Lea Valley Walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey

This Lea Valley walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey is surely one of my favourites. I’d finished leading a walk across the marshlands from Leyton Water Works to Walthamstow Wetlands and had the desire to push on into the evening. I headed up along Blackhorse Lane then turned into Folly Lane which opens up the postcard image of the ‘edgelands’ – you could bring coachloads of anthropologists and urban geographers up here to Harbet Road with it’s pylons and fields of fly-tipping, mountains of rubble and stacks of shipping containers.

River Lea Navigation

It’s a relief to drop beneath the North Circular onto the towpath of the Lea Navigation, and slowly chug along the waterway like a listing barge. You note the phases of change passing through the outer rings of the city – London Waste, Ponders End, Brimsdown Power Station, the confluence with the Turkey Brook, Enfield Dry Dock and Enfield Lock, then Rammey Marsh and the final release of passing beneath the M25 and into the beyond.

 

filmed on 28th July 2019

An expedition to Devil’s Dyke & the Lea Valley Walk

This was a walk inspired by a comment on this blog by Philip Avery that I discovered 7 months after it had been posted.  It was on my video about the walk to Boudicca’s obelisk in the Epping Uplands and Philip’s research had suggested that the British king Cassivellaunus had been defeated by Julis Caesar in 54BC at Ambresbury Banks during his second invasion of Britain rather than Wheathampstead. I instantly googled ‘Wheathampstead Cassivellaunus’ which led me to the image below I captured on the my own expedition to Devil’s Dyke  how could I not visit this site.

Cassivellaunus Devil's Dyke Wheathampstead

The walk starts at Harpenden in Hertfordshire and follows the upper reaches of the River Lea, picking up the Lea Valley Walk as far as Wheathampstead. We then go along the majestic earthwork of Devil’s Dyke, one of the outer entrenchments of Cassivellaunus’s ‘city’ and stronghold of the Catuvellauni tribe (there is another earthwork on the outskirts of St. Albans also associated with Cassivellaunus). From here we follow the Hertfordshire Way to the edge of St. Albans and then pass through part of the Roman city to St. Albans Cathedral drenched in midsummer magic.

 


 

 

Take a look at my latest video: a walk along the Suffolk Coast from Soutwold to Dunwich in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald from the classic book The Rings of Saturn

Walk along the River Lea from Rye House to Hertford

There are few finer things in life than a walk along the River Lea, the mantra of gravel under foot, gazing into the reflections in the water letting your mind drift. I hadn’t previously walked this section of the River,  taking various other routes to cover the Lea Valley from Rye House into Hertford – usually the New River Path, or through Wormley Woods and along Ermine Street, or even over the hills from Roydon and Stanstead Abbotts dropping down into Ware (and there must have been others too).

It was glorious the entire way – especially that last stretch between Ware and Hertford, where the geese gather in a field and the Bronze Age burial mound at Pinehurst looks over the bend in the river. More walks suggest themselves in the marshes that run nearby and over the hills heading deeper into Hertfordshire. We’re blessed in East London to be part of the Lea Valley ecosystem, such a rich and storied landscape.

 

From the Forest to the Lea – Loughton to Broxbourne

A tragedy on the tracks near Brimsdown meant abandoning my plan to catch the train to Broxbourne and walk along the Lea to Hertford. I’d lost 2 hours at Stratford Station and decided to walk off my frustration in the Forest. Picking up my favoured trail at the top of Ollard’s Grove I headed over Fairmead Bottom and plunged into the Round Thicket which consumed me for a while. Somehow the forest delivered me to where I’d set my mark – Ludgate Plain and the paths leading out towards Lippitts Hill. I could still find my way down to the Lea Valley and regain something of the original plan for the day.

Safely navigating a passage across West Essex Golf Course I picked up Green Path, a track I’d been meaning to walk for a few years now. It brought me to a gorgeous meadow of tall grasses with a view of the eastern aspect of Barn Hill, from where up on the northern ridge, there were expansive views of the hills rising around Waltham Abbey.

Barn Hill

It always feels special crossing the north-eastern boundary of London and I stopped to savour the moment before picking up the Lea Valley path at Sewardstone heading towards Waltham Abbey. Passing beneath the M25 I remembered standing beneath the same flyover discussing London Orbital with the author himself, that book as much a marker in the Capital’s time as the opening of the road. Hungry and tired I stopped in McDonalds, munching a burger and fries on the Essex-Hertfordshire border.

From Waltham Abbey I followed the River Lea Flood Relief Channel. Great views open up across the waters of Hooks Marsh and Seventy Acres Lakes where otters hunker down in their holts and I imagine Viking boats sliding through the reed beds. The setting sun throws luminous rays across Holyfield Marsh, sometimes it feels as if the day’s walk is all about arriving at this moment, a swell of euphoria basking in the last light of the day.

Holyfield Marsh

From here I submitted to the Lea Navigation, the mantra of gravel under foot, steps releasing the spores of memories deposited on previous walks, the intoxication of reminiscence. I arrive at Broxbourne as a light drizzle greys the pavement. There’s a satisfaction that the walk ends where it had intended to start. The beginning becomes the end.

