BOW BACK RIVERS For 50 years, the ‘Bow Backs’ have been unloved and unboated. An intricate network of River Lea backwaters, they were upgraded for easier navigation in the 1930s. It was too late: commercial traffic ceased barely 30 years later. Pleasure boaters reclaimed London’s other waterways, but who in their right mind would choose to spend their weekends cruising the industrial wastelands of the East End? The millennium saw the Bow Backs creep onto British Waterways’ wish-list, but the pipedream remained just that – until the Government, casting around a derelict area of London to redevelop as the Olympic site, happened upon Stratford. So what were once the least glamorous waterways in Britain now have an 80,000capacity stadium on their banks. Water quality has been cleaned up and there’s even a new lock (Three Mills Lock), which hasn’t fulfilled its freight-carrying potential, but has performed the welcome function of making the network largely non-tidal. Though the works haven’t satisfied everyone, the Bow Backs are definitely ‘back’ – and here to stay. The Bow Backs were created in the late medieval times as marshlands were drained. They were formerly part-tidal, part-freshwater but the construction of Three Mills Lock has tamed most of the tidal sections. Access is from
the Lee Navigation or, for the adventurous, the winding tidal Bow Creek. However, these waterways remain closed to public navigation at present although IWA continues to campaign for their speedy reopening (see overleaf). The Bow Backs are bounded to the west by the Lee Navigation. This makes a lockfree loop with the City Mill River, circling the new Olympic Stadium. From the City Mill River, you can lock into easternmost channel, the Waterworks River, at two locations: Carpenters Road Lock and City Mill Lock. The latter was fully restored by British Waterways. Finally, the broad Waterworks River continues south, via the Prescott Channel, to the new Three Mills Lock. Here you can lock down into the tidal Channelsea River and Bow Creek for a winding voyage to the Tideway – or through Bow Locks back into the non-tidal Lee. The Olympic site only encompasses the northern part of the Bow Backs. The southern half is not yet fully redeveloped, although it is hoped that the ‘Olympic effect’ will spread in coming years.
Three Mills Lock.
| IWA waterways - Summer 2013
London's Waterways.indd 24
IWA Waterways Magazine Summer 2013