Lee and Stort Navigations
Enjoy a day out on one of their 60 seat water buses... show more
Enjoy a day out on one of their 60 seat water buses on a trip through some of the most beautiful surrounding the south east has to offer show less
1 review of Lee and Stort Navigations in English
The Lee and Stort Navigations form an important part of Britain's canal network running east of London from Limehouse Basin to Hertford (Lee) and Bishop's Stortford (on the Stort branch). They are popular with walkers and anglers, as well as narrow-boat owners.
The navigations are both canalised rivers. The Lea (the spelling Lea refers to the river, Lee the navigation) has been used since Roman times, and the first Act to improve navigation (by the monks at Waltham Abbey) was passed as early as 1425. An early pound lock with two gates - the type we are familiar with today - was built at Waltham Abbey in 1577. The canal was subsequently improved over the years, and became part of London's water supply in the 17th century - a role it still fulfils.
The Stort was canalised rather later, in 1769, by Sir George Duckett. It never really prospered - sadly, schemes to reach Cambridge and the Fenland waterways never came to fruition.
The Lee was important for timber and other industrial traffic until after the Second World War, and improvements were made in the 1960s. Today, it is mostly used for pleasure craft, walkers, cyclists and anglers.
The lower Lea Valley is set to come into the spotlight as the setting for 2012 London Olympics. White water rafting and canoeing will take place at Broxbourne, so the canals really will help to thread the venues together.
Space doesn't permit a full description, but essentially the Lee runs for 28 miles from Limehouse Basin to Hertford, passing through the Lee valley: at first urban and industrial, beyond Hackney the land opens out as a series of marshes and the impressive reservoir network appears. North of Waltham Abbey is the lovely River Lee Country Park, with woodland, open spaces and lakes formed from gravel pits.
Beyond Broxbourne, the canal meanders as it strikes up towards Ware and the historic town of Hertford. For much of its length it is broad (it was improved in the 1920s for 100 ton boats to Hertford) and straight, and still carries small volumes of commercial traffic.
At its southern end, there is a short branch - the Hertford Union Canal - joining it to the Regent's Canal which also runs from Limehouse. This is the recommended navigation for most pleasure craft, as the section of the Lee Navigation below Old Ford Lock and the Limehouse Cut to Limehouse Basin are semi-tidal and for experienced boaters only. From Bow Locks the Lea - called Bow Creek - is technically navigable to the Thames at Blackwall at High Tide, but for suitable craft and very experienced boaters only.
The Stort navigation - just 14 miles long - branches off just north of Hoddesdon, and could not be more different: it really feels like a river, and is very beautiful. It's harder to navigate - it is very winding and narrow, but possible with care - but much more atmospheric.
The canal contains many species of fresh water fish, and is one of the most popular angling canals in the country. Insect and birdlife is also abundant, and if you are very lucky, you may see a water vole on the Stort. There are nature reserves and sites of special scientific interest along the length of both canals.
Being so close to London, the canals are very popular and there are lots of facilities for boaters, including boat trips, stores, fuel, pump-out and moorings. Both canals have plenty of pubs along their length!
Comprehensive guides to the facilities are available on the British Waterways site at www.waterscape.com, or alternatively, contact the British Waterways Customer Service Centre on (01923) 201120.
A very helpful leaflet on the canals of London's East End and Docklands can be downloaded at: http://www.waterscape.com/media/documents/20931.pdf.
Information for cyclists and walkers about Lee Valley Park can be obtained from the Lee Valley Park Information Centre (tel: 01992 702200).
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