Lea River Cycle:   Hertford - Canary Wharf - Kings Cross

Sunday 2nd September 2007

This, my third ride from Hertford to Canary Wharf in London and then on the Regent's Canal to Kings Cross, had been arranged in conjunction with two of my colleagues, Joby and David, and David's partner, Sue, who cycled with us as far as Broxbourne. So why Hertford? Though we didn't actually start from there, it is important to note that the function of Hertford Castle Weir, a weir located near to Hertford Castle, is to connect the upper River Lee to the canalised section that runs through Hertfordshire into the River Thames. The section of the river above Castle Weir is not deep enough to support  barges or  narrowboats, but is navigable by row boats, canoes and kayaks. The weir marks the start of the River Lee Navigation, and the point where the river changes name from Lea to Lee.

Navigation took place in the first millennium, with the Vikings apparently taking the opportunity to plunder the unfortunate people of Hertford. Work on improving the river's navigability is recorded as early as the fourteenth century and in 1425 there was an Act of Parliament to provide for further improvements. The River lea Commissioners, who used to run it, date back to this period. As was so often the case, where rivers were improved for navigation, there were arguments between barge owners and mill owners who preferred the available water to be used to mills rather than locks. The navigation was much used for carrying grain for beer and bread making and those who might lose their livelihoods from the lower prices that became possible as a result of cheaper transport also objected to improvements. Disputes over the right of navigation reached the Star Chamber, a superior court of justice, in 1594, which ruled in favour of the boats.

  The modern name of Ware dates from the Anglo-Saxon period when 'weirs' were built to stop the invading Vikings from escaping in their longships after defeat by Alfred the Great in a battle near Ware. The lovely legend goes that King Alfred the Great was supposed to have split the river by damming it further downstream, lowering the river level and stranding the invading Vikings. In the Domesday survey of 1085 it was the second largest town in Hertfordshire. In places the river and navigation separate and then rejoin, between Dobbs Weir and Carthagena, for example. Just south of Ware, we stopped at the Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve, an important wetland site in part of the Lee Valley Special Protection Area. This popular bird-watching site is a former gravel pit, now flooded. Particularly delightful at this time of year were the pretty flowers on the bridge which announce the presence of Carthagena Lock. Above here the Lee takes on a life of holidays rather than the workman-like demeanour it carries further downstream. The river turns sharply to the right at Broxbourne just after this. Needless to say, we stopped at the Riverside cafe, a lunch-stop for fishermen, just south on Enfield Lock. We generally stopped when we felt like it, at places of interest, usually initiated by myself, being the only one with a camera. The others did not seem to mind at all, as the whole point of such a journey is that, it is, in essence, a journey of discovery, of observation.

Click on map to open in Google Maps - Hertford to Canary Wharf (Lea Valley Canal), to Kings Cross (via Regents Canal).


Starting out towards Ware, near Hertford Lock.


Towpath leading to Ware.


Amwell Quarry Wildlife Reserve.


Dobbs Weir Bridge, popular with anglers - crossing over.


Fish & Eels pub house on Lea River Canal at Dobbs Weir Bridge.


David, Sue and Joby crossing at Dobbs Weir Bridge.


View south towards Broxbourne, just beyond Dobb's Weir Bridge.


Looking back across Dobb's Weir Bridge from the pub.


On the tow path south of Dobb's Weir Bridge, heading towards Carthagena Lock.


Floral beautification of Carthagena Lock, looking north in the direction of Ware.


At Carthagena Lock, looking south.


London Waste Ltd. Incinerator, Edmonon.


We passed the London Waste Incinerator near Edmonon. Built between 1971-4 by the  Greater London Council.The building is described as " being on the edge of the marshes, in a setting that enhances its impressive scale. Vast box-like forms clad in corrugated metal sheeting, pale grey and dark grey, approached by two big ramps on tapering piers. Huge cylindrical concrete chimney containing two flues" It is Britains's largest incinerator. The site handles un-recycled waste from seven London Boroughs: Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Islington, Hackney, Haringey and Waltham Forest. The waste is converted into electricity. Sufficient power is generated to meet the needs of 24.000 households. The site has been the scene of a demonstration by Greenpeace who are against all energy-from-waste plants. The site is now euphemistically known as the London EcoPark. Trials are being carried out to use the River Lee Navigation in transporting materials to the EcoPark. A large composting facility opened on the site in 2006, allowing green and kitchen waste from local homes to be converted to compost.  

Greenpeace protest in 2000, in opposition to the expansion of the London Waste Ltd. Incinerator at Edmonon, on the River Lea.


The question of incinerators for London has proved a controversial topic. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London until the elections in the early part of 2008, was engaged in a challenge to prevent construction of a new incinerator in south-east London, as outlined by the BBC on 23rd February, 2007:

London's mayor has lost a legal bid to prevent a giant waste incinerator being built in south-east London.  Ken Livingstone and Bexley Council challenged a government decision to build one of Europe's largest incinerator plants in Belvedere.  The government said the plant would tackle waste but critics said it would add to climate change and discourage borough councils from recycling. The High Court rejected the mayor's bid for a judicial review of the decision. Mr Livingstone said he was "disappointed" by the decision and said it was "a bad day for London's environment".  "It means that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of London's rubbish, which could have been recycled or used to produce biofuels and hydrogen, will simply be burnt," Mr Livingstone said. "These kinds of incinerators will release as much carbon per unit of energy as a coal-fired power station. "Given the scale of the challenge facing us on climate change this incinerator is an obscenity." The government said the plant would be fuelled by waste which would otherwise have been sent to landfill sites in the Home Counties.


Near Tottenham Hale, looking north;  Lea Valley Marina, Springfield (near Tottenham Lock);  Crossing over Horseshoe Footbridge, Walthamstow Marshes.


