A riverside ramble from source to Thames — Lea Valley Walk
The Lea Valley Walk is a medium-distance riverside hike that follows the River Lea from its source to where it meets the Thames in the heart of London.
Starting from Leagrave Common, in Luton, where numerous springs and ponds form the river’s source, the trail follows the course of the Lea through Luton and into pretty Hertfordshire countryside. At Welwyn, it heads along canalised navigations from Hertford along green waterside corridors past many reservoirs, lakes and nature reserves into England's capital city.
The official route is 50 miles (80 km) long. However, with a few short detours to some worthy sites, this Collection is 53.2 miles (85.6 km) in total.
Flora and fauna are abundant along the way. Keep a look-out for endangered water voles between Hertford and Cheshunt, kingfishers at Leagrave, and myriad dragonfly species in the water meadows at Waltham Abbey. Two of Britain’s rarest plants, creeping marshwort and brookweed, can be observed in Walthamstow Marshes, and more than 200 different bird species have been identified along the trail.
There are at least 25 different spellings for the river’s name. Whilst ‘Lea’ is most common, you will also see ‘Lee’ along the way and past documents record Lay, Ley, Leye, Lyge, and even Lyzan. To complicate matters further, at Hertford the trail picks up the River Lee Navigation; the canalised version of the River Lea, which was built from 1767 and headed by engineer John Smeaton.
Highlights along the way include: Batford Springs Nature Reserve, a wildlife-rich space with fresh springs; King's Meads Nature Reserve, home to 265 types of wildflower and 119 species of bird; Stanstead Lock, which has earned the reputation as the hardest in England; Rye House Gatehouse, one of the first brick houses in the country; Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, one of the last remaining pieces of London’s river valley grasslands; St Anne’s, a striking Grade I-listed church constructed from white ashlar; and Limehouse Basin, the gateway to the Thames.
In this Collection, I split the route into three stages: 17.2 miles (27.7 km), 17.1 miles (27.5 km), and 18.9 miles (30.4 km), respectively. Whilst the distances here may seem a little daunting, there are literally no hills of note, and the well-maintained, easy-going trail is on a downwards trajectory throughout. Every stage has a suggestion on how you can split it, though, making for a super-easy six-day itinerary.
Of course, you can divide each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages. Accommodation and public transport links are good along this trail, making it easy to tailor your route. As such, this is a good choice for seasoned walkers and novices alike. However, those in search of wild and empty landscapes might not appreciate the amount of suburban walking.
To get to the start of the route, you can catch a train to Luton Station which has a connecting service to Leagrave Station. From there, it is a 10-minute walk to Leagrave Common.
As the trail finishes in London, transport links are good, as you would expect. The nearest tube station is Limehouse, which is a four-minute walk away.
Stage 1 takes you from the source of the River Lea, through Luton, and crosses the county boundary from Bedfordshire into Hertfordshire. Whilst all the hikes in this Collection are …
This hike explores a landscape that can claim the hardest lock in England, one of the first brick houses in the country, and some spectacular views.With 17.1 miles (27.5 km) of distance, this is another long hike. However, with 225 feet (69 m) of uphill and 350 feet (107 m) of downhill, it is level and leisurely walking throughout. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, see below). You start by hiking through the suburbs of Welwyn Garden City before joining National Cycle Route 61, which takes you through a pleasant patchwork of fields and small woodlands to Hertford.In the town, you pick up the course of the River Lee Navigation — a canalised river incorporating the River Lea — into King's Meads Nature Reserve. One of the largest water meadows in Hertfordshire, the reserve is home to 265 types of wildflower and 119 species of bird, including many rare species.
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The final hike takes you through central London and explores one of the city’s last remaining pieces of river valley grasslands before concluding at Limehouse Basin, the gateway to the River Thames.The most challenging in the Collection, Stage 3 is 18.9 miles (30.4 km) long with 150 feet (46 m) of uphill and 200 feet (61 m) of downhill. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, see below). From the outskirts of Broxbourne, you follow the River Lee Navigation past Nazeing Marsh, Holyfield Lake, Seventy Acres Lake, Cheshunt Lake, Hooks Marsh Lake, and Bowyers Water, before heading under the M25. At Enfield Lock, you cross the river and continue along its east bank.A short step later, you hike along the lengths of King George VI Reservoir and William Girling Reservoir, cross under the A406 and walk onto Stonebridge Lock, which has a cafe, should you fancy a pit-stop.