The River Lea

Sometime around late May 2022 – River Lea, London.

I actually can’t remember the date I did this walk. I know I could walk upstairs and find the hard drive with the images on it and they would tell me to the second when they were taken, but that seems like a lot of effort right now. I’m tired. It has been a madly busy almost two months since I last wrote anything and my head has not allowed me any space to put fingers to keyboard and come up with anything vaguely intelligible. More on those last couple of months in the next couple of posts, it’s all pretty good stuff.

I got a really bad head cold a couple of weeks after the Gnod gig and then Eleanor got Covid; along with her son and his partner who were still living with us at the time, though they have moved out since. I tested myself five times during that period and was negative every time, I’m not certain I believe the tests.

Eleanor was working, and I had a day off, so, as I’m enjoying taking photos again and keen to keep that roll going for as long as possible, I decided to walk the River Lea towpath to Stratford. I needed to pick up a couple of things from Marks and Spencer’s and a two hour walk sometimes beats taking the bus. I need the exercise too.

After saying that, I cheated and got the bus to Walthamstow Wetlands, a wildlife reserve that is next to where I was joining the Lea towpath. The walk along Forest Rd from home to Blackhorse Rd just depresses me, so many cars and so much pollution; best to get to the good bits feeling more upbeat than I would’ve been if I had walked.

My walk was off to a good start, I saw a (grey?) heron between the Wetlands and the towpath.

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Though the next scene wasn’t as good.

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The first kilometre or so of path, from Tottenham Hale to Walthamstow Marshes runs alongside residential streets and housing estates, with a view over the river to the raised banks of the Wetlands reservoirs.

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This section of the Lea has always been busy with houseboats but with austerity on the increase and the cost of living going up seemingly daily there are more boats than ever. Some of these riverboats have had a lot of money spent on them, others less so.

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And others; even less.

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Once past the housing estates and parks of Tottenham and Stamford Hill the walk gets a little more interesting; a little darker as the overgrowing foliage narrows the path and pushes walkers closer to the boats. The grass is longer here, uncontrolled, the weeds more feral and the brambles and thistles are close to head high.

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There are few places to stray off the path. Though there are fewer people walking here to stray, the boats seem deserted and derelict, it felt like London was turning into some post-apocalyptic dead-zone as I walked. Maybe I slipped through a portal into a quieter, darker universe. The Lea can do that to you; this is an old waterway and there have long been stories and rumours of mysterious and unusual goings-on; have you heard about the headless corpse of a bear found floating…

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Anyway, on the other side of that thin line of trees are sports fields and houses, and on weekends loads of people. Reverie over, normality returns. The cycle path has been resurfaced since I last rode along here.

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I stopped for a much needed coffee at the far edge of the old Olympic Village before heading in, going to M and S and jumping on a bus back home. It was a nice walk.

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A short walk by the Lea.

Friday 11 June 2021 – London.

As I walked the tar-sealed path between the River Lea and the football fields of Hackney Marshes, shaded by oak and ash and poplar and willow, the most English of trees, my mind wandered off to the time I clambered down a rock and boulder strewn path in the Borneo jungle. On my own. The benefit of hindsight suggests it was not the smartest thing I have done, there was real potential for something to go terribly wrong. Obviously my walk this morning from Walthamstow to Stratford was not remotely the same, though it was the first time I have walked this particular path and it was the closest I have been to a walk in the forest for a long time. I am missing even the mildest of adventure.

I came up to London on the train after work yesterday and can’t believe how much hotter than St Leonards London is, it must be two or three degrees warmer, and with no cooling breeze. It was not a pleasant night and I had little sleep.

My second Covid-19 vaccination was this morning, and it was a process that went very smoothly. As I am sure I said after the last one, but well done to the NHS for making this easy and stress free. In three weeks I will be safer than I am now. Not that I feel particularly unsafe, we take care when we go out and will continue to do so, vaccination or not. England is a long way from being Covid free and we don’t want to even think about what would happen if we got sick before we leave for New Zealand.

