diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Postcards from the Middle Lea
(from Enfield Lock up to Cheshunt via Waltham Abbey)

For the souls who live up the dead end at Enfield Island Village, Sunday's sunshine is a good excuse to stay put. All that's needed is a carrier bag of lagers from the Tesco Express and a grate of charcoal smoking in the back garden, then it's tops off to reveal the winter's new tattoos, and all is set fair. Some are sprawling on a long string of parkland, conveniently aligned beneath the row of pylons striding through the estate. Outside the Royal Small Arms Factory, as it once was, a family collectively wearing too much green have settled by the pond in the shade of a tree. The smallest has a bike, the remainder are going nowhere fast. From beneath the clocktower the sound of earnest grunting can be heard, for this corner of the riflemakers' heritage building is now a gym. [map] [photo]

In the drainage channel marking the border between Enfield and Essex, a heron strides purposefully across the weir. Only a few souls have passed over to Sewardstone Marsh, one led by his dog, another trying frustratedly to fix the puncture on his other half's bike. In the marshy woods, around the landscaped gravel pits, the dominant form of vegetation is the shoulder-high nettle. Locate the non-cul-de-sac path to exit opposite the most northerly carvery in London E4, which is what most Essex pubs appear to be these days. [map]

Gunpowder Park is a glorious expanse of reclaimed recreational land where formerly munitions were tested. The hedgerow along the eastern side of Cob Fields hides a secret - it precisely follows the Greenwich Meridian. The bench at the top of the rise is taken by a middle-aged cyclist who appears to have read embarrassingly few pages of his Bill Bryson. This, allegedly, is a viewpoint, although the diminutive elevation offers little more than a distant panorama of the flat Lea Valley and its tower blocks across the fields. The only busy corner of the vast park is that within 200 metres of the northeastern car park, where bloated dads are tanning between the artificial ridges. "Don't go any further Lauren!" calls one mum to her nine-year-old daughter, lest she ride her scooter fractionally out of sight and into the arms of non-existent terror. An ice cream would be nice but the visitors centre is closed, so a voice at the door announces... there's a course on. [map] [photo]

Waltham Abbey mostly shuts on Sundays, apart from the superstores round the perimeter, and anywhere that sells liquids. The museum by the library is proper closed and will be for another year, until a Heritage lottery grant allows it to reopen twice the size. Around the Abbey there's apricot crumble and custard on offer at Philpott's Tea Rooms, overlooking the flat stone that marks the site where King Harold may possibly maybe have been buried. The church itself is lofty but stunted, boasting medieval arches and a zodiacal Victorian mural, plus a strange shop in the crypt where a quiet couple sell Christian bits and pieces to not many visitors. Rather more folk are slouched outside in the Abbey Gardens, soaking up the rays until the sun dips behind a cloud and Nan reaches for a cardigan. [map] [photo (pretty)]

They hosted the Olympic sploshy sports here in Herts two summers back, at the Lee Valley White Water Centre. For five days of sport several acres of marshland were transformed into a swirling loop of concrete and spray, now open to the public (so long as they can find the narrow gap in the perimeter fence). Those with cash to splash, and a sense of adventure, get togged up in waterproofs and head for a ride round one of the two courses. The main Olympic circuit is not for the faint-hearted, although at least one of the white water rafts in circulation this afternoon contains a screecher who insists on gibbering every time the boat tips. Which is a lot. One kayaker has to be rescued from the water after tumbling badly, while others nip through the gushing foam as if they've been doing this all their lives. Paddles up, everybody, and ride the conveyor belt past the cafe terrace to ride the whole loop again. The 2014 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup's due here in a fortnight, if you fancy a spectacle, or simply turn up (Mondays and Tuesdays excepted) to watch team-building office workers getting wet. [map] [photo] [photo] [photo]

On Cheshunt Marsh, step off the Waterlily Walk by Bowyer's Water for a dragonfly extravaganza. Initially your eyes may see nothing. But look more carefully and there must be two or three dozen at least, their thin blue bodies zipping around the yellow irises or hovering above the water. One is much longer than the rest, this because it's really two doing what insects do to multiply. Another month and there'd be an angler on the wooden platform - line cast, worms wriggling - blocking the view. But for now the dragonflies dart and shimmer, what a sight. [map] [photo]

In the Pindar car park beyond Cheshunt station, a two-sided battle for hot drinks and ice cream has broken out. I make the very simple mistake of buying the wrong option from each vendor. I ask for ice cream at Papa Palms, the silver trailer by the toilet block, but they only do tiny tubs, and only the Cornish strawberry remains. Too late I spot the ice cream boat moored up at the edge of the Lea, a small motorboat called Ice Dreamz with plastic cornets for decoration. They do soft whippy 99s and snow cones, even proper Wall's lollies from a sort-of freezer, but it's too late now, my spoon is licked. Instead it's time for a cuppa, this because I failed to notice the option for "hot chocolate with squirted cream" on the board by the towpath. The lady aboard calls to her partner, whose name amusingly is Lee, and he returns to the tiny galley to make a brew. My order requires the portable generator to be powered up, and it chugs away for three minutes while the kettle boils, ebbing away any possible profit from my paltry 50p outlay. The tea is adequate, much as the ice cream was, but I wish I'd bought my refreshment treats the opposite way round. [map] [photo]

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