Through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Chingford

A walk from the Hollow Ponds in Leytonstone through Epping Forest to Mansfield Park in Chingford passing through Walthamstow Forest, Highams Park, Pimp Hall Park & Nature Reserve and Ridgeway Park.

This video partly followed the path of my last walk before the lockdown as far as Highams Park Lake. On that day in March I turned up the hill to the ridge of land dividing the Lea and Roding Valleys at Woodford. Then I descended into the Roding Valley and walked back to Leytonstone along the River Roding. For this walk I wanted to head in the opposite direction from Highams Park- towards the River Lea.

Heading up Friday Hill it’s impossible not to recall the wonderful story of a monarch (take your pick between Charles II, Henry VIII or James I) who while out hunting in Epping Forest decided to take dinner at the Hall at Friday Hill, Chingford. Asking for the finest cut of beef to be brought to his table he was so impressed that he decided to knight the loin of beef, taking out his sword and declaring “Arise Sir Loin”. And that apparently is how Sirloin steak got its name. The Dovecote pub on Friday Hill used to be called The Sirloin.

I wanted to then connect a chain of open spaces that annoint the high ground at Chingford. First Pimp Hall Park, which takes its name from the old manor house. In the nearby nature reserve you can still see the 17th Century dovecote which provided the farm with a fresh supply of pigeons for their pies.

Ridgeway Park Chingford

Ridgeway Park Railway

Then I walked on through the fine streets of Chingford, passing the Old Town Hall, to Ridgeway Park with its brilliant model railway. Somebody commented on the video that there’s a local story that Walt Disney visited the model railway in Ridgeway and was so taken with it that he was inspired to build his amusement parks. I sincerely hope that’s true.

The walk ends across the road in Mansfield Park. The park occupies land that used to be common grazing land and a hay meadow – and apparently this gave us the name from Anglo-Saxon ‘Man’s Field’. The views from here across the reservoirs are some of the best in the Lea Valley and I rested a while to drink them in.

EMD Cinema Walthamstow

Hoe Street Walthamstow

Although the video ends here in Mansfield Park I still had to walk back to Leytonstone through a smattering of rain. I passed Chingford Old Church and the famous Chingford Mount Cemetery, Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and George Monoux College. It was the longest walk I’d done in months and by the time I reached Hoe Street, Walthamstow I was really starting to feel it in my legs and lower back. Luckily I had my walking pole with me to help me along, like a weary forest pilgrim passing through Bakers Arms to pick up a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada from the corner shop to sup in the garden at home.

Video filmed on 4th June 2020

Walk to Chingford

Lying on my back in the garden in the shade of the Sumac tree I kept seeing a view in my head. It wasn’t of Tuscan hills or the Chilterns but the view from the end of The Drive in Walthamstow that looks down along the Lea Valley. So at 7.30pm I set off.

I might not have made it as far as Chingford Road if I’d had the £20 in my pocket to take a boat out on the Hollow Ponds, full of families splashing about.

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The original George Monoux School dates from 1527. I bought a pamphlet about it in the Vestry House a while back but haven’t read it yet so that’s all the info I can pass on for now.

 

Immense views stretch out from the footbridge over the North Circular near the Crooked Billet Roundabout. The Holiday Inn Express in a weed-strewn lay-by had the forlorn look of a mid-west motel on the Lost Highway.

Where will they film the obligatory scene at the greyhound stadium that every mockney Gangster movie is required to have once they’ve converted ‘the Stow’ to housing? Lucky Blur stuck it on their Parklife album cover.

There’s a battle raging over the future of the track. ‘Save our Stow’ claim it as ‘the most historical greyhound track in the world’. I passed Catford Dogs on one of my walks for This Other London – also awaiting the same fate. London just has 3 of its original 33 dog tracks left.

I landed up at Chingford Mount as the sun was taking a dip in the Banbury Reservoir and jumped a 158 back to Leyton.


