The Lee and Stort navigations

Two short but in­ter­est­ing river navigations con­nect the Thames and Re­gents Canal via Lon­don’s Olympic venues to the at­trac­tive coun­try­side of North Es­sex and Hert­ford­shire

Canal Boat - - Boater’s Break - TEXT & PIC­TURES BY DEREK PRATT

If water­ways his­tory had worked out dif­fer­ently, the Lee and Stort navigations could have been part of a nav­i­ga­ble route to Cam­bridge, link­ing the Fen­land water­ways di­rectly to Lon­don’s Dock­lands and cre­at­ing all sorts of in­ter­est­ing through routes and cir­cuits. How­ever the old prob­lem of lack of fi­nances stepped in and the water­way from the Stort to Cam­bridge was never con­structed.

But although this left us with two dead- end river navigations, it’s well worth cruis­ing from the main canal sys­tem through Lon­don to ex­plore them. The River Lee be­comes nav­i­ga­ble at Hert­ford and then passes through the towns of Ware, Stanstead Ab­bots and Brox­bourne.

Then in the Lee Val­ley Re­gional Park it pro­vides a green pas­sage through Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey and En­field to the Olympic Park be­fore join­ing the River Thames at Lime­house. And the River Stort Nav­i­ga­tion be­gins at Bishop’s Stort­ford, pass­ing through Saw­bridge­worth and Har­low on its 14-mile de­scent to a junc­tion with the Lee just north of Brox­bourne.

Boaters can reach the Lee via the Re­gent’s Canal and the Hert­ford Union Canal, or al­ter­na­tively via the tidal Thames, entering the nav­i­ga­tion at Lime­house Basin. For­merly known as Re­gent’s Canal Dock, this opened in 1820 and cov­ered ten acres of wa­ter with four acres of quay­side.

It was ac­tive un­til the 1960s, han­dling pro­duce and raw ma­te­ri­als brought by ship from all over the world which was then dis­trib­uted by canal; mean­while

coal and other com­modi­ties were brought by canal from the Mid­lands. To­day, Lime­house Basin is a ma­rina with ex­ten­sive moor­ings, sur­rounded by mod­ern hous­ing.

Leav­ing the basin via the Lime­house Cut takes you to Bow Locks, a link to the tidal Bow Creek which pro­vides the third (and least used) way of reach­ing the Lee Nav­i­ga­tion. This is the real be­gin­ning of the Lee Nav­i­ga­tion, and the next land­mark is Three Mills with its fine com­plex of build­ings in­clud­ing a re­stored for­mer tidal mill.

Soon af­ter­wards you will see one of the en­trances to the Bow Back Rivers, a com­plex net­work of chan­nels which are now trans­formed into the Olympic Park water­ways. This for­mer derelict area be­came the lo­ca­tion for the 2012 Games, and many of the spe­cially con­structed build­ings have sur­vived

in­clud­ing the main Olympic Sta­dium which is now home to West Ham United foot­ball club. The pro­posed full re­open­ing of the Olympic Park water­ways to visit­ing boats was de­layed from spring 2017, be­cause of restora­tion work on Car­pen­ters Road Lock tak­ing longer than orig­i­nally planned, but an open­ing is planned for Au­gust Bank Hol­i­day (see our restora­tion fea­ture on page 65).

Back on the Lee main line, Old Ford Locks, like most of the locks on the Lower Lee, are paired and mech­a­nised. Hack­ney Marshes pro­vide a wel­come area of green­ery in what is an in­tensely built up re­gion . The Lee Val­ley Ice Cen­tre at Lea Bridge Road is fol­lowed by Waltham­stow Marshes, an­other green open space.

Then comes a se­ries of reser­voirs which ex­tend all the way to En­field. This sec­tion of nav­i­ga­tion is of­ten busy with ca­noeists and row­ers. At Spring­field Park, the Lee Val­ley Ma­rina faces a waterside cafe very pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors in the sum­mer months.

The Mark­field Beam En­gine build­ing can be seen a lit­tle fur­ther along to­wards Tot­ten­ham. Orig­i­nally in­stalled in 1886 to pump sewage, the beam en­gine has been re­stored and is oc­ca­sion­ally open to the pub­lic. It is sit­u­ated in a park sur­rounded by gardens.

