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The River Lea

The River Lea is a natural waterway which flows through East London all the way down to the River Thames. The river has been used for transporting goods at least as far back as the Bronze Age - over 3,000 years ago.

But the shape of this environment was formed 2 centuries ago when the system of canals was developed across the country. Heavy goods were piled on to barges and pulled by horses walking alongside.

The banks of the river then became a place of intense industrial activity which continued long after the arrival of the railways. Warehouses were piled high with planks of wood, to be made into furniture in the factories nearby.

Only the occasional outline of what was once here is visible now that the river and its paths have been gifted to nature. The watery landscape provides endless opportunities for leisure activities and places to see wildlife.

Little egrets use the abandoned canal side machinery to perch on and along the way there are many inspiring sights.

Near Hackney Wick up pops an open air eatery enclosed by walls of climbing runner beans and pleached fruit trees. A sanctuary has been created, away from urban living.

Further down the canal the Bow Back Waters lead off into wildlife areas hidden away where a lone cormorant or a heron may stand guard at the edge of the water.

The ancient walls have become so green that close up they resemble a microscopic forest and bulrushes grow where wildfowl build their nests.

This part of London is named after a bridge that was built here - shaped like a bow. The legend is that Queen Matilda had fallen into the River Lea when she crossed by ferry boat.

The River Lea is a living museum and reminds us that sometimes time is not linear but circular - returning to a time before so much industrial activity swallowed up the landscape.

Join the River Lea Towpath from Tottenham Hall Station, Clapton Station, Hackney Wick Station or Limehouse Station

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