Through the winter months and early spring of 2021, Peter Sinclair took on the herculean task of surveying the River Quin, from its source down to where it joins the Rib south of Braughing. Below are his reports from the field.
1 – Sallow Wood to Nuthampstead road, Saturday 7 & Sunday 8 November 2020
The source of the River Quin is located at the southeast corner of Sallow Wood on Periwinkle Hill at about 150m height, just south of ‘The Joint’ (Grid Ref TL 37123 36227).
A farm track and footpath (014) follows it downhill towards Windmill Close, Barkway (pop. 757) and then it veers off across the fields to the church. For most of the way it is little more than a trickle. It can be heard in several places, even if the water is hidden.
At the church (130m) the stream is being ‘de-wilded’ where the course has been privately landscaped, but then it passes under the road to Church Lane Pond (Grid Ref TL 38350 35605). This was created about 1600 to wash farm wagons before travelling to market. Each side, just under the water, there are walkways for the people washing them. It is covered in algae, and there are no moorhens or ducks.
From there it is culverted and passes behind the High Street gardens. In the 1970s, dye was used to confirm it fed the High Street pond, but the water level there has dropped considerably and it, too, has been deserted by the ducks.
Another source used to rise from a spring in Rokey Wood, not far from the solar farm (Grid Ref TL 37524 35749). It is dry but water would have flowed down towards Church Lane.
After passing under the lane, it flows east to feed the ponds behind the Old Vicarage and then to the ‘Sinks’ opposite Burrs Lane where it meets the Quin (Grid Ref TL 28393 35417).
NOTES ON THE UPPER PORTION OF THE RIVER RIB AND ITS AFFLUENT THE QUIN. Read at Ware, 30th March 1882
The proper source of the River Quin is at Rushing Well, near Nuthampstead; …..
The stream crosses under the High Street and follows Burrs Lane, reappears behind the stables, turns north and east and follows the paddock perimeter to where it joins a stream from the Recreation Ground to the north, which rises from a spring feeding a fishing lake in Cokenach (Grid Ref 38697 35416). From here the water is more visible and flows past Rushing Wells at 120m (Grid Ref TL 38764 35026) on its way south.
Before it passes under the Nuthampstead road bridge (Grid Ref TL 38790 34750), water discharges into it from the Barkway Sewage Treatment Works. Under ordinary circumstances this, presumably, is not a problem. But in 2019 the storm overflow spilled 17 times.
Like other road bridges crossing the Quin, an old cast iron panel reads, “County of Hertford. Take notice that this bridge is insufficient to carry weights beyond the ordinary traffic of the district and that owners and all persons in charge of locomotives, and all other ponderous carriages, are warned against attempting the passage of the bridge. By order of the County Council, C. E. Longmore, Clerk of the County Council, Hertford. 23rd. October, 1899.”
The 195-mile circular Hertfordshire Way passes through Barkway and later crosses the Quin twice at Hare Street.
2 – Nuthampstead road bridge to Stapleton Bridge, Sunday 17 January & Wednesday 24 March 2021
After the Nuthampstead road bridge, the Quin meanders west of the Barkway Golf Course, initially hidden by trees and bushes before it passes through the Golf Course itself. Here the river banks are not so steep and water flows quite freely, sometimes over patches of gravel beds at 110m, a result of management by the Golf Course (Grid Ref TL 39001 34332). A small landscaped pond lies just to the southeast of the river.
….. but below this, and near Biggen Farm, it is joined by a watercourse which can be traced close to the Essex border, near Little Chishall, not far from which place is the source of one of the tributaries of the River Cam.
To the south of the Golf Course it follows the 110m contour and is joined by a stream from the direction of Bury Farm to the northeast, which flows under the Nuthampstead road at the Golf Course car park (Grid Ref TL 39565 34594). In March there is only a small flow.
