Walk north along the Lea River from the Olympic Park and you will very quickly feel like you are miles away from London. On the way you will pass through some nature reserves, past WWII bomb craters, long boat marinas, rowing clubs and a Victorian Beam Engine. The walk is easy to do, very flat and just under 6 miles (9km) long. I did this walk in mid July with a group of friends. Get it right and you can feast on blackberries on the way.
As shown on the (route map), the walk starts at Stratford station, making a quick exit though the labyrinth of the Westfield Centre heading for the Olympic Park. Some of the buildings from the 2012 Olympics, like the elegant London Aquatic Cenntre and Lea Valley Velodrome, still stand. The Olympic Stadium itself is being converted into a football ground. If you are there at the right time of year, all the banks are covered with beautiful meadow flowers.
Screen capture from plotaroute.com showing walking route
Heading up the Lea River, the sounds of the city quickly fade away, to be replaced mostly by bird song and the occasional dog. In July the banks are covered with the pink and purple flowers of Himalayan Balsam, which is an invasive plant, but very pretty. If you are lucky, you might also catch sight of the odd kingfisher.
The route continues north along the river and over the A12 into Hackney Marsh, the largest area of Common Land in Greater London. At the northern end of this lies the Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve, a popular spot for bird watching or just watching the river flow over the weir.
A short distance later, the path crosses over the river to the east side, continuing up alongside Walthamstow Marshes, which is where the panorama at the top of this page was taken. These marshes are an important nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), full of rare plants and animals. If fortunate you may come across a buzzard or peregrine falcon. The marshes also contain Bomb Crater Pond, created by an exploding V2 bomb during WWII. All the way the river is lined with canal boats, and just beyond the marshes lies the Lea River Marina and Lea Rowing Club. Next to the club is a small cafe, a good place to grab a drink or ice cream.
The next gem on this walk is the Markfield Beam Engine, one of the last functioning, Victorian pumping steam engines in the country. It is housed in a museum within Markfield Park and open on various Sundays throughout the year. If you pick the right Sunday, then you will find it powered up and working. It looks magnificent, and used to pump sewage. Next to it are a rose garden and large café, another good place for a rest stop if needed.
The last leg of the journey is a bit more built up, with the reservoirs of North London on the far side hidden behind earth banks and barbed wire. The walk ends at Tottenham Locks, an important lock on the River Lea Navigation, just past the A503. To the east of the lock lies The Paddock Community Nature Park, another good place to spot kingfishers and, when in season, pick blackberries. If, before jumping on the tube at Tottenham Hale, you want another excuse for a drink, try the Ferry Boat Pub, just to the east of the park on the banks of the River Lea Diversion.