Headed out for a short walk mid-Sunday afternoon and found this book in a charity shop in Wanstead – it immediately became apparent that I’d have to carry this heavy tome as some form of atonement for not embarking on a longer schlep earlier in the day.
My only aim was to head for the River Roding where it passes under the Eastern Avenue in Wanstead. It was unseasonably warm and I wanted to bask in the last two hours of sun.
My mind meandered in tune to the waters of the Roding, over bridges and past the pumping station. I remember startling a grass-snake along here a few years ago one hot summer morning.
I only recently discovered D. W. Gillingham’s wonderful Unto the Fields, by chance on a walk from Chigwell to Loughton. It was a glorious discovery, an entire book published in 1953 on the Roding Valley. A celebration from another era of a landscape I’ve come to love. The exploration of the territory in the book begins in November:
“Now I have chosen this November morning to introduce you to the fields because November is the beginning of Nature’s year, like the farmer’s at Michaelmas… The fieldfares especially were numerous today; their chattering could be heard everywhere, for the migration down the Roding valley was at its height. A few redwings had come to the valley before them.”
Gillingham delights in the fog and frost of November mornings. As the russet rays of sunshine pitch onto the banks of the Roding I feel the heat and remove my scarf. The pylons, our protectors, glow orange.
Passing beneath the titanic piers supporting the North Circular I feel the energy drain from my legs, my thighs become sore and heavy. I consider jumping on a bus at Charlie Brown’s Roundabout up to South Woodford station and heading home for tea. But I resolve to hike along the A1400 Woodford Avenue to Gants Hill instead. The National Trust Book of Long Walks needs to be at least partially appeased.
The pylon sky sunset glows as I continue along the Woodford Avenue and brings new life to my tired legs. The view of a Toby Carvery across the road also inspires me to pursue the walk – my sons and I had been discussing the prevalence of Toby Carveries in the area before I headed out for reasons I can’t recall. I sent them both the photo below.
At this stage I start to see the Beehive Harvester around every bend of the road and tell myself that I should settle down there and read the National Trust Book of Long Walks and make some notes of things that had passed through my mind on the walk – minor meditations that will be gone by the time I reach home. But before it appears I’m tempted to follow Redbridge Lane East to the roundabout by Redbridge Tube Station where I’m momentarily seduced by the Beefeater Red House. I vow to return, for now I have promised the book of Long Walks that I’ll complete the circuit by walking home.
There’s something epic and romantic about the A12 – the Eastern Highway out through Essex to Suffolk – carved across a landscape of broad skies. It’s America. It makes me imagine far off places well beyond Lowestoft.
Along Redbridge Lane West, lamp-posts illuminating leaves. Across George Green to pick up the old Roman marching route back through Leytonstone to home.