Tuesday 29 August 2017

Boating on the River Lea

The Lea (Lee) is a navigable river running from the Chilterns that, as it reaches London, becomes canalised. Largest of the Thames tributaries, it has been written about many times, most notably by Iain Sinclair. It is a liminal river, so if you like your day's boating alternating between flooded gravel pits, woods, meadows, and almost wild camping, and industrial depots, food distribution centres, speed racing tracks and pylons, which indeed have a beauty of their own, this is the one to cruise.

It is packed with canal boats and barges, and towards the River Stort, river boats. The locks, patience required at these, are variously automatic, semi-automatic or manual, but mostly the latter, so expect to develop some serious muscle. Alternatively you can try smiling nicely at watching weight lifters and give them an excuse to show off their hours in the gym to more practical effect.

Urban legend has it that there is a crocodile in the Lea, fond of taking Canada geese and swans, but we saw nothing more exciting than said geese, swans, moorhens and coots. Although, as dusk started to fall, a kingfisher swooped in front of the boat and quickly back into the cover of a willow. That was uplifting.

There are two kinds of boaters - those with permanent moorings that can run to such luxuries as washing machines, barbeque decks, small gardens, club houses and electricity, and those who have to move their boats from the public moorings every two weeks or risk being fined by the Canal and Rivers Trust and its large team of volunteer wardens. Fair enough. Them's the rules, and many young people are living on the water in London in this way. The bearded and tattooed hipster quotient is quite high.

There could not have been a better day than last August bank holiday to chug up the Lea. Twenty eight degrees made the locks hard and thirsty work. Bob Marley on the sound system in celebration of Carnival turned a few appreciative heads as we passed by, or as they passed us by on the cycle path. And we haven't quite got over the sight of a boat with what seemed to be hemp growing in pots on its roof. Ah, London. Ah, summer.

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