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29 October 2014

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    You are in: Beds, Herts and Bucks > Nature > Walks > From a river to the Romans and beyond > Sopwell Trail
    Sopwell ruins through the trees
    The Sopwell ruins
    This part is easily accessible for all up to the 'Holy' Well but the river part of this bit of the walk is less accessible for wheelchairs and prams and in winter can be muddy and slippery for all so wear sturdy waterproof footwear.
    1. Turn left down Belmont Hill and then turn right down De Tany Court. Follow the road round until you see a garden square with a fenced section in the middle of it. This is the site of Holy Well.

    Most people call this hill 'Holly' well Hill, but it should really be pronounced 'Holy' Well because of the feature that you see in front of you.

    The holy well
    The holy well
    Sopwell Trail Gallery

    It is thought that it is called the Holy Well because Uther Pendragon (who may have been the father of King Arthur) was cured of some vile illness in a spring that used to be here.

    2. Carry on walking down De Tany Court and you will eventually come to a pathway where you can walk down to the river bank.

    Stand on the bank of the river and look across to the allotments, which is where the river used to be.

    In fact, the allotments flood on a regular basis because the river used to flow straight across them and still wants to flow there when it gets full! It was pushed to where it is now to use as a mill stream for the Cotton Mill which used to be a few yards to the left of where you are standing.

    The allotments house slow worms and grass snakes which both like long rough grassland. Grass snakes are good swimmers and may be seen in the river around here.

    This area of the Ver was also formalised by Lady Sarah Jennings, wife of the Duke of Marlborough of Battle of Blenheim fame.

    The Ver iat Sopwell
    The Ver at Sopwell
    Sopwell Trail Gallery

    Her house stood at the bottom of where Holywell Hill is now, where you will now find a row of cottages and the Duke of Marlborough pub. What is now De Tany Court was her formal gardens.

    If you stand with the river to your left, to your right you can see what looks like just a hollow with nettles in, but it actually used to be a formal garden pond in Lady Sarah's gardens. These led down from the house towards the river, which was included in that ornamental garden in the late 18th and early 19th century.

    3. With the river to your right, continue to walk along the river bank down to Cottonmill Lane. Cross the road carefully and continue to walk along the river bank, this time with the water on your left.

    Sopwell Meadows
    Here you are entering Sopwell Meadows which is a key urban wetland site along the Ver corridor. It is a rich unimproved wet marshy grassland with scattered scrub and supports variety marshy plants such as rushes and sedges. You can also see mid-channel plants such as Water crowfoot whose white flowers cover the water surface early in the year.

    Several of the sedges on the site are uncommon as is Purple Willow, the dominant scrub species along the ditches.

    Bogbean has been recorded from the site which is a rare plant of peaty marshes and Water voles have also been seen along the river.

    Sopwell meadows
    Sopwell meadows
    Sopwell Trail Gallery

    The site is also good for a range of invertebrates such as Dragonflies and Damselflies.

    It is also an important for birds including the rare Snipe which relies on wet marshy land.

    4. When you come out into an open area, turn right across the flat grassland and go through a hole in the opposite hedge where you will find the ruins of Sopwell House.

    These are the ruins of an Elizabethan manor house, built by the military engineer Sir Richard Lee in 1560 on the site of an earlier nunnery.

    The Sopwell Nunnery was founded in 1140. Lee bought it from Henry VIII and soon pulled it down.

    Another diversion
    If you are interested there are disused watercress beds further down the river as the Ver valley used to be a national centre for growing it. The constant temperature and high mineral content in the fast flowing river made it ideal for this purpose.

    Sopwell ruins

    The Sopwell Ruins
    Sopwell Trail Gallery

    They now provide an important habitat for species like water vole water shrew because the beds usually have a constant flow of water through them so don't freeze over in winter and mammals can get to the insects for food.

    5. Walk through the ruins back to the road (Cottonmill Lane). Turn right and cross the road and go back along the river, back past the allotments and instead of going back though De Tany Court, carry on along the river bank back to Holywell Hill and the Duke of Marlborough pub and pick up the walk again at stage 12.


    From the nunnery turn left, walk along Cottonmill Lane for a little while before turning right into Prospect Road back to Holywell Hill. Cross at the pedestrian crossing and either go straight ahead back to the car park or turn right and go back to the Duke of Marlborough pub and pick up the walk again at stage 12.

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    Audio Listen to the whole WALK THROUGH TIME BROADCAST from BBC Three Counties Radio

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