01 Oct Source of the River Lea
Water is the source of life. Now that it comes when bidden through a tap conveniently in the kitchen, it’s easy to forget. I have become entranced by the secret life of the land, and its water flows. I find myself seeking out the places where water springs – the source of a river, a local spring, a well, or culvert.
We walk most days by the River Lea. It has a number of tributaries, and it divides, where long sections of canal have been cut to make the ‘River Lea Navigation’. Once narrow boats transported goods up and down through its locks. Now they provide more affordable housing for nomadic ‘boaters’.
In search of the beginning of the river, we travel to Leagrave village in Luton. The source is nested at the foot of several blocks of flats, which are in the midst of a post Grenfell Tower cladding refurbishment. Hedgerows and trees surround an adjacent field, where megalithic burial mound, ‘Waulud’s Bank’ reclines unobtrusively. Locals wander over it with dogs, or on their way to and from Macdonalds.
There is historical information on a sign above the outlet of the Lea. The source point is hidden behind bars, and drains for surface water rise here too, adding to the stream. This is the first of many waste-water in-flows. As the river moves through industrial sites, its toxicity increases. It is now one of many polluted British rivers. An Environment Agency report on the 17th September 2020 rated the River Lea as ‘Poor’.
Here, where the river is young, there is still a little magic, and a nesting egret near by. We clear cans and plastic bags, pull out the remains of a dumped metal security safe box. By the time we leave, this will be kicked back into the water, by someone with other intentions.
We offer flowers, find our own meaning and sense of the sacred under the shadow of the housing estate. In this time of uncertainty, where life has become tangled in complexity, I ask that we remember what we once knew was essential.