A cold clear sky in Hertford as I crossed the frosty park towards the river, the lock, and the beginning of the Lea navigation and the tow paths that would lead me all the way to Hackney. The route would be lined with barges and houseboats of all types offering an alternative way of life to the liveaboards.
The Lee Valley Regional Park starts in Ware and goes to the Thames at East India Docks, 26 miles away. A 10,000acre linear strip of green its Londons lung and contains multiple facilities for outdoor activities.
Looming in the far distance was the vast GlaxoSmithKline factory and the wooden footbridge leading to it. A little beyond was a weir where I was sure I could detect a strong aroma of perfumed cleaning product and the water seemed suspiciously sudsy. Surely Glaxo couldn’t or wouldn’t.
The next town to appear was Ware, with its historical gazebos, originally known as Dutch summer houses after their inspiration. The inn keepers of the 18th century built them as a tranquil space away from the hussle and bustle of the streets.
An uninterrupted stretch of tranquil water followed dotted with barges and narrow boats leading towards Rye Meads Nature Reserve and the 17th century Rye House Inn whose landlord touted for tourist business by installing the famous 12 person Great Bed of Ware.
“I shall be the publican behind the bar, the sinners will be in front me, and Christ, I hope, will be in the midst of us”
Passed Broxbourne and the third emergency lifeboat I’d seen and across Nazeing and Holyfield marshes with specially constructed orchid viewing boardwalks.
For miles down this marshy stretch there were traveller sites, big and small, rough and smart. It seemed that the unloved pockets of land that for the last couple of days had been given over to sewage works were now being used for caravan living. I couldn’t work out if the sites were privately owned, council or squatted. Maybe all three.
As I neared my destination I met a couple of magnet fishermen. Opposite an old brick bridge abutment they repeatedly threw in their magnets on lines and very occasionally pulled in some metal junk. They have, in the past, retrieved bags containing money and cocaine. Which, of course, they handed into the police.
The black timber lodges of the Lee Valley Youth Hostel and the outdoor education center came into view and just past them was Cheshunt train station where Sally was arriving to join me for the final days hike to London.
In the morning we had a look at a load of timber scultures before heading off down the towpath in a light drizzle.
We stopped at the tiny Leaside Cafe on an industrial estate on the edge of Tottenham Marshes and as the sun started to emerge carried on towards Clendish Marsh and Walthamstow Wetlands, Europes largest urban wetland reserve. As we neared the heart of the city there were more and more people choosing to avoid the extreme property prices by living aboard, on some pretty small homemade jobs as well as luxurious floating studio apartments .
There were cranes at Spring Hill where there had been a big timber yard and another boat yard and marina. The houseboat lined towpath was wide and grassy through Walthamstow Marshes with it’s Galloway Belted cattle put there to encourage grass growth and retrict the spread of reed and weeds.
At this stage we had passed Tottenham Hale and were into the new development around Middlesex Wharf.
Suddenly as we followed the towpath down the Hackney Cut past the Middlesex Fillter Beds our final destination came into view, the ex council tower block of Landmark Heights, and before long we were looking back at the Lee from the flat’s balcony.
A great way to arrive into central London after 80 km of near traffic free hiking.