After years of planning and preparation, the Walthamstow Wetlands opened to the public on the 20th of October. Covering a mammoth 211 hectares, the site is essentially a patchwork of reservoirs with a maze of paths weaving between them, and it is beautiful. This is going to be the understatement of the year, but this project is a pretty big deal, and not just for Walthamstow. This is the biggest urban wetland in Europe, and it’s right there on our doorstep. I braved the slightly blustery weather on Sunday, hopped on my bike and when for a look around
For most of us locals, we have only been able to gaze at the reservoirs that make up the site from a distance. I’ve often looked in on my way to the marshes, glimpsing the vast expanse of water through the fences on Coppermill Lane. Now the site is open I could do more than peep through fences, I crossed the new bridge that links the bottom of Coppermil Lane to the wetlands, and went exploring. What I found was a mix of habitats, industrial heritage, and a restoration project that seems second to none.
I followed the path that runs next to the mill stream and passes by the old Coppermill, which will eventually have a viewing deck at the top of its tower. Like many people one of the things I wanted to see first was the restored engine house just off Ferry Lane. I went in to the building on a tour before the work started, and it is incredible how much it has changed. The red bricks have been cleaned and pointed. The vast halls have been turned in to a shop, education spaces and a cafe, and upstairs there is a deck with amazing views across the site. The restoration of this building is impressive to say the least, and has saved this piece of industrial heritage for generations to come.
Leaving the fantastic engine house and its towering chimney behind, I headed back out in to the Wetlands and followed the Heron Island walk. The path gently meanders between glistening reservoirs and newly planted reed beds. Gorse lined banks fall down to the waters edge which are dotted with fishing platforms, good places to sit if not already occupied. Oaks and willows stand side by side with pylons. Victorian brick work, valves, pipes and rusted metal stand in amongst bramble and trees. One of the things I really like about the Wetlands is the industrial heritage that peppers the site, some if it slowly being reclaimed by nature. You have probably guessed this already, but I really enjoyed my visit.
As it was opening weekend the site was pretty busy, but it was still incredibly peaceful. The sound of water lapping at the shore line, the occasional splash as wild birds ducked under the water. Distant bird calls, and the whoop of a swans wings as it flew overhead. Walking along the tree lined paths watching the autumn sun dance on the water, you really could be anywhere. It’s easy to forget that the site is just a few miles away from central London, and an even shorter walk from home.
I realise I bang on about Walthamstow all the time, but we really are pretty lucky aren’t we? Not ony do we have the forest at the top of the hill and the marsh and river Lea at the bottom. We now also have this unique, incredible site right here in E17. A site that people are travelling from far and wide to visit, that we E17ers can just pop along to whenever we want. There are four entrances to the magnificent wetlands, you can find out where they are, and read more info about the project on the wetlands site.