Aimless Wander from Leyton to Tottenham IKEA via Walthamstow

How did I find myself in the cafe of the Tottenham IKEA at 6pm on a Wednesday?  The large window is an almost perfect Lea Valley picture frame – the best thing in the store. The magnetic attraction of an IKEA cafe on an edgeland wander dates back for me to November 2009 recording an episode of our radio show Ventures and Adventures in Topography in Monks Park with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp. It was cold Sunday afternoon, we were damp and tired and found ourselves in the Wembley Trading Estate. We knew the only source of food and warmth in the area at that time on a Sunday was the IKEA Cafe. We dreamt of meat balls and made our way to the flatpack Valhalla. They’d sold out of meat balls of course.

#Cafe at #IKEA Tottenham

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Eight years later and on the other side of the North Circular the Tottenham IKEA Cafe had a good stock of meat balls but I had a ham and cheese toastie instead. This was a less structured excursion. I’d left home with no real aim other than just to walk – Tottenham IKEA had emerged in my mind as a waypoint – something to aim at. I took in the buildings of Lea Bridge Road, Leyton both old and those taking shape then marvelled at the architecture of Argall Avenue Industrial Estate. The football pitches at Low Hall were freshly marked out ready for the weekend fixtures.

I thought of Arthur Machen’s ghost hunting expedition to Tottenham in the early mystical years of the 20th Century. He also recorded journeys out to Edmonton and Ponders End as if they were the darkest reaches of the Amazon. And wandering the backstreets of Tottenham for the first time I felt as if I were in a remote part of London. I teenage girl approached me with a pair of size 4 trainers and tried to convince me to buy them for my children (how did she know I had kids?).

Leaving IKEA I jumped on the first bus that came along assuming they all went to Tottenham Hale and soon found myself heading towards Edmonton. I jumped off straight away thinking I could catch a 34 bus to Walthamstow Central and started walking along Montagu Road looking for a bus stop. I kept walking with no bus stop in sight. The light started to dim and I got that feeling of uncertainty when in unknown backstreets in the gloom – the desire to get clear, back to familarity or at least to main streets. I turned into Town Road after checking that it looked ok, there was something in the air that made me feel uneasy. I considered continuing along Montagu Road and taking a later turning but decided this was the quickest (safest) option. A bus came along, you have to flag them down round these parts, there are no bus stops. Off I went to Tottenham Hale thinking about Machen’s Tottenham story.

Montagu Road Edmonton

Later that night, around midnight, I checked the news online and saw a headline in the Guardian, ‘Man killed in north London shooting’ – I instantly knew where the crime had taken place. Of course I would be wrong, north London is a huge area. I scanned the article of the location of the killing of the ‘man in his 40’s or 50’s’ and there it was Bounces Road, one of the roads leading off Montagu Road just past Town Road, one of the alternative routes I’d considered when feeling the urge to get clear of the area, yards away from where I’d flagged down the bus.

Under Milk Wood

I recently spent a peaceful week in Lower Fishguard, staying in a cottage used in the film version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. This meant we had a steady stream of people peeping through the lounge windows as they followed the local heritage trail.

The Pembrokeshire Coast is absolutely littered with standing stones, burial chambers and stone circles, one local told me that most fields in the area had some kind of prehistoric stone artefact in them. An archaeologist I spoke to explained that Neolithic and Bronze Age people traveled from all over Europe following the setting sun till they reached the most westerly point to bury their dead, hence the location of the numerous stone burial chambers overlooking the sea.

Garn Wen burial chamber

 

We took a family walk up the steep hill to the Garn Wen burial chambers or ‘cromlechs’ overlooking Fishguard Harbour. They were absolutely magnificient – now looking onto the back gardens of a housing estate rather than gazing out westwards across the sea. It’s interesting to think that this ‘remote’ location was so connected to continental people who would have barely stepped foot on the land of ancient Britain but who came here to bury their dead, creating a deep bond between this coastline distant lands. It’s a magical, storied landscape.

The Heathcote Arms Leytonstone to re-open in October

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

Great news at last regarding our beloved Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone. The Electric Star Group have taken out a 20-year lease on the pub and are investing £500,000 to get the pub open by the end of October.

It’s been grim walking past this sacred watering hole every day seeing it empty and neglected for the last 6 months but you knew that somebody would see the potential to restore this legendary boozer to, well I can’t honestly say its former glory but at least a pub once again.

