Walk from Wanstead Flats to Gants Hill

         (click the ‘play’ button to start slideshow)

The desire was to walk but I had no idea where. In that situation you let yourself be guided by your feet which often tend to often fall into familiar tracks. So I found myself walking up the avenue across Wanstead Flats, round the Heronry then Perch ponds of Wanstead Park and over the North Circular to Cranbrook. Through Valentines Park and into a Harvester on Beehive Lane in Gants Hill. The feet chose well.

(Wanstead Flats and Park are covered in Chapter 10 of This Other London)

The road to Erith Pier

This was one of my favourite places that I passed through on the walks for This Other London

Erith Pier

Erith Pier

The name ‘Erith’ apparently means ‘ancient haven’. Excavations have found extensive flint working in the area dating from the Mesolithic period and grave goods buried by Bronze Age Beaker People. The mud flats along the riverbank at low tide have the look of a primordial landscape. Long, wooden slipways reach out over the alluvial sludge into the river. At low tide the dark fossilized trunks of a 5000 year-old Neolithic Forest poke up through the muddy bank. For over two thousand years a dense woodland of ash, oak, alder and elm grew along the Thames foreshore till the waters gradually eroded it away. Morrisons supermarket and car park occupy the site of a Victorian pleasure gardens and hotel when daily steamers stopping at the grand pier gave the town an all-too-brief status as a chic tourist magnet. The pier may only be a 1950s replacement but it provides a sojourn from the busy city.


I spoke to the Dutch crew sat having a beer on the deck of one of these boats. They told me they were collecting sand excavated from the building of the new ‘super- sewer’ at Beckton and ferrying it downriver. They were fed up with the ever-changing schedule, days then nights, then back on days. They were keen to return to Holland but found themselves marooned at Erith Pier awaiting instructions.

Sometimes at night I wonder where they are now and look them up on a website that plots the live position of ships on a map.

Screen shot 2013-12-20 at 16.58.13

At the time of writing they’re docked at the North Sea port of Farsund in Norway. I wonder whether they ever think back to that summer they spent marooned at Erith Pier and wistfully reminisce.

This Other London is available from all good local bookshops. You can also support your local bookshop by buying online from Hive



Some byways of the City of London #1

There are so many byways winding through the City of London – this is just a sampler. I sometimes imagine disappearing into one of these dark passageways one night to emerge sometime in the 17th Century before returning to a pea-souper circa 1947.