In short: flat and mainly dry walk, primarily on towpaths and a small stretch of pavement – one small section on a very muddy path through the St Margaret’s Community woods on the edge of the New River. Public access toilets at the start and lovely cafe in the Van Hage garden centre at the halfway point with clean public toilets in the car park. 3 hrs walking + 45 mins pitstop (including browsing the Christmassy shopping concessions in the garden centre).
After a few days away last week in Berlin it’s good to be back on the walking trail. And lovely Lea Valley for a destination – what could be better?
We park at the small free public car park alongside Rye House gatehouse, postcode EN11 0EH. This is about a 50 minute drive from Muswell Hill across country and up the A10 from the M25 onwards (avoiding the North Circular and the Enfield stretch of the A10 – 2 of my least favourite stretches of road!). Consequently on arrival we need to find a public toilet and from my previous time doing this walk – number 21 on 22nd June – I recall that the Rye Meads Nature Reserve has toilets that are available to walkers and other users of the Lea Valley.
We turn left out of the car park onto Rye Road and continue along to the entrance to the RSPB Reserve. Asking directions for the toilets (straight through the reception and out of the building ) we receive what can only be described as a slightly frosty welcome – not a million miles from the unhelpfulness encountered on my last visit – but heigh-ho, they’re obliged to let us use their facilities so who cares if we don’t have binoculars and an I-Spy book of birds?!
Retracing our steps we pass the attractive gatehouse and cross the bridge over the River Lee, descending on the far side to the tow path where we continue straight on, keeping the river (actually a canal at this point) on our right. After a few light industrial units at the start here the canal soon becomes tree-lined and lovely and stretches in front of us.
We walk under the A414 and soon after pass the Stanstead Abbotts marina on our right. A second bridge marks the point where we pass the town of St Margarets, more boats and then a lock.
At a third bridge we come off the path and, crossing the bridge, we take in the gorgeous view over the Amwell Nature Reserve – well worth the mini detour – and unfortunately on this grey day the photos don’t do it justice at all!
We turn round and go back over the bridge continuing straight on away from the canal and towards the railway line which we cross (very carefully) at the unmanned level crossing. To be honest its the signpost with the Samaritans’ phone number which freaks us out just as much as the train which always seem to pass at top speed just as we walk away!
We continue along this lane until we reach a road where we turn left and immediately right up some steps to the towpath of the New River. Here we turn right, keeping the river on our left, until we come to a bridge over the river, which we cross, taking the footpath up the slope ahead.
At the top we cross another road and take the footpath opposite, onto a track and then another footpath keeping straight on all the time until we get to the main road.
Here we turn right – not the most pleasant part of the walk as the road is really busy – but we cross where we can and shortly come to the entrance to the Van Hage garden centre. Beautifully Christmassy with a carousel in the car park, we avail ourselves of the facilities and go into the main building. It’s hugely busy – the usual shoppers and lunchers of a certain age augmented by Christmas browsers – but we grab a delicious cherry scone and a pot of tea, secure a table and enjoy a well deserved pitstop.
After a break and a short browse around the decorations we leave the garden centre and turn left onto the main road. We cross immediately and take the first turning on the right, Madgeways Lane walking through to a crossroads where we turn left and walk through the village of Great Amwell to the pub, the King George IV which we pass to the right. The menu here looks fab – we must return for a slap-up lunch sometime!
We take a footpath off left just beyond the pub which brings us down to a bridge over the New River, which we cross and turn right to follow the towpath with the river on our right.
This is a lovely stretch of river – peaceful and full of birdlife with only the occasional dog walker and some infrequent cars or trains over to our left. In fact it is at this moment that we spot a flash of blue ahead and to our absolute delight we realise that it’s a kingfisher – for both of us the first one that we’ve ever seen and we’re absurdly excited. In fact we now track it for most of our return journey as it swoops over the water surface and alights first on one side and then the other of the riverbank.
We have to cross a road to continue along this towpath – after this first road the towpath is now on the right side of the river – and still the kingfisher is ahead of us – just tantalisingly out of range for a decent photo.
Shortly after passing under the busy A414 again we come out on a road where we turn left and just before passing under the main road again we turn right and enter the St Margarets Community Wood. Strangely in this winter season it it is a little harder than it had been in the summer to follow the footpath through the trees and find our way back to the riverbank, but we manage it – the woods really are quite small so it’s not too tricky.
It is along this section of riverbank – where the towpath is really not particularly well surfaced – that we encounter the muddiest section – I’m only wearing trainers and could really have done with walking boots at this point.
We continue along this towpath, crossing at a bridge to complete the final section with the river on our left, until we come to a road. And low and behold at this final, rather unlovely, stretch the kingfisher returns as if to say goodbye and we are once again enchanted.
At the road we turn left crossing first the river, then the railway line and finally the River Lee. We walk across the grounds of the pretty Rye House Gatehouse to read the information panels displayed and return to the car park just beside it. A lovely, simple walk on a very grey day with a truly exceptional and memorable sighting of a kingfisher – hopefully not our last!