89 – Rye Meads RSPB reserve to Great Amwell via River Lea and New River 8.6 miles – 13th November

In short: a reprise with variations of our lovely pre-Christmas walk last year – lots of canal and riverside walking, so mostly firm surfaced towpaths although muddy around the RSPB reserve. Lovely Christmassy pitstop at the Van Hage garden centre with toilets available – toilets also available at Rye Meads. 3hrs 35 mins walking + 45 mins pitstop (including Christmas browsing!).

Last year (walk no. 40) we walked up the River Lea and back down the New River from Rye House and enjoyed it, plus the Christmassy display at the Van Hage garden centre, so much so that we decided to do it again today.

This time, having recently joined the RSPB, we start from the Rye Meads RSPB reserve – free parking for members, minimal charge for non-members. (Of course I’ve forgotten my membership card…but that’s another story!!). Postcode here is SG12 8JS.

We pass through the visitor centre, picking up a map and receiving instructions about the layout from the friendly volunteer on duty, and out to make use of the toilets before embarking on our walk.

We take the path left out of the toilets and around the left hand perimeter of the reserve. The path curves right and then left, soon giving us lovely views over the lake on our left.

As expected there is plenty of birdlife both on the water and in the air – all in a lovely tranquil setting.

At the one-way gate out of the reserve we mistakenly head right – thinking that we haven’t yet reached the main road (where we expected the gate to be) but after 5 minutes or so we realise our mistake, retrace our steps and head out through the one-way turnstile. This path tracks beside the river and brings us to a main road running overhead from right to left – the A414. We realise we can’t continue straight on at this point so turn right and very soon pick up a path left under the road.

We are now on a straight path running between two lakes – a small one on our left between us and the river, and a larger one on our right which seems more cultivated and home to at least one sailing club.

After a few minutes the path bends sharply right and we are now on a lane – Marsh Lane – according to the map it looks like there is a cut through path off to our left which might bring us out into the town of St Margarets – so we take a path just after yet another lake but it ends up simply making a loop and back onto Marsh Lane.

On re-reaching Marsh Lane we turn left and then left again at the end of the road onto Roydon Road, which we follow to a mini-roundabout where we again turn left onto the High Street. We follow this road until we join the towpath beside the river and head north, keeping the river on our right.

We pass a small marina on our right and continue past a lock.

This stretch is full of boats – and very picturesque too in the sunlight.

When we come to the next bridge we cross the river for a good look at the lovely Amwell Nature Reserve on the far side:

There is some work going on to shore up the bank and associated moorings at this point but this doesn’t detract from the loveliness of our surroundings.

We re-cross the bridge and continue straight along this path away from the river and towards the railway line which we cross at an unmanned crossing (always slightly hair-raising!)

At the end of this path we turn right onto a road with the New River running beside us up a bank to our left. We cross the road shortly after a war memorial and cross a bridge over the river to climb some steps, cross a second path and walk around the outskirts of the churchyard.

Emerging from the church gate we turn left onto a road, Saint Johns Lane, passing the pub – the George IV – on our right and continuing along Cautherly Lane until we reach the main road – the A1170. Here we mistakenly turn left and after a few minutes realise our mistake, retracing our steps and continuing along this road till we reach the entrance to the Van Hage garden centre.

We enter here – make use of the public toilets situated in the car park – and walk through the garden centre to the café. This is, as ever, extremely busy – but we manage to nab a table and enjoy a very decent coffee and lovely fresh scone.

On our way out we have a good old browse through the Christmas displays, eventually emerging to retrace our steps along the main road to Cautherly Lane. Here we turn left and head back down the road to the the pub, taking a path just behind it to cut through to the road at a bridge over the New River.

Here we turn right and walk along the river towpath – passing a pretty island with a commemorative stone.

The river here is slow moving and relaxing with birdlife aplenty.

And thrillingly we once again spot a kingfisher – in almost exactly the same spot as last year, when we saw our first ever kingfisher on this self-same walk.

As on previous occasions when we’ve spotted this loveliest of birds we spend a ridiculous amount of time tracking and attempting to photograph it – but as ever it eludes us and eventually we have to give up.

At the end of this section we reach a gate onto a road, Station Road at St Margarets, where we turn left to return to the canal towpath of the river Lea. This time we turn right onto the towpath and head south with the river to our left.

We now follow the Lea south, past the marina, under the A414 until we reach a road, Rye Road, where we leave the canal turning left and crossing the river to walk past the pretty Rye House Gatehouse and back to the Rye Meads RSPB car park.

A really lovely walk with a bit of everything – and gorgeous weather to boot – what more could we ask for in the build up to another frantic Christmas?!

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