Across the Marshes from Leyton Filter Beds to Walthamstow Wetlands

This is the second in my series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We start at the Leyton WaterWorks Centre, part of the Lee Valley Regional Park. I find the Essex Filter Beds one of the most beguiling locations in East London – for its role in providing the booming population of the city with clean drinking water, and the way it has become a haven for plant, bird and insect life. It’s a real oasis in the East.

We move on past the abandoned pitch and put, which I still dearly miss, and pay homage to the course of the old River Lea by the Friends Bridge (important not to cross here as it takes you over the border into Hackney). The path that leads beneath Lea Bridge Road and along the top of Leyton Marshes apparently follows the course of the aqueduct that linked the filter beds to the reservoirs at Coppermill Lane.

Waterworks Leyton

Walking across Leyton Marshes always reminds me of joining the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee on a Beating of the Bounds in 2006. They talked about the ancient common rights of pasture that existed on the marshes based around the Lammas grazing system (‘Loaf Mass’). The importance of learning the boundaries of your parish. Grazing on the marshes ended in the early 20th Century but Belted Galloway cattle have recently been reintroduced to helped rebalance the ecology of this precious landscape.

Leyton Marshes

Marshlands WF Tours.00_13_08_10.Still018

Sandy Lane takes us to the railway arches where A.V. Roe built his notorious tri-plane in 1909. From here we enter Walthamstow marshes.

John Rogers Marshlands walk

Guided walk July 2019 – photo by Marco Visconti

The walk ends at Walthamstow Wetlands, taking in the tremendous views of the reservoirs from the Coppermill Tower.

 

In the footsteps of W.G Sebald – The Rings of Saturn walk Southwold to Dunwich

A walk along the Suffolk coast from Southwold to Dunwich

While on holiday in Southwold in August, I was determined to complete the walk from Southwold to ‘the lost city’ of Dunwich described in W.G. Sebald’s hugely influential book, The Rings of Saturn

The book is based around a journey on foot along the Suffolk coast from Lowestoft to Bungay and takes a number of long disgressions into the past. I purchased The Rings of Saturn on my way to Southwold in 2013, knowing only that it was set in Suffolk. When I turned to page 75 I saw a photograph of the Southwold lighthouse that we were staying beneath.

Southwold lighthouse

Sebald arrives in Southwold “footsore and weary” from his long walk from Lowestoft and rests on Gunhill. He describes a visit to the Sailor’s Reading Room. After a few days in Southwold he sets off over the bailey bridge across the River Blyth, along the disused railway line to Walberswick, then a long schlep along the beach to the ‘lost city’ of Dunwich.

I attempted to follow this route on that first holiday in Southwold, but turned back at Walberswick. Our return after an absence of a few years gave me the opportunity to finally follow Sebald’s footsteps from Southwold to Dunwich, a truly magical and memorable walk, captured in the video above.

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (or Fillebrook) – part of a series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

The route of the walk in the video is as follows:

Fillebrook Route

Start at St. Andrew’s Church – go behind to patch of land beside St. James Lane – Bury Field Farm – note church on boggy high ground – gas lamp beside church – note course across Forest Road

Follow the footpath beside St.Andrew’s Church and turn left  into Coleworth Road

Turn right into Hainault Road to block of modern flats – brook runs through car park

Turn left into Lytton Road

Turn left into Wadley Road

Brook cuts across Ripley Mews and Temple Close (linking to carpark behind flats) – can hear under street iron

Continue back along Lytton Road

Turn left into Esther Road – see where brook comes through metal gate continues under houses – flooding

Back to Lytton – look down across back gardens

Turn left into Wallwood Road – Wallwood Farm Estate – Stratford Langthorne

See where brook comes through opposite Kings Passage

Listen to river in Kings Road (be careful of cars) – then it goes through St. John’s Ambulance

Along Kingswood Road to Queen’s Road – see brook running across – listen (watch out for traffic)

Kingswood Road – ex-Fillebrook Road

Turn right into Fairlop Road – then left into Bulwer Road – left into Chelmsford (alt. route goes from Grove Green Road straight into Fillebrook Road)