The river continues south to Biggin Bridge in a steep-sided channel, cut between fields, very slow moving and mostly choked by vegetation. Here and there the water ponds, but it is difficult to tell if there is a flow. In the west bank a large hole has been dug, probably by a fox.
Although there is water in the stream from the Golf Course to Biggin Bridge (Grid Ref TL 38757 33321), there is almost no water passing under it in March. What can be seen is decomposing vegetation. Beyond it there is virtually no flow except for occasional ponds of standing water.
The lack of flow changes two fields further west where water from the northwest (towards Reed) joins the almost dry bed and a clean flow picks up (Grid Ref TL 38522 33088).
Some gravel beds are again seen between the brambles and small trees on both banks. There are several agricultural bridges and one ford used by farmers.
2. Beamon, Sylvia P, 1976, Anstey – the Castle and Cave Gate (part II) – a folklore tale; Subterranea Britannica Bulletin 4 (August 1976), 4-6, Plans, sections
After it passes under Cave Bridge on the Wyddial road it is a much clearer stream (Grid Ref TL 38570 32696), so much so that two ducks were swimming where it widened a little – the first wild life to be seen. On this section to Stapleton Bridge on the B1368 dead trees have fallen over the stream, but not to the detriment of the flow and providing giving good cover for the ducks. Cave Gate is one of the more interesting local features here.
In 1904 an entrance to a long narrow shaft was discovered. It extended from a disused chalk pit to the north of the Wyddial-Anstey/B1638 crossroads and beneath the Barkway road. It was 65 feet long and 7 to 8 feet wide, with the entrance 7 feet below ground level and sloping down to 9 feet below the road. The place name was recorded in 1641 and a local man apparently knew of the shaft in the 1820s. The chalk pit was in use in 1878, but on the 1898 OS map it had become the ‘Old Chalk Pit’. The shaft was filled in c.1968 leaving no trace.1 The existence of the shaft gave rise to an old folk tale about a blind fiddler from Anstey who died in it sometime before 1750.2
3 – South of Buckland road to Cave Bridge, Saturday 27 & Monday 29 March 2021
At Biggen Moor are several springs.
At a height of approximately 115m, a spring feeds a stream (Grid Ref TL 38082 34027) and continues south to join the Quin (Grid Ref TL 38522 33088 above). This short stretch is clear water flowing south over gravel in some places and occasionally ponding. Water plants are evident and moorhens and small fish have been seen here in the past according to a regular dog walker.
At 110m (Grid Ref TL 38070 33618), no water flows into the stream from the west, however, further south a very small stream joins it from the west (Grid Ref TL 28254 33233).
4 – Stapleton Bridge to the Anstey Road bridge, Monday 29 March 2021
At Stapleford Bridge the Quin is joined by another branch, which rises in Scales Park Wood, in or close to which wood also rises the River Stort, the most important of the affluents of the Lea.
A steep-sided cut continues east from Stapleton Bridge and then turns at a right angle to the south, following the 95m contour, parallel to the B1368. Two cuts join it at this right angle, one from the north, and one from Lincoln Hill to the east, but there is no evidence of water recently flowing from them (Grid Ref TL 39062 32475). Between that point and the Anstey road bridge the water flows unimpeded, although vegetation and occasional bushes and trees slow it (Grid Ref TL 39149 32014).
Signs of flooding behind at least one such obstacle can still be seen from lines of debris at a higher level. There was another possible fox hole on the west bank about midway along this section.
5 – Anstey road bridge to Great Hormead road bridge, Wednesday 31 March 2021
Water continues to flow from Anstey road bridge to about midway along the first field and just beyond the first concrete farm bridge. Here the water stops flowing and the wide steep-sided cut is completely dry (Grid Ref TL 39336 31456).
