Walking the Lea Valley 9: INDUSTRIAL-LEA Waltham Abbey → Tottenham Hale(6 miles)
Beneath the M25, somewhere near where Junction 25½ ought to be, the Lee Navigation trickles into London. It runs through RammeyMarsh, which is the last vaguely natural bit of valley before Walthamstow, and where there's always a string of brightly painted narrowboats tied up [photo]. But it's not far until Enfield Lock, where housing re-intrudes. EnfieldIsland used to be home to the Royal Small Arms Factory, where the army manufactured a century's worth of firepower including the LeeEnfield rifle (it's named 'Lee' after its designer, not the river). More recently the island site has been redeveloped as an isolated housing estate, with a number of the original buildings left standing uneasily amidst a sea of bland townhouses [photo]. Some of the riverside cottages I thought were delightful, but the Rifles pub had long been boarded up, and the Swan and Pike Pool seemed to attract far more plastic bags than birds and fish.
And then the reservoirs began. Two of these (King George's and the William Girling) filled the broad gap between river and navigation. They're vast - a total of three miles long, and with a combined capacity of nearly thirty billion litres. I didn't see much of them from the towpath, just a high grassy embankment along which trapped sheep circuitously grazed. Horses nibbled the thin strip of marshland closer to the river, best viewed from a rare footbridge at Mossops Creek. On the opposite bank, a few swans excepted, the view was rather less pastoral. The BrimsdownIndustrial Estate clung to the river, wafting the smell of something almost bread-like across the water, close to where a chain of pylons erupted from a power station to stalk the valley. It ought to have been very ugly, but this two mile strip was alluringly disjoint [photo].
Diversion: I guess it had to happen eventually. At Ponders EndLock a sign slapped to some iron railings announced "STOP. Towpath Closed. Diversion ←". There were apparently workmen refurbishing the overhead lines somewhere along the next stretch, even at the weekend, and a few hundred yards ahead the towpath was gated shut. Damn you National Grid, damn you. There was absolutely no indication of how long the diversion would be, nor precisely which route I'd be forced to take, just a series of yellow arrows to follow. A bleak walk alongside the roaring A10 ensued, although there was one bonus which was the additional opportunity to photograph theiconicPondersEndtowerblocks from yet more photogenic angles [photo]. Eventually the arrows pointed back towards the river, diverting through the grounds of the Lee Valley Leisure Complex. Last time I was here, five years ago, I found a disused local sports centre, some buddleia-covered tennis courts and a locked-away driving range. Now a gleaming blade-shaped sporting facility had been erected on site - the Lee Valley Athletics Centre[photo] - through whose glassy walls I could spot budding young superstars engaged in pre-Olympic warm-ups. The diversion seemed interminable, trudging past the 400m track then back towards the river down Pickett's Lock Lane. Here there should have been access to Pickett's Lock itself, but no, the car park was full of construction vehicles and walkers were kept well away. Every couple of minutes or so a yellow-jacketed worker whizzed down the lane and back in a tiny electric buggy, just for a laugh, scaring off unseen dragonflies. And as the two mile diversion eventually drew to an end, I heard a distinct 'clink' on the opposite side of the river as a gate was unlocked and the direct route along the towpath reopened. Damn. Pylon-tweaking had finished early for the day, and I'd missed out on a lengthy chunk of the Lea unnecessarily. Never mind, I'm sure I'll see Pickett's Lock properly the next time I'm here.
Only a handful of roads cross London's Lea Valley, and the darkest shadow is cast by the North Circular [photo]. This arterial dual carriageway draws a industrial cluster to the floodplain, including one of the capital's three giant blue IKEA sheds. The Stonehill Business Park takes full advantage of the area's accessibility, its workers fed whilst sitting on assorted plastic chairs outside the Leaside Cafe [photo]. The dead-end towpath road looked like it should be virtually unused, but I discovered a surprisingly large busgarage at the end so had to watch out for approaching bendy 29s. TottenhamMarshes were considerably lovelier, with squelchy green walkspace to either side, and parallel channels which reminded me of the narrower river further upstream. That's where I saw yet another heron, swooping towards the focal point of my latest photograph three seconds after I'd put my camera away.
From here onwards the Lea became a linear village [photo]. A succession of floatingnarrowboaters had made their homes here, temporary or otherwise, and here they were reading on the towpath, blaring out loud music from astern or wandering back from Tesco with a weekend's provisions. There was a lot more food closer to home. The riverbanks hung low with blackberries and blackcurrants, and two enterprising teenage girls were attempting to sell fruit-filled bags for £1.20 from a makeshift stall on a nearby bench. If they'd managed to stop giggling they might have been more successful. A more successful catering option was the Watersedge Cafe at Stonebridge Lock, home to Lee Valley Canoe Cycle and a wide range of tasty fry-ups. Car-driving families like to park up here and pretend they've visited the river. They've barely scratched the surface.
Note to readers: I'm using the rest of this month to finish off my Lea walk. Note to self: watch visitor numbers plummet