The view from the hill – a walk to Wooburn

I feel Old old Wooburn more and more every day – the village where I grew up and where a recent family history binge showed roots running deep through the chalk and flint. The sense of it was almost overpowering as I crested the hill marked by Hard-to-Find Farm and approached Bloom Wood. ‘Always was a cold wood, Bloom Wood’, my Dad had said on the phone when I called him on the walk out across Wycombe Rye. And as I discussed my route he could only imagine it coming from the opposite direction – the way from Wooburn, despite the amount of times I reminded him I was approaching from the opposite direction.


Bloom was indeed a cold wood, dense and dark. I was fascinated as a kid by the stories of ‘devil worshippers’ dancing round fires seen from below on Sheepridge Lane. I can’t recall ever entering Bloom Wood. I liked the idea of stumbling upon a coven of Satanists, but it was no longer the 1970’s and too early at 7pm, midsummer. It was exactly where I wanted to be, pushed off the sofa in Leytonstone, out on the edge of East London, mid-afternoon watching Dr Who with the youngest teenager I saw myself on a hill at sunset and knew where the hill would be, more or less. This dappled wood was exactly where I wanted to be right now.

I dropped down the hill and emerged at the edge of the wood where the corn fields had been given over to pasture with a smattering of sheep. Below was Sheepridge Lane where my Nan had lived as a girl in a cottage behind the Crooked Billet earning some coins picking flints from the fields and providing the pub landlord with fresh stinging nettles with which the thrash his wife to ease her rheumatism. The footpath led out into the narrow lane that would have been Nan’s way home, the workers cottages now appeared to be knocked all into one and carrying a hefty price I imagine. The old man had instructed me to have a pint in the Billet garden looking across the lane to the fields rising on the far side, a garden where he told me he’d encountered what must have been one of the last traveling minstrels, an old fella who went from pub to pub singing for beer and a bite to eat kipping down in hedgerows and barns at night. By then, the 1960’s, these old travellers were an unwelcome feature of the countryside.

Wildflowers Chilterns

Flackwell Heath field near Sheepridge Lane

The pub was empty, the landlady the same as when my sister had worked behind the bar thirty years or more ago. I took my pint of Brakespears (brewed nearby in Henley) out into the garden and looked across at Noel’s fields. Red Kites, wing-spans wider than my outstretched arms, rode the thermals in great wide arcs and dove down on fresh roadkill.

The hill in my mind was just across the road, topped with a spinny above Pigeon House Farm. A legsore  winter sunset, I was walking back over those fields with my Dad, must have been four of five years old and I’d just raced to pick up a pigeon he’d shot. He hoisted me up on his shoulders, a drop of blood hung from the pigeon’s beak and I marvelled at the impossible beauty of the colour of the feathers around its throat. I passed the orchard the Old Man planted beside the lane and then rang him from the top of the hill, the view stretching out across Marlow to a wide bend in the River Thames. He remembered that day clearly, and told me a funny story about the burial of a beloved cow in the spinny behind me.

Flackwell Heath

I moved on through Flackwell Heath, echoes of teenage years bouncing off the pavement that followed me over the golf course and down to Wooburn. There was a beer festival in the garden of The Falcon, calling me, tempting me, but my way ahead was along the A40 in the dark, past the Highwaymen’s cave in Cut Throat Wood to the station at Beaconsfield and back to a sofa in Leytonstone.

A Walk through the ancient borough of East Ham

It was two months ago now, on the 11th June, that I set off across Wanstead Flats for a long planned walk through the ancient Borough of East Ham. The regrowth from last year’s fire was evident (as noted before on this blog) and I exited the flats near Manor Park Station. I passed the Earl of Essex pub on Romford Road, now closed and waiting for a new life, hopefully as a pub. The old Coronation Cinema is now The Royal Regency banquetting venue, opened in 1911 as the Coronation Electric Theatre, the last film flickered onto its screen in 1968.

I was thinking of Dr. Pagenstecher’s History of East and West Ham published in 1908 as I made my way along High Street North;

“East Ham is perhaps the most remarkable example of rapid transformation from a rural to an urban community. Its marvellous growth and development is absolutely without parallel in the history of the United Kingdom.”

St. Mary Magdelene East Ham

It was sad to see The Ruskin Arms boarded up. Jimmy Winston, one of the founder members of Small Faces told me the band used to rehearse in the pub when his Dad was the landlord. It’s a pub with a lot of history.

