77-year-old Maggie Herod bravely volunteered to walk 86km to raise funds for tackling hunger in Luton.

Maggie started the Lea Valley Walk on Sunday 8 September, accompanied by her rescue dog, Kiwi. Our intrepid foodbank ambassadors followed the River Lea from all the way to London, meeting representatives of other food banks every day.

I hope  the walk will raise awareness. I will do everything I can to help that process.

Maggie Herod
Maggie is a keen walker, and loves to go rambling. She completed the Lea Valley Walk in six days.

 

 

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Day 1 (Sun 8 Sep) Leagrave to Harpenden
Distance: 16.45 km

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When I woke up I said to my husband ‘I’m terrified’. He asked ‘Why?’ And I hadn’t a clue why.

But Kiwi, our dog, knew that Something Was Up. He liked his new collar and lead but when I told him he was going to meet the Mayor, he just ate his breakfast quickly and jumped into the car.

When we arrived at Leagrave Park car park a large group of people was already there. I didn’t know who they were or why they were there but John said – they are here for you Maggie- so I said hello to everyone and took Kiwi for a short run because there were tears in my eyes.

More people came and our musicians – the Mouse Assassins and the Ukimaniacs sang with such cheerful enthusiasm it set the mood for the rest of the day. The Mayor wished us all well and sent us on our way – and eighteen friendly walkers came with Kiwi and me to begin our Lea Valley Walk.

We made all made it to Wardown Park in record time- and met even more friends on the way.

But then it was time for thank yous and goodbyes- as people needed to catch a train or go to their daughter’s birthday party- And three of us were left – like the three musketeers, except we didn’t have horses – just two dogs- and we skilfully dodged all the bicycles we met along the track to Harpenden and our journey’s end. And a kind cyclist took a photo of us together in front of my favourite statue of Eric Morecombe, Capability Brown, and a Sea Cadet – because the Sea Cadets learned their skills on the River Lea.

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Day 2 (Mon 9 Sep) Harpenden to Hatfield
Distance: 12.8 km

Harpenden to Hatfield

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We had a lovely, friendly meeting with David and Robert who is Trustee of St Albans District Food Bank – and were shown Harpenden food bank warehouse- on the banks of the River Lea.

But we did enjoy Batford Springs Nature Reserve- given its rich variety of life by the River Lea. Kiwi was clear that it is just the place for a dog (like him) who loves running fast in wide circles.

We made our way to Wheathamstead and enjoyed a well earned cup of excellent coffee and walked on to the golf course at Brocket Hall.

We saw a few golfers: but then there were about 3 drops of rain, so they all vanished – we believed to enjoy a delicious lunch at Brocket Hall itself.

We walked on to an excellent pub at Lemsford- described by Elizabeth 1 st as ‘the prettiest village in England.’ But we only visited the Pub.

Then it was on to Stanborough Park. The star performers here are the lakes which give pleasure to so many families and fishermen on summer days. To-day however, it was raining and swans, coots and ducks were undisturbed on the lakes while the River Lea ran its quiet and peaceful course nearby.

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Day 3 (Tue 10 Sep) Hatfield to Hertford
Distance: 12.5 km

Mill Green Hatfield to Mill Road Bridge Hertford

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We met outside the Museum at Mill Green, and we were close to the only working watermill left on the River Lea; it was a special place.

There were twelve of us, including Louise from Hatfield Food Bank, Chris from Luton Food Bank and Jane from the Museum who gave us a generous, extra donation in a Very Authentic Sack. It was a lovely meeting and such a friendly send off.

Chris said he would walk with Kiwi and me and we said good bye to our new friends and the river and we set off along the path next to a noisy road. Then we walked along the outskirts of Welwyn Garden City with its carefully tended gardens, wide road and noisy traffic.

At length we came to a former railway line- and as we walked we found peace and trees and Kiwi found squirrels – or hoped he had found squirrels- to chase.

When we had nearly reached Hertford Chris, at last, found the River Lea flowing serenely on its way to Hertford. And in next to no time we were happily eating our lunch in a friendly pub before the last stage of our walk through Hertford, past the gardens and the castle and on to the River Lea which runs now so proudly, with narrow boats moored to its banks and overlooked by ancient cottages.

We had enjoyed our walk- all three of us.

