River Lea Walk

London is full of green avenues, hidden paths and rivers. Exploring London can still be done even in a lockdown, and this is a great time to go for a wander.

A few weeks back, before the national lockdown, I wandered up the River Lea from Stratford to Walthamstow for a socially distanced walk with my Mum. The autumn colours were in full force as we strolled through the Olympic Park, up the river through the Hackney Marshes and northwards to Walthamstow. This is a green path that I would recommend.

Photograph of the River Lea
River Lea

The river flows from Luton down to the Thames, and has had its name since the 9th century. Today, the river is a green artery running the city and is home to a wide array of wildlife as it cuts through managed parkland and nature reserves.

We chose to start our walk at Stratford train station and darted across the Olympic Park to join the river by Hackney Wick. You could choose to start your walk in Bow where it joins the Thames.

Photograph of the River Lea
River Lea
Photograph of the London Stadium in the Olympic Park Stratford
London Stadium Olympic Park

Once on the river, follow it northwards through the Hackney Marshes. These marshes were drained during the medieval period and became common land. This land could be used by ordinary people to grow crops and allow livestock to graze. However, as time progressed and an era of enclosure dawned, much of the common land in England, and that along the banks of the Lea, fell victim to landlords. These landlords sought to use the land for sheep farming in order to make vast profits on the lucrative wool trade, at the expense of the commoners who relied on the land. However, the marshes resisted this privatisation and eventually London County Council secured some of the land, opening it to the public in 1893. Pubs on the marshes were also frequented by Highwaymen such as Dick Terpin.

Once you have passed through the Hackney Marshes you reach the Walthamstow Marshes. These marshes are all part of Walthamstow Wetlands which is comprised of ten reservoirs. Much of this land is registered as a site of special scientific interest and is a haven and breeding ground for numerous types of birds. Swifts visit during the spring and kingfishers and peregrine falcons can be seen all year round. It is also home to damselflies, dragonflies, speckled wood butterflies and thick-kneed beetles. So make sure that you keep an eye out for these. Similar to the Hackney Marshes the Lea was once common land used for growing crops and you can still spot cows grazing, as part of the land management.

Photograph of the railway arch where Alliott Verdon Roe had his workshop
Alliott Verdon Roe’s former workshop
Photograph of Walthamstow Wetlands
Walthamstow Wetlands

There is also a blue plaque under some railway arches commemorating the first all British powered flight. It remembers Alliott Verdon Roe’s 1909 flight across the marshes in his Roe I Triplane (his earlier Roe I Biplane had been fitted with a French motorcycle engine). The plaque is in the spot where his workshop was located.

Our walk concluded at the Walthamstow Wetlands Centre. You can walk through and spot the wide array of wildlife and extend your walk further. You could continue your journey northwards around the rest of the London reservoirs, up to the historic Waltham Abbey and beyond. We ended here as it was a convenient place to hop on the Victoria Line at Blackhorse Road or Tottenham Hale. Alternatively, you could explore the wonders of Walthamstow. God’s Own Junkyard, Morris House and Signature Brew Brewery are my favourite spots.

Thanks for reading this and if you have found it useful please give it a share. If you go on this walk let me know how you get on. Hopefully I will see you soon for a guided tour where we can creatively explore the city. Keep well and tread out of time.