top of page

The Black Path

There are so many mysteries surrounding The Black Path. In days gone by farmers would drive their cattle, sheep and geese along this ancient route from Walthamstow to Smithfield Market.

And centuries later it continues to capture the imaginations of walkers and writers who try to discover the trail of the Black Path.

This walk is part of the homeward journey that the drovers would have made and begins in Columbia Road.

It was the Victorians who much later widened this byway and turned it into a residential street lined with houses and shops. Beneath the cobble stones and flagstones lies the remains of the original path.

And so to walk along Columbia Road is to join the way of the drovers who were walking this way many centuries ago.

The Victorian dwellings have been preserved and the area is frozen in time.

Columbia Road

On Sundays, Columbia Road comes to life as the flower market - with tomato plants, herbs and fruit trees on sale as they have done over for many years.

Leaving the market behind, a path leads to Hackney City Farm. Stopping off here for a brief visit on a sunny Sunday morning there was a huge black pig feeding its ten tiny newborn piglets. As they sucked and snuffled, their mother stood up, shaking them off of her. So now they rummaged around the straw and began to squabble and playfully bite each other.

Meanwhile in the farmyard a cockerel stood proudly on the cobblestones,

Hackney City Farmyard

Part of the farm is a peaceful garden where hollyhocks grow tall.

Hackney City Farm garden

A Hollyhock towers overhead

And a fig tree thrives in this sheltered garden.

Fig Tree

Around the farm there is an abundance of nature with paths leading away from the trail of The Black Path.

A path around the farm

From here it is possible to continue the walk through a quiet street and over the bridge across The Regents Canal. When the drovers used this ancient route there was no river crossing as the canal was built much later.

Before arriving at London Fields, the trail takes us through Broadway Market which on a Sunday is filled with stalls selling street food. There are oysters to be scooped up and eaten - perhaps not to everyone's taste but now considered a luxury. In days gone by they were food for the poor.

London Fields now has flower meadows - these would have been much appreciated by the animals that were grazed here overnight on their long, long journey to Smithfields. Weary and footsore - both animals and people - including the geese who would wear shoes to protect their delicate feet - this was where they rested until dawn.

A flower meadow on London Fields

Path through the meadows

On the far side of London Fields a path leads away towards the farms where the drovers lived, still some distance away. Were they safe on the way home? Were there robbers along the way as they carried home the coins they had been paid at the market, in their purse bags of leather or fabric? There is so much that we do not know.

Homeward path

They would have continued along this path but at the far end is the point where we lose the trail. And for just a short while we must continue along a main road - but very soon we arrive back into open space behind St Augustine's Tower.

St Augustine's Tower

We cannot be sure of the exact location of The Black Path now but we know that we are near and will soon be able to join it again. Church Path takes us past the walled garden.

The walled garden

And just around the corner we come across a house and garden that has been there for centuries - Sutton House, a fine Tudor dwelling. At the entrance there is a well which has now sadly dried up but around the garden there are a variety of plants growing: grapes and apples and strawberries.

Sutton House



In the courtyard herbs are growing in pots - as they may have been in days gone past.


In the kitchen the produce of the gardens around Hackney would have been cooked here.

Sutton House kitchen

But it is time once more to find the direction of The Black Path and head home to Walthamstow. Across the main road and a little way along turn off at Powerscroft Road and we are back on The Black Path. It is a busy road now but tree lined with wide pavements so it is a peaceful walk, sloping down towards the river valley. Those drovers must have felt the relief of knowing that they were almost home as they made their way down the hill.

The road now once again becomes a path across Millfields, a huge open expanse of common land.

Millfields trees

A path on Millfields

Along the way is nature's harvest. If one of the drovers left an apple core, would there have been a fruit tree for the people that came later?

Apple tree

The Black Path once crossed the River Lea although there are different ideas about where that was. The river was much wider and shallower so it may have been forded. Some say that the toll bridge was avoided in order to escape paying tax.

The path now leads across the marshes where horses are grazed.

A horse on the marshes

In mid summer the grasslands are dry and ready to harvest.

Walthamstow Marshes

And here, for the first time after walking miles along the way of The Black Path there is a sign announcing the name of this historic route.

The Black Path

We have travelled a distance through one of the busiest and most built up areas of London and yet somehow nearly all of the walk has been away from traffic and we have been able to explore the countryside of London along the way.

And it is here that we can turn off along another ancient trail which was joined to The Black Path. It leads away along the valley all the way up to Waltham Abbey, a sacred site. Over the centuries this was the route for pilgrims and one that we can walk today.

Just as they did in ancient times along the byways in and around London.

See The Black Path map for directions


bottom of page