– the map above moves around if you click on the ‘play’ icon

Through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Epping via Upshire

Epping Forest

I’ve had a strong urge to head out to the fields and the countryside recently. I suppose that’s the effect of being confined to one pocket of East London since late March (although I’ve pushed my boundaries on foot from Stoke Newington to Fairlop Water and from Chingford to Bow). So early Sunday afternoon I spontaneously decided to head out into Epping Forest at Leytonstone, to embrace the countryside on my doorstep till I felt it was ok to venture further afield.

Epping Forest

The view north from the bridge over the North Circular at Walthamstow always calls me further afield as you look to the lands beyond Edmonton. It’s one of my favourite views in the whole of London.

Highams Park Lake

Highams Park Lake

I took a rest on a bench by Highams Park Lake and chatted to a lovely fellla from the Beacontree Wombles who was picking up litter out of a sense of civic pride and public spiritedness. It was a beautiful day – 22 degrees. I had no particular aim but was aware that for every mile I made away from Leytonstone I’d have to walk that distance home.

4.10pm I arrive at Chingford Plain. My thighs were sore even though I’d only walked 8 miles. This must be another effect of the lockdown. I ate the Sesame Snaps I’d packed. This left just a packet chocolate croissant for the rest of the walk. I was thinking of the great Thurston Moore interview on Tom Robinson’s 6Music show I listened to on Saturday night as I cooked and the idea of undocumented improvised performances and how I still felt compelled to document this walk with photos and text recorded on my phone.
I stretched out my groundsheet beneath the trees near North Long Hills and White House Plain and listened to the silence. The air is so still. I felt the energy slowly ebbing back into my legs as I lay there and meditated. Maybe today was the day to push on through the forest to Epping.

Epping Forest

Dead Papa Toothwort lives beneath this tree, I thought when clamping eyes on this gnarly old beast and still under of the spell of Max Porter’s book Lanny. I saw Trinovantes tribesmen hiding in the tall ferns.

The engines from the bikers tea hut thrummed through the trees as I made my way towards High Beach, then followed Verderers’ Ride to St. Thomas’ Quarters. The last time I’d been here was near sunset in deep winter during a time when I often walked through sunset into the dark winter forest. The view from here towards the hills around Waltham Abbey makes the heart sing. It also made me decide to follow the Three Forests Way to Upshire. Maybe I could satisfy my desire to walk across the fields after all.

 

Over Woodridden Hill more memories of the winter walks visited me as I’d turned in the opposite direction back in March as the light faded into gloom and I made for Ambresbury Banks in the dark. I passed through the gates of the Woodredon and Warlies Park Estate and down a country lane. A rabbit runs along the lane sun light illuminating its ears bright red. A field of dreams opened up offering more majestic views. Dragonflies skimmed over the stems of tall grasses dancing to the hum of the M25.

Crossing the M25 feels like a big moment, by now the furthest I’ve been from home since the lockdown started. I follow the lane through Upshire and down across flowing fields to the Temple on the hill in Warlies Park. It’s 6.35pm and I rest here and take off my shoes. I momentarily consider pushing further north towards outskirts of Harlow, but then realise this may not be the wisest idea – today at least.

I walk past Obelisk Farm. Desire lines cut through the saxifrage and lady’s bedstraw leading to Queen Boudicca’s obelisk ,sweet scent filling the air that follows me through the wood. There’s an Old fella sat beneath the tree line looking out across the view. I’ve only walked this way in winter and always in the reverse direction heading out from Epping towards Hertfordshire. It’s good to see these paths and fields in their summer clothes and the sun hitting the fields from a different aspect.

Tank trap – Outer London Defence Ring


There’s the intoxicating smell of evening damp meadow. Two brown bunnies skip through the grass as I rest on a bench looking back towards Copped Hall. A field of borage paints the field beside the M25 purple. A Pheasant sweeps low over the borage and lands on a clear strip. It’s been a great walk, a necessary breaking free.

