Saturday, 1 September 2012

Down Along Lea

The River Lea is London's "other river". Once mentioned by Izaak Walton in his book "The Compleat Angler" as a fine fishing river but, by the time I first saw it, it had deteriorated into a rank watercourse flowing through gravel workings and industrial wastelands. Now of course it's home to the Olympic Stadium.

But further to the north, further upstream, where those gravel pits used to be, is a more tranquil environment. So we'll start our walk at where? Yes, that's right we'll start at Ware!

The little town of Ware sits right where Ermine Street, one of the oldest roads in the land, crosses the River Lea. There's an easy walking path and also a cycle route alongside the river on what was once the towpath where horses dragged barges up and down the waterway.

At this time of year the river banks look glorious with stands of Jumping Jack, or Himalayan Balsam. Although it looks pretty this invasive species causes lots of problems since it shades out the native vegetation. Also, come the winter, it dies back to almost nothing leaving bare riverbanks that can easily be eroded by floods. Since the seeds float readily downstream once you've got Himalayan Balsam on your river it quickly spreads.

The river deposited huge amounts of gravel along its course and what could be more convenient when London was expanding rapidly as a city. Gravel pits developed all along this stretch of the Lea and when they were exhausted they quickly filled with water to make a series of lakes.

Plants re-colonised the old workings and a variety of birds found the area to their liking so that it became a reserve for nature even before it was decided to call it a Nature Reserve!

Until quite recently you could view the area from one small hide or from a raised part of the path known rather grandly as The Viewpoint. On a sunny day it was a nice place to spend some time; all the birdwatchers gathered at this one point and a lot of talking, as well as birdwatching, was done.

But now there are three fine hides giving new views of the area and shelter if it should rain. You might also get a close look at a Little Egret (above). Other fairly regular, though often elusive, highlights include Little Ringed Plover and Hobby in summer and, in winter, Smew and Bittern.
But migrating birds also pass along the valley so just about anything can turn up.

In the summer the area around Hollycross Lake has been developed into a dragonfly trail. It was too cold and cloudy for dragonflies when I was there this time but it's a lovely area walk around and linger for a while.

A railway also came through here at one time and the old trackbed has been converted to a walking track opening up further opportunities to explore the vicinity. And if you are feeling energetic you can carry on down-river to Fishers Green and Rye Meads which are also good areas to seek out birds and other natural beauty.

Take care.


  1. Very interesting, it looks like a really good place for a walk. I don't like himalayan balsam at all, I don't think it's very pretty and the smell makes me feel quite nauseous!

  2. It all looks so alien to the Australian Outback landscape ... but great to hear the river has survived so many tribulations!! Enjoy your weekend!!

  3. Wonderful images John - I especially like the barges/houseboats on the River at Ware. The other shots too have me yearning for another visit to the land of my birth! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great shots, as always, John. (Eventually, I'll stop writing that.) I'm glad it's not just me who has to contend with invasive riparian species (but, seriously, I already knew I wasn't alone in that endeavor). Is the Lea a tributary of the Thames, or does it have its own ocean debouchment?

  5. We sometimes see the Little Egret around here, but for the most part we see the Great Blue Heron. Old railway lines are also used as recreational trails over here-walking,biking in the summer, cross-country skiing in the winter.Although orange instead of pink, our Jewelweed looks very similar to your Jumping Jack. Jewelweed is also very energetic in its reseeding. Another lovely walk in the English countryside.

  6. I am fascinated by the rivers and streams and waterways that London has swallowed up over the centuries. The River Lea looks lovely where you have photographed it,John, and it's wonderful to see the nature reserves with hides for viewing. We too have hiking and biking trails along old railway tracks, - I have read recently of plans to re-introduce more railway transportation to get trucks off the highways....sounds like a good idea to me.

  7. Interesting to see the river further up than the Olympic Park. I wasn't even aware it existed until I went to the Games.

  8. What a wonderful walk and photo series! Lovely to learn more of London's 'upstream' history, especially for an important but perhaps overlooked waterway (you've made me a bit nostalgic for London, where I lived for a good chunk of the past 5, 6 years...). Thank you for dropping by - happy it led me back here.

  9. It looks really lovely here, we lived in Cheshunt when we were first married so I've always been aware of the River Lea's existence but not how nice it is around Ware.

  10. Love those canal boats. I also like the fact that post-industrial areas are being used for nature and recreation. The gravel pits and rail beds make the area very attractive.

  11. Splendid presentation, full of delightful details... I love your eye for telling a story in images. My favorite places tend to be gardens, parks, preserves and wildlife refuges, so this river is right in my happy spot.

  12. This post made me feel like walking along a river after rainfall. The River Lea is so attractive and Ware looks perfect place to start the lovely walk. As summer at last starts to wane here, I’ll have a walk more intensively and extensively. There are many pretty flowers that are grouped into invasive species including aquatic plants.



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