Lea River Cycle:   Hertford - Canary Wharf - Kings Cross

- The Sequel -

17th September 2005


Today was going to be a good day. I could feel it in the air.  The sun was out and the conditions perfect for what we had arranged.  I had asked colleague David Gray to organise the weather and of course, he came up with the goods. Andrew and I had done this cycle about three years ago - it was a lot cooler then.  Nikke couldn't make it unfortunately, so it was just the three of us.  Hertford North railway station was the meeting point at about 08h55, when Andrew's train got in from London.  My alarm had gone off quite early but I eventually headed off down the A10 at about 08h30, bike on the rack. I had to turn back just outside Royston, as I had forgotten my camera. David was waiting in the car park at Hertford North station and Andrew arrived minutes later.

The concept of the Lee Valley park was developed in response for increasing scarcity of land available for recreation, sport, entertainment and leisure.  The area designated was established by an Act of Parliament in 1966. It comprises some 10,000 acres stretching from Bromley-by-Bow on the edge of the London Docklands up the valley to Ware in Hertfordshire.  It has as its backbone the River Lea and the Lee Navigation. The Park is home to purpose built sports and leisure facilities. It provides for just about every leisure pastime imaginable, including, most notably, walks along the towpath and circular walks within the Country Park. Strictly speaking, permits are required to cycle the towpath, designed to keep the numbers down.  Though the track is not overcrowded, it is a necessity, therefore, as a cyclist, I believe, of slowing down and  exercising maximum politeness and consideration, to avoid getting into anyone's bad books. That said, however, there are long sections with not a soul in site, allowing us to pick up the pace a bit.  Though the towpath is obviously entirely flat and firm throughout, lack of hills is made up for by the distance, a total of some 35 miles. Cycling the route is  a truly eye-opening experience.   

Parts of the River Lea (the Lee defines the navigation) were used as navigations in Roman times, and much of the river was navigable before the reign of Elizabeth I. The first attempt to speed up traffic by means of an artificial cut was made under the powers of an Act of 1571. In 1577 an early pound lock was built at Waltham Abbey, using two sets of mitred gates, a principle that was then to become a standard feature of lock design. In the 17th Century the Lee was established as a source of water supply for London, a role it fulfils today. Navigation was steadily improved. During and immediately after the 1914-18 war, enlargements were carried out to allow 130-ton boats to reach Enfield and 100-ton boats to Ware and Hertford. In the 1930's further canalisation was carried out and locks mechanised, with timber no longer being used.


  From Hertford North railway station we cycled down to the canal past the sports grounds to Hertford Lock which, unavoidably, as always, provided the first opportunity for a photo call. The amazing thing was though we had passed two pedestrians whose body language suggested some annoyance towards us , as cyclists. However, possibly owing to our extensive courtesy or perhaps because we simply misread the situation, he uttered a "stopping already? " comment, humorously intended, as they walked by. Dave and Andrew picked this up too. Life is indeed full of surprises.  

Dave and Andrew at Hertford Lock;   View on tow path towards Ware - a fine day awaits us!


The canals are used for pleasure-craft and are the home of many species of waterfowl, the most prominent of which is the Mute Swan, Cygnus Olor. The swans are rounded up each year at a swan-upping, which is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the River Thames in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. It takes place during the third week of July each year. This historic ceremony dates from the 12th century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans. At that time swans were regarded as a delicious dish at banquets and feasts. Today, the Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked Mute Swans in open water, but The Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. This ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Vintners' and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the 15th century. Nowadays, of course, the swans are no longer eaten!


    Above Ware Lock, the river wanders along one side of the valley, with water meadows on one side and wooded parkland on the other. There are some remarkable 18th Century summer houses along the river front and Ware Lock is surrounded by beautifully maintained flower beds. We stopped for a brief yet early breakfast and tea and toasted sandwich, at a local coffee shop just off the canal in Ware, the 'granary of London', where the river bisects the town. It was here that Andrew discovered he had picked up a puncture. We assisted and soon we were on our way again.

