From source to Nine Wells
The source of the Mimram, like those of the Hiz and the Ivel, is unpropitious. A tangle of reeds and nettles, fallen trees, muddy pools and a seasonally dry course below the Lilley Bottom road on one side and a gas gathering station on the other.
The course runs along the back gardens of a terrace of cottages below Bendish. Beyond them, it is marked by another patch of reeds and a run of small leaf limes and osiers. When we walked by, the field beyond was white with thistle down. The footbridge by the ford was redundant.
By the time the course crosses under the road at Nine Wells the water is (generally) flowing, providing the pure, running feed needed for growing water cress. The water cress farm was on its last legs in the summer of 2020, the proprietors in their 80s and the takings so meagre that nobody has wanted to take over the enterprise. The river flow has slowed and the cost of pumping from the wells is prohibitive. The last water cress farm in Hertfordshire and neighbouring counties was about to fail. Like straw plaiting, another local industry is passing into history. The ponds will silt up, their banks will subside, the unique rail track will rust and rot. One of the proprietors said to me: “So many people say ‘what a shame’. And I ask them, ‘how often did you come to buy water cress?’ and they answer ‘every couple of years’ and that says it all.”
For now, the fresh produce shop at the farm continues, selling local produce, reliant on customers’ honesty in putting money through the letter box.