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Day 4 (Wed 11 Sep) Hertford to Broxbourne
Distance: 13.2 km

Mill Road Bridge, Hertford to Millstream Bridge, Broxbourne

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The River Lea makes its way through Hertford peacefully and with clear water. People are friendly and one kindly man asked about my tee shirt and when I said that I was walking to raise money for Luton Food Bank he put his hand into his pocket, brought out his change and asked how much would I like. I said cautiously, a pound? and he replied Have it all- then he smiled and added- now I’ll have to go to the food bank myself!

To-day I was walking with my friend Astrid and we enjoyed seeing the first lock on the river and were impressed by the width and dignity of the river as it made its stately way past mansions which had immaculate lawns with willow trees that grew on the edge of the river banks; and at Ware, we loved the Gazebos that were built in the 18 th century so that the wealthy residents could enjoy the delights of the riverside in luxury.

We were delighted with Kings Meade where rare wild flowers grow undisturbed; and Kiwi enjoyed sampling canal water at irregular intervals (no, he didn’t fall in but that was more by luck than judgement).

We ended our day’s walk at Dobbs Weir and enjoyed our lunch overlooking the river that is ever changing and always intriguing.

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Day 5 (Thu 12 Sep) Broxbourne to Tottenham Lock
Distance: 18.85 km

Broxbourne to Tottenham Lock

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Day 5 of my Lea Valley Walk Thursday September 12th To-day we started from Broxbourne and our day began with a meeting with Jeremy from Broxbourne Food Bank. We enjoyed a chat and exchanged news about our respective food banks- and then I was off with Kiwi- just the two of us and the longest days walk of them all.

So here is a photo of us both at Millstream Bridge which also shows how delightful the River Lea is at Broxbourne – and we set off on our long walk which began with the River Lea at her most picturesque.

Then I missed a meeting with John because Kiwi and I were walking so impressively fast.

But at Enfield Lock we stopped at a thoughtfully placed table and chair – I thought Kiwi would enjoy a drink of cool water – but a shy young woman came to me to ask if I was in trouble- or if I was homeless? I said thank you, but no, I was fine and she said to me that she had been homeless and had needed help from a food bank – and I said I was so pleased to know that now she had her own home and could look after her baby- and I passed on my way deeply touched by her care for a stranger.

The River Lea was no longer a playground neither was there a Nature Reserve or meadows for wild flowers to be seen; instead there were neglected expanses of rough, barren grass and accumulated litter. The tow path was almost deserted for the first time in my walk; but later I saw the tall chimney of the London Waste recycling and disposal plant. The canal boats moored by the river bank were all peoples’ homes and I put Kiwi on the lead because the wooded area by the tow path which he so loved to explore was clearly now a place where the homeless lived. Then I found John at and he took me for an excellent cup of tea before I reached Tottenham Lock and John, Kiwi and I made our way to Wood Green and our bed for the night.

 

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Day 6 (Fri 13 Sep) Tottenham Lock to Limehouse Basin
Distance: 12.0 km

Tottenham Lock to Limehouse Basin

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The alarm went off at 6.15 because to-day was not only the last day of our walk; we had to meet with Siobhaun from Bow Food Bank at 10’oclock at Hackney Marsh Recreation Centre- and at 12.30 at Lime House Basin we were to meet with Jim Fitzgerald, MP for Lime House Basin.

7 o’clock saw us walking briskly toward the multi-storey carpark, in a shopping mall twenty minutes from the hotel we had stayed at that night. John was carrying Kiwi’s bed rolled up and our overnight bag and I had my rucksack with Kiwi on a lead.

A kindly man wished us well and I realised that he too thought we were homeless.

But we were on time to meet with Siobhaun who came on her cargo bike-usually her children were her cargo but to-day it was her Luton Food Bank hamper (which she loved).

We walked the river path together with the cargo bike until a friend came to take it to safe keeping for her and we continued our walk with a young Italian priest who had arrived in England the day before on a visit to improve his English. And we met up with Margaret from Central Beds Labour Party which completed our group to meet the MP.

Jim Fitzgerald was as good as his word- in fact even better as he took us all to an excellent café and treated us all to drinks and a delicious taster platter of food. He talked with us about food banks and we all enjoyed his company.

After he left us the young Italian priest showed us photographs of the food bank he volunteered with in Italy and asked if he could photograph my tee shirt because he loved my statement: No Child Should Go Hungry. He said he wanted all volunteers at his food bank to wear a tee shirt like mine. And with that, we said our goodbyes to each other.

And I know my memories of the River Lea will be with me, always.

     

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If you’re interested in the Lea Valley Walk, Maggie recommends the guidebook by Leigh Hatts, which is available via the author’s website.

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