Friday, 15 May 2015

From Hackney to the Walthamstow Wetlands

Last Saturday I joined a sponsored walk organised by the Hackney Society to raise funds for a book they are planning to publish. It took us from Hackney, via the Olympic Park, to the Walthamstow reservoirs. We covered, I believe, about 20 kilometres.

Arriving in good time, I saw this shellfish stall by Hackney Central Station, with its semicircular brick base and golden roof topped with fish scales, and surmounted by a fish tail. 

They were just setting up when I arrived but I could see that they had an impressive range of shellfish, including oysters and mussels. I returned a little later to pick up some crab for breakfast, which was a very enjoyable start to the day. 

They only open at Hackney on Saturdays, according to the owner, but can be found at Dagenham market on Sundays. The business was set up by the owner's grandfather operating from a barrow. In the 1970s, the railway company tried to get rid of them, but ruts in the pavement proved that they had been there long enough to have squatter's rights, so they stayed put.

We met up at St Augustine's Tower, the oldest building in Hackney, and looked after by the Hackney Preservation Society. It's currently managed by the Hackney Historic Buildings Trust, and normally only open on the last Sunday of each month but it was open for the group, so I took the opportunity to climb up, where I got to see the historical clock mechanism, as well as the view from the top.

The route took us along a canal with tantalising views of cafes on the other side, which I resolved to explore in future.


We didn't linger at the Olympic Park, and I only got to see bits of it, but was impressed by the way it had been laid out, by the buildings, and by the way the gardens had been planted to blend in with the natural landscape of the Lea valley.

Our final destination was the Walthamstow Wetlands. This is an area occupied by 10 reservoirs that supply tap water to about 1.5 million people in London, operated by London Water. At the same time it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and home to many species of migrating birds and other wildlife. It's very close to the centre of London, and the largest urban wildlife reserve in Europe. At present it's only open to anglers and birdwatchers with permits, but is being developed as a nature reserve and wetland centre that will be open to the public in about two years' time. Currently it's open to groups by arrangement. We were in fact the first group to visit and were shown around the site by their community engagement officer. It's a spectacular place with large bodies of water, and lots of birds and waterfowl.

If you like pylons, as I do, this is a good place to see them, and to get close up. Recently, as you may be aware, a new design was adopted after a competition. I'm not sure that I like it, but only time will tell, I suppose. Incidentally, if you are a real enthusiast, you might wish to join the Pylon Appreciation Society.

What I particularly liked was the juxtaposition of wildlife and the urban environment, of the natural and the man made: the buildings and warehouses by the edge of the water, the views of Canary Wharf in the distance, and the geese wandering amongst the electricity pylons, and the trains passing regularly nearby.

Within the site, there are two significant buildings, the Victorian Marine Engine House, which will be used as a visitor centre:

and the old Coppermill building, which as it's name indicates, was once a copper mill.

It's going to be amazing when it opens to the public, and I'll be following their progress with interest.

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