next-door neighbour, St Margaret’s, is to be fit. Then you can take the 21-mile walk from behind St Margaret’s station along the New River to Islington in London literally in your stride!

whitethroat, Amwell viewpoint

whitethroat, Amwell viewpoint - Credit: Archant

For the less energetic, just swanning over from the riverside picnic spot or the lovely al fresco area at the Jolly Fisherman to study those sarsen-stones (and discovering they mark the place where the Meridian Line runs through Stanstead Abbotts) is enough fun-in-the-sun for one day.

But while there, you can’t fail to notice the narrowboats and motor-boats on the River Lea, and want to join in. The 200 year-old waterway is deep enough to have been used to transport materials for the Olympic Stadium in 2012 and leads to one of the village’s main attractions, the marina. Situated at the end of South Street (SG12 8AL for your sat-nav), a side-street off the High Street with its original maltings still visible, it has 200 boat berths. Enquiries from those requesting permission to come aboard can be made on 01920 870499.

Small land-lubbers might prefer the new playground and pond adjacent to the inexpensive, and free-after-three, parking area. A recent addition to this let-off-steam venue is a lovely meadow, which also makes this an ideal picnic spot. If you’ve reached the disused telephone booth in the High Street, which someone has decorated with window-boxes, or the roundabout, you’ve missed the turnoff. Its grid reference is TL384119.

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Then there are the Amwell and Rye Meads nature reserves, which are also well worth tracking down. A good starting point is the Stanstead Abbotts Parish Council website to be found at stansteadabbottsparishcouncil.gov.uk One of three listed shorter walks around the village is the four-mile route around the reserve and Easnye Estate, now the site of All Nations Christian College whose entrance gates will be familiar to aficionados of the St Trinians films.

And there’s a two-mile walk and cycle-path along the New River. Neither new nor a natural river, it was built in 1613 by Sir Hugh Myddleton to provide London with clean drinking water.

A three-mile hike passes through the RSPB reserve in Rye Meads, available only between 10am and dusk. It encompasses the nearly-50-hectare Stanstead Innings Nature Reserve with its two bird hides from where twitchers can observe the abundant species, including nesting kingfishers.

Those who visit this area without children in tow will enjoy the Stanstead Abbotts Village Club annual beer festival (be quick, it’s on May 24 and 25). There will be stall holders on Saturday and car-boot sellers on Sunday. For directions, call 07809705814. And yes, as with every other corner of every other British village high street, there stands a Red Lion pub. But not every other Red Lion began life as a monastery!