Near Oak Tree Farm on the B1638 a landowner was clearing the river bed of undergrowth. Twenty plus years ago water flowed in this stretch (Grid Ref TL 39451 30838), with a depth of half a metre or so. In Dec/Jan 2021, after many days of rain, flood water reached almost the top of the bank (around 2m) and didn’t overflow because damming upstream caused by debris and trees held the water back. The photograph below was taken by the landowner of his section of the river on 14 January 2021.
The Environment Agency has long since stopped clearing fallen trees, vegetation and debris from the river.
Nearer the Great Hormead road two windmills would have been seen on the high ground to the east in the early twentieth century. In this 1932 photograph (courtesy of the Mills Archive Trust), the smock or tower mill is in the background, without its cap and sails, and the post mill is in the foreground.
The central post of the post mill is still lying in the undergrowth.
All streams joining the river from Fox Hill to the east are dry.
6 – Great Hormead road bridge to Mutfords Farm bridge, Wednesday 31 March 2021
Water starts to flow again before reaching the bridge over the road between Hare Street and Great Hormead (pop. 743). However, it is very little and only links standing water left over since the winter months, enough to prevent them drying out and clean enough for ducks to frequent.
Great Hormead Brook contains a little water in the village at the 100m contour, but is dry when it reaches the Quin at 90m (Grid Ref TL 39241 29629).
Just after Worsted Lane leading from Hare Street to Little Hormead an old hand pump has survived, presumably for public use (Grid Ref TL 39375 29157). However, it cannot draw any water now, either because it doesn’t work or the water table has dropped.
Interestingly, Affinity Water has a pumping station here, on the other side of Worsted Lane, abstracting water from the chalk aquifer.
The Hertfordshire Way crosses the Quin east of Hare Street and re-crosses it close to the Worsted Lane bridge.
A footpath (016) follows the river and is crossed by another (010) leading to St Mary’s Church at Little Hormead to the east. This is a redundant Grade I listed church and is currently being restored. The churchyard is being transformed by residents into a wild flower meadow.
Little Hormead Brook from Bummers Hill to the east is dry (Grid Ref TL 39543 28730). Water ponds under Mutfords Farm bridge, attracting ducks.
A tumulus (Grid Ref TL 39823 28608) can be seen in the middle of the field between the dry stream and 135m northwest of Mutfords Cottages.
This is a bowl barrow, a funerary monument dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age (2400-1500 BC). It is 24m in diameter and 2.82m high, with an infilled ditch of c.3m wide surrounding it. It is now difficult to make out the mound itself because of the trees. Bummers Hill bowl barrow is a Scheduled Monument.
7 – Mutfords Farm bridge to Gravelly Lane Ford, Braughing, Tuesday 13 April 2021
There is abundant evidence of animal life along the banks of the Quin – many rabbit holes and deer or muntjac tracks. Other than a dead duck and a crow strung up by its legs from a branch, this fox is the only dead mammal seen. Pheasants are being bred between Mutfords and Braughing and at least two wooden hides have been erected alongside the river.
Seen from a footbridge not far from Dassel’s Hill (Grid Ref TL 39581 27804), this is one of the cleanest stretches of dry river bed.
A stream from Dassels following the footpath (013) to the west is dry.
The river is now following the 80m contour.
Water flows into the river from the Braughing Sewage Treatment Works just beyond Dassels Bury (Grid Ref TL 39449 26831). From this point on there is a narrow flow of water along the river bed.
Even though there is little water, it collects in pools large enough to attract ducks and moorhens. Because of this it can be assumed the water is relatively clean and free from pollution.
No fish or frogs have been observed, and there is a paucity of insect life.
This pipe runs from a pond created to the west of the river. The water level is well below the pipe on the other side of the bank that forms the pond (Grid Ref TL 39754 26337). It is not clear if the pipe is used to pump water out of the river or as an overflow. There is no evidence of it being used recently. Beyond this point no access is possible along the west bank because of fields occupied by horses, although it is possible to follow a track on the east which joins a public right of way to Pentlow Hill.