Anglers feeding the Mute Swans, Cygnus Olor, in the vicinity of Ware; Tranquil marina adjacent to the Lea River just south of Stanstead Lock, near Stanstead Abbotts.



  As the river turns south-east after leaving Ware, there is a pretty cottage at Hardmead Lock. From here right up until Stanstead Lock, the navigation runs dead straight for one and a half miles, flanked by beautiful green, uncluttered water meadows contained by the nearby wooded hills. When David's bag came off the panion near the Lea Valley Marina near Stanstead Abbotts, just below Stanstead Lock, necessitating makeshift repairs, this seemed an ominous sign that perhaps we would all be experiencing some slight misfortune; after all, "things happen in threes".   

David, all smiles after having repaired the panion near Stanstead Abbotts; Crossing over at Dobbs Weir.


In fact, closer to London, it was Andrew who stopped to repair a chain guard for a woman who had been pushing her bike on the path.  She was obviously mightily impressed with the gesture of goodwill.  Scattered on almost the entire length of the tow path must have upwards of about 100 anglers, who clearly derive immense pleasure from what must truly be a therapeutic outdoor activity.  Colourful narrowboats add life and soul to the Lea River canal.  Many of them were bedecked with flower pots, still in full bloom at this time of the year, in the final months of the English summer.  Once again, as on the previous cycle, the roar of and smell of hot engines was unmistakeable at the go-kart stadium at Rye House near Hoddesdon.  Rye House is historically famous for the so-called Rye House Plot. During the reign of Charles II, an ex-officer of the Parliamentarian army and a group of discontented conspirators decided to ambush the King and his son, James, heir to the throne. The plot failed miserably because the royal party passed through sooner than expected. Amazingly, good fortune was on our side as we stopped at Dobbs Weir and it was pure coincidence that I suggested we take a look at the map to regain our bearings.  It was only upon examination that we discovered, by sheer luck, that the bridge had to be crossed here, else we would have ended up being diverted from our intended course.

Good humour prevailed throughout; Andy's free London Cycling Campaign maps ended rather abruptly at the M25, almost implying that nothing existed north of it, a kind of no-go area, "everyone knows where it is but no-one ever goes there". Ah, but we all knew well that the best and most scenic bits are, clearly, north of the M25, of that there can be no question. There is so much to see en route and the contrast between a life of holidays and the workmanlike demeanour further south towards north London, is amazing.  The experience ranges from country cycling to extreme urbanisation and even then, it is a contrast between areas yet sometimes a mixture of industrialisation and inner city dwelling, culminating in the chic, modern, progressive yet sterile development that is Canary Wharf.  Just before Dobbs Weir, at Feilde's Weir Lock, the River Stort navigation branches off and runs north-east. Given its reputation for beauty, this route, on which there is no longer commercial traffic, is one we will attempt to cycle sooner rather than later. 

Pretty flowers on the bridge announce the presence of Carthagena Lock. The river turns sharply to the west and then south again, near Broxbourne.  The locks themselves, of obvious intrinsic historic value in some cases, are cared for and generally presented with pride.


Just after Aqueduct and Cheshunt Locks, the navigation runs into a massive water parkland, the River Lee Country Park, based upon worked out gravel pits. The lakes serve as areas for fishing, sailing and as nature reserves. The green chain thus formed now acts as an important wildlife corridor. Just after crossing the busy M25 Motorway, one reaches Waltham Town Lock, the town of which is famous for its historic abbey, both of which which date back to Norman times, though the present Waltham Abbey is largely 18th Century, with earlier sections, such as the Norman knave.    

Aqueduct Lock, just before the River Lee Country Park;  Where the hell are we? - David and Andrew check the map at Enfield Lock;


  Whilst stopping for a nostalgic trip down memory lane at the Riverside cafe just before Enfield Lock, where we had enjoyed a breakfast some 3 years ago (this time a quick cup of tea would suffice), Andrew had prearranged with Nikke by mobile phone that we would later meet for lunch at the China Restaurant in Canary Wharf, around 15h30. Soon after is the dry dock of the British Waterways Enfield Yard. Hereafter, the landscape is rather bleak in nature for 4 miles, where high embankments and power pylons to the west  along the tow-path hide a series of reservoirs from the eye.  

