Walk from Leytonstone along the River Lea to Hertford
This was an unexpected adventure. I’d been struggling with intense back pain since Saturday and by Monday evening could barely walk around Wanstead Flats. It looked as if my planned long walk up the Lea Valley would have to wait for at least a week. After a bad night’s sleep I awoke unusually early at 6.30am after only 4 hours fractured slumber, the pain forcing me out of bed. I couldn’t settle in a chair in the garden with a cup of tea so I decided to walk around the block. This actually felt better. So in that moment I decided to pack a bag and see how far I could walk – far better than trying to sit at home in pain.
My wife thought I was mad when I told her my plan, she’d seen the state I’d been in the night before. And to be honest I thought I might not get further than the few miles to Walthamstow. But better to be out in the sun. It was a glorious day.
I’d walked from Leytonstone to Hertford in midwinter around 4 years ago, a walk that has always stayed with me. But that day I plotted the shortest route between the two points, walking along the ridge of the Lea Valley to Sewardstone, following the Lea Navigation to Broxbourne, then picking up the New River Path to Ware in the gloom. I then roadwalked in the dark from Ware to Hertford. A route that clocked in at 23 miles. With my expectations diminished by circumstances I thought it best to just stick to the River Lee Navigation and see how far I could get.
At Waltham Abbey – around 13 miles, I had to risk sitting down for a sandwich and found a bench by the lock enjoying the scene. All was well. I shifted on the bench and felt a jolt of pain up my back, then my left (bad) knee stiffened. Oh dear. Time to get on the move before the whole exercise was derailed.
I passed some fellas magnet fishing off a bridge a Broxbourne and stopped to speak to a few people who watch my videos. By the time I reached Dobbs Weir I was ready to venture inside a pub for the first time since the lockdown. The Fish and Eels is a pub I’ve seen many times on Lea and Stort walks and always vowed to return to – now was the perfect time. I settled on the terrace overlooking the river with a pint of London Pride and a bulldog puppy under the table playing with my shoelaces.
The rest of the walk was a breeze, along my favourite stretches of the Lea, passing through Stanstead Abbots, Rye House and Ware. Rabbits hopped around in the meadows beside the riverbank near the point where Roman Ermine Street crosses the Lea. You can feel history humming beneath the ground. There are Bronze Age burial mounds dotted all along the high ridges above the river at this stage. A storied landscape.
Arriving in Hertford was a great moment – probably my favourite Lea Valley town. People were heading out through the streets to pubs and restaurants. I kept to the river until I realised I’d have to end the walk before it took me too far beyond the end of the trainline. It’d been over 31.7 miles to this point.
I made it back to the local for 10.20pm and celebrated with my wife with a pint of Camden Brewery ‘Back to the Pub’ American Pale Ale.