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There was four hours until the train back home. As I needed to return some trousers I bought from the mall last time I was here I decided to walk to Stratford and get some exercise in. From the pharmacy where I was vaccinated the walk is almost entirely though parkland which made the decision an easy one.

There is a fantastic Roa mural just by the pharmacy on St James Street.

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I pass Walthamstow Wetlands on the way to the marshes (and the overbuilding of flats on Blackhorse Rd on the far side of the wetlands).

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We have walked the Wetlands and the marshes on numerous occasions over the past few years, and I’ve never seen the marshes so overgrown. I think the council is letting the grasses and wild flowers run rampant which I am mostly in favour of; there were a lot of bees and other insects buzzing about today.

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There has been some changes where the path passes under the railway line and a lot of scrub has been cleared, perhaps some of the scrubby trees were interfering with the trains? I am guessing the bike ran out of electricity and has been dumped here, it adds to the edgeland feel of marshes; even though they are not on the edge of anything at all.

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The River Lea splits into two near Lea Bridge Rd, into the natural River Lea and the man-made, Lea Navigation. We normally walk the Navigation, so today I chose to walk the river instead, it was slightly longer and I am guessing less busy than the main tow path. Soon after passing under Lea Bridge Road I came across a Phlegm painting I haven’t seen before, something which very much vindicated the path chosen.

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Crossing a short bridge the path follows the river for a couple of miles, thankfully mostly in the shade as it was warm and sunny and I had not thought to put sun screen on.

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It was a nice walk, quiet, but not deserted. I imagine tomorrow it will be busy, the Lea has become a destination for younger folk to party and dip in the cooling water on a hot day, like tomorrow will be. Polluted or not.

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IMG_0722I like the Lea, it is shallow, but wide, not fast flowing; it looks nice, like a proper small river. The tree lined banks place it anywhere in England, so it was easy to take myself out of the city. Looking at the pictures I took as sit here writing I can almost see myself in a jungle somewhere wild; but maybe not those trees can only be English!

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Past the marshes the path crosses under the A21 before entering (or not in my immediate vicinity) the Olympic Park area; a great legacy of the 2012 games.

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Eventually I found a way into the park near the velodrome, which just happens to be my favourite building in the park.

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The walk through the park to the big shopping mall is really pretty, lots of long grass and wild flowers everywhere, lovely. I really like how wildflowers have become a thing again in the past few years and local authorities are letting them flourish rather than mowing them lawn flat.

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I had intended to look for a shirt and some walking shoes while I was at the shops, but I was too hot and sticky to be trying on clothes, and I am sure the shop staff were appreciative of that decision. Once the trousers were returned (too small) I walked out the other end of the mall and caught the Jubilee Line to Southwark. Too many people.

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With 90 minutes to kill before the train back to St Leonards I decided to drop the pace I had set earlier and take a slow walk towards the station. The streets around the Thames were far busier than last time I was here and there are significantly more tourists. With road-work constricted footpaths it was a bit uncomfortable at times. I ducked into Temple to walk in peace.

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I love the Temple area, I often came here on a Sunday as it is virtually deserted with the office workers at home and there are few bars and cafes inside to attract the casual visitor. There were people about not many, and lots of scaffold which was a shame. Temple is the home of the London legal profession and most (all?) of the offices here are filled with legal chambers, some of them very old. It is a beautiful and under-rated section of old London.

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Back on The Strand I popped into Somerset House, another favourite London spot. Eleanor and I love the Herndandez and Wells cafe here; it made the best egg dishes in London and the coffee was always good. However, its gone and has been replaced by the Watch House, fortunately the coffee was equally as good and the sandwich I had for lunch was very nice. I didn’t notice eggs on the menu though, maybe when we get back?

