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Brown Field to Green Fields

Part Two Through the Olympic Park, Marshes and Wetlands

Enter the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park near Stratford or Hackney Wick Stations

Behind the huge and imposing stadium in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park can be found a peaceful and watery scene. The canal tow path leads to the Bow Back Waters - which date back to King Alfred. It was his idea to drain the River Lea and swamp the land, deterring the Viking raiders.

Centuries later the Bow Back Waters were surrounded by heavy industries who made use of the canal network to transport goods. When they were abandoned a vast brownfield site was left - all rubble and ruins and poisoned soil.

A bridge over the Bow Back Waters

Now that brown field has become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and a walk through the park, even on a February day, can be enjoyed for its open spaces and variety of nature.

Carpenters Road Lock has been restored but we get a sense of its industrial past when we see the steps down to the water and the iron post where horses, who plodded along the canal paths pulling the barges, were tethered.

Carpenters Road Lock

The waterways continue throughout the park and a whole new eco system has been designed and installed by people - and developed by nature.


Waterglades has stretches of water and paths that are lined with trees and bushes - giving cover so that wildlife can be watched close up.

Ducks in the Waterglades

A heron stood guard nearby.

A heron in the Waterglades

Swales surround the patches of marsh - they differ from ditches and trenches because they are more broad and shallow. Rain water collects in swales which prevents flooding and the water seeps into the surrounding soil, keeping it damp and attractive to amphibians.

Marshland in the Waterglades

In the nearby London Blossom Garden the tree branches are still bare. In Spring this will be a magical space and in mid February there were hundreds of daffodils lining the walk through it, as though they were trumpeting what will happen in a few weeks' time.

February daffodils

These are a welcome sight but Spring is still a long way off. The lack of colourful plants makes the tiniest flower something to stop and take notice of.

A tiny flower

Nearby there are plants whose stems give year round colour, even in the darkest days.

Colourful stems

Looking up and around, there are green walls, with plants climbing up and across and tumbling down.

The far end of the park looks rough and unkempt - and this is for a purpose. Bare land and scrub provide a home which is ideal for insects and other creatures.

And so these varied sites across the park form a mosaic of ecosystems, helping to preserve bio diversity for the present and the future.

Join or leave the walk at Hackney Wick Station

I followed the path that leads out of the park and onwards to Hackney Marshes. Crossing the bridge over the river from East March, the Elderflowers were beginning to blossom and a light breeze brushed clouds of petals into the air where they fell like confettti.

The first Elderflowers

The path that leads around the marshes follows the meandering river. Unlike the canals, this waterway has banks that slope down to its edges and trees that hang over the water. And there appeared to be a moss clad monster rising from the undergrowth.

A monster in the undergrowth

At the end of the path - a long, long walk as it arcs around the marshes, the red bridge appears. And beneath the bridge, a lone swan.

Under the red bridge

Leave or join the walk here on Lea Bridge Road - buses 55 and 56

Leyton Marshes is Lammas land. This dates back to Saxon times when commoners had rights to graze their livestock here and the fields were used as hay meadows. Over the centuries there have been threats and campaigns to preserve this space as open land and once again a shadow of a planned development hangs over the marsh.

But during this winter walk the marsh felt peaceful, with horses grazing. There is a post showing the direction of The Black Path - the ancient byway that farmers once trod and so I was tempted along that way - until it became a muddy bridleway alongside the paddocks.

It did not take long though to reach Walthamstow Marshes. The bridleway turned onto the wide open space but I stayed on the path and veered over to the side of the marshes. This is a precious landscape. It seems incredible now but in 1975 there were plans to dig up this rare habitat and grass it over. Ten years later it was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Along the way, the birds were singing in this little copse on the edge of the marshes. This is another sign that spring is on its way: at this time of year the birds sing louder.

A copse by the marshes

The path continued all the way to Coppermill Field where the bare branches of the trees behind the silver birches were tinged with maroon.

Coppermill Field

Join or leave the walk here bus W12

Across the lane there is the entrance to Walthamstow Wetlands - where many birds and waterfowl live all year round and migrating birds come and go.

Walthamstow Wetlands

It is a magnet for a wide variety of species - and bird watchers. Waterrails hide in the rushes - they are winter visitors along with Bar Tailed Godwits, Golden Eyes, Fieldfares and Redwings. Other birds live here all year round - Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Common Sandpipers and Stonechats.

Wait patiently by one of the bridges and you may catch the magical sight of a Kingfisher. Look up at the pylon next to the bird hide and you may see a Peregrine Falcon.

A bird hide

Along Songbird Thicket, where gorse bushes provide hiding spaces for birds to build their nests, there are nettles by the path. We may all hate stinging nettles but they are food for catterpillars and butterflies, have aphids living on them - providing sustenance for ladybirds and nettle seeds are eaten by birds. And these are white nettles so do not sting.

White nettles

Futher along the path through Walthamstow Wetlands there is an insect hotel.

Insect hotel

And a bee bank.

Bee Bank

Before I left Walthamstow Wetlands I tried to find the bush that I had noticed a few weeks earlier. It had been covered in red berries even though the birds had stripped all of the other bushes bare of fruit.

"It's an ornamental bush," I was told. "The birds will eat them but they prefer blackberries,"

This time many of the berries had gone - but there were still some left.

The last of the berries

Join or leave the walk here bus 123 or Tottenham Hall Station

The Northern section of the reservoirs is different. It feels a lot more functional - less wild and natural. Two coots greeted me by the water and I climbed to the top of a hill to see in the distance the hill where my first walk - through Epping Forest - had started a few weeks before.


The water in the reservoirs is usually flat and still but on that grey day the wind blew on the water, sending ripples which became waves lapping gently around the edges.

Waves on the reservoir

On the far side of the reservoirs the path leads out of the gate and on to the main road.

Join or leave the walk here - bus 158

I wanted to avoid the highway and take the byway so I followed the path that continues alongside a water channel and crossed the green bridge. I found myself on Tottenham Marshes.

The path to Tottenham Marshes

From here I would begin the next part of my walk: By The Banks of The River


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