Lea Valley Walk 1: Leagrave to Harpenden


The Lea Valley Walk is a signed long distance path (well, fairly long) that runs from the source of the River Lea through to the Thames. As it’s relatively easy to get to, we decided to try it for our next long distance path. I walked it with my mum some years ago, but I don’t remember all that much; as it soon turned out, the route has changed anyway.


We got a collection of trains to Leagrave station, then started by walking north to the official source of the river.

Part of the river near the station.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′26″N 0°27′30″W
Watercress used to be grown for human consumption in various places along the river.
1/125 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′35″N 0°27′36″W

The official source of the river I vaguely remembered (albeit mostly from one of my dad’s photos; the implied source of the river in that shot should probably remain unmentioned, but was funny). It’s a large concrete storm drain. Quite exciting. I climbed down to river level to get a better view.

Gate to the river.
1/30 at f5.6, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′40″N 0°27′32″W
Behind the gate, a large (and dry) concrete pipe.
1/8 at f2.8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′40″N 0°27′32″W

Having reached the source we then had to walk right back down the river to where we started; a little pointless, but we did want to start at the proper beginning.

Containers and fence.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′28″N 0°27′35″W
Large air-raid-shelter-like building in Waulud’s Bank park.
1/125 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′27″N 0°27′30″W

Leagrave to Luton

The route to Luton runs mainly on riverside paths through parks.

The Leaning Tree of Luton.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′25″N 0°26′44″W
Stand of trees.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′26″N 0°26′15″W
‘I want to live to see world peace’.
1/250 at f5.6, 23mm, ISO200 51°54′21″N 0°26′9″W
Outdoor seating around sports ground near Wardown House museum.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°53′42″N 0°25′9″W


Luton town centre is somewhat convoluted (we lost the path for a bit). Apart from that, it is fairly similar to what you probably imagine when you hear the phrase ‘Luton town centre’.

Footbridges over Lea to houses from main road.
1/125 at f4, 23mm, ISO200 51°53′14″N 0°25′15″W
Brick-lined river channel.
1/250 at f4, 23mm, ISO200 51°53′2″N 0°25′11″W
Impressive town hall.
1/500 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°52′47″N 0°25′2″W

Around the airport

We left Luton in the direction of the airport.

River emerging from underground conduit.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°52′38″N 0°24′21″W

The path used to have quite good views of the airport from a hill. The last time I walked that part, we met somebody practicing trumpet there, so as not to disturb anyone other than passing aeroplanes. Remembering this wasn’t very helpful, and nor was my slightly old OS map. They’ve rerouted the path to stay south of the railway line (well clear of the airport). We got significantly lost for a while.

Under the recently-upgraded main road.
1/500 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°52′12″N 0°23′35″W
Safely on the new path.
1/500 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°51′50″N 0°23′8″W

To Harpenden

The rest of the route to Harpenden followed the trackbed of a dismantled railway, past a large sewage works and through a little open countryside.

Large pipe into the sewage works.
1/60 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°51′8″N 0°22′36″W
Railway bridge over the path (1).
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°50′31″N 0°21′56″W
Railway bridge over the path (2).
1/30 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°50′31″N 0°21′56″W
Pretty hedge along the track, in afternoon light.
1/250 at f8, 23mm, ISO200 51°50′14″N 0°21′26″W

We reached Harpenden and the train home.

All images © Samuel Marshall. All rights reserved.