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

Lost Futures of East London

A walk from Leytonstone to Fairlop Waters via Clayhall, Barkingside and Fullwell Cross

Fairlop, in the London Borough of Redbridge, takes its name from the famous Fairlop Oak, an enormous oak tree in Hainault Forest that was said to be 900 years old in its prime. The tree fell into poor health and the trunk was hollow by the time it became the focus of the annual Fairlop Fair when thousands of Londoners flooded out through the forest for festivities around the tree. In 1805 flames from a picnic set light to the tree causing great damage. Then in 1820 the Fairlop Oak finally blew down. That was the destination for this lockdown walk.
Our walk takes us from Leytonstone High Road through Wanstead to the Redbridge Roundabout and Charles Holden’s Redbridge Tube Station. We then go along Redbridge Lane East. I revisit my thoughts on Mark Fisher’s idea of Hauntology as a ‘nostalgia for lost futures’. I also recently read an essay by Alastair Bonnett that explains how the word ‘nostalgia’ was “devised in 1688 by Johannes Hofer by combining the Greek ‘nostos’ (home) and ‘algos’ (pain) in order to depict a malady brought on by being distant from one’s homeland… The earliest English uses of the term are geo-psychological. According to the OED, the first English usage is from 1770 and derives from Joseph Banks, botanist on James Cook’s Endeavour. ‘The greatest part’ of the crew, Banks wrote in his diary, are ‘now pretty far gone in the longing for home which the Physicians have gone so far as to esteem a disease under the name of Nostalgia” (The Geography of Nostalgia: Global and Local Perspectives on Modernity and Loss by Alastair Bonnett).

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

We visit Clayhall Park, named after the manor that was first recorded in the area in 1203. Here we see the plaque embedded in a stone to commemorate the planting of trees by The Men of the Trees in 1937. We then walk through Barkingside to the majestic Fullwell Cross Library. This glorious building was designed by notable architect Frederick Gibberd who later designed Heathrow Airport, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and was chief planner for Harlow New Town.
The walk ends at the beautiful Fairlop Waters which had been used as an airfield in both WW1 and WW2 and in 1947 was considered for the location of London’s major intercontinental airport.

After a rest by the calming waters I set out for the 6-mile walk home at 7.45pm. I took on a can of Becks beer and bag of Bagel Bites for fuel. People bathed in the glorious evening light in Barkingside Recreation Ground. An old mile stone poked out of the long grass by the entrance to the Tesco Superstore. The Cadbury’s signage on the boarded up Cranbrook Food and Wine caught the start of the pre-solstice sunset as I powered into Gants Hill to top up with a can of Beavertown Gamma Ray Pale Ale for the push along the Eastern Avenue back to Redbridge. By the time I hit The George at Wanstead on the far slope of the Roding Valley, I was experiencing that state of euphoria common in the final stages of a long walk – an intoxicating brew of adrenaline, endorphins mixed with memory and nostalgia. The streets of Leytonstone were quiet as I made those final steps home.


Filmed on 18th June 2020
“© OpenStreetMap contributors”

A history of the Great and the Good?

Laurie Cunningham Statue

Laurie Cunningham

Reflecting on the pulling down of Statues

There’s been a lot of talk of public statues since the citizens of Bristol decided to dump the bronze monument to slave trader Edward Colston in the harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest. A couple of days later the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was removed from its plinth in West India Quay down in Docklands in a more orderly fashion. And now there is much debate about who should be removed next and where this ends.

For me there is a wider question, that of whose history do we tell, who are the figures that we celebrate. Pick up a pre-war History book and they are littered with the deeds of the ‘great and the good’. Ordinary folk barely merit a mention, certainly not by name. You’d think that the pre-1945 world was populated purely by brilliant Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Earls. And even though Historians have done much to redress that inbalance in recent years, the legacy of that view of the past can still be found in the names of our streets, parks, buildings, and yes many of our public statues.

Thankfully this is trend that has started to change. Many beloved public statues now reflect more local histories celebrating people and events with resonant connections to communities rather than burnishing the reputations of the wealthy. The statue of Laurie Cunningham in Coronation Gardens, Leyton is much loved by local people. As the first black footballer to play for England at senior level and the first Englishman to be transfered to the mighty Real Madrid, he was a true trailblazer that we can all admire. Likewise the statue of Ada Salter in Bermondsey, who was the first female Mayor in London, and with her husband Alfred Salter, did much to improve the lives of people in the area.

Joan Littlewood statue

Joan Littlewood

Names of places are changed all the time to reflect contemporary mores and politics. Marsh Lane Fields in Leyton was changed to Leyton Jubilee Park in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Family themselves changed their own surname from Saxe-Coberg and Gotha to Windsor in 1917 due to strong anti-German sentiment caused by the First World War. Other streets and buildings that were given German names to honour Prince Albert were also changed at this time.  Changing names and removing statues is a normal evolution of the public realm.

Now is a good time to re-evaluate what history we want to tell ourselves.

Over Marsh Lane Fields & Across Hackney Marshes

The roadside wildflowers near the nest Nest E10 apartments made me think of Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside. This was apt because I remember reading Iain Sinclair’s wonderful article about this hugely influential book in the Guardian Review then heading for a walk to our own patch of unofficial countryside at Marsh Lane Fields expecting to find hordes of Guardian reading foragers only to find this glorious open space largely devoid of people and the elderflower trees laden with fruit. So this lockdown walk on the 15th May was a welcome return to one of my favourite places in London, a precious tract of land preserved for the enjoyment of local people.

From Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) I crossed the metal footbridge over the railway sidings to Leyton Waterworks. The threat of the music festival has now passed, the campaign to stop the festival successful and the organisers graciously accepting defeat. I do miss the old Pitch and Put over here. I used to come over in the hour before sunset in summer for a quick round with my eldest son in tow munching on vending machine crisps. I was curious to see if the hot weather had made people take to swimming in the River Lea at the spot that some have come to call Hackney Beach. But on this weekend three weeks ago there was only a solitary hammocker snoozing suspended over the gently flowing waters of our sacred river. Two weeks later scenes of swimmers cavorting in the river caused social media outrage.

Leyton Waterworks - Marsh Lane walk River Lea Marsh Lane walk

Crossing the Friends Bridge I passed into the London Borough of Hackney, breaching the old Middlesex – Essex border and once the frontier between the Danelaw and English Law. Here there was a liberal sprinkling of picnicers and people playing sport. You could sense the lockdown dissolving on this side of the river, too soon for my liking. A great plume of smoke billowed into the sky from a warehouse fire in Barking, fire engines cut through traffic on the Eastway. I crossed the river back into Waltham Forest and took the backstreets through Leyton home.

Leytonstone Lockdown Walk

I’m really enjoying the challenge of digging deeper into my local area for my lockdown walks. For this video I only cover a short section of Leytonstone High Road and yet it was so rich in resonances and associations. It starts with the ghosts of the M11 Link Road protests in Dyers Hall Road in the early 1990’s. Then passes the rubble of the much-loved 491 Gallery, now being very slowly transformed into a block of flats with a beautiful view of the A12/M11 Link Road. Passing on to Leytonstone High we face another development of flats built on the site of Lincolns Pub, but which YouTube comments have informed me was better known to locals in its previous incarnation as The Elms.

We acknowledge Marnie Court, named in honour of Leytonstone’s famous son Alfred Hitchcock, born further down the High Road. The turning point in the walk is the former State Cinema on Leytonstone High Road, now a banqueting venue. From here we turn back along the High Road then into Trinity Close which once would have led us to the ground of Leytonstone FC at Granleigh Road. Leytonstone were a very successful non-league football club, multiple winners of the Isthmian League and the FA Trophy. The ground is now a housing estate.

Leytonstone lockdown walk

The traffic on Leytonstone High Road was still a relatively busy. Scooters buzz away from Yard Sale Pizza. There were more pedestrians at points on this particular day, Friday 17th April around 5pm, than I anticipated, despite very few shops being open (only food shops and chemists).

It was sad to the see the Red Lion closed, chairs on tables, and the shutters down on the Luna Lounge. When will we be back supping a pint of ale and listening to live music at Luna?

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Walking the Shortlands Stream across Leyton Marshes

Back at the end of February I joined local historian Claire Weiss for a walk following the Shortlands Stream across a corner of Leyton Marshes. Claire has been researching the history of Lea Bridge Farm. This stream, or in reality a sewer, ran across the farmland and has since been culverted, although traces above ground can be found.

We met at Marsh Lane Fields and started our walk at the bridge over the Dagenham Brook, finding the point where the Shortlands Stream makes its journey beneath the ground.

More information about Claire’s Lea Bridge Farm project can be found here

Chess Valley Walk – Rickmansworth to Chesham

Chess Valley Walk- 10 miles through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The excitement of heading out on a trek, the same now as when I was backpacking. Those twenty-five years compressed into the moment of packing my bag and lacing my boots. There was an added buzz in that this hike would take me through the Chiltern Hills, the region of my birth that I often find calling me as I enter middle-age. The journey started on the Metropolitan line to the basecamp at Rickmansworth, light drizzle on the carriage windows.

The River Chess is a gloriously clear Chalk stream that rises near Chesham and carves a course through beautiful Chilterns countryside to flow into the River Colne at Rickmansworth. It was in a field just outside Rickmansworth where I picked up the Chess Valley Walk. It was late February and we had that first early burst of Spring. I was even able to remove my insulation layer.

The levels of mud were epic. The fields folded over the horizon is soft baize curves. The timber framed houses at Latimer made me think of the Directors of Hammer Horror films that my Dad used to garden for and their elaborate weekend parties.

Chess Valley Walk

Latimer House, a grand gothic pile dominates a high ridge overlooking the river, where the Romans built a villa. It was used for the interrogation of German U-boat crews and Luftwaffe pilots during WW2. After the war it became the National Defence College and was targeted by an IRA bomb.

Time knits together out here, and overlaps with the undulating hills. My mind drifts through childhood, Danny Champion of the World (Roald Dahl lived nearby), walks with my Dad, returning from travelling to the Chilterns with my wife. A furious wind rattles the trees on the edge of big wood on the ridge as the path descended into the river valley.

Chess Valley Walk

The river led me to the recreation ground on the edge of Chesham just before sunset. That great last hour of kicking a ball around before the dash home. I love arriving in satelite towns at this time of day. It’s when they’re at their best. The trail winds its way through the town, round the backs of brick and flint cottages and inviting pubs till it disappears beneath the ground.