Turn right Into Fillebrook Road from Chelmsford Road opp Damon Albarn house and Leytonstone & Wanstead Synagogue

At end of Fillebrook Road turn right into Drayton Road – Drayton Road sound of river opposite flats – then left into Southwest Road

Turn right into Avebury Road – right into Cavendish Road – left into Scarborough Road

Philley Brook Fillebrook

The Philley Brook in Drayton Road

Turn right into Grove Green Road – look at Stuart Freeborn Murals on other side of the railway – Heathcote and Star Pub

Turn right at Heathcote into Pretoria Road – then left into Newport Road

[Ian Bourn diversion not in the video but on guided walk: Grove Green (Farm) – Stuart Freeborn – Claremont Rd – Northcote Arms -Francis Road]

Across Francis Road – alleyway into Dawlish Road

Through Sidmouth Park

Cross Leyton High Road – note –  Brooke House – go through Coronation Gardens  – maze + water feature

Exit onto Oliver Road – note Leyton Beach – turn left

Turn right into Dunedin Road – (note Ruckholt Road) go through new development to Orient Way – end at Allotments

Graham Millar M11 Linked

Listening to Graham Millar’s M11 Linked on Grove Green Road

 

Walking in Waltham Forest talk

I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about my walks for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture at Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society on Wednesday 16th October – more details here

 

Lea Valley Walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey

This Lea Valley walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey is surely one of my favourites. I’d finished leading a walk across the marshlands from Leyton Water Works to Walthamstow Wetlands and had the desire to push on into the evening. I headed up along Blackhorse Lane then turned into Folly Lane which opens up the postcard image of the ‘edgelands’ – you could bring coachloads of anthropologists and urban geographers up here to Harbet Road with it’s pylons and fields of fly-tipping, mountains of rubble and stacks of shipping containers.

River Lea Navigation

It’s a relief to drop beneath the North Circular onto the towpath of the Lea Navigation, and slowly chug along the waterway like a listing barge. You note the phases of change passing through the outer rings of the city – London Waste, Ponders End, Brimsdown Power Station, the confluence with the Turkey Brook, Enfield Dry Dock and Enfield Lock, then Rammey Marsh and the final release of passing beneath the M25 and into the beyond.

 

filmed on 28th July 2019

Westminster Protest against Suspension of Parliament

A spontaneous protest was called after the news broke in the afternoon that the Queen had agreed to Boris Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament for five weeks, preventing MPs from debating Brexit in the run-up to 31st October deadline.

‘Stop the Coup’ was the dominant chant from the crowds in Parliament Square and on Whitehall outside 10 Downing Street. ‘When you shut down the Parliament, We shut down the Streets’ a song broke out near the Cenotaph in the dark.

A roadblock formed in Parliament Square leading to an initial angry volley from a cabbie who nearly ran me over. But after a while he settled down in his taxi scrolling through his phone, his smiling passengers departed on foot. The traffic backed up all the way along Whitehall, buses, cabs, cars, and coaches as the singing and dancing grew louder.

IMG_9683 IMG_9685

I went to a pub near Trafalgar Square and quickly edited the footage above and posted to YouTube. As I returned to Parliament Square at 10.30pm a small but committed group still blocked the road surrounded by fluro-jacketed Police. They look to be settled in for the long haul.

 

An expedition to Devil’s Dyke & the Lea Valley Walk

This was a walk inspired by a comment on this blog by Philip Avery that I discovered 7 months after it had been posted.  It was on my video about the walk to Boudicca’s obelisk in the Epping Uplands and Philip’s research had suggested that the British king Cassivellaunus had been defeated by Julis Caesar in 54BC at Ambresbury Banks during his second invasion of Britain rather than Wheathampstead. I instantly googled ‘Wheathampstead Cassivellaunus’ which led me to the image below I captured on the my own expedition to Devil’s Dyke  how could I not visit this site.

