Thursday, August 22, 2013

For the last few months, while the weather has been hot, I have been cycling and jogging along the River Lea, starting off from Springfield Park and navigating through there through Walthamstow Marshes, though the Lee Valley, through Hackney Marshes, and all the way to Hackney Wick. Sometimes I’ll even go the other way, down to Tottenham Marshes and Tottenham Hale. All these ‘marshes’ were drained a while ago, so they’re actually more like fields, providing a much-needed source of calm and green in the area. It’s made me become more interested in just how much London is intersected with canals and rivers (other than the main one, of course – the Thames), and how it’s affected the topography of London.

The River Lea has always been there, a constant feature of my life growing up in this area of London. Its name possibly comes from the old Celtic word for ‘bright’, ‘lug’, though there are other, competing claims. When England was ruled under Danelaw, sometime in the 800-900s, it was used as part of the Danelaw boundary. Meanwhile, cities and areas of London owe their etymology to the river: think of Leagrave, Luton, Leyton, and Leamouth, all variants of Old Anglo-Saxon signifiers of an area near the river Lea.
It begins all the way from the Chiltern Hills and winds its way through Hertfordshire and its various towns, before entering London via Enfield Lock (again a reference to the river), just beyond Waltham Abbey. From there it navigates through all the places familiar to me: Edmonton, Chingford, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Upper Clapton (right near Stamford Hill), Leyton…and Hackney Wick, which is where I’ll usually finish. Along the way, I pass pubs overlooking the river and hundreds of moored barges, many with people living in them; some sell drinks, some are full of people playing music; some even sell books.
But the Lea carries on beyond the Wick, winding right around the Olympics site in Stratford and through Fish Island, Bromley-by-Bow, Poplar, Canning Town, and Leamouth. There, its work done, the river terminates at Bow Creek, running eventually into the Thames. One day, I’ll attempt to cycle the full distance.

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