This is a popular walk on the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire border. The reservoirs and the Grand Union Canal provide a great dog walk, plenty of opportunities to watch the wildlife, and narrow boats go through the flight of six locks. There is car parking, a café at the start and a pub with a great beer garden at the halfway mark.
Planning your visit
- Address: Lock 39, Startops End, Marsworth, Tring, Hertfordshire, HP23 4LJ
- Opening times: Open all year round.
- Parking: You have two options: either the pay and display at Startops Car Park (W3W: ///correct.vibrate.otherwise) or the option we prefer is free parking on Tringford Road (W3W: ///taxpayers.bath.chairs).
- Public transport: Buses from Aylesbury, Tring, Hemel Hempstead, Luton and Dunstable stop close to the car park.
- Toilets: There are no public toilets. The nearest toilets are for customers only, at either the tearoom at Startops car park or the pub at Bulbourne.
- Food & Drink: You have the Waters Edge Cafe within the starting point car park and the Grand Junction Arms Pub at the halfway point.
- Path surfaces: Hard paths, although they can have muddy puddles after rain.
The reservoirs, canal locks, and bridges play a significant part in the character of this part of the Chiltern Hills. The reservoirs were created for the Grand Union Canal in the early 1790s as, whilst building the canal, it became clear that there were insufficient water supplies at the Tring Summit. More water was required to enable the boats to progress through the various locks. If you are on the canal in the early morning, you may see low water between locks, and the Canal Trust workers spend time balancing the water each morning to allow barges to pass through the flight of locks.
The first reservoir was built at Wilstone, and a steam engine pumped water into the canal. In the early 1800s, the other reservoirs were added. Two arms of the Grand Union Canal, one feeding Aylesbury, the Aylesbury Arm, and the other Wendover, the Wendover Arm (now partly disused), also run through the area.
The reservoirs provide habitat for a wide range of birds, including Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebes, Little Ringed Plover, swans, various duck species, and depending on the time of year many migrant birds.
This walk is 3.2km (2 miles), although you have plenty of opportunities to extend.
We parked at the Tringford Road layby and walked along the path between Startop’s End Reservoir and Marsworth Reservoir. Halfway along, you have a bird hide looking out over Startop’s End; the reservoirs are home to various wildlife, and the reedbeds, woodland, and open water are natural stopovers for birds.
At the end of the path, you reach the canal. You have the car park with the cafe and Lock No. 39 to the left, but we head off to the right along the canal path. The first stretch to Lock No. 40 and No. 41 is alongside the reservoir, but you leave the reservoir behind as you meet Lock No. 42. Here, you have a great view of the reservoir over the reedbeds.
The locks come quickly now with Lock No 43, 44 and 45. But this last lock, the highest point of the Grand Junction Canal main line, is worth a pause. Here you have some interesting points. Off to the right is the Wendover Arm, built as a waterway to Wendover. Unfortunately, it always leaked badly, and eventually, the central section was abandoned.
The two buildings are both listed. The large house was the original Marsworth Toll House, and the building beside the lock is still used today as a dry dock.
No more locks now, just a short walk to Bulbourne. At the bridge, you have the Grand Junction Arms pub with a great canal-side beer garden and the building complex on the other side of the canal, now private houses, was the Engineering Works of the Grand Union Canal Company.
After an optional stopover for a drink, it’s time to turn around and walk back, although if you want to add more distance, you can continue past the pub by going under the bridge. This extra stretch has a different landscape as the canal is in a cutting with high sides and trees, although underfoot, it can be more muddy after rain.
Alternatively, if you like plants, you can turn right, and 100m up the road, you have Tring Garden Centre, which also has a cafe.