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Lunch filled enough time that I only needed a gentle stroll to Charing Cross Station to get me there a few minutes before the train departed. I had planned on doing some writing on the train, but the journey was so bouncy I gave up and just enjoyed listening to music and reading a novel. A couple of weeks ago I dug out the Kobo ereader I bought ten years ago for my travels, I haven’t used it for a good five years, possibly more, and was surprised that after a quick charge it still worked as it had before. The genius of simplicity. This book reader does one thing, and it does it very well. For the book nerds I am reading Adam Hall’s 1968 novel ‘The Striker Portfolio’, the third in his very successful Quiller series, and I am enjoying it.

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Eleanor had been in Brighton meeting her son Joe for lunch, so I met her back at the station after I going home for a shower and a brief lie down. We popped into a pub for a glass of wine before grabbing some fish and chips and walking back up the hill to eat in front of the first game of the much delayed Euro 2020 football tournament. I was hoping for Turkey to beat Italy, but it was not too be.

I enjoyed my walk and am very keen to see as much as I can of old London as I can before we go to much newer New Zealand in 7 weeks time.

7 WEEKS!!! Where did the time go?

A walk along the River Lea

Saturday 14 June 2018 – Walthamstow to Liverpool St.

I am pretty sure I start every post off with the fact that I have been very busy and I am way behind with writing and photo-editing. I can at least say this time that I am up to date with photo-editing. However, I am now six weeks behind in post writing, with five left to do to just catch up, and now I have two big things on that are consuming all my non-working hours.

After a small amount of negotiation I have an offer agreed on a flat purchase in St Leonards-on-Sea, on the East Sussex coast.  I have taken a few trips down there over the past couple of months, more on those trips in a later post. Naturally I am very happy with this. Though of course it will mean I will have a lot less money.

I also have an exhibition of photography coming up in October. My favourite local cafe are giving me their walls for two months and I am going to show 13 photos, they will be big photos!

That is the future dealt with, now back to the past!

It was one of those nice Saturdays back in July, the middle of the longest and hottest summer for many a year. There was a record out I wanted to buy and I thought it would be a good idea to take the 8 mile trip to Brick Lane on foot. Most of the journey is quite nice, along the River Lea and canal tow paths.

I also wanted to get some images I could use for the exhibition, some close up shots of grasses and plants as I passed through Walthamstow Marshes, the Middlesex Filterbeds and along the Lea itself.

So here they all are!

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It took me three and a bit hours to get to Rough Trade, and they didn’t have the record I wanted. I was in no way disappointed, it had been a great walk.

Walking and chatting. The River Lea with M.

Saturday 14 April 2018. River Lea, Walthamstow.

I think it is reasonably safe to say that I can be a little obsessive. I am no single issue fanatic, often obsessing over multiple things at the same time; work, photography, books, writing, fitness (lack thereof). Flipping and flopping my focus, thus ensuring I never achieve anything at all. This strategy has served me reliably, if not well, for most of my life. I never suffer humiliation and public failure, and dreams are never shattered because I never quite finish things. There is always something shinier and newer that catches my attention, and the last thing languishes unfinished, often at a tricky or awkward stage in its gestation.

Recently this obsession has been reading books set in and around where I currently live. I don’t mean to be unfair to Walthamstow, but on the surface it is not the most exciting part of London. It does have the longest street market in Europe, but to be honest, the market is not something I particularly value. What Walthamstow does have is some authors who make the place sound interesting. I have mentioned Will Ashon’s book about Epping Forest in the past and I have recently enjoyed reading ‘Marshlands’ by Gareth E. Rees, stories set in and around the River Lea and the ‘marshes’ that edge it. I have Esther Kinsky’s ‘River’ to read next, more tales of the Lea and the folk that live nearby.

I am off to New Zealand and Australia for two weeks from next weekend. A quick trip to see my family, and to make sure the grand kids don’t completely forget who I am. My daughter, nannying for a family in Stroud, wanted to come and visit before I left. She chose the best weather weekend of the year to come down. Today was glorious; warm sun and no wind. A perfect day to stroll the Lea down as far as the shopping centre in Stratford to buy some gifts to take back to New Zealand.

