Hertfordshire’s rivers and waterway attractions

Narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal at Rickmansworth

Narrowboats on the Grand Union Canal at Rickmansworth - Credit: Archant

From the scenic banks of the rivers Ver, Beane, Stort and Mimram to the bustling Grand Union Canal and the Olympic experience at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, there are adventures (and just good old messing about) to be had along Herts’ waterways. Whether wading right into the action or relaxing in a waterside pub, here are some of the best ways to enjoy the water this summer. Laura Vickers reports

Rafting at the Lee Valley White Water Centre

Rafting at the Lee Valley White Water Centre - Credit: Archant

Family days out

Head to the Lee Valley Boat Centre in Broxbourne, where you can hire anything from a canoe or rowing boat to a pedalo. Prices starting at £13 an hour - all you need is a sunny afternoon. leevalleyboats.co.uk

At Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, volunteers have created the Little Union Canal, believed to be the only working model canal system in the country. It’s a great way to teach youngsters about the features of these historic transport routes. The organisation’s Batchworth Lock Canal Centre is well worth a visit too if you want to learn a thing or two about this key feature of our industrial revolution. rwt.org.uk

The whole family, even pets, can enjoy a trip on the Ware and Hertford Waterbus, taking in the flood plains of the river Lee and experiencing working locks. The cruises run on Saturdays and Sundays and take 75-90 minutes each way. A family return ticket for two adults and two children is £30. leeandstortboats.co.uk

To please both tastebuds and heart, try the Lakeside Walk and Cream Tea Cruise on June 7. After a two-hour cruise with cream tea starting at Broxbourne, you can work off the calories with a walk around the 70-acre lake. Tickets are £17 for adults, £12 for children. riverleecruises.co.uk

River holidays

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The obvious choice for a holiday on the water is a canal boat. Waterways Experience in Hemel Hempstead is a registered charity that offers just that – you can book canal boat trips from £130 per day.

The charity also offers lower rates for groups such as care homes, special needs schools and the disabled. wexp.org.uk

For more creature comforts, book a stay at Little Hallingbury Mill, a hotel converted from a grade II-listed watermill on the river Stort near Bishop’s Stortford. As well as picturesque surroundings, there is a tasty wine and cocktail list to explore in the hotel bistro. Single rooms from £45. littlehallingburymill.co.uk

Lee Valley Boat Centre offers riverside chalets within the Lee Valley Regional Park, with verandahs ideal for bird-watching overlooking the mill stream. leevalleyboats.co.uk

For total peace and quiet, book one of the two rooms at Springwell Barn, a luxury B&B outside Rickmansworth which is surrounded by the Grand Union Canal, wildlife-reserve lakes and the river Colne. Rooms start from £85 per night for single occupancy, and the owners have canoes and picnic baskets to borrow. springwellbarn.com

5 top fishing spots

1 Bury Lane Farm Shop Fishery, near Royston: this oasis of calm offers carp, bream, roach and perch among other fish. Buy tickets through the farm shop. burylanefarmshop.co.uk

2 Willows Lakes, near St Albans: a 180-acre estate with three gravel pits and a three-quarters of a mile section of the river Colne. Prices from £7 for a day ticket. willowslakes.com

3 Rib Valley Fishing Lakes, near Ware: three purpose-built lakes for fly and coarse fishing, with options for all abilities. Tickets from £20 for six hours. ribvalleyfishinglakes.co.uk

4 Stanborough Lakes Fishery, near Welwyn Garden City, operates in partnership with the Welwyn Garden City Angling Club. Day and night fishing are both available. Buy tickets from the onsite machines. Search ‘Stanborough Lakes Fishery’ on Facebook.

5 Jack’s Lake, Hadley Wood: One of the prettiest fishing spots in the county, this lake was created in the 1880s, and offers a wide range of species. Tickets from £6 per day. haps.org.uk

Waterways for wildlife spotting

Tring Reservoirs. One of the best birdwatching spots in the south of England, these four reservoirs offer sightings of bitterns, lesser yellow legs, grebes and little ringed plovers, as well as rare plants. Now is one of the best times of year to visit.

Amwell Nature Reserve, near Ware. A former gravel pit, this reserve supports important numbers of wintering wildfowl, and is also the best place in Hertfordshire to spot dragonflies. You can view them up close on the dragonfly trail, which is open from May to September.

