Walking the London Loop – Elstree to Moor Park

I’ll be honest, in the past when I crossed paths with the London Loop signs on a walk I was slightly disdainful. ‘What’s the point’, I thought, of following this orbital trail around the edge of London when the capital is so rich with places to walk and explore. You didn’t need a pre-ordained, officially endorsed path to point the way. You could wander randomly anywhere in London and it would throw up a route as rich as any promoted by Transport for London, and I still believe that to be true. But now having walked 5 sections (well 4.5 really) of the London Loop I’ve been forced to revise my opinion of this 150-mile path.

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I did my first section – from Enfield to Cockfosters (Section 17) back in January when I needed to hit the road but lacked the energy or imagination to work out my own walk. The London Loop guided me through a territory largely unkown to me. A couple of weeks later I found myself heading back to Cockfosters to pick up the trail through to Elstree & Borehamwood (Section 16), although on this occasion I branched off on my own path for a large portion of the way to take in areas I wanted to explore that were off the London Loop.

At that point I thought I was done with the London Loop and it wasn’t until the beginning of July that I returned to Elstree to continue the path through to Hatch End (Section 15) carrying on to Moor Park (Section 14). It was a glorious walk across meadows and woodland, the inevitable golf courses, past lakes, and over hilltops offering incredible expansive views. It opens your eyes to the extent and beauty of London’s open spaces and farmland encircling the city – spaces that were often fought over to be saved for the people of the London and the surrounding suburbs, precious resources not to be taken for granted.

London Loop Section 14

Will, I return to continue my counter-clockwise walk on the London Loop? I’m still not sure. I did leave home to walk Section 13 to Uxbridge two weeks ago but instead meandered from Ruislip to Denham and beyond into Bucks. But this time when I passed the London Loop signs on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, instead of a dismissive glance I gave them a nod and a smile and a thanks for the magnificient walks.

In the Shadow of the Shard – watch the full documentary

I started making this film around a year ago, with a shoot walking around the Canada Estate with the brilliant Barry Ducket. Straight away I knew we had a film right there. The aim was to make a documentary celebrating the work of Tenants and Residents Associations in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. We wanted to tell a positive story about the communities based on the area’s council estates. This is a community with a proud working class heritage, borne of its relationship to the docks, the tanneries, and other industries that flourished along this section of the Thames. But it’s an area, like the rest of London, that is experiencing enormous change, most obviously symbolised by the building of the Shard. However, perhaps an even more potent symbol is the construction of a block of 100% council flats by Leathermarket CBS on the Kipling Estate, right in the shadow of the Shard. And that story of hope sits at the heart of this film. If they can build council flats there, we can build genuinely affordable socially owned council homes anywhere.

 

Wanstead Flats after the fire

Wanstead Flats fire damage

Walked across Wanstead Flats this morning for the first time since the enormous fire on Sunday that engulfed a large section of the grass and scrub land between Lake House Road and Centre Road, with some damage along the edge of the section towards Aldersbrook Road. The BBC reported that more than 220 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, that was still smoldering on Tuesday. Today you can make your way along the paths that seemed to have largely escaped serious fire damage.

Wanstead Flats map showing the burnt area - from OpenStreetMap

map showing the burnt area – from OpenStreetMap

Fire damage on Wanstead Flats

the path running parallel to Centre Road

Wanstead Flats fire damage

note the patch of pink flowers on the right that escaped fire damage

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

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Worringly, there had been further fires overnight by the Empress Avenue allotments in Aldersbrook. One of the fires was started just outside the Aldersbrook Riding School which was being investigated by the Police as a possible act of arson. There were dark burnt patches all around the area. The mound of dung and manure beside the allotments had been set alight and was still smoldering.

Aldersbrook fire

Fires had scorched the dry grass and weeds off the end of the lane near the old sewage works and the pylons. One local suggested that the sporadic nature of the fires indicated they’d been started deliberately. It was interesting to note how some plants in heavily burnt areas had escaped damage – you’ll see it in the thistles here and on Wanstead Flats there was a cluster of tall pink flowers (purple loosestrife?) surrounded by blackened earth at what had been the heart of the inferno.

 

Looking for Leytonstone’s Lost Lido at Whipps Cross

One boiling hot morning last week I returned to an overgrown patch of land on the far side of the Hollow Ponds in search of remnants of Leytonstone’s lost Lido. The Whipps Cross Lido was built in 1905 and closed in 1982. It was demolished the following year and the land left to be reclaimed by the forest. I’d gone looking for remains originally with my friend Andrew Stevens, a few years ago on a muddy winter afternoon. That day we mostly found thick undergrowth festooned with used condoms like a plantation of perverted Christmas trees. The location of the Lido had evidently found a new use.

What we hadn’t realised at the time was that the site is quite clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map, and on this occasion I was able to properly scope the site out. Initially all I found were half lumps of concrete buried in the banks of bushes. Not conclusive enough. But soon I unearthed broken sections of clay pipes, and then large pieces of wire-mesh reinforced glass. Finally the smoking gun of a long length of metal pipe running along a high bank overlooking a large hollowed out area matching the size of the footprint of the pool.

Leytonstone Lido

Stood in the deep end being feasted upon by mosquitos I tried to imagine the scene on a boiling hot summer’s day such as this. The kids racing around the poolside and dive-bombing into the water to the rebukes of the life guards. People have told me of the odour of TCP that pervaded one corner, and of entire days spent here at the Whipps Cross Lido, the queue to get in stretching back to Snaresbrook Road.

The London Lidos that have survived are now treasured assets, with some such as Tooting, drawing in swimmers all year round. Brockwell and London Fields Lidos are ‘places to be seen’. If only Leytonstone’s Whipps Cross Lido could have weathered those dark recession years of the early 80’s – you can imagine how popular it would be today.

Along the Harcamlow Way from Roydon to Ware

The joy of absconding – escaping from the obligations of everyday life and just wandering the countryside or the city streets. That was how I felt on the train out of Stratford to Roydon on the Essex – Hertfordshire border. What I was absconding from in reality were my own plans to survey the Royal Docks in a wide looping walk (that I eventually did this past weekend). In the end this glorious walk took me far away from the hurly burly of urban living, away from humanity, and into another space and time trapped in the beguiling landscape along this section of the Harcamlow Way.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

After running the gauntlet of a path colonised by truly giantic Giant Hogweed, and passing across fields and fields of beans, light aircraft buzzing overhead, I approached possibly the most magical location on the route. Moat Wood of course has a moat, but some moats appear as muddy ditches, some as a hard to make out dip in the ground, but this moat was full to brim shimmering in the defracted sunlight breaking through the leaves. The scant information about the moat added to its mystery – it most likely protected a medieval farmhouse or minor manor house. I stayed for a while gazing into the waters, before pushing on along the field edge to the call of pheasants unseen amongst the woodland.

Moat Wood Hertfordshire

The views now changed from earlier vistas stretching across the Stort Valley to Harlow, now looking across the Lea Valley, and imaginging a future walk following the River Ash. Crossing the disused railway line that once connected to the mainline at St. Margarets, I’m reminded of a walk that passed over a section of the line further down near Easneye that I took three of four years ago the week before Christmas. It’s a walk that has never left me. I smiled to think back to my sodden trench feet from that day as I kicked up dust in the evening sun on the path that took me over the River Ash and in a wide arc to the sunset backstreets of Ware.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

In the Shadow of the Shard – documentary screenings

Shadow of the Shard - film

This Sunday sees the premiere of the documentary I’ve been working on with tenants and residents in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe over the last year. The film grew out of my interest in Leathermarket TMO building a block of new 100% Council flats on the Kipling Estate, right in the shadow of the Shard. In the context of the London housing crisis, this was an incredible story on its own, bucking every trend we are told dictates the shape of housing in our city. But initial conversations with the people involved in this amazing project revealed that there was a bigger picture in the old London Borough of Bermondsey. The area is a thriving hub of deep-rooted commnity activism, and the film takes us to meet some of those dedicated people working to keep the spirit of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe alive in the face of enormous change.

Free Screenings:

17th June 2.30pm – Magdalen Hall, London SE1 3BQ – film launch and panel discussion – reserve tickets

5th July 7pm – Mayflower TRA Assembly Hall, 1 Neptune Street, London SE16 7JP

14th July 7pm – Bermondsey Village Hall, Kirby Grove, London SE1 3TD

 

 

Central Line Countryside Walk from Theydon Bois to Chigwell Row via Lambourne End

Theydon Bois is under-rated as a gateway to the London Countryside – it’s the equivalent of a Himalayan Base Camp for the London / West Essex edgeland walker. I fueled up on a great hot salt beef bagel before taking the footbridge over the Central Line tracks and down across fields to where I was confronted by the magnificent Theydon Bois Earthwork. This land sculpture by Richard Harris was commissioned by the Woodland Trust and completed in 2013. One kilometre of chalk and flint paths spiral their way into the side of the hill in a shape inspired by tree seeds. I stood atop one of the inner banks as the traffic throbbed past on the M11 and gave praise to the landscape.

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Moving across fields on the far side of the motorway near Hydes Farm, I examine my OS map and discover that the section of footpath I’m looking for aligns with the Roman Road further north at Hobbs Cross, that I walked along in 2016. This modest path that runs up the field edge makes a perfectly straight line to the acknowledged Roman Road that linked London to Great Dunmow, passing through Leyton and Leytonstone along the way. I turn to follow the route imagining the passage of Legions drawn from across the Roman Empire, hot desert lands, and what they must of made of this cold muddy terrain.

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To the north of Aridge I encounter my old friend the River Roding, ambling through the fields flanked by tall grasses and rushes. I pay my respects then cross the road and head for Lambourne End.

River Roding at Abridge

I lament not having time to have a look at the medieval Lambourne Church, but glad of the beguiling path leading down to Conduit Wood. A gnarly old tree beside a murky green pond looks to be home to a colony of wood sprites. An information board tells us that the path “runs alonsgide and ancient green lane”. The woods have a feel of magick and timelessness, where the path could as easily lead to another plane of existence as Gallman’s End Farm where I actually find myself.

Lambourne Church

A bridleway so deep in mud that it has made me hate horses, takes me down to the edge of Hainault Forest. Several comments on the YouTube video inform me that this quagmire goes by the name of Featherbed Lane.

Hainault Forest

A pond in Hainault Forest captures the sunset and holds it fast just beneath the surface of the water. It’s glorious to be in the forest celebrating what feels like one of the first real spring days (it was 15th April) after a long hard winter. I decide to toast the arrival of the new season and head off into Chigwell to purchase a can of San Miguel which I swig heartily as I make my way down off the high ground to Grange Hill Station.