This train line was opened in 1840 as a suburban service from Stratford to Broxbourne. Long-distance trains between London Bishopsgate and Cambridge also ran on this line until 1872, when a more direct route was opened from a new terminal at London Liverpool Street via Hackney Downs. Passenger services continued until 1985 but the line was then used only by goods trains until a few passenger services were reinstated in 2005. It is now a minor route mainly used by commuters to Canary Wharf and there are no services on Sundays.
Routing note: Because of the 2012 Olympics construction site, I was forced to a significant detour along main roads at the start of the walk. You are likely to find a more pleasant route across the Olympic Park after this is opened to the public.
This walk connects to walks 6, 7 and 10 in Tottenham Hale; it will also connect there to Victoria Underground line walks 4 and 5. The walk connects in Stratford to walks 13 and 14 and to London Overground walk 13. It will also connect in Stratford to Central line walk 8, to Jubilee line walk 10 and to DLR walks 4 and 7.
This very important interchange is one of the oldest train stations in London as it was opened as early as 1839. The first line to pass through the station ran from London Devonshire Street (a temporary terminal in Mile End) to Romford. The station has a very complex layout on two levels. The low level includes the terminal of London Underground Jubilee line and two platforms used by the DLR line from Canning Town to Stratford International.
The high level includes the terminal of the DLR line to Canary Wharf, two platforms used by the London Underground Central line, two platforms used by London Overground trains towards Richmond and four platforms used by trains from London Liverpool Street towards East Anglia. There is an isolated platform at the rear of the station used as the terminal for train services towards Tottenham Hale. Interestingly, there are even two platforms that are unused as plans to run trains from London Fenchurch Street to Barking via Stratford in the 1940s were abandoned despite finishing construction.
The station was rebuilt several times due to the considerable extension of interchange possibilities. The current building is an imposing contemporary construction. It was built in 1999 and is being extended as a gateway for the 2012 Olympics visitors.
The name Stratford is obviously linked to a ford on a “street ” (this word was used for roads in old English and the Roman road to Colchester crossed the Lea River here).
L Eastern Road
L Angel Lane
From the bridge over the tracks, you have a good overview of Westfield shopping centre, a huge complex intended to rival a similar scheme in Shepherds Bush in the western suburbs. Was did strike me when I passed the area is the golden hue of the building – I suppose there is some justice in gold-plating a temple to consumption. It is also interesting to compare the size and appearance of such recent schemes with any cultural hall or religious building from the same period – it does show how society is currently much more willing to invest in ostentatious spending opportunities than in cultural or spiritual improvement. The only schemes able to rival with shopping centres are football stadiums.
(Ahead) Leyton Road
R Temple Mill Lane
L High Road Leyton
Note the mosque on this road. It has a lovely entrance with a portico and a little dome. In my opinion, this breaks elegantly the uninspiring line of shop windows while keeping in line with the typical size and height of buildings in this suburb. I would welcome similarly thoughtful embellishments of the streetscape in other suburbs.
The road passes Leyton underground station and a motorway.
L Maud Road
Walk past the superstore to the other side of the parking lot and exit at the roundabout into
At the next roundabout, do not cross below the bridge
L Ruckholt Road
Cross this very busy road at the protected lights for Quarter Mile Road
R into Recreation Ground
Aim for a bridge at the NW end of the open space and cross the river
You are now along the main course of the Lea River. The feeling on the path along the river is delightfully and surprisingly rural.
R path along the river, later joins a cycling route along the edge of Hackney Marshes.
This huge expanse of grass is one of the largest sports fields in London with about 70 football pitches. It is very conspicuous from a plane window when you land at London City Airport. The name Marsh would have been appropriate in medieval times as it was a flood plain for the river Lea, but it became a grazing area when the Lea Navigation canal drained the water and it became even more solid when rubble was dumped here after the World War II destructions in the East End.
At the next bridge, L along the cycle route for about 100 yards
R path into Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve
This is an interesting area and you will find a lot of information on panels. After a cholera epidemic in 1849, doctors realised that cholera was caused partly by polluted drinking water. The water supply companies realised that customers would be willing to pay more for clean water and the first filter beds were installed here in 1852. Only six filter beds of the original 25 are parts of the Reserve. The filter beds were closed in 1969 when a new water treatment plant was opened in Walthamstow and nature was left to take over. The area is managed by the Lea Valley Authority who strives to keep different habitats in the different filter beds.
