Putting the Stort in Stortford
- Credit: Archant
The River Stort means different things to different people but all who use it, whether for sport, leisure or relaxation, love it. Julie Lucas meets three people for whom the river runs in their blood
The River Stort meanders its way past mills and maltings on a 24-mile long journey flowing from south of the village of Langley through to the River Lea at Hoddesdon - a course that has remained unaltered by human interference. The waterway gives its name to Bishop’s Stortford, through which it passes, adding a beauty, natural habitat and wild-water sport and leisure facility to the town.
David Tadgell is club secretary of Bishop’s Stortford and District Angling Society and one of the six million people in the UK who participate in this leisure pursuit. The club owns the fishing rights to the River Stort and four of the surrounding lakes. Roach, perch, rudd and chub can all be caught here and in the winter months there are often large pike too. ‘The largest one I have heard of was about 20lbs, which is a considerable size,’ Tadgell says.
Everything caught by the society is returned to the water. ‘It is purely for the love of getting the catch,’ Tadgell explains. To fish both river and the lakes a yearly membership is required, but anyone can fish just the river and day tickets can be bought from local tackle shops for £5.
The club is keen to encourage youngsters to try the sport. Junior membership is £10, but Tadgell says, ‘If a member wants to take a child we normally say “by all means take them along to one of our lakes and see if they like it first”. One of our lakes is so well stocked you will catch fish all day, which is a good thing for children – it keeps them interested.’
Being by the water is what Tadgell loves. ‘It is so relaxing. The anticipation while watching the float and thinking it is going to go any minute. My wife thinks it is the most boring thing but people tend either to love it or immerse themselves in it.’
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Another way of experiencing the river is to get on it. Bishop’s Stortford Canoe Club has been paddling up and down the Stort for more than 40 years. Canoeing is a year-round sport and the club takes beginners who just want to have a go up to those with a keen interest in racing. ‘We have a lot of families at the club.’ says club secretary Angela Aldam.
‘Mum and dad will paddle and their kids may race, and parents often become coaches. We got into it in 2000 when my 10-year-old son tried a taster session. My husband then took him along to the club and he was persuaded to have a go as well. A couple of years later I got involved when I ended up taking photos for the club website. I was quite frightened of water but everyone seemed to be having such fun I just fell in love with the sport.’
Aldam says the river is an asset to the town. ‘The river is a really lovely bit of water. In the town centre it is not particularly noticeable – a lot of people who live in the town don’t actually know the river is there. It’s a lovely walk or cycle and once you get a little way out of town the river is a reasonable size. It naturally winds and still has the locks in it, which add to the charm and for canoeists make good obstacles.
‘The nice thing about the Stort is that because it is a natural river it’s an interesting one to paddle. You can be out in the mists in autumn and with the dragonflies in summer. As the seasons change it looks different every week. I couldn’t draw you a picture of what the river looks like at any given point. In all the time I have been paddling up and down the same stretch, I will often come round the corner and think “Where am I?”’
Duncan Burrett swapped his life as a fireman at nearby Stansted Airport for life on the river 21 years ago. He spends time travelling Britain’s waterways in his narrowboat and painting the canal scenes he passes – but he always returns to Bishop’s Stortford. His wife came up with the idea of living aboard a boat when they were walking along the Stort towpath one day. ‘We have cruised the whole country and I think this is one of the most beautiful rivers,’ Burrett says of the Stort.
He feels that life on the water is not for those in a hurry. ‘You wouldn’t believe how slow life becomes. It takes about six months on the waterways to adjust to the notion of “If it isn’t done today, it will be done tomorrow”. I can tell the difference between regular boaters and people on hire boats, as they just don’t know how to slow down. At locks you see them running round and there is nothing more dangerous. They are not on the water long enough. You have got to slow down and enjoy life haven’t you? Take a stroll along the waterways and look at life.’
More Bishop’s Stortford riverside inspiration
Explore Rushy Mead Nature Reserve - protected meadow habitat beside the Stort.
Enjoy cream tea or lunch at Little Hallingbury Mill, a lovely converted watermill on the Stort.
Take the Bishop’s Stortford Riverside Trail. This one hour, circular walk follows the edge of the Stort. Look out for kingfishers along the banks, coots, moorhens and little grebes. Start at Grange Paddocks where parking is available.