Distance: 16 miles
Terrain: Tarmac and gravel paths
Total elevation gain: 276ft
Cycling time*: 1 hour 36 minutes
Calories burnt*: Around 580 calories
Starting point: Gunpowder Park, Sewardstone Road, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 3GP
This route is one of the longest of our featured routes and brings together two key nature reserves that site either side of the M25. From the intriguing explosive past of Gunpowder Park, through farmland, areas of reclaimed land following gravel extraction to an ultra-moden London 2012 venue, Lee Valley White Water Centre this routes boasts a true mixtures of all the elements that make up Lee Valley Regional Park.
Along the route you’ll find…
The clue to this site’s history is in its name! Formerly part of Royal Gunpowder Mills the site was used or the research and development of explosives for which the town of Waltham Abbey was once famous for. Throughout different areas of the country park you can see evidence of the blasts that the site was subjected to. Decommissioned from the MOD in 1991 the site was regenerated by Lee Valley Regional Park into the stunning, Green Flag accredited, open space you’ll see as you cycle through. Not only is it great for cycling but the wide areas of green space make it an ideal spot for a picnic and just enjoying the great outdoors. The areas boasts a wide variety of wildlife, whether you’re hearing the insects that are shrouded by the undergrowth, watching the butterflies as the feast on the nectar of the wildflowers, seeing birds such as the Skylark flying overhead or as the night draws in watch the bats hunting for an insect snack.
As you cycle around the bend look over to the far side of the road, can you spot one of Britain’s rarest native trees growing proudly on the bank? The Black Poplar likes boggy ground such as wet woodland and can grow up to 30m high and live for 200 years. The wood of the tree is white in colour and very resistant to shock and in the past was used to make such items as clogs. With the number of wild Black Poplar in decline it is very rare to find a true Black Poplar (one that hasn’t been cross-pollinated by another type of tree).
The Viking Ship
On this ride you’ll come across one of the sculptures which make up the sculpture trail within River Lee Country Park. The Viking Ship’s skeletal hull invokes images of the days gone by when the Vikings travelled the Lee.
Lee Valley White Water Centre
White water rapids on the edge of London you’d never have thought it. But following the London 2012 Games that exactly what we’ve got! This fantastic venue offers rafting, canoeing, hydrospeeding and hot dog sessions – everything that will ensure you get wet and have fun. The site has a licensed café so makes a great refuelling point during your ride, take it easy and watch others take on the rapids.
Hall Marsh Scrapes
This area is a prime example of the habitat that has been created as a result of the regeneration following the industrial past of the area. As a section of floodplain grasslands this is a great place to spot Little Egret, Lapwing and other wading birds. On the other side of the water you’ll see a fence, behind this fences lies the 170 acre Royal Gunpowder Mills. Used for the production of explosives from the 17th century right through until it ceased production in 1991. Water was crucial to the both manufacturing process and the transport of explosives and the site has its own manmade canal network which is fed from the River Lee. During WWII the site didn’t expand its output very much as the site was too easy for enemy bombers locate. The site has played a huge part in the countries wartime history over the years, to find out more visit their website www.royalgunpowdermills.co.uk
As you wind you way along the river watch out for signs of the secretive Otter. Living along this stretch they can sometimes be seen swimming in the waters or you may even spots sign that they’ve been there. Information panels along the route will help you know what to look for and tell you more about this great creature.
An area of great beauty Seventy Acres Lake offers a snapshot of the wildlife that you’ll find throughout the area. A viewing platform near the waters’ edge allows you to get close up views of the waterbirds on the lake. If you want to have a closer look the Bittern Information Point, staffed by volunteers, is open throughout the year and allows you to see out across the lake at the less obvious wildlife. Our knowledgeable volunteers will guide you and tell you who’s who in the wildlife world. Live wildlife cameras look out over the lake throughout the year providing a close up look at the changing wildlife through the seasons such as wintering Bitterns and Common Terns throughout the summer breeding season.
The Glade Sculpture
Before you embark on your ride take a quick look at one of the sculptures that you’ll find in River Lee Country Park. The skilful blending metal and wood forms the basis of this fantastic sculpture which represents the hidden world of the minibeast. From the tall flower protecting the ant to the smaller flora that grows closer to the ground, all these make up the minibeast’s habitat.