Cassivellaunus Devil's Dyke Wheathampstead

The walk starts at Harpenden in Hertfordshire and follows the upper reaches of the River Lea, picking up the Lea Valley Walk as far as Wheathampstead. We then go along the majestic earthwork of Devil’s Dyke, one of the outer entrenchments of Cassivellaunus’s ‘city’ and stronghold of the Catuvellauni tribe (there is another earthwork on the outskirts of St. Albans also associated with Cassivellaunus). From here we follow the Hertfordshire Way to the edge of St. Albans and then pass through part of the Roman city to St. Albans Cathedral drenched in midsummer magic.

 


 

 

Take a look at my latest video: a walk along the Suffolk Coast from Soutwold to Dunwich in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald from the classic book The Rings of Saturn

The view from the hill – a walk to Wooburn

I feel Old old Wooburn more and more every day – the village where I grew up and where a recent family history binge showed roots running deep through the chalk and flint. The sense of it was almost overpowering as I crested the hill marked by Hard-to-Find Farm and approached Bloom Wood. ‘Always was a cold wood, Bloom Wood’, my Dad had said on the phone when I called him on the walk out across Wycombe Rye. And as I discussed my route he could only imagine it coming from the opposite direction – the way from Wooburn, despite the amount of times I reminded him I was approaching from the opposite direction.


Bloom was indeed a cold wood, dense and dark. I was fascinated as a kid by the stories of ‘devil worshippers’ dancing round fires seen from below on Sheepridge Lane. I can’t recall ever entering Bloom Wood. I liked the idea of stumbling upon a coven of Satanists, but it was no longer the 1970’s and too early at 7pm, midsummer. It was exactly where I wanted to be, pushed off the sofa in Leytonstone, out on the edge of East London, mid-afternoon watching Dr Who with the youngest teenager I saw myself on a hill at sunset and knew where the hill would be, more or less. This dappled wood was exactly where I wanted to be right now.

I dropped down the hill and emerged at the edge of the wood where the corn fields had been given over to pasture with a smattering of sheep. Below was Sheepridge Lane where my Nan had lived as a girl in a cottage behind the Crooked Billet earning some coins picking flints from the fields and providing the pub landlord with fresh stinging nettles with which the thrash his wife to ease her rheumatism. The footpath led out into the narrow lane that would have been Nan’s way home, the workers cottages now appeared to be knocked all into one and carrying a hefty price I imagine. The old man had instructed me to have a pint in the Billet garden looking across the lane to the fields rising on the far side, a garden where he told me he’d encountered what must have been one of the last traveling minstrels, an old fella who went from pub to pub singing for beer and a bite to eat kipping down in hedgerows and barns at night. By then, the 1960’s, these old travellers were an unwelcome feature of the countryside.

Wildflowers Chilterns

Flackwell Heath field near Sheepridge Lane

The pub was empty, the landlady the same as when my sister had worked behind the bar thirty years or more ago. I took my pint of Brakespears (brewed nearby in Henley) out into the garden and looked across at Noel’s fields. Red Kites, wing-spans wider than my outstretched arms, rode the thermals in great wide arcs and dove down on fresh roadkill.

The hill in my mind was just across the road, topped with a spinny above Pigeon House Farm. A legsore  winter sunset, I was walking back over those fields with my Dad, must have been four of five years old and I’d just raced to pick up a pigeon he’d shot. He hoisted me up on his shoulders, a drop of blood hung from the pigeon’s beak and I marvelled at the impossible beauty of the colour of the feathers around its throat. I passed the orchard the Old Man planted beside the lane and then rang him from the top of the hill, the view stretching out across Marlow to a wide bend in the River Thames. He remembered that day clearly, and told me a funny story about the burial of a beloved cow in the spinny behind me.

Flackwell Heath

I moved on through Flackwell Heath, echoes of teenage years bouncing off the pavement that followed me over the golf course and down to Wooburn. There was a beer festival in the garden of The Falcon, calling me, tempting me, but my way ahead was along the A40 in the dark, past the Highwaymen’s cave in Cut Throat Wood to the station at Beaconsfield and back to a sofa in Leytonstone.