We took the long way, walking up Forest Rd, through Ferry Lane to Walthamstow Wetlands. I wanted to stop for coffee and then walk M. through the Wetlands to Coppermill Lane. However the Coppermill Lane exit was closed, so we carried on along Ferry Lane to the Lea, which was not a bad second choice. It was not too busy at that time of the morning, a lot of runners out; maybe a last minute stretch out before the London Marathon, but few cyclists. It was nice to just stroll and chat; without having to duck out of the way all the time. Spring has finally started to deliver some natural colour to the city, it is proving to be popular.

There is a lot to see, though for some reason I did not take any pictures of the river or the many river boats that are moored here. I guess I wasn’t really thinking photos and blogs when we walked and talked, as we have not seen each other in a while.

The filter beds feature in the ‘Marshlands’ book, I have been planning on visiting here again after a wander through a couple of years ago. Bright sunshine did not set the right mood, or light for the photographs I had in mind, though no mist has descended on this part of London for ages, not once all winter. Unusual.

The Middlesex Filter Beds were built in the 1850s in response to new thinking about cholera, after an epidemic in London in 1849 took 14,000 lives. Physician John Snow correctly deducing that cholera was spread via contaminated drinking water, not the thick dirty air of London. The filter beds were built where the River Lea met the Hackney Cut canal and filtered the cleaner water of Essex through sand and gravel and pumped it into reservoirs and on to the homes of NE London. The filter beds expanded massively over the years until the Coppermill Waterworks, nearer the reservoirs, was opened in 1969. The area has been left to be re-wilded and is now a nature reserve. It is very green.

I have been here twice before, and been virtually alone both times, seeing only a ‘romancing’ couple under the trees on the bank of the Lea last time I passed by. Today it was really busy, families with kids, bikes and strollers. We are re-wilding our landscape for the benefit of the urban and urbane, the least wild of us.

Back out on the Lea-side path the traffic got heavier as we made our way towards Hackney, M. wanted to walk barefoot so we detoured off the broken chipped path on to a mud track in the grass, feet having softened from a few months in Europe. It was nicer in the trees and off the path. The A12 road bridges have long been a shelter for river barges and boats under repair, sheltering from the rain and the worst of the wind. There has always been graffiti and odd artworks on the concrete shoulder and bridge abutments. This morning there were three guys working spray cans on the wall and a stone-carver at work, I have never seen the actual artists before. There was also a group of climbers, practising roping up the short, thick round pillars supporting the hellishly loud road above.

We stopped for lunch and coffee at one of the new cafes on the Stratford side of the river, they were all really busy, but we found spot in the sun to chill and wait, people watching the new East Londoners who mean that places that serve vegan food and nice coffee exist.

We had left home with the intent of walking to the mall in Stratford, which was only a few minutes from where we sat sharing nachos in the sun. It was early afternoon and though I really needed to get gifts to take with me it was just too nice to even think about walking into a busy and noisy mall. We chose to turn round and start walking home.

On the way we had passed a stand of young silver birch, back from the river, and behind a fence. I have seen these trees before and always wanted to find out how to get amongst them. Though had never seen away through the fence when coming from the direction of home, walking the other way an entry point was obvious. The silver birches were a bit disappointing, though this path covered by arched trees revealed itself to us, a haven from the now very busy tow path.

We followed this new path and the mud tracks as far towards home as we could, finally stopping for a cold pint before jumping on a bus at Lea Bridge Rd.

El was at the football on Saturday night so M. and I went to Brick Lane for a dosa.

I had a great day, I really like spending time with my daughter, we are different enough to disagree on many things, but share enough passions and ideas that the differences of opinion (and age) do not get in the way of long, rambling and enjoyable chats.