30 mile walk along the River Lea – Leytonstone to Hertford

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.

River Lea

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.

River Lea

Enfield Power Station

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.

River Lea

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.

New River

New River near Ware

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.

 

Get the Sacred River Lea t-shirt here

river lea t-shirt

First Walk of 2020 – Beyond King Harold’s Tomb at Waltham Abbey

It seemed apt somehow to start the decade with a visit to Waltham Abbey Church and the tomb of King Harold. The supposed burial place of the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, a notable site of medieval pilgrimage and sitting on the Greenwich Meridan. But these weren’t the things that brought me to Waltham Abbey on the 2nd January 2020.

Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey WW1 anti-aircraft gun emplacement

A ridge rising on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey had caught my eye on a number of walks, usually at the end just after sunset where it tempted me to climb its summit to catch the last of the light. Then a recent comment on my YouTube channel informed me of a site of interest near Kennel Wood, a First World War anti-aircraft emplacement, which just happened to be in the vicinity of the hill that had called me so many times. This is where I headed after paying homage at the Abbey and Harold’s tomb.

 

Watch the video above to see the hike into the hills above Waltham Abbey around Monkhams Hall.

 

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.

Lea Valley Walk along 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