The Hackney Marshes and Lee Valley
It is one of those (many) places we had never been before, even though we have been settled in London for almost ten years now. We did know Hackney of course. The trendy bars, pubs, and restaurants, the edgy feel of the whole neighbourhood, the Broadway market on Sundays, the Empire... etc. We even knew about the Hackney parks and marshes. But one place we knew nothing about was the Lee Valley Regional Park and the Middlesex Filter Beds Reserve. How stupid! It's actually a wonderful place for a family day out. Wild landscapes, wild animals, canals and barges. There are tons to explore.
We started off with a visit to the Lee Valley riding centre (71 Lea Bridge Road) where you can wonder around the stables and watch young riders prepping or mounting their horses. Our daughter enjoyed very much reading the horses' names on the stalls (Phenix, Stella...) and stroking them of course. And if you book in advance, you can even get your little ones to go on a poney trek. Check here for details.
From the horse riding centre, we crossed the Lea Bridge road for a walk in the Lee Valley Park and the Hackney Marshes (for a map of the area, scroll down to the bottom of this post). It was a very hot end of summer day. Yet we may have passed four cyclers and walkers in total. A luxury that even Hampstead Heath does not offer.
We then entered the Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve. Wildlife haven as well as resting home of 1800's industrial equipments. On a good day, you are likely to encounter all sorts of amphibians and unusual volatiles there. But we were particularly impressed and seduced by the old rails and deserted feel of the place.
This would have been enough to make this an unexpectedly successful family outing. But there is actually more to see. At the end of the reserve, you come out onto the Lea Navigation Canal where the cutest barges are anchored. This makes for an incredibly exotic site so close to the heart of London. And it reminded me of my younger days in South of France where I used to go cycling along the Canal du Midi. Obviously, everything looks much better in the Summer. But still it's well worth a visit.
The only downside I would flag is that the whole area does lack a bit of cute little places to have a rest and / or grab a bite. It could be that we just missed those places but in doubt, I would recommend bringing your own picnic just in case. Especially as there are so many nice quiet spots to take a break.