In the middle of woods can be found a tall stone column, built to honour the man who built the UK’s first industrial canals — Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater. And inside are 172 steps that lead to the top with pretty impressive views across the countryside, and even as far as London, on a clear day.

Francis Egerton inherited the Dukedom aged just twelve years, but was so ill and considered so dull that he was nearly disinherited by his family. Despite that, he went on to become one of the country’s richest men when he started building canals. Well, he paid other people to build them for him, but the impetus was his.

The Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Manchester which was constructed to transport coal obtained on his estates is usually cited as the first modern British canal as opposed to a river navigation. His investments n coal and canals made him exceptionally rich and he spent lavishly on art. Plans to build a grand mansion house were however curtailed by his death in 1803.

His will also though included instructions to build a stone column. It’s claimed that its location, in the middle of the countryside and far from his planned mansion house was because his mother didn’t want to see it, as she was seemingly estranged from her son. It is perhaps coincidental that the location is also the highest in the local area.

These days, it’s managed by the National Trust, and open to the public at weekends to climb up and see the view.

I had a long walk up from nearby Berkhamsted, and knowing there was a cafe on site, was initially alarmed to see nothing but two vans, but there’s a large cafe and shop around the corner. To get into the column though, just go up to the National Trust desk outside, and if a member it’s free to go in, otherwise £2.50 — which includes the loan of a pair of small binoculars.

It’s a single staircase all the way to the top – punctuated with small slits in the wall for light, and being narrow and spiral, hope not too many people come down as you ascend, as it can be a bit hair-raising. After a weary 172 stony steps, at last to the top, and the high walkway around to admire the view.

Signs point out what might be seen in the distance, although to be frank, they are either wildly optimistic, or at least on two sides, mostly advertising other National Trust properties.

You can, just about, make out some of the London landmarks on the far horizon, although on my visit, they were more dark marks on the horizon that were just about recognisable.

What you’re really here for is the sense of achievement of climbing up to the top, and to admire the countryside rather than to spy out specific landmarks.

What shows up on maps as a carpark plus long road to the monument is in fact a very long car park. The cafe is excellent, the shop typically National Trust, and the woods a delight to wander around.

If coming up by train then Tring is much closer to the Monument, but I came via Berkhamsted for other reasons.


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  1. Richard Ash says:

    Careful! The Sankey Canal has a much better claim to be England’s first canal, despite a confusing title to act – the canal is an entirely separate channel to the brook, except where later drainage engineers have diverted the Sankey Brook into the canal!

    • ianvisits says:

      It has a disputed alternative claim to the title, but it’s not conclusive or widely supported.

  2. Jo W says:

    That was interesting, Ian, no wonder you ended up with sore feet that day! 😳

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