All day walk from Leytonstone to Ware along the Lea Valley 

Spending the day walking from my front door as far up the Lea Valley as my legs will carry me has become a bit of an annual tradition. I was over-the-moon that on this occasion, the Jubilee holiday, I was joined by my wonderful wife at Waltham Abbey for the section of the Lea as far as Broxbourne. I eventually flopped into my favourite walk’s end pub in Ware, The Waterside Inn.

The route went through Leyton, Walthamstow, Chingford, Sewardstone, Enfield, Waltham Abbey, Cheshunt, Broxbourne, Rye House, Stanstead Abbots, and Ware. The video also features a clip of Iain Sinclair talking about his book London Orbital.

The long walk from Leytonstone to Ware

‘So make up your mind to be bound by no programme’

SPB Mais

The urge was to just walk. Get some miles under the belt. I’ve felt my stamina drop in this second year of the plague, becoming leg-weary at the 10-mile mark and on the handful of occasions I’ve strayed close to 15-miles, absolutely wiped out. I needed this walk to be as uncomplicated as possible – no travel on the way out, the walk would start from the front door. No filming. The only record would be jotted down in my notebook and some quick phone snaps on the hoof.

Crooked Billet Walthamstow

11.30am – leave home and head along the high ground north – Bakers Arms Leyton, Hoe Street, Chingford Road. The route I took on my first long Lea Valley walk in midwinter that ended in Hertford.

1pm – rest at Chingford Mount Broadway near the War Memorial. It’s hot and sunny, 22 degrees. Think I’ll stay on this side of the Lea till Enfield Lock.

2.39pm – rest on a shaded bench by the Mill Pond near Enfield Marina. Relish the cool breeze. Think of Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair passing through here on the Edith Walk. Birdsong. I love this walk but don’t think I’ve taken this back path to Enfield for a few years now. Great to cross paths with former walks/selves. Took the road through Sewardstone to the Essex border then onto the footpath that runs beneath the reservoir. For some reason The Boatman by The Levellers played in my head, so I played it out loud on my phone as I walked. No-one around.
Legs hurt a bit. Spent 15 mins buying sunglasses from Poundstretcher at Chingford Mount.

Read a random page of Nick Papadimitriou’s Scarp and think how great it would be to revive my old idea of publishing a collection of his topographical pieces.


3.54pm – Costa Coffee at Waltham Abbey. Got here just before 3.30 and mooched in TK Maxx for some cooler shorts and t-shirt and picked up some running gear. Somehow I came out only with a lightweight long-sleeved top. Walked 12.3 miles to here. Legs and feet very sore. Cheese toastie, Coke and Crisps for a late lunch. I had a coffee and Danish at 12.30 from the coffeeshop near the Bell in Walthamstow. Next stop should be at Broxbourne. It’s the next section of this walk that’s the real treat in the evening light.
Although my legs are still sore there’s the sense that it’s time to move along.

4.58pm – it’s about knowing when to rest. My feet are sore so I stop on a bench somewhere between Cheshunt and Broxbourne (Turnford?). 14.9 miles

6.43pm – sat on a broken bench about half-a-mile past Rye House. 20 miles walked. Thighs and calves very sore but cardio is good. Hot and sweaty. Took the New River Path from Broxbourne to Rye House – shirtless guy boombox blaring, family gathering around a tree festooned with red balloons and decorations, group of lads smoking weed and we exchange a few words. Then throw a tennis ball several times for a young Springer after he retrieves it from the river.
Beautiful early evening birdsong by the Lea – not a soul around. Sound of the train whooshing past.

7.33pm – stop at the Jolly Fisherman near St. Margaret’s Station on the banks of the Lea. I’ve walked past this pub so many times and always vowed to stop for a drink one day. At 21.2 miles I’m a bit knackered and couldn’t find it in me to push on for that final stretch to Ware without stopping here. It became a question of where do I want my pint? And I preferred here to my usual pub on the bridge at Ware which I now associate with the day Mum died when I walked to Youngsbury burial mound and ended up here trying to absorb it all. I realise that I’ve somehow attached my mother to this part of the world through the walk that day.
I’m drinking McMullens Rivertown Pilsner with a packet of cheese and onion McCoys. This really is a great spot for a pint. I put on the new ‘supersoft’ pale blue top – feels good, but a second layer seemed unthinkable just an hour ago.

8.03pm – I order a half or Rivertown to give myself the option of continuing the walk but there’s no way I was ready to carry on.

New River Path
Stanstead Abbotts

How does this walk relate to the timeline of the pandemic? When I came through here a year ago I was breaking out of London for the first time – there was a strange atmosphere. Today it feels relatively normal. A couple row past in an inflatable dinghy.

9.23pm – a bench by the Lea at Ware opposite the Saracen’s Head with a can of Neckoil and double pack of sausage rolls. Train leaves in 20 minutes. The Saracens is throbbing. Is this the vaccine summer?

Catch the 9.43pm train to Stratford. Total distance = 24.9 miles to my front door. I needed that.

Waterside Inn, Ware

Walking the River Lea from Hackney to the Thames

Reflecting on a cold cold January walk on an Easter weekend as we look forward to Spring despite forecasts of April snow. If you want a snapshot of how London is changing you could do no worse than take this stroll from the edge of the Olympic Park and hug the banks of the River Lea to its confluence with the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

You see the towers of new Stratford and hug the contours of the Stadium. Across the Navigation the old wharfs and industrial heart of Hackney Wick is being remodelled. Passing beneath the Bow Flyover the Navigation once again provides a slideshow of change, here to the East the developments around Sugar House Lane that have been rising sluggishly from the factories and warehouses on the south side of Stratford High Street. A similar vista greets us through Bow as well till we hit the huge distribution centres of Sainsburys and Amazon beside the riverbank as we approach Cody Dock.

River Lea Walk

River Lea at West Ham

Forced away from the Riverbank at Cody Dock we wander into a slice of living history – the old industrial Lea Valley landscape around Bidder Road and Stephenson Street. Pylons rise over car and scrap yards, paint shops, and other staples that were once essential to the functioning city. These spaces keep being pushed further East till eventually they’ll end up in the sea. Someone first urged me to come down here some 7 or 8 years ago, just after the Olympics, ‘Go and see it while you can,’ Chris said.

A path beneath the A13 takes us into Bow Ecology Park where once Shipworks straddled the Lea. On the other side of the water one of the many simulacra produced by New London rises on what they call City Island or ‘mini Manhattan’ in the marketing literature. A tight cluster of colourful tower blocks tethered to the reality of Canning Town by an iron bridge. In lockdown it appears like a fever colony, no one permitted to leave the isolation blocks save for supply runs to Sainsburys Local.

Bidder Road, Lower Lea Valley
Bidder Road
City Island on the River Lea
City Island
City Island on the River Lea
City Island and Canning Town

Once you find a way off City Island through yet more new building developments around the mouth of the Lea that borrow names from the recorded past, we find our way to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Jim Finer’s Long Player installation continues to mark time in the lighthouse, and the River Lea slides into the Thames and heads off along Bugsby’s Reach bound for the sea.