Af­ter Tot­ten­ham Lock the nav­i­ga­tion fol­lows a straight course flanked by reser­voirs on one side and in­dus­try on the other. The next point of in­ter­est is at Pick­ett’s Lock where the Lee Val­ley Leisure Cen­tre can be seen be­yond the lock. It in­cludes in­door and out­door ath­let­ics cen­tres, swim­ming pool, multi-screen cin­e­mas, restau­rants and bars. Sev­eral of Bri­tain’s Olympic ath­letes used the ath­let­ics cen­tre for train­ing.

Pon­ders End Lock has moor­ings and a large waterside pub. This is fol­lowed by an in­dus­trial sec­tion which ex­ten­sively used the nav­i­ga­tion but has now turned its back on the wa­ter in favour of road trans­port.

At En­field Lock, there is a Canal & River Trust main­te­nance yard and a pub. Stop here to visit the En­field Is­land Vil­lage, built on the site of the now re­dun­dant Royal Small Arms Fac­tory. Some of the orig­i­nal build­ings which made over five mil­lion Lee En­field ri­fles have sur­vived.

Pass­ing the noisy M25 mo­tor­way, you ar­rive at Waltham Town Lock, a good place to stop for there’s lots to see in this area. Waltham Abbey town cen­tre with all its shops and a mar­ket is just a short walk from the nav­i­ga­tion. The beau­ti­ful Abbey dates back to Nor­man times and re­mains of King Harold are re­puted to be buried here. There is a me­mo­rial to King Harold in the de­light­ful gardens which are di­vided by the merid­ian line.

Waltham Abbey is also the site of the Royal Gunpowder Mills (see in­set) – but its fu­ture is in doubt, so visit it soon. A more

re­cent ad­di­tion to the Waltham Abbey scene is the Lee Val­ley White Wa­ter Cen­tre (see in­set) ad­ja­cent to Waltham Town Lock. The nav­i­ga­tion now continues north­wards for four miles in a straight line to Brox­bourne pass­ing Cheshunt with a se­ries of lakes on both sides of the water­way.

At Brox­bourne, the nav­i­ga­tion takes a sharp turn east­wards by a busy boat­yard sit­u­ated on a short arm which has a hire fleet and pub­lic trip boats. There is also a waterside pub with a gar­den and Brox­bourne town cen­tre is just a short walk away.

There is now a def­i­nite feel­ing of the coun­try­side as the nav­i­ga­tion reaches Cartha­gena Lock with its pretty flower gar­den. Lakes and pools ac­com­pany the nav­i­ga­tion to Dobbs Weir, with its lock and pop­u­lar pub sur­rounded by wood­land. Im­me­di­ately af­ter Feildes Weir Lock, you will see to your right the en­trance to the River Stort Nav­i­ga­tion.

At Rye House stands an­other pub with a waterside gar­den. Be­hind it is a kart­ing sta­dium (where rac­ing driver Lewis Hamil­ton got his first taste for com­pet­i­tive driv­ing), a na­ture re­serve and the his­tor­i­cal Rye House Gate­house that dates back to 1443 (see in­set).

Next come the twin vil­lages of Stanstead Ab­botts and St Mar­garet’s (one on each side of the river) which have all shop­ping fa­cil­i­ties close to the nav­i­ga­tion. This is a busy boat­ing cen­tre with a ma­rina, plus a pub with a large waterside gar­den next to the road bridge.

This is fol­lowed by a lovely quiet reach with na­ture re­serves in flooded quar­ries backed up by wooded hills. There is just one lock at Hard­mead and the only bridges are foot­bridges.

Things get a bit busier at Ware, where the nav­i­ga­tion cuts through the town cen­tre. There are sev­eral ex­cel­lent pubs and the 18th cen­tury gaze­bos make an in­ter­est­ing waterside fea­ture. Ware was once known as The Gra­nary of Lon­don

be­cause of its malt­ings and di­rect links to the cap­i­tal. Most of the mills and malt­ings that are still stand­ing have been con­verted to new pur­poses.

Once past the A10 road viaduct, the nav­i­ga­tion passes through a sec­tion of at­trac­tive coun­try­side known as the Meads be­fore reach­ing Hert­ford Lock. A line of moor­ings leads into Hert­ford where the head of nav­i­ga­tion is just be­yond the Old Barge pub. Moor there and ex­plore Hert­ford, an in­ter­est­ing town cen­tre with the re­mains of a me­dieval cas­tle.

