Why Every Nature-Lover Should Visit River Lee Country Park

By M@ Last edited 17 months ago

Last Updated 06 January 2023

Why Every Nature-Lover Should Visit River Lee Country Park

The Olympic Park gets most of the press, but the valley of the Lea (or Lee) holds plenty of other treasures. Chief among them is the River Lee Country Park.

The 1,000-acre natural wonderland straddles the Hertfordshire-Essex border, just north of Waltham Abbey. It's not quite part of London, but you can get there with ease thanks to the Overground terminus at Cheshunt, just metres away from the park boundary.

Butterfly on comfrey
A small blue butterfly clings to the abundant comfrey

This former industrial area has been reclaimed for nature, with striking success. Former gravel pits and landfill sites are now open lakes, home to perch, pike and others. A visit in spring or summer will yield more dragonflies and butterflies than a Disney princess could hope to muster. In June, the air is filled with constellations of willow seeds, which coat the shrubs like snow.

Water is everywhere. Tributaries of the Lee dance around like mad lampreys, while the sober River Lee Navigation cuts north on its progress to Ware. Lakes and marshland fill in the blanks, just about leaving room for footpaths and a surprising tally of mature trees.

How many Rivers Lee?

It's like visiting London Wetland Centre in Barnes without the crowds or entrance fee, or the nearby Walthamstow Wetlands on a grander scale. This is a landscape of twists and turns, where curiosity is kindled. What lies round the next corner? It might be the boom of a bittern, a patch of rare orchids, or perhaps a shrine to the Green Man.

The Green Man sculpture
The Green Man sculpture makes a peaceful pagan picnic place.

Sculpture is, indeed, a large part of the park's attraction. You can't walk five minutes without stumbling across a whittled rodent, a hewn goddess or an iron demoiselle. Every glade seems to have its own sculpted trunk, placed there for kids as a wholesome alternative to swings and roundabouts.

Little Londonist on a lily pad, definitely might have nightmares later.

The park's custodians have certainly packed plenty in. Indulge in a game of discus golf. Let your dog off the lead at the canine agility course. Hire bikes, canoes or even an electric boat. Endless diversions, before you even get to the nearby white water centre, gunpowder mills or Lee Valley Park farms.

"Mum, daddy's showing off again."

These riverlands once formed the boundary between the English kingdom of Wessex and the Viking-held Danelaw. They now bring together the people of Hertfordshire and Essex, and a fair few Londoners too. If you have an ounce of curiosity about the natural world, then add the River Lee Country Park to your list of 'places I must visit one of these weekends'.

Danelaw and Wessex on a finger post
This might not be an original sign.

River Lee Country Park is just a mile from the Greater London boundary, and the nearest station is Cheshunt (Overground). Entrance is free.

For more things to do near London, take a look at our day trips from London page.