 My Cannondale at Enfield Lock; Enfield Lockhouse dated 1889.


    Just before the A110 crosses overhead, a series of disused loading bays and wharves of forgotten factories, mark the switch from water to road transport. The Lee Valley authority have built a large covered sports centre at Pickett's Lock. I think it was around here that we  were forced on a detour via an industrial Park, the tow-path being closed for repairs.  The reservoirs supply 15% of London's water. Just before the A406 crossover is the site of the London Waste Incinerator, with its distinctive high chimney. At Tottenham Marshes, yet another series of reservoirs resumes, beginning with Banbury Reservoir.  

The rowing boat and restaurant at Lea Valley Marina, Springfield, Clapton, at High Bridge (below Tottenham Lock).


  These reservoirs are home to numerous land and water birds and are strictly controlled by Thames Water. Access by permit is allowed for bird watching or fishing only. Amazingly, the track under a bridge near Tottenham is illuminated by lime green lighting, which seems to complement the colour of the algae-covered water itself.  The area around the Lea River Marina, at High Bridge, Walthamstow, seemed a popular venue. It was here that we were accosted here by a representative of Sustrans, the organisation responsible for the establishment of signposted and recognised cycle routes nationwide.  

Contrasting views of industrialisation and urbanisation.


    A quarter mile north-east of this marina is a Copper Mill, dating back to 1800, that brought copper from the port of London for processing.  It could have been at Horseshoe Bridge that an eager yet helpful cycling "brother" advised Andrew that we could proceed from here on on either side of the navigation down to the vicinity of the Lee Valley Ice Centre (location of a rather humorous tale on our previous cycling trip) - we took his advice and stayed on the right hand side through Clapton Common.  Not only that but he advised us where to pick up the navigation again after having to cross a busy road intersection.

Bow lock and a view towards Canary Wharf, taken from beneath Gasworks Bridge.


Pollution is evident in several sections in North London just before Canary Wharf, the stagnant water leading to the proliferation of algae.  This leaves a carpet of green on the water's surface. Near the Lee Valley Ice Centre at the Lea bridge (A104), between Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes, the River Lea seems to part company with the Lee Navigation until Hackney Wick, where it rejoins.  Just before Hackney Wick, however, at Old Ford in fact, the Hertford Union Canal, built around 1830, links the Lee Navigation to the Regents Canal at Old Ford. Near the sports fields of Hackney Marsh, a footballers delight with its numerous pitches, our progress was slowed by walkers of all shapes and sizes, sporting bright orange T-shirts, on some inner-city initiative, I guess, to popularize fitness.  It is this area of North London which is hoped will be transformed by the proposed development in the wake of the London Olympics in 2012. At this same latitude but well to the west, is Finsbury Park, on the Cambridge - Welwyn Garden City - Hatfield - London Kings Cross rail link, home to Arsenal football club.  White Hart Lane, home of rivals Tottenham Hotspurs Football club, lies not far from the canal, north-west of Hackney Marsh and just to the west of the Thames Valley reservoirs. Towards the east of Startford Marsh lies West Ham, home to yet another north London football club.

I could not help but observe the distinctive dress of several Orthodox Jewish folk as we cycled along the tow-path.  This did not surprise me, as I was well aware that north London is home to an extensive, fairly concentrated Jewish community, not all orthodox, and have long been aware of the fact that Tottenham's fan base is fairly rooted in the Jewish Community, similar to Ajax football club of Amsterdam. In 2002, construction work began on Britain's first Jewish boundary or eruv. The area is in north west London covering Golders Green, Finchley, Mill Hill and Hendon, where Orthodox Jews can carry out tasks normally banned on the Sabbath. For 10 years there have been several campaigns for and against the wire boundary. An eruv defines the boundaries of an area within which observant Jews can treat "public" spaces, shared by all the community, in the same way as "private" space at home.