Back at Feilde’s Weir Lock, we turn on to the 14-mile River Stort Nav­i­ga­tion. The river is much nar­rower than the Lee and is mostly ru­ral in as­pect. The first two locks are over­looked by wooded hills, then the nav­i­ga­tion reaches Roy­don Mill where there is a very large 315-berth ma­rina reached by a new lock from the nav­i­ga­tion. Com­bined with a ho­tel, hol­i­day chalets, restau­rant, bar and a car­a­van site, this is known as Roy­don Ma­rina Vil­lage, and has be­come waterside hol­i­day re­sort.

It’s back to na­ture af­ter Roy­don Lock, when the nav­i­ga­tion passes through the Huns­don Mead na­ture re­serve. This 68-acre grass­land site has a su­perb dis­play of wild­flow­ers in the sum­mer months.

The mill at Parn­don Mill Lock once pro­duced flour which was car­ried by boat into Lon­don. Nowa­days, it has be­come an art cen­tre with stu­dios for paint­ing, sculp­tors and ar­chi­tects.

The nav­i­ga­tion passes around the edge of Har­low where you will see a huge climb­ing wall just be­fore Burnt Mill Lock.

There is a pub and restau­rant by the lock, while nearby Moorhen Ma­rina has all fa­cil­i­ties for boaters. This is fol­lowed by a wooded sec­tion lead­ing to Har­low Mill Lock with yet an­other pub, restau­rant and ho­tel in a con­verted mill build­ing.

The nav­i­ga­tion continues through pleas­ant wood­land to Saw­bridge­worth. Be­yond Sheer­ing Mill Lock is a pleas­ant mod­ern waterside hous­ing de­vel­op­ment fol­lowed by malt­ings now con­verted to busi­nesses and apart­ments, with the town cen­tre just a short walk away.

Af­ter Saw­bridge­worth the nav­i­ga­tion twists and bends be­fore reach­ing Ted­nam­bury Lock. Halling­bury Ma­rina is lo­cated on a short arm formed from a for­mer mill­stream above the lock. At the end of the arm is Lit­tle Halling­bury Mill, which is an im­pres­sive build­ing built as a corn mill in 1874 and now con­verted to a ho­tel and restau­rant.

The nav­i­ga­tion continues on its peace­ful way in pleas­ant open coun­try­side pass­ing through the oc­ca­sional lock. Rushey Mead na­ture re­serve is worth a visit and can be seen be­tween Twyford and South Mill Locks. The wet­land ar­eas are pop­u­lar with wa­ter­fowl and the grass­land sec­tions have a fine dis­play of wild­flow­ers in the sum­mer season.

Af­ter South Mill Lock the water­way en­ters Bishop’s Stort­ford where the end of nav­i­ga­tion is close to the town cen­tre.

For 150 years from the open­ing of the River Stort Nav­i­ga­tion in 1769, huge ton­nages of grain and malt were loaded here and shipped to Lon­don and be­yond. To­day, most of the old malt­ings, gra­naries and tim­ber yards have gone and their sites have been con­verted into hous­ing. But with shops, pubs, a mar­ket and en­ter­tain­ment cen­tres within easy reach, plus the Rhodes Art Com­plex (Ce­cil Rhodes was born near here) and Bishop’s Stort­ford Mu­seum, it’s a fine place to visit and stock up with pro­vi­sions be­fore re­turn­ing to the River Lee.

Bow to­day and ( right) back in the 1960s

The Lee in Clap­ton, east Lon­don

Mod­ern build­ing by Tot­ten­ham Locks

Spring­field, busy with row­ers and ca­noes

Pon­ders End Locks, paired and mech­a­nised

En­field Lock, near where the Lee En­field ri­fle was made

By Dobbs Weir, Lon­don has been left be­hind

Roy­don Mill, on a short arm of the Stort

Con­verted malt­ings at Bishop’s Stort­ford

Burnt Mill Lock, near Har­low Old Town

Near Moorhen Marinia, Har­low

The cu­ri­ous old river­side gaze­bos of Ware

Near the limit of nav­i­ga­tion in Hert­ford

Pass­ing the river­side pub at Rye House

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