From the moment you leave the Camping and Caravanning Club Site at Theobalds Park you step back in time, the road outside was built by the Romans as their main route from Londinium to Eboracum, or London to York. This leads immediately into an old Royal Palace estate, unfortunately, the Palace is no longer in existence, but the parkland can still be enjoyed. The ‘modern’ Theobalds House, now a Hotel was built in 1763 and did entertain royalty when Edward VII visited. The original Palace had been home to James I and his son Charles I, but was destroyed by parliamentarians in 1651.
Although this route only passes a very short distance along the New River, this again has an interesting history. Being wholly man-made to bring fresh water to the increasing population of London, it was constructed in the early 1600’s. The journey will take you along the course of a tributary to the New River, Theobalds Brook. This small waterway is often dry and passes through the northern section of the town of Waltham Cross.
The cross from which the town takes its name can be found in the town centre, a short detour from the planned route. It is one of the three remaining Eleanor Crosses that mark the resting place for the coffin of Eleanor of Castile. Her husband King Edward I commissioned the crosses to mark the route from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey After her death in 1290.
The Lea Valley Nature Reserve is a vast area of marshland, reedbeds, grassland, lakes and lagoons. It is a true oasis and home to some incredible wildlife. Due to the diverse nature of the habitats in the area, this has allowed a rich and varied range of insects, birds, mammals and other animals to survive. There are plenty of tracks and pathways to explore the area that extends both north and south of this walk.
The Royal Gunpowder Mill owes its existence to the monks Waltham Abbey who created a fulling mill on this site using the waters from the artificial Millhead Stream. The mill changed its use in the early 17th century to produce vegetable oils, then later the same century became a gunpowder mill. It became one of the first industrialised factory systems, helping it to become internationally recognised and assist Britain in becoming an international power.
In contrast, Waltham Abbey has had a more gentile existence, until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, ending 500 years of monastic influence in the area. The church was initially created after Harold Godwinson, later to become King Harold was cured of paralysis after praying in front of the cross. The construction and completion of this church at Waltham pre-dates Westminster Abbey by 5 years. Prior to travelling to Hastings, King Harold again came to pray at the church, some legends say that he later came to be buried here as well. It was not until 1177 that Henry II, atoning for the murder of Thomas Beckett established Augustinian canons, shortly afterwards it was granted the title of Abbey. As with many other locations throughout Britain a town soon developed outside the abbey, given a charter by Richard I to hold a market. The area was visited by noble, clergy and monarchs to pray at the abbey and hunt in Waltham Forest (now Epping Forest).
Cornmill Meadows to the north of Waltham Abbey is certainly worthy of a small detour, it is a mosaic of rivers, ditches, pools, grassland, hay meadows and woodland. During Spring and Autumn waders such as Ruff, Bar-Tailed Godwits, Redshanks, and Sandpipers can be seen. Whilst the summer months it is one of the best places to see dragonflies, with over half of the UK listed species being present. There is a Discovery Trail through various habitats, not to be missed. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive Water Voles and Kingfishers that live along the various watercourses.
Return to the Camping and Caravanning Club Site is via the same route so you can double the pleasure.
Binoculars would be an advantage on this walk.