Four canals circuit
A circuit in the heart of London's East End
Any time of year when the sun is shining
Herons and other common water birds; unusual birds such as grey wagtails in winter; Mile End Park and plenty of industrial archｾology.
Sometimes noisy and dusty, but after all you are in the metropolis!
Tube to Bromley-by-Bow (District line) or tube/train to West Ham (District, Metropolitan & Jubilee line; Fenchurch St–Southend rail).
From Bromley-by-Bow (ABCDEFGA) 3 hours; from West Ham (HCDEFGBH) 3½ hours.
Flat, on surfaced footpaths, with short detours to cross Stratford High Street (A11); a short road walk from the stations, and steep steps up to The Greenway if starting from West Ham.
Click on a marker on the map for route details
Stage AB: Bromley-by-Bow to Three Mills
Outside Bromley-by-Bow tube station cross the road by subway and turn left on the opposite side. Walk down to the Tesco supermarket and just beyond it turn right down Three Mills Lane, which runs down through the car park, and walk down to the bridge across the Lee Navigation that leads to Three Mills Island.
Stage BC: Three Mills to Old River Lee
Turn left on to the towpath just short of the bridge to Three Mills Island. At the busy A11 (Stratford High Street), the path leaves the canal to run up to the road, and you turn right then left across the road at the roundabout, to join the towpath on the other side (right) of the canal, almost immediately crossing Bow Back River joining from the right. Continue along the towpath past blocks of flats, factories and warehouses, and soon on your right you come to the (hoardings surrounding the) Olympic 2012 site, and afterwards to the bridge carrying The Greenway.
Stage BH: Three Mills to West Ham stn
Unfortunately this route has been closed during work on the Olympic Park. You can get to Bromley-by-Bow from here by walking through the Tesco car park and turning left along the flyover. To get back to West Ham, continue along the canal to point C and return via The Greenway.
Stage CD: Old Ford Locks to Victoria Park
Continuing along the towpath, cross the Old River Lea by footbridge and walk past Old Ford Locks, and soon you come to a basin where the Hertford Union Canal turns off on the left. Walk past the junction to cross White Post Lane bridge to the opposite bank, then return along the other side and turn right to follow the Hertford Union. Pass three locks and at the third you can turn right into Victoria Park for a detour. Following the canal, you can see the avenues of trees in the park on your right.
Stage DE: Victoria Park to Mile End Park
After passing under a road bridge you lose sight of Victoria Park and soon come to the junction with the Regents Canal. Turn left across the footbridge to join the towpath, with the canal and housing on your right and Mile End Park on your left. After Mile End Lock you come to the Bow Road bridge, with Mile End tube station a short way down Bow Road to the left.
Stage EF: Mile End Park to Limehouse Basin
Continue on the towpath past Johnson's Lock and the Ragged School museum, a former Barnado's home. After Salmon's Lane Lock, you go under the busy Commercial Road (A13) then past Commercial Road Lock and out into Limehouse Basin. Once a thriving commercial dock, now it provides moorings for many pleasure boats.
Stage FG: Limehouse Cut
Turn left and walk round the outside of the basin to the Limehouse Cut canal that leaves from its eastern corner. Turn right across the footbridge then right again and round below it to follow the towpath on the right of the canal. Dug in 1766 to save craft the much longer journey via tidal Bow Creek, it is dead straight and with industry and tall housing blocks much of the way, and not much else of interest apart from the innovative floating towpath under the Blackwall Tunnel Approach. It ends at Bow Locks that link the Lee Navigation to the tidal River Lee, here referred to as Bow Creek.
Stage GB: Bow Locks to Three Mills
A footbridge carries you across Bow Locks and the towpath continues on a narrow strip between the Lee Navigation and Bow Creek, up to Three Mills. Turn left across the bridge at Three Mills, either to continue on the Lee Navigation towpath, which from here is on the left of the canal, or to walk on past Tesco's and turn left up to Bromley-by-Bow tube.
Stage HC: West Ham station and The Greenway
From West Ham station, walk up to Manor Road and turn right. A short way down you will see the bridge carrying The Greenway (and the Northern Outfall Sewer, which it runs on top of) across: turn off right just before you reach this, and walk up the steps and turn left. Follow it past the former Abbey Mills pumping station then, at Stratford High Street, follow a detour 50m or so left to a crossing point and back to continue. The next stretch crosses one of the Bow Back Rivers then runs alongside first the 2012 Olympic Park then Old Ford Island nature reserve, managed by London Wildlife Trust, before it meets the Lea Navigation. Go down to the towpath and turn right, heading north towards the Hertford Union Canal and Hertford.