A cycle ride through my favourite part of London, following the Lea River from its source in Limehouse all the way to Broxbourne in Essex.
The route along the Lea River is one of my favourite things in London. When I lived in Hackney I would jog north as far as I could – once getting as far as Ponders End (and never again). When I moved to Walthamstow the next year, I would walk south as often as I could in the summer, down to Hackney Wick for canal-side drinks at Crate Brewery or Howling Hops. I’ve even camped out in the Lea Valley, equipped with not much more than a bivvy bag and a bottle of wine.
Why am I so obsessed? Because it’s one of the most beautiful stretches of London! As you stroll along these waterways they turn from manicured to industrial to totally wild, until you have left London behind altogether.
If you followed the river from its source in Leagrave (near Luton airport) to Limehouse, where it meets the Thames, you would travel 42 miles. On this occasion, we cycled a 19 mile stretch along the river, from Limehouse to Broxbourne.
This was actually the first time I had cycled in a long time – not since I got totally lost trying to make the (relatively) short journey from New Cross Gate to the Barbican. Three hours there and back – a record of some sort, I’m sure! It was nice travelling along the canal paths; we went at a speed of our choosing (this varied depending on tiredness and hunger levels..), and didn’t require navigating busy roads or much traffic.
The path is tranquil, flat and has plenty of good stopping points. We stopped for snacks from Tottenham’s retail park, and between Ferry Lane and Broxbourne there is a nice cycling cafe with loos.
My favourite thing about this route is the variety of landscapes. You go from industrial Tottenham straight into a shrubby woodland; while as soon as you enter the Lea Valley Regional park the countryside rambles for as far as the eye can see. I wish we’d stopped to explore the park more – something that’s definitely easier to do on foot rather than on a bike – but it’s not like this is my last time exploring the Lea River.
By the time we got to Broxbourne we had that tired-but-energised feeling you usually get after a 10-mile walk. Only we had travelled twice the distance, and deserved a cold drink at the end of our journey more than usual. We stopped at the Crown in Broxbourne. We probably should have eaten though.. It only took a second drink to start planning a wild camping expedition with dinner at the Crown (we didn’t indulge, but the menu was mouthwatering). I was serious.. I need to remind my cycle buddies of the plan!
One last thing to mention as an avid walker: please be a considerate cyclist! Most are. Don’t bomb it under the bridges, ring your bell well in advance – not when you are on top of pedestrians, and get off your bike when the signs say so. This is usually over bridges, where space is limited.
You can catch the DLR to Limehouse station.
We had a drink at the Crown in Broxbourne, at the end of our cycle. If you’d like to stop earlier, there are lots of lovely spots on the way: the Princess of Wales in Clapton, and plenty of places in Hackney Wick (Mason and Company would be my personal recommendation).
What we’d do differently
Make sure to take some time to explore the Lea Valley regional park – it’s beautiful. The Walthamstow Wetlands, closer to London, will open later this year.
30.5km / 19 miles
3 hours cycling (including a few short food and bathroom breaks) / approx 7hrs 40m walking
Easy (if cycling!)