These trees have stories – Epping Forest

trees

Epping Forest Walk – Loughton Camp to Epping via Ambresbury Banks

I head into the forest at 3.15pm in the rain – up from Loughton Station straight to Loughton Camp – a place of peace, retreat. Rain taps on the fallen leaves. The gloom and rain mean there’s not a soul around. The mighty trees look over me.

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These trees have stories – great mythologies, lineages stretching back millenia. I wish I could hear their tales, if I stand still for long enough and listen to the breeze will I gain their trust?

Epping Forest

Epping Forest path

A large white horse stands on a bend on the the high path through Great Monk Wood like a mythical beast. I chat to the rider and compare notes on traveling through the forest in the last light. We part in opposite directions wishing each other well. I have a distance to go to reach Epping and it’s now just before sunset.

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trees

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It’s dark when I cross the road and onto Ambresbury Banks. I stand to admire the deep entrenchment – in many ways more imposing than Loughton Camp.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

It’s pitch black now – but I have a nice wide path to guide me and the forest to myself. Not even an animal stirs or a nocturnal dog walker. How easy would it be to duck into the overgrowth, throw a tarp over some low branches and bed down for the night?

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A fallen tree by the path in Epping Thicks glows white like a ghostly face on the edge of the path. I feel it in the pit of my stomach – and stand still.  When I move on I see movement through the trees, horses running along the ridge at the top of the forest …. before I see that it’s my walking giving the static tree trunks motion against the lights of Epping Town in the distance, like a woodland zoetrope. How the light plays tricks on the mind in the dark. The running horses were ghosts of my own mind.

The forest is still.

Epping

Epping cricket pavillion on the edge of the forest

 

 

Walk to the Bluebell Wood

Bluebells Devon

Bluebells and Wild Garlic burst from the high hedgerows on the lane up out of the North Devon village. Dad had said he’d show me the Bluebell Wood.

Devon walk

We headed out at 6pm for those last two hours of golden light, up along the lane that runs above the link road, hills rising in the distance. The Hawthorn was in flower (a little early?) and ‘the Old Fella’ told me how they used to eat the leaves when he was a kid, called them ‘bread and cheese’. I tried one, it didn’t taste anything like bread and cheese.

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We passed a dell thick with Wild Garlic.

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Over the fallow field and beside the perfect babbling brook to the edge of the Bluebell Wood.

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The pungent aroma of the Bluebells fills your nostrils as soon as you step over the stile into the wood. The flowers cascade down the hillside to the brook below. It’s almost too perfect.

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wild garlic

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At the end of the wood you splash through the water running downhill over cracked shale to a hill crested with oaks. I swear I spotted a Hobbit puffing on his pipe sitting in the shade.

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We didn’t have time to tackle the hill and the long loop back round to the village so we retraced our steps through the Bluebell Wood, over the fields and home.

 

 

 

Welcome to the (Waltham) Forest

Welcome to the Forest

Waltham Forest’s year as London’s first Borough of Culture got off to a spectacular start on Friday night. The launch event ‘Welcome to the Forest’, struck exactly the right tone, illuminating the Walthamstow sky, creating magic among the trees of Lloyd Park, and turning the modernist facade of the Town Hall into a kaleidascope of sound and image merging the urban with the sylvan in a glorious pulsing palimpsest. It was spine-tingling evocation of the Borough we love.

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Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow

Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow Town Hall

Welcome to the Forest, Lloyd Park, Walthamstow,

Welcome to the Forest John Rogers

I had some films showing in the brilliant Stow Film Lounge’s Silent Cinema, a special experience to mingle with the other viewers on the Lloyd Park tennis court listening to the soundtrack via headphones. John Smith’s Blight has never sounded so good.

Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow, Borough of Culture, Friday 11th March 2019

Families meandered through the night garden of Lloyd Park marvelling at the light show, and interacted with the steampunk animals snorting out plumes of fire on Forest Road. An all ages crowd boogied on down at the Disco Shed.

2019 is going to be a special year – the forest is coming home.

 

Welcome to the Forest runs until Sunday 13th January 2019, 6.30-9.30pm

Brave New London at North Greenwich

Greenwich Penninsula

This was the scene that greeted me at North Greenwich Station yesterday as I alighted the bus from Eltham – a brave new world of golden tower blocks rising from Bugsby’s Marshes. Whale oil to property development, money magicked from mud. I’d just gazed across a moat at the Tudor Eltham Palace, and here new palaces stacked atop each other jutting out on a peninsula in the Thames. Eerily the website for the development has a headline that I’ve been using as the work-in-progress title for my new book.

By the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House with Iain Sinclair

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair in Charlton Park

The mirror by the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House made this shot impossible to resist. Being with Iain Sinclair by a Mulberry Tree made me think of the detailed description of the silk trade in WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, silk worms feed on mulberry leaves. I’ve just read the chapter in Iain’s forthcoming book The Last London where he retraces an East End perambulation from Austerlitz with Sebald’s friend, the poet Stephen Watts.

This black mulberry is believed to be around 400 years old, just marginally younger than Charlton House, built in 1607. But unlike the bricks and mortar of the grand Jacobean mansion the mulberry tree is a living being, arms reaching out into the park and the fine public convenience behind by the road.

We were passing through the park filming a thread coming off the Watling Street project, a tributary running off Shooters Hill, another film now taking shape to be presented in the autumn.

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair at the Brighton Spiegeltent

Alan Moore Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017

Down to Brighton to see Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore speaking at an event  in the Brighton Festival Spiegeltent celebrating the amazing history of Watling Street, a road so old, as John Higgs told us, that it may even predate humans, being carved out by migrating animals.
Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017
Iain Sinclair recounted his walk along the section of Watling Street from Dover to Westminster, with the footage shot by Andrew Kotting and myself projected on the screen behind. He talked of the mysteries of Shooters Hill, Andrew’s constant banter that on one occasion led to missing the last room at a Travelodge and having to sleep on the floor of a disabled toilet. He told the story of walking to Mortlake with Alan Moore to visit the home of John Dee, Moore arriving at his house with a bag laden with esoteric books.

Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017

After a musical interlude Alan Moore took to the stage and gave a long and beautiful riff on a conversation with a scientist (I think) who’d explained the probability that we are living in a computer simulation. Alan’s own intervention on this theory was both funny, enlightening and poignant linking it back to explaining to some people in Milton Keynes how he could be their God as he had worked on the building of Milton Keynes. He also gave a brilliant explanation on the meaning and importance of psychogeography, how you can create your own epic mythology for where you live and your own place in that world. It was one of those evenings that makes you feel differently about the world around you, mind expanded, horizons widened.

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair at the Brighton Spiegeltent 24th May 2017

Afterwards I went and ate fish and chips on the beach and pondered Alan Moore’s idea that perhaps we live the same life over and over again instead of merely ceasing to exist after death – this, he posited, was a good reason to fill your life with great moments. With this in mind I bought two cans of Adnams Southwold Bitter to drink on the train back to London.

 

Fun Fair in the Olympic Park

Olympic Park Fun Fair

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‘Roll Up Roll Up for all the fun of the fair in the Olympic Park’, nobody said. A pound each just to enter. Barely a soul around, like one of those ghost theme parks somewhere out in the American midwest, or a scene in a zombie movie. Loitering too long at one of the amusements meant being descended upon by eager, underemployed staff. My son didn’t really fancy much apart from the mini-Zorbs bobbing in a paddling pool in the corner that I managed to persuade him away from. Three arrows for £3.50 to win a wan-looking soft toy. £3 for a bag of pink candyfloss that was mostly air, my son wanted a fresh one on a stick, ‘the lady who does that ent ere’, the girl behind the counter said eyes glued to her phone. The burgers were solid black like discs of coal, the sausages resembled greasy truncheons. The dodgems sat idling remembering better times. The Ghost Ride was in good company this evening. The deserted Fun Fair should become a permanent fixture in the Olympic Park, an Olympic Legacy.

We left with the bag of pink sugar vapour and made our way to East Village in search of food that wouldn’t kill us. The illuminated apartments seemed to be far outnumbered by those in darkness, whether this indicates a large number of vacant flats or the late working hours of the inhabitants I wouldn’t want to say.

There was some sign of life at street level along Victory Parade, even a posse of teenage boys ambling along and a smattering of people in the bars and restaurants. I’m told militant vegans were out in force protesting at the cheese and wine fayre at the weekend, noisily picketing the Gelateria until the police were called. That’s an event that needs adding to the social history of the site.

It’s nearly 4 years since I was given a tour of East Village before the first residents moved in, a tour that focused almost entirely on the impressive environmental sensitivity of the landscaping missing out any mention of the 51% stake owned by the Qatari government purchased at a £275 million loss to the British taxpayer – an interesting idea when looking at skyrocketing property prices in London and an ever-worsening housing crisis.

I tried to point out to my son some of the things I remembered from the tour, but he was distracted by his hunger with his heart set on pizza. I was about to tell him we might have to settle for fish and chips when he spotted what turned out to be really good pizzeria that allowed us to park my son’s bike inside and served a favourite pizza from my Modena years.

I’m determined not to give up on East Village and the Olympic Park, to not let the cynicism ringing in my ears even louder than my tinnitus completely cloud my view. Nor do I want to be seduced into a SOMA daze of compliance by good pizza and swan pedalos. The deserted fun fair and the good pizza seemed to provide a decent balance on this occasion.