, 37 tweets, 22 min read
To St Albans - “the fairest & best Town in the County of Hertford,” as Edmund Bohun described it in 1688 - there to meet with @Feargal_Sharkey, & walk the river #Ver.
The #Ver was famed as late as 1885 for its “great flow of water,” & its navigability explains why the Romans founded the city of Verulamium on its banks. (A 1744 guide to St Albans claims that “it was called Verulamium from the River Ver which runs just by” - but I doubt this.)
Unfortunately - as everyone familiar with @Feargal_Sharkey’s campaign to save our chalk streams will doubtless have anticipated - the #Ver is in a bad way: excessive water extraction has left it a shadow of its former self.
Still - there is apparently lots to see! Roman ruins, Wars of the Roses battlefields, ‘the oldest pub in England’ (sic), 17th century mills, 18th century bridges, the ghosts of aristocratic highwaywomen, kingfishers, herons, brown trout & cricket bat manufacturers. #Ver
This, ladies & gentlemen, is supposedly the source of the #Vey. In the 80s it would still have been flowing; now it’s a dry and dead thing.
Onwards! #Vey
We pass Markyate Cell, where Lady Katherine Ferrars (aka the Wicked Lady) is supposed to have changed into men’s clothes in a secret stairwell before riding out to hold up stagecoaches on the nearby common. Her ghost still gallops along the line of the River #Vey TO THIS VERY DAY
Markyate itself has a sensationally retro vibe. It has the feel of a place where the Famous Five might have bought ginger pop. #Vey
The course of the #Ver through Markyate may have dried up, but its vanished waters haven’t totally been forgotten
Following in the footsteps of Boudica, Margaret of Anjou & @johnhiggs, we hit Watling Street. #Ver
The clean, free-flowing waters of the #Ver.

What the hell have we allowed to happen to our rivers? Up until the 1980s, this would have been fresh, healthy water, full of trout.
30 years ago, this was a chalk stream. #Ver
The sign looks back to a time when the fast-flowing waters of the #Ver constituted the engine room of an entire monastic economy & forward to a future when it will have no water at all
Is @Feargal_Sharkey happy that a once clean-flowing chalk stream is now a dead slit of toxic mud? He is not. #Ver
We reach the ford in Redbourn. We do not get our feet wet. #Ver
Excited to reach Redbourn, where in AD 304, Saint Amphibalus, the priest who #reputedly* converted Saint Alban, was martyred.

*We depend on this information for Geoffrey of Monmouth #Ver
This was built in 1998 to measure the water flow of the upper #Ver. The water you can see is rain water. The river no longer flows here.
Our first glimpse of the #Ver (albeit fed by rain water rather than the aquifer).
A mill once stood here, powered by a mill stream that in 1885 was reported to have a depth of 12 ft. In the early 15th century a child fell into the stream, was broken on the wheel & killed. But his mother prayed to St Alban, who heard her & restored the child to life. #Ver
Redbournbury Mill, which dates back to A-Saxon Times, & which continued to have a working water wheel until the 1950s, when Ivy Hawkins, “the last lady miller in England”, lived here. This year there has been enough water to turn the wheel just once. #Ver
This was once an overflow. The need for it is long gone... #Ver
Distantly through the trees, we spy the splendid Palladian pile that is Gorhambury House, built in 1784 to replace a nearby Elizabethan house, which was itself partly built using bricks from the old Benedictine St Albans abbey following its dissolution. #Ver
I have a hunch that we are now approaching St Albans... #Ver
And Verulamium - a city which grew, prospered & came to boast this splendid theatre because it could be supplied by ships coming up the #Ver. Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni...
Kingsbury Mill: the first definite mention of it is in 1194, but it is probably one of the three water mills in St Albans mentioned in the Domesday Bridge. #Ver
The adjacent bridge was built in 1765, but was long a ford. Here, in 1461, Margaret of Anjou’s army regrouped before storming the Yorkist positions around the Abbey. They found Henry VI, who’s been held captive by the Earl of Warwick, singing beneath a tree. #Ver
I learn from @Feargal_Sharkey that the waters of the #Ver as they flow through Veralamium Park are so toxic that there have been outbreaks of avian botulism there for the past 3 summers
We take luncheon at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, a one time pigeon house where Oliver Cromwell once stalled his horse behind the bar, & which is reliably reported to be the #OldestPubInEngland*

*I need to check this with @guywalters
Over lunch @VerValleySoc tells us how they all long to work towards the reintroduction of water voles into the #Ver, but instead are having to campaign to save the #Ver itself.
12 miles too late, the #Ver is now finally starting to look like a chalk stream
Rather than restoring the #Ver to health by obliging Affinity to stop extracting ruinous amounts of water, the Environment Agency are instead trying to make the waters flow faster by digging up the river & making the channel narrower. Window dressing combined with uglification.
The silt - a pollutant - is now flowing downriver, at precisely the time of year when trout wil be looking to lay eggs on gravel in clear, pristine water. @Feargal_Sharkey wonders why no silt curtain has been installed while the work is on-going...
We pass under the M25 & find that we have entered the Shire... #Ver
We arrive at our journey’s end - the confluence of the #Ver & the Colne. @sadieholland67 & I share our moment of triumph, while @Feargal_Sharkey gazes into the distance, contemplating fresh rivers to conquer...
It may be ecologically dead, thanks to the failure of the regulation of the water companies, but the #Ver is still capable of looking very beautiful.
Huge thanks to @Feargal_Sharkey for opening my eyes to the horror of what is being done to our rivers, & to @VerValleySoc, for fighting to bring the #Ver back from the dead.
The #Ver has been killed by massive over-extraction of its waters. It is not due to global warming. It is not beyond our capacity to bring it back from the dead. It can be rescued.
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