Although there are similar abandoned areas in other parts of London where you can see how trees grow on former sidings and other abandoned areas, the filter beds have the advantage that you go around them at a raised level, so that you get a better overview of how wood regains a footing. It is impressive to see how lush and tall the forest is after 40 years. Lots of birds.
At the north end of the Reserve, near the place where the Lea River and the Lea Navigation separate, there is a large work of art called “Nature throne”, commissioned in 1990 from Paula Haughney. The Lea Valley Authority website describes it as “infamous” but I actually think it is both interesting to look at and well fitted to the location.
Cross the Reserve to a gate and a bridge at the NW end
R upstream along the Lea Navigation
Follow the towpath underneath a main road to the next pedestrian bridge
R bridge into Walthamstow Marshes
Ahead past the icerink building towards the raised causeway
L cycle route on top of the causeway
The Walthamstow Marshes were lammas lands, grazing land that local residents were allowed to use for grazing cattle after Lammas (St Michael’s mass). The Lea Valley Authority, who manages the site, has leased part of it to a horse farm (on the east side of the route).
Meanwhile, the main part along the river is kept marshy and grazed by a small herd of appropriate cattle from Scotland. The core area of the marsh is a site of special scientific interest as there are not many halfway natural marshes in London. You are not allowed to walk into the marsh, but I think you would not be very tempted by the mud anyway. One thing to note is the generous supply of brambles if you like their berries.
Follow the cycle route as it crosses two sets of railway tracks. There was a train station a few hundred yards south of this area when the line was first opened. Lea Bridge Road station (called Lea Bridge station from 1871 on) was away from urbanised areas but was a convenient junction for trains running between Stratford and Chingford. This service ended in 1985 and the station was closed. No buildings remain. At the parking lot at the end of the route,
L underneath train tracks (very low clearance)
At next bridge R along the marina fences, cross the Lea Navigation again at the next bridge
R towpath along the Lea Navigation
You are walking here along the Lea Navigation. This is not really an artificial canal, more a straightened arm of the river Lea. The river must have been used by ships as early as the 11th century as there are reports of Vikings attacking Hertford by ship. Seeing how narrow the river Lea is in that area, the ships must have been quite small. Work was done in bits and pieces over the centuries with Parliament for example issuing an Act in 1425. Like on all canals, there were constant disputes between shippers (who needed enough water), mill operators (who needed to keep water upstream in case of drought or for sudden increases in milling demand) and vested interests (who feared that easy transport by boat could undercut the high prices they demanded for delivering goods by cart to the City). The shippers won the main lawsuit in 1594.
After passing underneath train tracks, take any passage L across a small estate. All the passages should lead to Yarmouth Drive running along tracks.
L Jarrow Road, passing underneath train tracks.
On reaching the raised main road, climb the embankment stairs
L road bridge across train tracks
L staircase for subway underneath the road. The subway leads into the station
The station was opened in 1840 on the Stratford to Broxbourne line operated by the Northern & Eastern Railway. Most trains to Tottenham Hale run since 1872 from Liverpool Street. Looking at a map, it is amusing to note that there are no train between Tottenham Hale and Clapton, although the many trains between Tottenham Hale and Hackney Downs all pass through Clapton. Similarly, all trains going north from Tottenham Hale go to Enfield Lock, but some of them stop at Ponders End and Brimsdown, some stop at Northumberland Park and Angel Road, but none stop at both sets of stations.
The station was first called “Tottenham” and switched to “Tottenham Hale” in 1968 in order to emphasize the connection with the Victoria Line of London Underground. It was not possible to call the underground station “Tottenham” because the line also calls at a station nearer to central Tottenham, so that the name would have caused confusion. The train station is very busy as it is a major interchange between the Underground and the Lea valley suburbs. It is also the only stop for train services between Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport, so that it is one of the rare suburban stations hosting lots of foreign tourists with their bulking overseas luggage. The station was rebuilt in the 1990s in order to accomodate the Stansted Express better and the café (with no toilets) is now much larger than the ticket hall, showing different priorities than in Victorian times. Anyway, there is no rest of the original buildings.