Epping Cricket Ground

I emerge onto the road opposite Epping cricket ground on the edge of the forest. When I think of the last time I was here in the pitch black at the end of a winter walk through the forest I could never have imagined what would happen before I was back here again. Reconnecting with all those paths from Leytonstone through the forest to Epping taking in Upshire has a healing effect. It gives me the strength to take my first tube journey in nearly four months, back to Leytonstone.

Psychogeographer-in-residence walk No.5

This glorious walk over Pole Hill and along what J.A Brimble called the ‘western escarpment’, is the final video in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We begin at Chingford Station, an early staging post for forays into Epping Forest when it was declared ‘The People’s Forest’ by Queen Victoria when she came to Chingford in 1882 in celebration of the passing of the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which preserved the forest for the citizens of London. Queen Victoria’s 7th son, the Duke of Connaught, became the first Ranger of Epping Forest, and our walk heads along Connaught Avenue.

At the end of Connaught Avenue we start our ascent of Pole Hill, the highest point in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. At the summit is a trig point and an obelisk bearing two plaques. The first notes that the “pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pound M.A. Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory.” The second commemorates the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) who owned this land until 1922 when it was incorporated into Epping Forest.

Often overlooked though is the concrete base of a Second World War Anti-Aircraft Gun which would have scanned the skies above the Lea Valley as German bombers made their way to wreak destruction on the London Docks.

psychogeographer

We follow the footpath through woodland and descend into the valley of the Hawksmouth, before climbing once more, this time across Yates’ Meadow and Yardley Hill. From here are some of the finest views of London as we stand perched on its northeastern border, with Essex behind us. The towers of the City shimmer in the distance calling to mind PJS Perecval’s description of London’s orgins as a “stockade in the woods – the Llyndin of the ancient Britons.” (London’s Forest, 1909).

We retrace our steps back down the edge of Yardley Hill, and into Hawk Wood. One of the participants in the guided walks I led with artist Rachel Lillie, emailed me with this note on the possible origins of the name of Hawk Wood, “In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court. Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

psychogeographer

Crossing Bury Road we enter Bury Wood till we reach the point where the Cuckoo Brook crosses the footpath. From here we turn across Chingford Plain, a place I end many forest walks bathed in glorious sunset. Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge stands proudly on the hill from where Henry VIII would watch the hunt on the plain below. A Brewer’s Fayre sits invitingly next to the Hunting Lodge or you can continue across the grasslands where cattle graze back to Chingford Station.

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

River Ching River Ching

The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

‘Winter Time’ Walk in Epping Forest

Bury Wood Epping Forest

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The clocks went back and I awoke to a clear blue sky calling me out to walk. I headed for Chingford and up along the edge of Bury Wood, crossed Bury Road and through the beautiful Hawk Wood on the edge of Epping Forest. I’ve been intrigued about the name for a while and was sent this beguiling note on the name by Joanna from the Chingford Historical Society:

“In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court.Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

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Yate's Meadow

Up over Yate’s Meadow (the name of which I learnt from some lovely people who came on my Pole Hill walk – it’s only marked Yardley Hill on the OS Map) for what must be one of the most spectacular views of London – the towers of the City encased in forest – a stockade in the woods as in ancient legend.

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Up over Lippitts Hill, footpaths offering stunning views over Enfield and Waltham Abbey.

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The vista from this side of the ‘western escarpment’ between forest and Lea is beyond London looking out at England stretching the length of the island – or so it seems on days like this.

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Down Thompsons Lane, then Wellington Hill, and ascending Rats Lane – the path of angry dogs.

Back in Epping Forest at Hill Wood the trees so majestic I gasped out loud. They deserve to be worshipped.

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Chingford Plain at sunset was the perfect end as a cold nip embellished the air. Winter’s here it said, the dark evenings have descended.