Lea Valley Walk - Ponders End to Limehouse and
The Thames

11 May 2008

The Lea Valley Walk follows the River Lea from its source at Leagrave north of Luton to the River Thames at Limehouse Basin. Over the years, I've walked quite a bit of it, but with the gift of the revised edition guidebook to the walk from Lucy for Christmas, I decided to do the whole thing in order this year. Today Stephen and George picked up where they'd left off two weeks ago in Ponders End, for the final leg to Limehouse Basin and the Thames. With temperatures up to 27C, the start was deliberately delayed so that the day would be cooling as the walk progessed.

Ponders End Lock, and the "proper" start of today's walk. This is the last (or first as we are going downstream) of the locks to be modernised and capable of taking 130-ton barges.

Just above Pickett's Lock, lots of geese

Below the lock, a canoeing party is coming ashore. On the left can be seen the retaining wall of the William Girling Reservoir which stores 16.5 gigalitres of water: it opened in 1951.

As we pass the industry just south of the North Circular Road, there is an old six-mile marker from the days of the Lee Conservancy

The flood relief channel makes its way around Banbury Reservoir (hidden behind the trees on the left)

Two attractive boats as we approach Tottenham Lock. From here to Hackney Wick is mostly new territory for Stephen and George.

Narrowboats moored on the offside signal the approach to Springfield Marina

Springfield Park, and a good place to stop for a shady rest on this hot afternoon.

As we cross the bridge to take us onto the Walthamstow Marshes, we join the route of the Capital Ring

Continuing along the Walthamstow Marshes, we pass under the mainline railway from Liverpool Street to Cambridge

"Caution, cattle grid" warns the sign, but it had been covered over, and in any case the fence either side was not complete.

The signpost confirms that the path now shares the routes of the Lea Valley Walk and the Capital Ring. However, Canning Town and Island Gardens aren't on the normal Lea Valley Walk - although Canning Town does represent an alternative ending.

Yet another of the signs which seem to plague any long distance walk - a badly thought out diversion sign. "If towpath ahead closed please follow diversion" it says. But there is no signage to advise whether or not the towpath is closed or not, and the length in question is shown by the sign to be extensive. The diversion route looks very complex, so I hope the signage is good. We plunged on, hoping (contrary to past experience) that the absence of an indication as to whether the towpath was open or closed should be read to mean that it was open, and on this occasion we had good fortune. It is quite clear that he officials or contractors responsible for planning footpath closures are completely incapable of putting themselves in the place of a prospective walker, and uninterested in going out of their way to make life easy.

Part of the 2012 Olympics construction site

We are back on familiar territory, and the rest of the Lea Valley Walk is along the route that Stephen and Henry took last year when doing a circuit of the east London canals. Disappearing off to the right is the Hertford Union Canal.

Looking along the Hertford Union Canal

Old Ford Locks, with beyond them the Northern Outfall Sewer, constructed in 1862-3 with Joseph Bazalgette as engineer. This is one of three major sewers constructed by Bazalgette  after an outbreak of cholera in 1853 and "The Big Stink" of 1858. Previously sewage was dumped directly into the Thames in central London, but these intercepting sewers transferred it parallel to the Thames - this one to Beckton. The top of the Northern Outfall Sewer now forms the Greenway path and cycleway through east London, and carries the Capital Ring away to the east.

Below Old Ford Locks, where the River Lea rejoins the navigation. The loop of river cut off by the Navigation was part of the mid-19th century improvements to the Navigation authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1850, which involved a number of new cuts and locks. That route is currently closed by the 2012 Olympics redevelopment.

Previous Capital Ring walk from Finsbury Park Capital Ring walks Continue along the Capital Ring towards North Woolwich

Click the walkers to go back or forwards along the Capital Ring,
or continue below for the rest of the Lea Valley Walk.

Approaching the hideous A12/A11 junction, where the towpath walker is thrown without warning around a corner onto the roundabout, and left to negotiate two busy roads which look like ordinary slip roads but have two-way traffic nicely hidden behind huge pillars

The remaining two mills on Three Mills Island are House Mill, seen with the Millers House on the left, and Clock Mill on the right. The three mills on this island were acquired by Stratford's Langthorne Abbey in the middle ages. Although the site was in use for mills at the time of the Domesday Book, the mills have been rebuilt many times since, the House Mill dating from the late 18th century and the Clock Mill (whose roof almost makes it look as though it belongs in Kent) from the early 19th century. House Mill ceased operating in 1940, and Clock Mill in 1952. Although no longer in operation, House Mill is the largest intact tidal mill in the world. The remainder of the island is home to 3 Mills Studios, a centre for film and television production.

Bow Locks, where the adventurous boater can descent to the tidal, winding and silted River Lee, better known hereabouts as Bow Creek, while most will turn right and follow our route along the Limehouse Cut.

The Docklands Light Railway crosses the Limehouse Cut as we approach Limehouse Basin

Journey's end: looking downstream along the Thames to the Docklands towers

and upstream past the popular pub

Boats in Limehouse Basin.

And so ended a journey of exploration from the source of the Lea in the suburbs of Luton to the great River Thames. Not the most dramatic of journeys, but with lots of interest.

Zoom in for more detail, or see map in larger window: Ordnance Survey | Open Street Map | Google Maps

Distance today on the Lea Valley Walk was 18.4 km, in 3 hours 50 minutes, total distance walked today 22.4 km in 4 hours 45 minutes.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson