The Bourne Gutter

Formerly known as the Hertfordshire Bourne, the Bourne Gutter is an occasional tributary of the river Bulbourne. Its valley runs South-East along Hockeridge Bottom, and continuing to follow the old county boundary, turns North-East to join the Bulbourne valley at Bourne End. Inevitably, any watercourse that behaves as capriciously as the Bourne Gutter will attract local folklore. The common belief that it recurs at intervals of seven years is clearly at odds with the facts. The stream is also regarded locally as a ‘woe water’, its appearance presaging major tragedy or war, but this again is not upheld by the records.

Bourne Gutter below Bottom Farm, approaching Bourne End.
From A41 Bypass January 2001. Photographer Keith Huggett.

The Hertfordshire Natural History Society for some 40 years kept assiduous observational records - for example the stream flowed for a 2 or 3 mile course in 1879, 1883, 1897 and 1904. When flowing, a three-mile length was not uncommon at the end of the 19th Century, but this has been more unusual in recent decades. However, from November 2000 to May 2001, the bourne flowed at times for a full 3 mile length, with a lake-size pool above the White Hill lane for many months.

More recently there was flow from Bottom Farm and a pool below Spring Meadow Farm in early 2003. Winters then became exceptionally dry, and there was no flow again until early 2007, but even then the stream only occurred in a short stretch above and below Bottom Farm, and that not for long.

Bourne Gutter looking downstream at Bottom Farm.
Plank on footpath and bridleway route.
TL000061, 20/02/2001 Photographer Jean de Selincourt.

The line of the bourne is evident at Bottom Farm (Southern end of Sugar Lane, Berkhamsted) whence a public footpath follows its line down to Bourne End at the Bypass. When flowing a good view can also be obtained from the by-pass lay-by above the Bourne End Services, and along the valley at the White Hill Lane below Spring Meadow Farm.

Bourne Gutter looking downstream from lane below Spring Meadow Farm, White Hill Lane, 20/02/2001.
Photographer Beryl Buckingham
Author: Jean de Selincourt