Grand Union Canal – Hemel Hempstead – Winkwell Walk – 21.10.2012

Unlike other stretches Grand Union Canal that we had walked before, this part of the canal was easily accessible from an urban town centre.   It was the first time that the canal really showed that it was an important transport link into the town, before the railway and roads.    As we joined the towpath, I was quite saddened by the state of the first lock that we came across.   In contrast to the other locks that we had encountered on our previous walks, this one had been gratified and looked very neglected.  Most of the other locks that we had seen on the Grand Union Canal had been in reasonable condition.   The lock keepers cottage that used to be nearby had gone and all that remained was the front wall.  Perhaps,  if a lock keeper was still there the lock would have been in a much better state?

As we walked on and away from the lock, we found a small iron sign saying it was 65 miles to Braunston. The very first sign that we found near Ironbridge Lock in Cassiobury Park stated that Braunston was 71 miles away, clearly we were now 6 miles nearer 🙂 .  Walking a canal towpath was quite nice and straight forward, particularly as we did not have  to worry about any footpath signs that might  disappear along the way.  My thoughts return to the “London Loop” and the “Hertfordshire Way” where signs regularly vanished!   However, it was not long before we stumbled across a footpath which was take us off route. The path was to take us onto a open space, which is part of the “Boxmoor Trust”, which ran along side the canal. For late Autumn this wild meadow was a beautiful lush green, the stream that was running though was lazily babbling over the stones. I would have presumed that the brook was an overflow of the canal, but despite that it looked quite picturesque.

From 2012 – 21.10.2012 – Grand Union Canal – Hemel Hempstead – Winkwell Walk

The meadow land is also used for open grazing, as a group of horses were gathered around the opposite side of the stream. The path was to take us across the bridge towards the where the horses were resting and taking shade from the Autumn sunshine. Past experience with animals in our walks made me nervous to take this route, but they were very friendly and let us pass without incident :-). It was so nice to have these lovely horses as opposed to grumpy cows and sheep LOL. We realised now by taking this route that the path we had taken was rather wet and muddy to walk as I think it must have absorbed a lot of rain overnight. We now wanted to rejoin the canal towpath, so we took the path which we felt would take us back to the there. Unfortunately when we reached it, the path was a dead end :-(.

As a consolation their was a bench to sit at and while away the hours if we had wanted to, but we couldn’t have rejoined the towpath. Not without wetting our feet anyway, as there was a little river in the way, another canal overflow of some sort I should imagine? Therefore we had to backtrack our walk into the field and out over the bridge to find the way back to the canal! Once again on our way, we passed on by Fisheries Lock and onwards. We were suddenly approaching a wrought iron bridge. The iron work itself still looked in reasonable shape, but, the bridge did not look like it had not been used in years. Was it part of an abandoned works railway or an old road?

From 2012 – 21.10.2012 – Grand Union Canal – Hemel Hempstead – Winkwell Walk

In fact as we carried on up this stretch of the canal we came across yet another lock which had not been as looked after 😦 The lock did not even carry a name, sadly in this case it was just a number… it was just “Lock 62”. It was almost a shame that this lock did not have a name, I think I was getting used to seeing names on all the locks that we had come across, I think it is rather a romantic idea! Perhaps canal barge users would refer to each locks by names as they would navigate up and down the canal, I would imagine that to be the case, it may have been easier to remember locks by names than numbers? But someone may wholeheartedly disagree with me?

Upon reaching the next Lock, we finally discovered some information regarding the “canal overflow” which ran alongside the Canal. In fact it was not an overflow at all! It was the River Bulbourne. This river derived its name from a time when the river was known to flow through meadows where cattle grazed and the river became the “River of Bulls”. The river is about 7 miles (~11km) in length and is alongside the canal and in fact merges at least twice with the Grand Union. The river had big impact in the area before the canal arrived, the Bourne End Water Mill used to stand which was built in C13th, sadly it is no more.

We had reached the small village of “Winkwell”. I wondered if this was named after someone who winked a lot and very well 🙂 . Obviously this is not the case as the name is actually derived from the old English “Wincel” meaning corner and “weil” which means well. The village was located just across the swing bridge, which in fact is one of only 3 that cross the Grand Union today. We walked a little way up from the bridge to see the last lock on our journey which looked very well maintained to me!

From 2012 – 21.10.2012 – Grand Union Canal – Hemel Hempstead – Winkwell Walk

Sadly, there is a tale from the late C19th when the popular lock keeper Joseph Buck, drowned here. One dark Christmas night, after a few drinks from the Three Horseshoes Pub, it is assumed that this was the reason that Joseph Buck never reached his home. Hopefully there are no more sad tales from this village and lock! We did decide to take a walk across the Swing bridge and take a look at the “Three Horseshoes” pub. The trouble was we were too early to go in for a drink but we were able to peer through the window that the pub was a lovely old pub, in fact it was built in 1535

It was here we ended our walk, but as we were too early for a Sunday lunchtime drink, we headed back to Hemel down the canal towpath so we could head home for Sunday Lunch 🙂 Feel free to look through all the morning photos by clicking on the photo below:-

2012 – 21.10.2012 – Grand Union Canal – Hemel Hempstead – Winkwell Walk

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