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An adventurous and challenging walk following the 'gunpowder plot' at Waltham Abbey, waterways, ancient woodlands and a host of views.
Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)
Minimum time 4hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 269ft (82m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Grassy riverside, steep field paths, green lanes prone to mud after rain, short stretch of road, 5 stiles
Landscape Country park, woodland, waterways and marshes
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley
Start/finish TL 384015
Dog friendliness A lot of time on lead for such a big space. Waltham Road unpleasant
Parking Free car park at Cornmill Meadows, closes at 6pm
Public toilets Near the Bittern Watchpoint at Fishers Green
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1 From the rear of the car park at Cornmill Meadows, take the gravel path to the fingerpost and go straight ahead through woodland. At Cornmill Stream turn right with the stream down on your left-hand side and views across Cornmill Meadow. At the footbridge turn right following the perimeter fence of the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills.
2 Keep the fence on your left until reaching the cross-field path towards alder woodland. Follow the field-edge path with the brook on your left, signposted 'Hook Marsh'. Turn left on to Fishers Green Lane, which leads to the car park and information board.
3 Cross two footbridges over the streams and go through the kissing gate on the right signposted 'Ware'. Follow the gravel path and picnic area bounded by Seventy Acres Lake on the left.
4 After 600yds (549m) at the fingerpost indicating 'Lea Valley Park farms and Nazeing', cross the footbridge and turn left passing the Bittern Watchpoint. After crossing the access road to the electricity sub-station, follow the riverside path until you emerge at the tarmac road. Turn right and then left through the kissing gate and maintain direction. On your left is a birdwatching stand overlooking the marshes.
5 Proceed to the entrance of the sailing club. Here cross two stiles on your right and walk along the field-edge path keeping the sailing club on your left. Keep to the path as it bears right uphill to another stile.
6 At the top of the hill look back for wonderful views of north London and Hertfordshire. Follow the fingerpost for Clayton Hill through the kissing gate, cross the wooden bridge and emerge at Coleman's Shaw. Turn right on to the B194 and follow the road as it goes downhill.
7 At the T-junction, turn left at the Coach & Horses pub into Waltham Road. Cross carefully and walk uphill past Denver Lodge Farm on the right. Cross the stile on the right and follow the field-edge path to Galleyhill Wood. Cross the next stile and continue, keeping the woods on your right, to the break in the trees. Walk through and at the cross path turn right on to the green lane to Aimes Green. At Aimes Green, turn right and after 100yds (91m), turn left in front of houses to join Claygate Lane to emerge beside Eagle Lodge. Cross Crooked Mile Road to the meadow and turn left through the kissing gate and return to the car park.
You could spend an entire day doing nothing more strenuous than enjoying the recreational facilities of the Lee Valley Country Park. The 1,000 acres (405ha) on either side of the River Lee between Waltham Abbey in Essex and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire consist of lakes, waterways, open space and countryside linked by paths, walkways and cycle tracks. But this walk, admittedly challenging, takes you along river paths and bridleways, which explore the edge of an ancient forest rewarding you with fine panoramic views of London.
On your meanderings through Lee Valley you might mention the gunpowder plot to the residents of Waltham Abbey and they may well return a quizzical look. Guy Fawkes might have procured some gunpowder hereabouts, but the only plot is a rather large one consisting of 175 acres (71ha) of parkland complete with 21 buildings and now a tourist attraction offering guided tours. Known as the Royal Gunpowder Mills, it combines history and science to produce an explosive cocktail, sure to delight all ages.
This walk takes you along the perimeter of the former 300-year-old gunpowder factory, where safety was paramount in the handling of explosives. Cut off from the urbanisation and development of the surrounding area, it became a wildlife haven and today boasts the biggest heronry in Essex. You will pass alder woods where trees once produced charcoal for gunpowder manufacture while in Galleyhill Wood, part of Epping Forest, you'll discover coppiced and pollarded trees, an ancient form of forest management still in use today, which allows plant and insect life to proliferate on the forest floor.
Gunpowder was first manufactured here in the 1600s. In 1735 John Walton bought the Gunpowder Mill and his family churned out the stuff for the next 120 years. It was bought by the Crown in 1787 and became particularly handy during the Napoleonic Wars when production soared from 5,000 to 25,000 barrels a year. The factory sprawled across the Lee Valley and was connected by a complex network of canals to the Lee Valley Navigation and later by a narrow guage railway to the arsenal and ammunition factory at Enfield. It also provided employment for many local women during the World War One before closing its doors to become an explosives research and development establishment.
Visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey for an explosive day out. You can create your own explosion through interactive computer displays, find out what it was like to work here or join a guided tour which includes wildlife watching from the tower and a visit to the largest heronry in Essex. This is one of the most important sites in Europe for the history of explosives and its recently renovated site is a must-see for those interested in industrial archaeology.
The Coach & Horses on the corner of St Leonard's Road makes a welcome stop for a pie and a pint. It's conveniently situated mid-way through this walk and if you sit at the outdoor tables you have fine views of Galleyhill Wood on the hill. Alternatively stock up on goodies and enjoy the waterside views at the picnic area at Seventy Acres Lake.
If it's a clear day and you're feeling adventurous and don't mind scrambling up the embankment of Claygate Lane Track on your way back to Cornmill Meadows car park you can treat yourself to some far-reaching views of London, including Canary Wharf and the television masts of Alexandra Palace.