Family staycation along the New River Line

20 August 2020

By guest blogger, Madeleine Sugden

Guest blogger, Madeleine Sugden, shares the benefits of having a holiday close to home, by train, to blow away some of the stresses of 2020.

The end of the school year is usually a joyful time. The happy excitement of the last day of term, a picnic in the park, cards for the teachers, six long weeks of fun.

This year, of course, was different. Juggling homeschooling and work since March was tough. We were all safe and well but as a family of four with energetic primary school-aged children, together 24/7, we were going stircrazy stuck at home.

Then as lockdown eased it felt like there were 101 new things to worry about and individual decisions to make. What was safe and what was not?

By July we had started to venture out on day trips by train to places we could get to from our local station in north London.

Social distancing at train stations signs on platform floor

We needed to see a different view from our local area. We needed green fields and rivers and big skies. Day trips to Hertfordshire and Essex helped give us a boost.

The trains were empty. We sat with our masks on and limited journeys to under 30 minutes.

Then as the school year finished we needed to re-build some 'normal' and create some positive memories. Our usual ways of filling the summer didn't feel right. In previous years our holidays had been via the sleeper train to Spain or on long train journeys north or west. We changed our thinking and booked an experimental holiday very close to home.

Youth Hostel

A responsible holiday at the YHA London Lee Valley at Cheshunt

We booked for four nights just 20 minutes up the Overground to the newly re-opened YHA London Lee Valley at Cheshunt.

We regularly go for walks up there and this year have found a route to get to open Essex countryside rather than just paths round the lakes at the Lee Valley Park.

We thought it would be nice to have more time there without having to rush to get back. And if the holiday didn't feel right, we could just come home.

There was no catering or self-catering at the youth hostel due to government guidelines so we borrowed a travel kettle and camping stove so we could at least make tea and cook baked beans.

It was wonderful to be away, to be once again staying in YHA bunk beds, to go for long evening walks along the river and in the park and to wake up to bird song and the sound of trains.

A beautiful view of Lee Valley


The youth hostel is right next to the train station. We were able to go on day trips on the train which felt too far from home at the moment or had previously been too complicated for a day trip.

We went to Cambridge and had a very normal-feeling day, exploring the City. One of the highlights was a street lunch from Cambridge Crepes. It felt like it was the first time for ages we'd eaten something we'd not cooked ourselves.

New River Line

We also had two day trips up the New River Line (Broxbourne to Hertford East) where we'd not been before. One day we bought picnic food and sat on Hartham Common in Hertford where rivers Beane and Lea meet.

The kids especially loved paddling in the river. There were lots of people paddle boarding and swimming too. There was a lovely relaxed atmosphere with families and couples enjoying being out.

Another day we walked from Hertford East to Ware along the New River Path. It was somewhere we'd always planned to visit but never quite got round to.

We reached the source of the New River at the New Gauge House and read the information board. It explained that the aqueduct, which terminates at Sadler's Wells in Islington, opened in 1613 to supply London with fresh water.

Exporing the beautiful New River Path

We followed the green signs over a metal bridge and along the grass path. There was no one else around.

The valley was beautiful even with the A10 dominating the skyline. We crossed the train tracks and sat under the road bridge listening to the rhythms of the traffic.

It was surprisingly peaceful. We walked round a lake and re-joined the New River Path, passing a grand pumping station building and spotting rabbits, dragonflies and ducks balanced on a ledge.

Train passing ducks perching on a river

We'll definitely go back to that line and do another stretch of the path. Being away was just what we needed. Although, just an hour from home door-to-door, it felt like a million miles.

About the author

Madeleine is co-founder of Radio Lento, a podcast of unedited sound postcards. You can listen to the sound of the A10 near Hertford, the noisy dawn chorus of geese and gulls on a lake in the Lee Valley and the gentle summer breeze from the top of a hill near Cheshunt via Google Podcasts. Also on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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