The 42 mile long River Lea has its source in Leagrave near Luton in the Chiltern Hills. It meanders south and south east to London where it joins the River Thames at Bow Creek or Limehouse. The river valley creates a chain of marsh ground, much of which has been used for gravel and mineral extraction in the past. The upper stretches of the river, classified as chalk streams, are a major source for drinking water for London. The river forms the traditional boundary between Middlesex and Essex, as well as part of the boundary between Essex and Hertfordshire.
From Hertford to London, the river is navigable and is named as the Lee Navigation. Interestingly, Lee and Lea can be used to describe the waterway although the Lee Navigation was established by Acts of Parliament. The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority uses this spelling although we also see Lea Bridge, Lea Valley Walk, Lea Valley Railway and others. So, take your pick – you’ll probably be right whichever spelling you choose!
There are 19 locks between Hertford and Limehouse Basin, which covers 28 miles. Kailani cruises from Ware in Hertfordshire and Limehouse Marina in both directions.
Heading south from Ware, we start our cruises in the middle of the old town near to the 18th C Gezebos, Some are more recent. Continuing south, the navigation runs straight for 1½ miles, flanked by uncluttered water meadows to the west and the Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve to the east. At Stansted Abbotts we pass through the lock with a swing bridge across adjacent to the Lee and Stort Cruising Club.
A couple of miles further, we pass the junction with the River Stort, a much narrower river navigation, before continuing past Nazeing Mead and Broxbourne where the river again straightens. Many of our guests have enjoyed a walk in this area through woodland and marshland. Between Cheshunt and Waltham Abbey we pass the Lee Valley White Water Centre. This was the location for Kayaking etc., events in the 2012 London Olympics.
In summertime, poppies and comfrey on the riverside brighten the scene as we cruise along. The River Lee Reservoirs are situated close to the navigation and have high embankments screening them from view. The power lines stride along as purposefully as the river.
Before Picketts Lock, known to many as Alfies Lock after the long serving lock keeper, we pass Lee Valley Regional Park. This is a very large area with leisure and sports centre, golf course, multi- screen cinema and restaurants.
As we continue to cruise south the area becomes more built up. We are now heading towards Edmonton, Tottenham and London. We pass by the Markfield Beam Engine Museum which is a grade 2 listed building with the splendid beam engine which began working here in 1866. It has been fully restored but unfortunately only opens rarely for public access.
The Walthamstow Marshes are a magnet for wildfowl, which also brings out walkers and twitchers.
There is a continuing building programme around the Olympic Park area, giving an ever changing landscape. The River Lee branches off and continues its course along the Bow Back River to meet the River Thames. The navigation changes to the long straight Limehouse Cut, taking us to our destination in the Limehouse Marina. For Kailani, Limehouse is the starting point for our next journey up the River Thames through central London.