The water flowing under the track (029) to Pentlow Hill seems to be more than that entering the inaccessible stretch, so maybe there is a source of inflow there – from Pentlow Hill to the east or Quinbury Farm from the west. However, there are no indications on the OS map of any springs or streams joining it so the increase may be an illusion.
The river now follows the 70m contour.
Until the Quin arrives at Braughing, the scenery through which it passes is not very attractive, and the stream is but little more than an open watercourse, often dry in summer.
In a field above Braughing Vicarage there is a considerable spring, and the river is further augmented by the overflow of a spring which forms a pond in the Vicarage garden, which has never been known to freeze; below this the river is never dry.
From this point the water flows freely and further along fills the river bed from one bank to the other. Where it is deeper, it flows slowly, with little or no vegetation growing mid-stream.
At a sharp turn in the river (Grid Ref TL 39640 25796), there is an active inflow of water from an agricultural pipe to the east, whether from field run-off or a spring further up the hill.
The water is clear and flows faster at the ford on Gravelly Lane (Grid Ref TL 39654 25577).
Braughing Bourne (The Bone) joins the river at the ford from the east but is dry. In the nineteenth century this stream created a second ford where it overflowed onto the road at the junction with Bozen Green Lane (014) as the road turns right towards Pentlows and Braughing (pop. 1,203).
The river beyond the ford and towards Green End is largely inaccessible because it runs through what used to be Braughing Bury and the backs of private gardens along its west bank.
8 – Braughing Ford to Riversmeet Friday 16 April 2021
The ford in Braughing is very picturesque, with a number of resident ducks that aren’t much perturbed by traffic crossing the river. Pedestrians use Fleece Lane Bridge, a Grade II listed iron bridge probably named after the sheep washing that took place in the shallow part of the river here.
Several streams from the east of the village empty into the river, but they are all dry.
A little distance from the ford the eastern bank has been strengthened with a concrete wall.
After flowing through the village of Braughing, which is pleasantly situated in a hollow on either bank, the Quin joins the Rib, and the stream, now known by the latter name, after passing Gatesbury Mill, near the village of Puckeridge, reaches Standon, where its history will be taken up by another pen.
After Griggs Bridge on the B1368 the water flows over the only weir on the Quin. This is a Flow Gauging Station controlled by Thames North East Area Monitoring & Data (Hydrometry).
Before it was dismantled the Buntingford Branch of the Great Eastern Railway crossed the River Rib to the west of the Flow Gauging Station.
At Riversmeet (Grid Ref TL 38962 24489), the Quin merges into the Rib. The Rib rises at a height of 150m in the Chiltern Hills between the villages of Reed and Therfield to the west of the A10, only a few miles from the source of the Quin at the same height to the east of the A10.
What used to be Braughing Station on the GER line is a short distance south of Riversmeet, just beyond Ford Bridge on the B1368.
The last photograph is of the River Rib before it is joined by the Quin, showing how similar the two rivers are.
“I grew convinced that following water, flowing with it, would be a way of getting under the skin of things. Of learning something new. I might learn about myself too.”Roger Deakin – Waterlog
Written and researched by Peter Sinclair for the Friends of the Rib and Quin, https://friendsoftherib.wordpress.com
My thanks to Tom Doig for his information about Church Lane Pond in Barkway.
17 April 2021
25-inch OS maps: Hertfordshire XIV.6, revised 1896, published 1898, courtesy of National Library of Scotland CC-BY (NLS), https://maps.nls.uk
‘Notes on the Upper Portion of the River Rib and its Affluent the Quin.’ By R. P. Greg, F.S.A., F.G.S., F.R.A.S., and R. B. Croft, R.N., F.L.S., F.R.M.S. Read at Ware, 30th March, 1882. Transactions of the Hertfordshire Natural History Society and Field Club, edited by John Hopkinson, F.L.S., F.G.S.. Vol. II. October, 1881, to October, 1883. London: David Rogue, pp. 126-130.