GUIDE TO THE RIVER LEA
NAME OF RIVER: Lea.
WHERE IS IT?: Central Hertfordshire.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Put in at Stanborough Lakes, Welwyn Garden City. There is a car park, toilets, caf and a boating lake. Take out where you can but we took out at Essendon Mill, just before the B1455 bridge. The owner is known to us and if you are polite and ask nicely is likely to allow you access. Landranger map 166 or Explorer 182 cover the route.
APPROX LENGTH: 5-6 km.
TIME NEEDED: 3 hours + due to the tree hazards to negotiate.
ACCESS HASSLES: Not known.
Tiffany H...(May 2006) 'When we canoed the part of the Lea that passes through Hatfield Park, we were asked to leave by staff from the estate'.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: We paddled this section on 16/12/01 and it appeared to have an average flow which equates to it being a bit shallow and scrappy at the put in but fine after. Do not paddle in flood as the windblown trees would be a lethal hazard.
GRADING: Grade I, with considerable tree hazard.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS:Trees, lots of them. Numerous low bridges. Fishing line and tackle stuck in trees between put in and railway viaduct. Very low pipe with barbed wire under the road bridge downstream of the woodyard outside Hatfield Park. Chainlink fencing and other assorted debris in one of the weirs between the woodyard and the take out.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Hertfordshire's main river, but this section is barely navigable in places due to fallen trees.
While it is a little shallow at the put-in, it narrows and deepens fairly quickly and continues like this passing underneath a railway viaduct. Eventually after ducking under a low bridge and a couple of fallen trees you reach a small weir at the grounds of the Bush Hall Hotel. We portaged down to the overspill on the left above the weir avoiding the Hotel grounds. This initially narrow, shallow route eventually broadens out again to rejoin the main river below the Hotel.
You pass under a low bridge and soon meet a vertical drop weir which is shallow below and unrunnable. We portaged to the right over a small footbridge, round the rear of the Mill Green Museum and onto the road. You can put in again in the pool between the small road and the main dual carriageway.
Passing under the dual carriageway you enter Hatfield Park. The river broadens into a lake but we took the small channel immediately on the left. This channel is deep enough and passes by several incredibly old oak trees. Many of the trees in the distance where thick with mistletoe. You pass through an arch and into an old walled garden and orchard. Eventually you exit though double arches. The channel eventually joins the main lake again and you go under a bridge. Stay left and head for the old stone building. We portaged round the weirs here, got back in and exited again soon on the left bank just after the high fencing of the woodyard. Do not try to run under the bridge as there is a very low pipe covered in barbed wire. Put in again below the bridge.
The next section should be the best section with several small drops but there are also several minefields of large willows strewn across the river. Definitely a no-no in higher levels. The Mrs managed to weave her way through most of the time but I resorted more readily to portage as I'm not as flexible as her. I wouldn't do it when the vegetation was up though, as it looks likely the nettles would be neck high. We both had to clamber over a fence near a large pipe over the river as we couldn't see what was ahead. The river suddenly becomes shallower but small channels can be easily found.
We took out at Essendon Mill, the large white building on the right bank before the B1455 bridge.
OTHER NOTES: Was it worth it? Well I'm bonkers and knowing the countryside well in this area fancied seeing it from the river for a change. I'd also read an old report of the Lea (number 29) on the Canoeist website (www.canoeist.co.uk/backissues.htm). Don't know how old that article is but there was obviously less tree hazards then! There were lots of fishing platforms on the river but we encountered surprising few fishermen, those we did where exceptionally polite and welcoming. I'll probably attempt the next section to the head of the navigation at Hertford sometime.
An interesting sidestream is the River Stort.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Nigel B, also Tiffany H.