The Grand Union Canal has been adding to the life of Hemel Hempstead for more than 200 years. Originally an industrial artery, in the 21st century it gives us a distinctive set of leisure options.
The stretch through Hemel Hempstead makes a pleasant and not especially demanding walk of about 4 miles from Bourne End to Nash Mills. Features that you might want to leave the towpath to look at include:
- Boxmoor’s 1874 Norman Shaw church
- Two white stones marking the grave of highwayman Robert Snooks
- Hemel Food Garden, run by Sunnyside Trust
- Apsley Basin
- The Paper Trail at Frogmore Mill, Apsley.
Towpaths are mostly quite flat. On this stretch of the canal there are 11 locks, representing a rise of about 120ft over the whole length of the map. The surface of the towpath is variable, especially in wet weather. There is wheelchair access at several points.
There are playgrounds in Apsley, through a gap in the hedge just beyond Durrants Hill Rd, and on the other side of the canal at Boxmoor.
The Canal & River Trust says it welcomes cyclists on to the towpath but it urges them to follow its Greenways Code. This no longer involves downloading a permit (which was free anyway). Pedestrians have priority. The Trust’s suggests you warn people you’re approaching, try not to damage towpaths or verges, take particular care around anglers, moderate your speed to match the conditions. Dismounting for low bridges or where the path is very narrow may be difficult to observe. In our experience, you won’t absolutely need an off-road bike for the towpaths around Hemel Hempstead; a hybrid is fine. But the quality of the towpath varies widely, so we‘ve compiled the table to try to indicate where the going gets toughest.
A national rod licence can be obtained from any Post Office. Day tickets cost £4. On this stretch of water, anglers catch bream, chub, roach, some barbel and gudgeon.
You will always see mallards and moorhens and probably swans, coots, herons, wagtails and Canada geese – very occasionally, a kingfisher. In the spring of 2014, an egret briefly took up residence near Boxmoor.
Anyone with a vessel may use the canal, but to use the locks they must seek permission from the Waterways Board. For boat hire, Waterways Experiences (wexp.org.uk) offers a community boat hire at Nash Mills. Based on the canal but performing at pubs around the town, the Mikron waterborne theatre passed through the town in early July, stopping at the Three Horseshoes in Winkwell.