Walking and chatting. The River Lea with M.

Saturday 14 April 2018. River Lea, Walthamstow.

I think it is reasonably safe to say that I can be a little obsessive. I am no single issue fanatic, often obsessing over multiple things at the same time; work, photography, books, writing, fitness (lack thereof). Flipping and flopping my focus, thus ensuring I never achieve anything at all. This strategy has served me reliably, if not well, for most of my life. I never suffer humiliation and public failure, and dreams are never shattered because I never quite finish things. There is always something shinier and newer that catches my attention, and the last thing languishes unfinished, often at a tricky or awkward stage in its gestation.

Recently this obsession has been reading books set in and around where I currently live. I don’t mean to be unfair to Walthamstow, but on the surface it is not the most exciting part of London. It does have the longest street market in Europe, but to be honest, the market is not something I particularly value. What Walthamstow does have is some authors who make the place sound interesting. I have mentioned Will Ashon’s book about Epping Forest in the past and I have recently enjoyed reading ‘Marshlands’ by Gareth E. Rees, stories set in and around the River Lea and the ‘marshes’ that edge it. I have Esther Kinsky’s ‘River’ to read next, more tales of the Lea and the folk that live nearby.

I am off to New Zealand and Australia for two weeks from next weekend. A quick trip to see my family, and to make sure the grand kids don’t completely forget who I am. My daughter, nannying for a family in Stroud, wanted to come and visit before I left. She chose the best weather weekend of the year to come down. Today was glorious; warm sun and no wind. A perfect day to stroll the Lea down as far as the shopping centre in Stratford to buy some gifts to take back to New Zealand.

We took the long way, walking up Forest Rd, through Ferry Lane to Walthamstow Wetlands. I wanted to stop for coffee and then walk M. through the Wetlands to Coppermill Lane. However the Coppermill Lane exit was closed, so we carried on along Ferry Lane to the Lea, which was not a bad second choice. It was not too busy at that time of the morning, a lot of runners out; maybe a last minute stretch out before the London Marathon, but few cyclists. It was nice to just stroll and chat; without having to duck out of the way all the time. Spring has finally started to deliver some natural colour to the city, it is proving to be popular.

There is a lot to see, though for some reason I did not take any pictures of the river or the many river boats that are moored here. I guess I wasn’t really thinking photos and blogs when we walked and talked, as we have not seen each other in a while.

The filter beds feature in the ‘Marshlands’ book, I have been planning on visiting here again after a wander through a couple of years ago. Bright sunshine did not set the right mood, or light for the photographs I had in mind, though no mist has descended on this part of London for ages, not once all winter. Unusual.

The Middlesex Filter Beds were built in the 1850s in response to new thinking about cholera, after an epidemic in London in 1849 took 14,000 lives. Physician John Snow correctly deducing that cholera was spread via contaminated drinking water, not the thick dirty air of London. The filter beds were built where the River Lea met the Hackney Cut canal and filtered the cleaner water of Essex through sand and gravel and pumped it into reservoirs and on to the homes of NE London. The filter beds expanded massively over the years until the Coppermill Waterworks, nearer the reservoirs, was opened in 1969. The area has been left to be re-wilded and is now a nature reserve. It is very green.

I have been here twice before, and been virtually alone both times, seeing only a ‘romancing’ couple under the trees on the bank of the Lea last time I passed by. Today it was really busy, families with kids, bikes and strollers. We are re-wilding our landscape for the benefit of the urban and urbane, the least wild of us.

Back out on the Lea-side path the traffic got heavier as we made our way towards Hackney, M. wanted to walk barefoot so we detoured off the broken chipped path on to a mud track in the grass, feet having softened from a few months in Europe. It was nicer in the trees and off the path. The A12 road bridges have long been a shelter for river barges and boats under repair, sheltering from the rain and the worst of the wind. There has always been graffiti and odd artworks on the concrete shoulder and bridge abutments. This morning there were three guys working spray cans on the wall and a stone-carver at work, I have never seen the actual artists before. There was also a group of climbers, practising roping up the short, thick round pillars supporting the hellishly loud road above.

We stopped for lunch and coffee at one of the new cafes on the Stratford side of the river, they were all really busy, but we found spot in the sun to chill and wait, people watching the new East Londoners who mean that places that serve vegan food and nice coffee exist.

We had left home with the intent of walking to the mall in Stratford, which was only a few minutes from where we sat sharing nachos in the sun. It was early afternoon and though I really needed to get gifts to take with me it was just too nice to even think about walking into a busy and noisy mall. We chose to turn round and start walking home.

On the way we had passed a stand of young silver birch, back from the river, and behind a fence. I have seen these trees before and always wanted to find out how to get amongst them. Though had never seen away through the fence when coming from the direction of home, walking the other way an entry point was obvious. The silver birches were a bit disappointing, though this path covered by arched trees revealed itself to us, a haven from the now very busy tow path.



We followed it and the mud tracks as far towards home as we could, finally stopping for a cold pint before jumping on a bus at Lea Bridge Rd.

El was at the football on Saturday night so M. and I went to Brick Lane for a dosa.

I had a great day, I really like spending time with my daughter, we are different enough to disagree on many things, but share enough passions and ideas that the differences of opinion (and age) do not get in the way of long, rambling and enjoyable chats.

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
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