Rye Meads, near Hoddesdon. A wetland reserve with several hides overlooking reed beds, wet meadows and open water – you might even spot a kingfisher. Regular events make this a fun learning environment for families. Entrance is free, with a small parking charge for those who aren’t RSPB members. rspb.org.uk

Stotfold Watermill Nature Reserve. Eight acres of native trees, hedges, ponds and a wildflower meadow, with handy signposts, shelters and walkways to enjoy. A beautiful spot for a summer walk. stotfoldmill.com

Stockers Lake, near Rickmansworth. A popular spot for birdwatchers with sightings of wintering ducks such as the spectacular goldeneye and one of the largest heron rookeries in the country.

Waterford Marsh, near Hertford. This wet marshy meadow is a popular walking and picnicking site, with a stretch of rare chalk river habitat to explore and cattle grazing on the meadow throughout the summer.

River Ash, near Ware and Bishop’s Stortford. As part of the River Lea Catchment Partnership, this is an important chalk-river habitat which is currently undergoing conservation work. The project requires eager volunteers to help with things like surveying water voles and monitoring riverfly. See riverleacatchment.org.uk if you’d like to get involved.

Nine welcoming waterside inns

1 The Old Barge, Hertford. At the head of the River Lea navigation, this pub has a beer garden and contemporary British menu which changes every month. theoldbarge.com 2 The Three Horseshoes, near Hemel Hempstead. Located in the tiny hamlet of Winkwell, the Horseshoes overlooks the Grand Union Canal and hosts ‘Comedy on the Canal’ nights. the3horseshoeswinkwell.co.uk

3 The Old Mill, Berkhamsted. As well as a picturesque setting by the canal, this pub is worth visiting for its frequent foodie events, such as the waterside sunset picnic on June 18. theoldmillberkhamsted.co.uk

4 The Whistling Duck, Hertford. This riverside rendezvous for fans of fine dining, offers a great setting for a special meal out. thewhistlingduck.co.uk

5 Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, St Albans. Said to be Britain’s oldest pub, this ancient octagonal building dates from the 11th century and offers low ceilings and many original features. The beer garden backs on to the river Ver and is the perfect place to enjoy a pint. yeoldefightingcocks.co.uk

6 The Fishery Inn, Hemel Hempstead. As well as its idyllic settling on the river Bulbourne, this inn boasts an impressive wine club on Wednesday nights. thefisheryinnhemelhempstead.co.uk

7 The Scotsbridge Mill, Croxley Green, Rickmansworth. With the added charm of a working mill, this is the spot for a meal in a traditional cosy pub setting. thescotsbridgemill.co.uk

8 The Rising Sun, Berkhamsted. Located next to a functioning lock on the Grand Union Canal, this charming riverside pub offers everything from craft beer to fine Champagne, and is the perfect place for a summer afternoon. theriserberko.net

9 The Crown, Broxbourne. Handy for riverside walks along the banks of the Lee , a Crown Inn on this site has served Broxbourne for several hundred years, dating from the 1700s. The current building was constructed in the 1930s, replacing the Old Crown Hotel. vintageinn.co.uk

Sporting adventures

Adventurers seeking a spot of sailing are spoilt for choice. Aldenham Lakes, Stanborough Lakes at Welwyn and the Herts Young Mariners Base at Cheshunt all offer sailing clubs, lessons and one-off visits for those who want to catch the wind on the water.

The Young Mariners Base also caters to budding canoeists and kayakers, as well as offering lessons in windsurfing and paddle-boarding for adults and children. There is a range of courses available, with starter sessions from £12. hymb.com

Canoeist can also head to Baldock and District Canoe Club - a friendly north Herts institution that holds regular river trips. thecanoeclub.co.uk

To take your watersports to a more extreme level, check out the Lee Valley White Water Centre, host for the white water events at the London 2012 Olympics. As well as rafting, the centre has hydrospeeding through the rapids of the Legacy Loop, which involves navigating the water on a cross between a body board and one of those floats used when learning to swim. You can also learn to use ‘hot dogs’ – inflatable kayaks for beginners, which provide a great introduction to the centre’s white water experience. visitleevalley.org.uk n

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