All throughout the park there are reminders of the importance of the area during the war. You’ll see the remains of a pill box in the field, just one of the many that were dotted around the area. As you climb the hill from the farm towards Nazeing you’ll notice how high you are and the views that you’ll see. This was a location of search light battery whose lights roamed the skies looking for enemy fighters as they approached London. The River Lee acted like a set of landing lights for the enemy bombers and they’d follow it all the way in and out of London.
Clayton Hill – with a pond at its heart this open space is a great area to stop and catch your breath. See what lurks in the ponds and make friends with the ducks who make this area their home.
The Lee Valley is renowned for its acres of glasshouses that can be seen shimmering in the sunlight and is often described as the cucumber capital of England! 80 million of them are grown in the area each year along with 50 million sweet peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and varieties of lettuce. Much of this produce is sold in the major supermarkets throughout the country and it is said that the rare chalk stream filtration of the Lee Valley’s water adds a sweeter taste to the produce.
Old Mill & Meadows
This site is steeped in history and was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. Over the years, as you can imagine, the site has changed a lot and following a devastating fire in 1949 there’s now little left of the mill apart from a section of 16th century floor. However the area still bustles with life, whether it’s on the pathways or the river that runs through it.
This area is a network of ditches, pools and reedbeds and is home to a colony of Water Vole, an endangered and protected species in the UK. The charismatic creatures live above and below ground and even have entrances to their tunnels below the waterline. As well as the Water Vole the site is also excellent for dragonflies and in the summer months cattle can be seen grazing the fields acting as our lawnmowers. Plants that thrive in these damp meadow conditions are the Cuckooflower and the striking pink Ragged Robin that nestle amongst the grasses and sedge. The long grass next to the water’s edge is a great place for Grass Snake to live who often hunt their prey along the edges, and they’re not afraid to take dip in the water either.
River Lee Country Park never used to look like this and is the result of man’s intervention. The deposits of sand and gravel, which were left by ice sheets as they retreated at the end of the last ice age, were highly valuable to the construction industry. After extraction of the gravel, pits were either in-filled using landfill or were left to fill with water providing the network if lakes that you’ll see as you cycle along. These lakes form a Site of Special Scientific Interest in River Lee Country Park and are part of the Lee Valley Special Protection Area, recognising their national and international importance for wildfowl.
This area is home to a model aircraft club and is the only area of Lee Valley Regional Park where they can fly their aircraft, it’s even listed in our Byelaws! Apart from the odd model plane soaring overhead look out for bats flying along the line of willow trees on summer evenings and Water Vole in the ditch that cuts through the site. As a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation in London you’ll find a whole host of different plant species including the beautiful Bee and Pyramidal Orchid which grow between May and June.
Not quite on the cycle route but very close by, the area of Enfield Island was famous for the Royal Small Arms Factory that was operational in the 19th and 20th centuries. It designed/built guns such as the Enfield Pattern Rifle-Musket (1853), Enfield revolver (1180 – 1957), Lee-Enfield rifle (1894 – 1957), Sten sub-machine gun (1941 – 1953) and the SA80 (1987) assault rifle. The factory closed in November 1988 and was redeveloped for housing however the original machine shop frontage and older parts of the rear structure are still there and was converted into workshops.
Swan and Pike Pool
A great location for a relaxing picnic stop and forms part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network – Route 1. A rare find at the site is the Musk Beetle which needs young willow woodland for its breeding and development.
Part of Sewardstone Marsh these former gravel pits were in-filled with water to create still water pools and have woodland surrounding the pits. This provides prime habitats for dragonfly and a range of birds such as Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sparrowhawk. Summer months listen out for melodic song of the Nightingale.
Fishers Green car park
Broxbourne Old Mill and Meadows
Lee Valley White Water Centre
Old Mill & Meadows
YHA– 3 minutes from the route
Lee Valley White Water Centre
Alternative starting points
Lee Valley White Water Centre – EN9 0AS
Hooks Marsh – EN9 2ED (height barrier)
Clayton Hill – EN9 2HX (height barrier)
Broxbourne Old Mill and Meadows - EN10 6LX (height barrier)
Pindar Car Park – EN8 9 AJ (height barrier)
Swan and Pike Pool – EN3 6GE (height barrier)
You can ride these routes on any type of bike but the best ones to use would be either a mountain or hybrid bike.
Please cycle responsibly in the park, for more information check our cyclists code of conduct.
*Cycling time and calories burnt are calculated using a cycling speed of 10mph and a weight of 10 stone.