Along the Harcamlow Way from Roydon to Ware

The joy of absconding – escaping from the obligations of everyday life and just wandering the countryside or the city streets. That was how I felt on the train out of Stratford to Roydon on the Essex – Hertfordshire border. What I was absconding from in reality were my own plans to survey the Royal Docks in a wide looping walk (that I eventually did this past weekend). In the end this glorious walk took me far away from the hurly burly of urban living, away from humanity, and into another space and time trapped in the beguiling landscape along this section of the Harcamlow Way.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

After running the gauntlet of a path colonised by truly giantic Giant Hogweed, and passing across fields and fields of beans, light aircraft buzzing overhead, I approached possibly the most magical location on the route. Moat Wood of course has a moat, but some moats appear as muddy ditches, some as a hard to make out dip in the ground, but this moat was full to brim shimmering in the defracted sunlight breaking through the leaves. The scant information about the moat added to its mystery – it most likely protected a medieval farmhouse or minor manor house. I stayed for a while gazing into the waters, before pushing on along the field edge to the call of pheasants unseen amongst the woodland.

Moat Wood Hertfordshire

The views now changed from earlier vistas stretching across the Stort Valley to Harlow, now looking across the Lea Valley, and imaginging a future walk following the River Ash. Crossing the disused railway line that once connected to the mainline at St. Margarets, I’m reminded of a walk that passed over a section of the line further down near Easneye that I took three of four years ago the week before Christmas. It’s a walk that has never left me. I smiled to think back to my sodden trench feet from that day as I kicked up dust in the evening sun on the path that took me over the River Ash and in a wide arc to the sunset backstreets of Ware.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

Lea Valley Walk from Blackhorse Road to Cheshunt

As the Beast from the East part 2 bends the bushes in my garden in half and dusts it all in snow I look back to the walk I took up the Lea Valley last weekend. Then it seemed certain that the cold was behind us and spring appeared to be breaking over Gillwell Hill. I was feeling sluggish and dark and sought out old/new paths. I took the Overground to Blackhorse Road, then proceeded up Blackhorse Lane turning off into Sinott Road looking for the path that runs alongside the reservoirs.

Lea Valley

Down a narrow road (Folly Lane) past the Muslim Cemetery, fly-tipping in the clumpy scrub, a Traveller site, pylons, mini-roundabout, Costco – an almost textbook example of ‘Edgelands’ – you could bus academics out here to scratch their chins and make notes. I’m incredibly tired and heavy legged but really need to push through.

Edgelands

Walthamstow fly-tip

Past the pumping station on Harbet Road, on the other side of the road the fly-tip at the end of the world. A field littered with trash spread between the Lea, the roadside, and the North Circular viaduct. Tall chimneys puke up fumes in the near distance. An open wound in the city’s armpit.

Harbet Road London IMG_5402

On I plod on past the North London Vehicle Pound and follow the road down to the riverside path beneath the flyover. A couple of guys with a huge dog mooch around beside the undergrowth. Cyclists buzz past, head down racing against the Monday-Friday stress (it always catches up in the end).

Camden Hells brewery

At Pickett’s Lock my spirits lift and mood improves. Is it because I’m approaching the edge of London and can I leave my cares behind under a bush?

Harvester Ponders End

The sun starts to dissolve the milky clouds. The birds sing the sky yellow. Ponders End. Spring.

Rammey Marsh

Rammey Marsh wide and clear before the summer growth obscures its view from the river path. I love this stretch into Waltham Abbey, it’s where my mind often wanders when I’m trapped indoors.

Lea Valley

The last leg into Cheshunt proceeds at a slow plod, I’d burnt off the last of my energy covering the 4 miles from Pickett’s Lock to Waltham Abbey in under an hour fuelled but the burst of sunshine. Now the sky fades slowly back to a deep charcoal grey and the cold seeps up off the riverbank. I sit on a bench to see out the last of the light as a barge chugs northbound towards Ware and Hertford.

 

 

Neolithic Trackway through Epping Forest – walk to Cheshunt

The cold biting down on the winter dark towpath out of Waltham Abbey to Cheshunt, turned out to be the perfect ending to this walk back at the end of November. It seemed a folly to eschew the cafe warmth of Sun Street to head out along the road to Waltham Cross as the sun was setting at 4.15pm. A mile-and-a-half up the Lea Navigation to Cheshunt seemed reasonable, and I needed a little more to tag onto the schlepp from Theydon Bois. A fella slugged beer from a green bottle on the deck of his barge. A single white bike headlamp zig-zagged in the distance til it fizzed past me. An illuminated barge looked impossibly cosy, like a floating Hobbit Hole. The red lights flashed at the Cheshunt level crossing where I started my Ermine Street walk in the snow in February. I like this stretch of the towpath and was a little sad to give it up – but it was time to go home.

Epping Forest

The aim had been to cover a small pocket of Epping Forest I’d somehow bypassed on previous Forest wanders – north-west of Theydon Bois, beyond Amesbury Banks – around Crown Hill and Warren Wood. Crossing Epping Road I discovered that the asphalt path I was walking along followed the course of a raised Neolithic trackway that ran across boggy ground that had recently been carbon dated.

Potkiln wood path

Potkiln Wood path

I picked up a narrow overgrown path beside Crown Hill Farm, crossed the M25 and waded through deep muddy ruts along the edge of Potkiln Wood towards the outskirts of Waltham Abbey. Open countryside gave way to scrubby fields abutting 80’s housing estates navigated via reluctant footpaths. Mangy horses chewed grass down to the roots. The sun set perfectly over the Abbey, casting it ablaze in a heavenly endorsement of the 11th Century vision that led to the establishment of the Abbey by Tovi the Proud. Popping inside the Abbey just before closing, a CD of choral music and a 2018 Diary were pressed into my hands by a member of staff for the exchange of a few pence. And then it was out to that dark winter towpath.

Cobbins Brook

Cobbins Brook, Waltham Abbey