I stopped for a cracking £4.95 veg buffet at Annpoorna Indian Restaurant on the High Street before pushing on past the opulent Town Hall to search in vain for the grave of Druid and antiquarian, William Stukeley in the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene. Stukeley had been buried at St. Mary’s in 1765 at his request after visiting Rev. Joseph Simms the vicar. Perhaps it was the antiquity of the site that caught Stukeley’s imagination, with Roman burials being excavated by workman. Or the maybe the New Age theoritsts and neo-psychogeographers were correct about St. Mary’s being a nodal point in the London earth grid, a plum location on a ley line. It’s a beautiful peaceful location in any case and the perfect place to end a walk through the ancient borough of East Ham.

 

Woolwich to Thamesmead via Lesnes Abbey – Green Chain Walk

This was a return of sorts, rooted in a pang to partly retrace the steps of my 2012 walk for This Other London from Woolwich to the Dartford Salt Marshes. Back in early June of this year I headed out of Woolwich Town Centre up across Plumstead Common, picking up the Green Chain Walk to Lesnes Abbey, a gem on the edge of woodland overlooking the Thames. Instead of continuing east to Erith I followed the Green Chain down through Thamesmead to the Thames Path, closing the loop back at Woolwich. A glorious South London Loop.

 

Sunday Walk – Wanstead Flats, North Circular and Hollow Ponds

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

The desire was stay local – within the gravitational field of home but still get in a decent walk. My instinct was to head to the far side of Wanstead Flats and take it from there.

The area of Wanstead Flats burnt so badly last summer gives off a glorious smell of resurgent wildflowers.

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The ragwort was alive with caterpillars of the cinnabar moth munching on its leaves, ingesting toxins to make themselves unpalatable to birds. Ragwort and the cinnabar caterpillar appear to have an interesting relationship that makes for a diverting spectacle on a summer stroll.

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I always have to pay homage to the barrage balloon posts and marvel at their continued survival.

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

After a stop at Aldersbrook Petrol Station for a Starbucks and Greggs donut – which has become one of my favourite Alan Partridge style treats – I head down Park Road and through Wanstead Park which looked as glorious as ever.

St Mary's Wanstead

The bells of St. Mary’s Wanstead tolled as I stood admiring the Borough of Redbridge’s only Grade 1 listed building. I’ve been told St. Mary’s has an interesting crypt that I’ve yet to visit but the interior of the church is a real gem of the East. The graveyard has burials dating back to the establishment of the original medieval church.

Wanstead War Memorial

Wanstead High Street

There’s clearly a Sunday Scene on Wanstead’s wonderful High Street and I bumped into my eldest son carrying a toy keyboard he’d just bought in a charity shop as he headed to a park bench with his mates. A gentleman approached who watches my YouTube videos to ask if I’d made one on the Wanstead Slip and told me of a relic of Wantead House that now resides in a back garden somewhere along Grove Road. It was great to hear his stories of old Leyton and Stratford.

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Snaresbrook – South Woodford

I decided against heading into the forest at Snaresbrook and carried on along the tree-lined road towards South Woodford stopping to take in the modernist glory of Hermitage Court.

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North Circular – South Woodford

Heading up Grove Hill at South Woodford I came to the Willow Path that crosses the North Circular. This seemed like an ideal location to take a selfie which I posted to Instagram as ‘North Circular Selfie’. I’ve been meaning to make a film of a walk round the North Circular (perhaps over two days rather than one long schlep) for some time but now wonder if documenting the walk with a series of selfies charting my gradual decline as the pollution takes its toll might work better.

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Carnarvon Road, South Woodford

Carnarvon Road, South Woodford has some incredible buildings. Firstly you’re greeted with what appears to be the back of some kind of industrial building – although I couldn’t locate the front. Then across the street is this beautiful modernist block that looks as though it may have an interesting former life.

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Epping Forest

I must have walked past this fine oak tree just off Epping New Road at South Woodford a hundred times without noticing this plaque commemorating the planting of the tree by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932 in celebration of the Jubilee of the opening of the forest.

North Circular

Waterworks Corner

At the Rodney Smith stone I decided to turn for home rather than push on through the forest. This of course brought me to one of my favourite London views, from the bridge back across the North Circular at Waterworks Corner. I took another ‘North Circular Selfie’, naturally.