View north from Horseshoe Footbridge, Walthamstow Marshes.


Residential abode along the Lea, somewhere near Hackney Marsh.


Industrial parks near Hackney Wick.


Stopping near Hackney Wick; Sign at Three Mills;  Old Ford Lock, just south of Hackney Wick;


The Three Mills are former working mills on the River Lee in the East End of London, one of London's oldest extant industrial centres. The House Mill remains the largest tidal mill in the world, although the water wheels are not in operation. The building is owned by The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust Ltd. It is thought that there were 8 or possibly 9 mills on the River Lee in Stratford at the time of the Domesday Book. These would therefore have been the earliest recorded examples of a tidal mill system. Some time during the middle ages, Stratford Langthorne Abbey (once in Essex, now in the Borough of Newham), acquired the three mills, and the area became known as Three Mills. Stratford, historically Stratford Langthorne, is located in the London Borough of Newham in East London. It will be the major location of the 2012 Summer Olympics. By the time Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in the 1530's, the mills were grinding flour for the bakers of Stratford-atte-Bow, who were celebrated for the quality of their bread and who supplied the huge City of London market. In 1588, one of the mills was described as a "gunpowder mill". During the 16th century the three mills were reduced to two (which today are the House Mill and the Clock Mill). In the 17th century the mills were used to grind grain, which was then used to distil alcohol; the mills became a major supplier to the alcohol trade and gin palaces of London. A gin palace is an English name originally for a lavish bar selling gin, later transferred by association to late Victorian pubs designed in a similar style. The House Mill was built in 1776 (and after a fire destroyed it, quickly rebuilt) by Daniel Bisson. It is a major grade I listed building. The Clock Mill was rebuilt by Philip Metcalfe between 1815 and 1817 incorporating the old clock, and an older bell. There was also a windmill which survived until about 1840. The House Mill continued to operate until 1940 and the Clock Mill until  1952. Ownership changed relatively frequently during the 17th to the late 19th centuries, until  1872 when the Nicholson family, gin producers in Clerkenwell, acquired Three Mills. Distilling ceased after the mills sustained severe air-raid damage during the 2nd World War. The Miller's House was destroyed in 1941 and rebuilt in 1995 with a modern interior and rear part, but retaining the original fašade.


Clock Mill atThree Mills, one of several former working mills, of which only two remain, in Bow, the other being House Mill.


Enjoying a pint at Canary Wharf, at the gastro pub owned by Gordon Ramsay, known as, The Narrow.


The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) passing through Canary Wharf.


The Limehouse Basin in Limehouse, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets provides a navigable link between the Regent's Canal and the river Thames. A basin in the north of Mile End, near Victoria Park connects with the Hertford Union Canal leading to the River Lee Navigation. The dock originally covered an area of about 15 acres (61,000 m▓). The Basin lies between the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) line and historic Narrow Street. The Basin, built by the Regent's Canal Company, was formerly known as Regent's Canal Dock and was used by seagoing vessels and lighters to offload cargoes to canal barges, for onward transport along the Regent's Canal. Although initially a commercial failure following its opening in 1820, by the mid 19th century the dock (and the canal) were an enormous commercial success for the importance in the supply of coal to the numerous gasworks and latterly electricity generating stations along the canal, and for domestic and commercial use. At one point it was the principal entrance from the Thames to the entire national canal network. Its use declined with the growth of the railways, although the revival of canal traffic during World War I and World War II gave it a brief swansong. The Docklands Light Railway is carried on a viaduct originally built for the London and Blackwall Railway above the original wharves along the north side of the basin. The redevelopment of the Basin started in 1983 as part of the London Dockland's Development Corporation's overall masterplan for the Docklands area. However, it took many years for the scheme to come to fruitition. The property boom and bust of the 1980's set back progress considerably, as did the construction of the Limehouse Link tunnel which was built under the north side of the basin in the early 1990's. By early 2004 the majority of the once derelict land surrounding the basin had been developed into luxury flats.


On the Regents Canal from Canary Wharf to Kings Cross.


Regents Canal near South Hackney.


The Regent's Canal was built to link the Grand Junction Canal's Paddington Arm, which opened in 1801, with the Thames at Limehouse. One of the directors of the canal company was the famous architect John Nash. Nash was friendly with the Prince Regent, later King George IV, who allowed the use of his name for the project. The Regent's Canal Act was passed in 1812 and the company was formed to build and operate it. Nash's assistant, James Morgan, was appointed as the canal's Engineer. It was opened in two stages, from Paddington to Camden in 1816, and the rest of the canal in 1820.


Sunday on the Regents Canal at Islington.


We stopped for a pint at a gastro pub owned by Gordon Ramsay, located in the historic street of the same name, Narrow Street, a Grade II-listed building directly alongside the River Thames. In 1830, the well-known brewer Taylor Walker began brewing on the site of today's Narrow Street pub. The building itself was constructed between 1905 and 1910 by British Waterways as a purpose-built Customs/DockMaster's house serving the Limehouse Basin. The building then became a public house, initially called The Barley Mow and later refurbished and re-named The Narrow Street Pub and Dining Room. Our progress to Kings Cross was interrupted by throngs of people gathered on the canal near Islington, as we wandered into the midst of a festival in full swing. Angel Day was started in the 1980's by the late Crystal Hale as a fund-raising event for the narrow boat 'Angel' used to give inner city children boat rides and trips into the countryside. In 1987 Crystal was joined by Jim Lagden, who had wide experience of staging events in the Midlands and London, and together they co-founded the 'Angel Canal Festival' to celebrate the return of narrowboat Angel from a week long trip with inner city children aboard.


Angel Canal Festival in full swing, near Islington.



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