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. 

 Below the lock the waters crossed the huge expanse of the Kings Meads water meadows and passed the New River take off dug around 1610 to supply as it still does fresh spring drinking water to London.  

   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.  

       There was a board explaining the fate of the owner who plotted against King CharlesII  

 A lot of construction work was going on at the Rye power station , one of three originally coal powered stations whose spent ash filled the extracted gravel pits further downstream.  

   Another inn with colourful history lay a little further along. The Fish and Eels at  Dobb’s Weir was run for a few years by a workhouse  chaplain, encouraging temperance rather than abstinence. 

“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” 

On passed Carthagena lock named for the Admiral Vernon returned from the siege of that Columbian city during the War of Jenkins’ Ear !

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. 

 It is a good hostel with restaurant and bar and self catering  kitchens in the lodges where we had a double room with en suite for £30. Very different from the YHA experiences of our youth.

In the morning we had a look at a load of timber scultures before heading off down the towpath in a light drizzle. 

 The route became much more urban as we passed some 2nd WW anti aircraft gun platform and into the scuzzy Waltham Abbey area and under  the noisy M25. 

       We passed the old Royal Small Arms factory of Enfield Island with its Goverment Row workers cottages. 

   Enfield dry dock was a hive of industry with boaters doing up their craft of which their were an increasingly bizarre selection along the banks. 

       We passed a modern factory building sporting a row of birdboxes ,the four highrise blocks of Ponders End and the chimney of the London Eco waste recyling centre. 

        Nearby in scrubby woodland between the river and a reservoir we spotted a sad looking set up of tarps and tents  housing who knows who. 

 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.


A very different hike than any other this year takes me 85 km from Luton to London along the  river and canal of the Lee or Lea.

After deciding to visit family in Hackney i discovered a walking trail  that went passed both Luton airport and the block  of flats that were my destination.  With my rambling year approaching the finale it was too  serendipitous to ignore.

It promised easy ,flat, traffic free walking all the way to the heart of the capital, mostly along smooth hard surfaced towpaths with a seldom seen perspective of Greater London.

Splitting the route into 4 sections over 3 1/2 days, i’m hoping will allow for a fairly leisurely hike through the short daylight hours.

Arriving late into Luton airport and thereby thankfully avoiding the triumphant blasting of Ryanair horns,i soon discovered that it wasnt a very walk friendly environment. 

 It took awhile to negotiate the under and overpasses and unmaned turnstiles of Luton Parkway station to get onto the trail which initially uses the old Dunstable to Welwyn railway line, abandoned in the 60’s.

Knowing the way was likely to be tarmaced i thought about employing a dumped trolley as a baggage carrier but decided that was embracing the urban aspect of the way a bit too far. 

 The hedge that had grown up through the adjoining fence had been cut to leave the forlorn stems and trunks dislocated under the control tower. 


With the airport and traintrack on one side and a road on the other i made my way passed old coppiced plains and maples, many with the red spots marking them out for the chop. 


My goal for the afternoon was to get the otherside of Harpenden, about 10 km away, and i passed a hilltop silouette of Eric Morecambe who lived there and was a faithful supporter of Luton football club. 


Not far beyond i passed by the work of another figure whose silouette had adorned the hilltop, the estate of Luton  Hoo, landscaped by Capability Brown.

I decended and crossed the young River Lee leaving the road behind and entering a more tranquil stretch through farmland. 

 Crossing the chiltern way I followed the path through the productive looking fields to the urban fringes of Harpenden. The former train track now took me between the postage stamp sized gardens before i left it to go through the Batford Springs Nature Reserve. The path created here in the early 70’s, running alongside the old willow and watercress beds  was the first step in the formation of the 85km Lee Valley Way. 


As darkness drew in i said goodnight to the ducks and called into the trackside Marquis of Granby to wallow in the British pub institution for the first time in ages. A pint of bitter, packet of nuts, a fire, and copies of the Mail and Telegraph to tut tut over restored my sense of everything gone to the dogs etc. 


Out into the dark along the unlit lane i had only to walk passed my second sewage works of the day, (there’s 65 million people to provide the raw material) and up the hill past an unseen golf course to arrive at my Airb+b for the night.

After a chat with my hostess Jane over breakfast  in the families kitchen i hit the trail under  gently weeping leaden skies. 

It wasnt long before the old railway track, busy with squirels, passed a golf course and then i had to deviate up over muddy horse paddock due to an incalcitrant(?) famer not joining in with the Lea Valley Walk planned route.     Across a field and into Wheathampstead with a little garden enclosed by willow fencing next to the 1310 church with it’s spire likened to an upside down ice cream cornet.    

 Past another veritable Tudor Inn, pouring pints since 1617, and shortly crossing the river again on a wooden footbridge passing yet another sewage works.    A long stretch over farmland followed with the shallow river visable alongside at times as it meandered through the  willow and reeds. A plethora(?) of footpaths came and went and i would have been lost without my guidebook.   Up through a big clump of trees of many species, including one whose bark was unknown to me, and onto another golf course, created on the parkland of Brocket Hall, home of Queen Victoria’s 1st Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. His wife, Lady Caroline, had herself served up naked from a giant soup tureen at Melbournes birthday party and in later years was confined to the house by insanity.  

 After another crossing of fairways and farmland i joined the river to pass under the thundering A1 and emerged into the bird rich lakeland of the 126acre Stanborough Park, at the end of which another mainline transport route powered above my head, this time the Kings Cross rail line. 

     Rich farmland and an organic flour mill led me to a nasty stetch of busy dual carriageway with rubbish strewn edges. 

      The narrow wooded Gypsy Lane took me passed yet another sewage works and through yet another golf course. This one had signs warning of stray golf balls and sure enough there were 100’s scattered in the thickets. It’s  a sign of the affluence of the south east of England that no one bothers to collect them.

At the top of the lane i made my way through a few miles of 20th century brick housing in Welwyn Garden city  before heading off down another abandoned branch line lined with thick hedges of dogwood, teasel and sloes. 



 At the old Cole Green station were some old trunk carvings slowly returning to nature and shortly after the sunlit track led me passed more cosy horses to the back gardens of Hertfort with a selection of ruined and smart sheds. 

          Then it was just a short distance through the gardens of Hertford castle  and passed the brewery to my Airb+b  for the night, a cosy mews basement. 


 I can confirm that they produce a range of fine ales.