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Walthamstow to the Whipps Cross Lido

I passed through the narrow strip of the forest that takes you behind the Waterworks and St. Peter’s Church emerging at the very tip of Lea Bridge Road. It’s interesting to note that the gate off Snaresbrook Road is labelled ‘Snaresbrook Lido’ and not ‘Whipps Cross Lido’ or ‘Leytonstone Lido’ as I’ve seen the swimming pool named elsewhere.

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The Hollow Ponds

The Hollow Ponds was the perfect place for the walk to end. I rested under an oak tree and nearly nodded off serenaded by the rustling of leaves in the early afternoon breeze.

 

 

Video Strolls at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

Video Strolls Leytonstone

Andy Howlett of Video Strolls – photo by Liberty Rowley

On the 3rd July we hosted the fantastic Video Strolls at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema with a programme of artists films related to ‘Quiet Spaces’. Andy Howlett and Liberty Rowley of Video Strolls suggested we start the event with a short wander around some of the quiet spaces of Leytonstone to set the tone.

Leytonstone bus station

‘Time Terminus’ – photo by Liberty Rowley

They were fascinated by the peculiar bus sculpture outside the Tube station (Time Terminus by Lodewyk Pretor), which prompted an interesting discussion about the legacy of the building of the M11 Link Road that was running beneath our feet. Luckily film-maker Ian Bourn was in attendance and was able to recount first-hand stories of the building of the road and the artist community that was destroyed in the process. Apparently the sculpture was made from left over bricks from the construction of the road. Paul Greenleaf was also on hand to add to talk about his beguiling film about the Link Road, I Will Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine, that screened on the Leytonstone Arts Trail the following weekend.

Leytonstone Churchyard

Leytonstone churchyard

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We then moved on to St. John’s churchyard where we looked at the Buxton family grave and talked about the ‘flying bombs’ that fell on Leytonstone during World War 2.

Matalan Leytonstone

From the churchyard we explored a different type of ‘quiet space’ in the carpark behind and beneath Matalan – once a rolling skating rink of some renown and a rather grand cinema, the Rink Picture Palace, which opened in 1911 on the same site.

Video Strolls Leytonstone

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

The film programme at Leytonstone Library was very well received and we had a fascinating post-screening discussion with Liberty and Andy prompting some great contributions from the audience on the subject of place based film-making.

Thanks to Video Strolls for ambling to Leytonstone.

 

 

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema is the first Wednesday of the month at Leytonstone Library (except August and January) – sign up to our mailing list for news of future screenings.

Along the Thames Path from Putney to Richmond

Beautiful walk along the Thames Path from Putney to Richmond, taking in Barnes, Mortlake, and Kew, filmed on the 14th May.

 

Here are Turner’s drawings of Syon Park

Zion House, Isleworth 1802-10
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-zion-house-isleworth-d08269

Castle Seen from River, with Punt and Row of Trees in Foreground. ?Zion House, Isleworth
c.1815–17

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-castle-seen-from-river-with-punt-and-row-of-trees-in-foreground-zion-house-d10770

Walking the London Loop – Hayes to Kingston

It was great to be back out on the London Loop – picking up in Hayes on the May Bank Holiday Monday (6th May), where I’d finished back in March on the section that I’d followed down from Uxbridge. The first part of section 10 continues along the canal a short distance, past the rubble of the Nestle factory, as far as the River Crane, which takes on the role as titular spirit of the walk for much of the day. Then we visit the peaceful storied church of St. Dunstan’s where a memorial to the great comedian Tony Hancock is nestled in a corner of the churchyard.

The next part of the walk through Cranford Country Park towards Hatton Cross is characterised by jumbo jets skimming the rooftops as they came in to land at Heathrow. Seeing London’s great terminus sat on what was once a corner of Hounslow Heath (the ‘heath row’) gave me an enormous desire to jump on a plane and head off traveling once more.

London Loop Section 9

Section 9 finds us again following the River Crane down through spindly woodland to Hounslow Heath, full of memories of ending the first walk here for my book, This Other London. I even found the bench on a mound were I sat and ate a snack in the May sunset those seven years ago.

There was more roadwalking ahead, another section of the Crane, and skirting Fulwell Golf Course before reaching Bushey Park just before sunset. The deer roamed and grazed and I meandered to the gate exiting to Hampton Wick as the dark arrived.

The Thames twinkled as I crossed the great stone bridge into Sunday night Kingston, too late to seek out the King Stone which awaits the start of my next venture out onto the London Loop.