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By The Banks of The River

Part Three Along the Canal Path

Join or leave the walk at Tottenham Hall Station Buses 76 123 230 W4

I began this walk on a misty, murky day in March and the weather added to the strange atmosphere of the marshes.

Tottenham Marsh

The branches of the trees were black against the grey skies where gulls circled and screeched overhead.

Bare branches

But a path led away from the marshes and into a woodland where trees were beginning to blossom, bringing hope and signs of spring - elder trees and bushes with their tiny, delicate white flowers.

Elder Flowers

From Tottenham Marshes I followed the tow path along the River Lea where geese are so used to people that they stand their ground on the edge of the canal.

Geese on the canalside

There was the mesmerising sight of cormorants who were diving and staying under the water for a long time - then popping out further upstream. Two others balanced on a branch, standing as still as statues.

Two cormorants

Some of the waterways around here can be traced back to the end of the Ice Age - thousands of years ago and there has been human intervention over the past centuries which has changed the course of water flowing through the Lea Valley. Sometimes the water courses establish themselves - including the Coppermill Stream and I crossed over the river at Horse Shoe Bridge to follow it for a little way.

Join or leave the walk here - bus W12

The path alongside leads to Horse Shoe Thicket which lies on the edge of Walthamstow Marshes and is home to woodland birds, speckled wood butterflies and common pipistrelle bats.

Horse Shoe Thicket

It is a coppiced wood which means that the trees are cut down to the stump - a way of humans working with nature to ensure that the ground is open to sunlight so that low growing plants can fill the space. Perhaps this strange looking five tree trunk monster is the result. Spread out as if it has opened up, with soft moss creating a cushion in its centre.

Five trees in one

Back at Horse Shoe Bridge, on the Hackney side of the river, lies Springfield Park, with a rural view almost hiding the busy streets of East London at the top of the hill.

Springfield Park

On the other side of the river, Walthamstow Marsh is a rare and precious space. 500 species of insects have been identified here and 400 plants, including the rare Creeping Marshwort. Water voles have taken residence here and a fence surrounds their territory to keep them safe - but somehow a cat has found its way here and sits, waiting.

An unwelcome predator

A row of Poplar trees, including the Black Poplar, marks the boundary between Walthamstow Marsh and Leyton Marsh. This is Lammas Land - open to local people from mid August to early April who were, by law, allowed to bring their livestock to graze.

Grazing on the marshes dates back to Anglo Saxon times - and cattle have appeared once again although only in warmer months so there was no sign of them on this bleak, cold day.

The path continues alongside Oxbow Island, a sanctuary for wildlife. No longer hidden away, it is signposted and paths have been laid. This may encourage more people onto the island - but perhaps the hope is that they will use the footways and not wander into the growth.

Oxbow Island

Mill Fields stretch across the expanse of grass, right up to the path. This was the site of great gatherings in the past by local people who were determined to keep this space as common land. And cutting across, the way that farmers used to walk their cattle into the centre of the city.

Join or leave the walk here buses 55 and 56

I came across the trees that had been planted a few years' ago by local people, demonstrating their care of and entitlement to this common land and joined the path in South Mill Fields that leads back to the tow path.

Path to the river from South Millfields

Crossing the river once more, the filter beds - long abandoned - become more verdant every year as moss spreads across the stone structures and metal machinery. Reeds spring up in the giant tanks, and provide shelter and nesting sites for reed warblers, coots and mooorhens. The crumbling bricks and sand provide a habitat for insects and amphibians and in the summer dragonflies and damselflies can be seen darting around, hovering above the puddles of water.

Greening of a brick structure

The path leads out of the filter beds and on to Hackney Marshes where I had walked a few weeks before. From here, I rejoined the canal path, and my walk formed a loop back along the river upstream.

To Hackney Marshes

I would find a byway to the open spaces around Hackney and Tower Hamlets -to visit the Commons, Farms and Countryside of East London.

Join or leave the walk here buses 236 276 308 and W15 on Lea Bridge Road or buses 106 253 254 and 393 or Clapton Station.


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