Lee Navigation

The River Lee Navigation runs from rural Hertfordshire into the heart of London, and a picturesque and unbroken walking and cycling route runs the entire length of the river.

View of River Lee at Hertford Castle with ducks River Lee at Hertford Castle, courtesy of minaphotos, Flickr

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The River Lee is a natural river that has been improved for navigation, with straight sections added in to shorten the route. The Lee Valley Park follows much of the river, providing green open spaces, nature reserves, Lee Valley Park Farms and facilities for a variety of sports and watersports.

The 2012 London Olympics has led to a number of projects to improve the Lea Valley waterways for people and nature. A new riverside walkway has been created at the A11 in Bow, the towpath improved for walkers and cyclists and Three Mills House Mill has been restored.

Find stoppages, restrictions and other navigational advice for this waterway.

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The history

The people of the Lea Valley have always called on their local river for many needs: transport, water supply, fishing, flood control, power for mills, and today, pleasure boating.

There is evidence of its use for transport as early as the Bronze Age. The improvements for navigation are among the oldest in the country. In the 17th century, Isaac Walton wrote The Compleat Angler based on his experiences of fishing the river.

The river was improved between Hertford and the River Thames under an Act of 1767. The river was increasingly heavily used as a water supply, but the works encouraged industry - such as small arms manufacture, gunpowder mills and furniture-making. In recent times, the area has become a focus for technological progress, such as computing and TV broadcasting - the first few series of Big Brother were filmed next to the navigation!

The River Stort joins the Lee a few miles below Hertford. Its narrower, more meandering course is of a totally different character. Together, the two rivers create over 40 miles of navigable waterways through the valley that since 1967 has been managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority.