The River Chess
Why is the River Chess special?
Nature - The River Chess is called a chalk stream because its water comes from the groundwater held in the chalk of the Chiltern Hills. The Chess is fed by springs which form where the water table reaches ground level. The mineral rich water emerges at a constant temperature of about 10°C. The unique character of chalk streams means that they provide a very rich habitat for wildlife, which makes the Chess a great place to come into contact with nature. For example, water voles, which are one of the UK's rarest mammals, are found on the Chess - even in the urban environment of Chesham. You can read more about the flora and fauna of the Chess on our Wildlife page.
Leisure - The Chess is a great place to relax and have fun; from workers taking a lunchtime break in Meades Water Gardens in Chesham, to the dedicated ramblers walking the whole 10 miles of the Chess Valley Walk. The Chess is much loved by wildlife enthusiasts and photographers relish the beautiful riverside scenery. The Chess is also well-known amongst fishermen for its brown trout. Accessible from the Metropolitan Line stations of Rickmansworth, Chorleywood and Chesham, the river is the perfect location for a day-trip from London.
Watercress - The chalk-filtered water is ideal for growing watercress and this industry flourished along the Chess during the Victorian era. Indeed, the Metropolitan Line enabled the Chilterns watercress farms to supply the London hotel trade. However, only one working watercress farm remains on the Chess at Sarratt; indeed this is the only surviving watercress farm in the whole of the Chilterns.
History - The Chess has been important to this part of the Chilterns throughout history, for both settlement and industry. There were Roman settlements along the valley and an extensive site at Sarratt has been studied by the Chess Valley Archaeological and Historical Society. Saxons settling along the upper reaches of the river named their settlement "the water meadow by the stone heap", or Caesteles-hamm, which today is known as Chesham. The Chess was used to power water mills for centuries; four mills are listed for Chesham in the Domesday Book, but only Weirhouse Mill stands today.
Celebrity! - The scenery of the Chess is appreciated by those in the film and TV industries. The Chess has been used as the backdrop for a variety of films, ranging from The Dirty Dozen to Goodnight Mister Tom and was also featured in Charles Rangley-Wilson's The Accidental Angler.
This beautiful and important chalk stream is suffering from a number of pressures being placed upon it by human activities. Find out more.