Electric Star have a great roster of pubs in East London including the Leyton Star (shame they changed the name though from the King Harold removing a visible reminder of the last Anglo-Saxon king’s strong links to the area). Their other pubs include The Star of Bethnal Green, The Star by Hackney Downs, and The Last Days of Shoreditch. I believe the Heathcote will become the Heathcote-Star.

Last week Rob and Steve from Electric Star told a community meeting at the pub their plans for the Heathcote which include a function room, big screen sports, pool and arcade games, upstairs hotel accomodation, food, and locals discount scheme. It will also be kid and dog friendly. Other Star pubs have hosted live music so I guess this might be in the plans for their Leytonstone branch. There certainly used to be great live music and comedy nights at the Heathcote so it would be fantastic to see this return.

Heathcote Arms campaign

photo from the Waltham Forest Guardian

The re-opening of the Heathcote is another great example of what can happen when a community comes together. When it initially closed in 2014 after being sold by Stonegate to property developers many people assumed that it would simply be converted into flats like so many other pubs in London. But a wide cross-section of the community came together (some of whom had never even been in the pub) to launch a campaign and get the Heathcote listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Local MP John Cryer gave his unwavering support, CAMRA (particularly James Watson) joined the cause, and Waltham Forest Council adopted a pub protection policy. And now we have our pub back.

Great work to everyone involved in making this happen. See you for a pint in the Heathcote Arms in October.

The East-West Passage – Stratford to the City via Bethnal Green

Fresh off the train from Ramsgate into Stratford International I needed to stretch my legs so set off Westwards. Cutting down beside the Copper Box Arena and along the Lea Navigation towpath I crossed onto the Hertford Union Canal – which connects the Lea Navigation to the Regent’s Canal.

I emerged onto Roman Road as the sunset started to light up the blocks of flats above the shops. I follow the ancient London to Norwich route through Globe Town and Bethnal Green to the junction with Shoreditch High Street, itself the Roman Ermine Street striking north through the Hertfordshire countryside and beyond continuing north through Lincoln to York. On the other side of this two millenia old confluence is the narrow lane, Holywell Street associated with the Shoreditch Holy Well and the Holywell Priory, although the site of the Holy well has been reported as being in nearby Bateman’s Row.

I’m sucked into the belly of the Barbican, escaping across the modern A1 North Road and down Long Lane through Smithfield. I always get the shivers passing across the ‘Smooth Field’ as this is where my namesake, John Rogers the Martyr was burnt at the stake on 4th February 1555.

John Rogers Martyr

My feet lead me to the road that links me to the place of the my birth, the A40, and where John Rogers the Martyr was vicar at St. Sepulchre. I pay my respects to the great heretic then head for the Central Line at Chancery Lane.

Out to Claybury Victorian Asylum

“cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”Lenny’s Documentary

This was in some way a reprise of a walk I did in March 2007 inspired by a line from Ian Bourn’s early video work Lenny’s Documentary set in Leytonstone, “cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”.

Claybury Hospital was the fifth London County Asylum, designed by asylum architect George Thomas Hine, and opened in 1893. It was closed in 1995 and converted into a slightly eerie gated community of luxury flats popular with Reality TV stars and Premier League footballers. Claybury is also mentioned by Iain Sinclair in both Rodinsky’s Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein) and London Orbital in relation to the mysterious hermit of the Princelet Street Synagogue David Rodinsky, whose sister was a patient there.

The walk also took in the Merchant Seaman’s Orphange on Hermon Hill, founded in 1827, also converted into apartments. From there I dropped down, crossing the River Roding, past the Pet Cemetery and a Toby Carvery. The route then took a lop-sided slant through a nest of streets into the Crooked Hat Plantation, one of those curious pockets of ancient woodland, once part of the great Forest of Essex, cut off and stranded by urban sprawl.

The views from Claybury are superb, some of the finest in London. When I was here 10 years ago, sliding around in the mud, I spoke to a lady walking her dog who’d worked in the asylum as a nurse. Today it was hot and humid. A group of Secondary School kids were returning from a trip to the pond. I skirted the railings to get a good view of the iconic water tower before walking down a long road through the grounds of the private settlement. There was an eerie Stepford Wives vibe about the place – it spooked me, so I got out as fast as I could and jumped the tube back to Leytonstone.