Ill omens littered the roadside as I passed from Redbridge into Barking & Dagenham along this death road. A cement mixer parted my hair in the wrong direction. The wild East. The twin towers of Ilford shimmered in the distance across fields of newly sown wheat.
The signs had been there when I’d staggered out of the woods on the muddy slopes of Dog Kennel Hill, my trainers caked in mud. Naturally, this was an unplanned excursion.
Hop on the Central Line eastwards – have a wander round Hainault – a tube station marooned in swell of pebbledashed suburbia. The footpaths were numbered – a code.
A gap in the hedge beyond Yellowpine Way offered an escape from this model of postwar suburbia, of the city spilling out into all available space. Down the muddy track, plastic bags hang in bare trees like scalps from old Western movies.
Pulled across a wide green field, lured by the offer of open spaces, flung out of the orbit of the city. I sat on a log at the end of the field and looked back at London – vast, diverse and unknowable.
It must have been the euphoria of that moment that led me to trust the footpaths of Redbridge (my dalliance with Barking and Dagenham had been brief). London Transport bus stops isolated amongst fields are beguiling and uncanny, the chance to have a look at one should never be passed up. The view the other way was of a labyrinthine housing estate.
I was away from the death roads – back amongst beauty (Billet Road had daffodils on the roadside rather than ill omens) – following Footpath No.86 straight to Arcadia.
How easily we are deceived. But I am a stickler for sticking to the footpaths when out in the countryside – even on the Redbridge borders. The farmer looked to have a field of succulent greens at a tender stage of growth and I wasn’t about to trample all over them.
I confess that this was the low point of the walk – thankfully the only one. After all if you get to experience the ancient forest of Hainault and walk along Whalebone Lane North and glimpse the Caesar’s Palace of the East at the City Pavilion, then there’s going to be the odd sticky moment.
Somehow I found my way through a gap in a hedge after a precarious clamber over a deep muddy ditch. I tentatively sloped along the Hainault Road, my trust in the numerical code of the Redbridge footpaths dented but not entirely diminished.