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17 May 2014: Lee Valley Park: legacies and Essex

Event route planned and designed by Martin T in 2013.

Weather: sunny intervals with squally showers 1400-1500.  Strong wind SSW 14mph.

Attendance: 14 members, all male.

Time: start 1130, finish 1630, lunch 1330-1354.

Terrain: ~50% pavement (Lee Valley), including towpath, ~50% on bridleway, footpath & field-edge.

Number of electric pylons on route: lost count.

This walk was a circular route of 9.65 miles from Cheshunt, around a series of lakes, then NE towards lunch, SW towards Waltham Abbey, then NNW back to the start point.  The route took in a series of lakes and water meadows in the Lee Valley Park, before breaking into open countryside, up three hills, followed by a sudden downhill, catching a view of the London Thames Basin (for which good long-range visibility was sadly not available today), returning to the Lee Valley Park, visiting Waltham Abbey Church and returning to the start point via the River Lee Navigation towpath.

After a very long wait at a level crossing to get to the start point, the walk started from the Lee Valley Park car park at Cheshunt.  The walk's first phase was a meander through a number of lakes, ponds and watermeadows.  The management of the Park is outstanding, the benefits from the pre-Olympic preparation still clearly visible: aside from being nearly completely free from discarded rubbish, the wildlife is left to its own devices.  Many birds - swans, coots, moorhens, grebes - nest (and fight!) in open view of the footpath.  We were bombarded by the screeches of swifts, calls of cuckoos and honking of geese.  Plant life is diverse, ranging from common comfrey, daisy, buttercup to sedge and lilly.

The walk's second phase left the Park to ascend the first of three hills in open countryside.  This phase also saw us march out of Hertfordshire and into the unknown and quite scary territory of Essex.  The top of the first hill gave us a wide view of the Lee Valley Park and Cheshunt sat behind the Park.  And a much needed rest.

We continued past two coal-tax posts, alongside a rather dodgy road, then up our second punishing hill to the lunch spot.  At an elevation of 100m, we collapsed onto the ground and surrendered to the call of sandwiches.  The lunch spot gave us a very wide panorama from W to NE, including views of Lower Nazeing, Hoddesdon, Stanstead Abbots and the landing pattern to London Stansted Airport.

On leaving lunch, we enjoyed the wettest and deepest of mud offered by the walk - all poor drainage on the top of a hill - and a nice gentle downhill on bridleways, through woods and touching the border of the Epping Forest at Aimes Green.  Thus we entered the third phase of the walk: the return to the Park.

The third phase started with a hill, rising by 27m over 600m.  As we crossed over the hill, we had hoped to see a view of London.  We should have seen Canary Wharf in the east, to Harrow in the west and the Wembley Arch, the BT tower and the City's skyscrapers in between.  Unfortunately, a raincloud covering the whole of London resulted in no far visibility. A location for a future walk, but get there quickly before trees on the hillside obscure the view (triangulation point at TL385024). 

The downhill rolled us back into the Lee Valley Park, past a monument to the Greenwich Meridian, where we took our group shot.  Half the group stood on the western hemisphere of the planet, half on the east, and one member stood on both sides after suffering a bout of chronic indecision.  Our route took us through the Cornmill Meadows, a series of managed lawns and a dragonfly sanctuary.

Then, without warning, the sound of a roadway, churchbells and the route through an underpass ended phase three abruptly.  We emerged into Waltham Abbey's grounds.  Waltham Abbey was originally an Augustine monestary, dissolved in the usual manner by Henry VIII in 1540, much of which was cannibalised except for the church, which remains today.  The church has a number of intruiging architectural features, and the grounds are very attractive.  We left Waltham Abbey heading west, navigated a busy roundabout, struggled past a McDonalds, then returned into the Lee Valley Park via a lock over the River Lee, taking into the fifth and final phase of the walk.

The return to the start point took us onto pavement and past another legacy of the Olympics, the Lee White White Water Centre.  Our final image of the route was a series of wooden sculptures of wildlife - dragonflies, frogs and fishes - at the start point.

Photographs by Peter O'Connor.


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