The Three Mills area around Bromley-by-Bow at the southern end of the Lee Valley is a reminder of the Lee's industrial past.  Corn and gunpowder were both milled here in the 16th century, followed by grain for gin distilling and finally flour.  Of greatest note is the grade I listed House Mill, built in 1776 in Dutch style and said to be one of the most powerful tide mills ever built.  During the medieval period the mill was ideally suited to provide flour to the bakers of Stratford-atte-Bow, who in turn baked bread for the city of London. The House Mill was last used in 1941, but it is now being restored by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust and is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons during the summer.  Opposite stands the Clock Mill, rebuilt in 1817 from an earlier mill and now a grade II listed building, incorporates a clock dated 1753.  A nearby windmill stood until 1840.  The Clock Mill in turn operated until 1952. taking advantage of the tidal flow in the River Lea, the mills had a head of 50 acres of water, allowing them to operate for about 7 hours during each tide.

At the mechanised Bow Lock, the towering corporate buildings of Canary Wharf came into view.  We proceeded from here along the semi-tidal Limehouse Cut towards Limehouse Basin. A new ship lock that incorporates Limehouse Lock and a Swing Bridge finally provides a route into the River Thames. The architectural contrast to what lies a few miles "inland" is enormous, symbolic of a trendy, chic lifestyle affordable only to those in the upper income bracket. The  last entrance to the Lee Navigation is by way of Bow Creek, whose mouth is 5 miles down the Thames from the Limehouse Basin entrance. Bow Creek is a tidal river - it is in fact the mouth of the River Lee.


Canary Wharf development.


  A recent TV program described a legal battle that ensued between residents at Limehouse Basin and owners of narrowboats seeking permanent moorings, with the decision made in favour of the latter. There is no doubt that the presence of these relics from the past add life and colour to the rather sterile architectural surroundings. The wind had picked up a touch but it was gloriously warm and sunny. Rather than stop at the pub next to Limehouse Lock Swing Bridge, Andrew guided us further eastwards along the waterfront to the China Restaurant.  We attached our bicycles to the railings outside.  

 Narrowboats moored at Limehouse Basin, a controversial yet colourful addition to the landscape.


    Nikke had already been there a while and chose a table at front of the restaurant, with a view out to the Thames. She ordered an assortment of Dim Sum dishes.  Though somewhat unfamiliar with the cuisine, it was tasty nonetheless, so much so that I ended up gorging too much, thus making heavy weather of the last section of cycle later on the Regents Canal to Kings Cross.  I thought my stomach would burst. Andrew seemed to sense that the end was near and charged ahead, Dave and I in pursuit. I decided that I would probably walk Regents Canal at my leisure at a later date, for the purpose of taking photographs.

The junction at Limehouse Basin; view back from Limehouse bridge lock.


  We cycled downhill from Angel tube station to Kings Cross, competing with the heavy London traffic, trying to take advantage of the bus lane without being run over by one. We hastily parted company with Andrew and as a train departure was imminent, hurriedly bought tickets at the ticket issuing machine for Hertford North station, using my credit card. Dave and I charged down to the platform and boarded the train minutes before departure, though I was dying for a cup of tea or coffee. And so our escapade came to an end, one that had images racing through my mind even when back at work the next day.  

Trendy designer cars waiting to cross the bridge at Limehouse Basin, a symbol of the chic existence for those able to afford accommodation at Canary Wharf; A view of the River Thames.


What is Dim Sum and Where Are the Menus?

by Ginny McWong

Perhaps you have heard of Dim Sum and perhaps you haven't. If you had, you would know that Dim Sum is a Chinese meal that is more of a style of eating, than any one particular dish. But for the uninitiated, Dim Sum can be a daunting array of odd-looking dishes, new tastes and a new way of eating. In a nutshell, Dim Sum is best explained as a breakfast/lunch meal of small, individual prepared dishes that are usually ordered off carts that are pushed through the dining room. Although Dim Sum can be found in all parts of the world, it is predominantly found in Chinese communities. Foods range from pastry-type items, to barbecued meat dishes to buns and dumplings.


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