Following W.G Sebald’s Austerlitz through the East End

Austerlitz walk – Liverpool Street to Mile End

A walk following the route taken by W.G Sebald through the East End of London when writing his acclaimed novel Austerlitz, in the company of artist Bob and Roberta Smith. The central character of the book, Jacques Austerlitz arrived in England at Liverpool Street Station as a young child on the Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The station plays an important role in the book and was where our walk started. The route was provided to Bob and I by writer Iain Sinclair who had re-traced Sebald’s footsteps guided by poet Stephen Watts who had led Sebald on his East End drifts. An evocative account of these walks can be found in Iain’s wonderful book The Last London.

Our walk ended in the gloom of Tower Hamlets Cemetery, unable to find the stone angel pictured in Sebald’s book.

The key locations are: – The Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street Station, Toynbee Hall, Greatorex Street (home of Yiddish poet Abraham Stencl), Brady Street Jewish Cemetery, Alderney Road, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, St. Clement’s Hospital (site of).

The London Loop – Ewell to Coulsdon

It’d been too long since my last walk on the London Loop back in August 2019, when I’d walked section 8 from Kingston to Ewell. Summer felt like a distant memory when I alighted at Ewell West Station to pick up London’s 150-mile orbital walking trail.

London Loop Section 7 (walking in the reverse direction)

This section starts with a magnificent piece of modernist architecture at Bourne Hall, a giant flying saucer shaped 1970 building that landed on the grounds of the former Garbrand Hall. The route takes you through a fine park with a lake and fountains close to the headsprings of the Hogsmill River that was the principal feature of Section 8 of the London Loop.

Through the village of Ewell we cross into Nonsuch Park, once one of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds that boasted a palace unlike ‘nonsuch elsewhere in the world’, so it’s said. This is a park that invites digression from the main route of the Loop across it’s wide lawns and along avenues.

Ewell

There’s a mile or so of road walking on the other side of Nonsuch traversing streets of postcard suburbia before coming to the end of Section 7 (or the start if walking in the clockwise direction) on Banstead Downs Golf Course. This was the site of one of the more intriguing features of the walk, and one not mentioned on the Tfl guide. Marked on the Ordnance Survey map are a series of tumuli that at the time I found difficult to identify. Checking online after the walk it seems if the Gally Hills Tumuli are in fact Saxon ‘hlaews’, a relatively rare type of burial mound in England with only around 50 or so being identified. The Historic England listing states that these would have been for ‘high ranking’ individuals. An excavation revealed “an extended inhumation with a bronze hanging bowl, a shield- boss, a split socketed iron spear-head and an iron knife.” Two of the mounds still stand in the rough beside the fairway watching the golfers and the ‘loopers’ pass by.

There is a detailed archaeological report here: THE SAXON BARROW AT GALLY HILLS, BANSTEAD DOWN, SURREY by JAMES F.BARFOOT and DAVID PRICE WILLIAMS

Banstead Downs

London Loop Section 6

Section 6 continues across Banstead Downs with some glorious views back across the London basin, towers poking up on the horizon. We then follow Freedown Lane – a long track that runs behind High Down Prison. The prison wall that we walk past is one of the remains of the Victorian asylum that previously occupied the site. Just beyond the prison, there were the remnants of what must have been a signficant building half buried along the top of the bank. Being that the prison was built on the land of the former asylum and hospital, I’m not sure what was here, my best guess is that they were ancillary buildings connected to the hospital, perhaps relating to its wartime use.

The Loop takes us through Oaks Park, landscaped for the Earl of Derby in the 18th Century (the fella who gave his name to the famous race at Epsom). Many of the old trees remain as does the stone grotto. I would liked to have dwelt here awhile but was up against the light, although I was still able to enjoy more fine views back across London.

Banstead Downs

The path progressed across a lavender farm with an old red phonebox in the middle of the field – glorious I imagine in summer. Then across Carshalton Road Pastures, a ridge of chalk downland at the northern extremity of the North Downs. We pick up a sunken path topped by what the Tfl leaflet calls an “ancient hedgerow”, bringing us out onto a housing estate initially developed for returning soldiers from WW1. It’s streetwalking from here down the hill to Coulsdon, with its appealing High Street blighted by angry rush hour traffic and the end (or start) of Section 6 of the London Loop.

Can’t wait to get back out there – the London Loop never disappoints.

London’s Lost Rivers – the Black Ditch with Tom Bolton

A Walker’s Guide to London’s Lost Rivers – Volume Two

Tom Bolton’s second volume of walks along London’s Lost Rivers traces the paths of eleven subterranean watercourses. Whereas Volume One mapped out the better known lost rivers of London such as the Fleet and the Tyburn – Volume Two is a guide to the more obscure buried streams and brooks that shape the city – the Bollo Brook, Cock and Pye Ditch, Counter’s Creek, Falcon Brook, Hackney Brook, Moselle, and Stamford Brook. Tom took me for a walk along the first river in Volume Two – The Black Ditch, rising somewhere in Stepney Green then wending its way through the East London streets of Stepney, Poplar and Limehouse before making its confluence with the Thames at Limekiln Wharf.

Black Ditch

“In it’s very name The Black Ditch reveals its status an unappreciated river. Despite its route, which runs through the heart of the East End, the Ditch is generally dismissed as no more than a sewer.” – Tom Bolton

Black Ditch

London’s Lost Rivers – A Walker’s Guide by Tom Bolton is published by Strange Attractor Press

Walking the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

A walk from Chelmsford to Maldon

Chelmsford, the town where the great Elizabethan astronomer, occultist, master magician and advisor to Elizabeth I, John Dee, was educated. And where Guglielmo Marconi produced the world’s first wireless sets, was a great place to start a walk. There’s something in the waters of Chelmsford, the confluence of the Rivers Can and Chelmer on the edge of the town producing a curious Magick, that is channeled into the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and flows out to the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon. You could sense it in the landscape lining the watercourse, it oozed through the muddy path and stirred in the channels and tributaries that fed the canal. It whispered in the swaying reeds and grasses and rattled the bare boughs of the trees. Maybe it was something the Romans left behind.

Along the Chelmer

My walk began at Springfield Basin just on the edge of Chelmsford where new blocks of flats rise on the sites of the warehouses and wharfs where softwoods from Maldon would have been unloaded and stored. The navigation opened  in 1797 and the last barge floated into the basin in 1972.

Chelmer

It was a wet and misty late morning as I left the town behind and headed through a field of tall dead teasels and beneath a motorway flyover. I was entering the landscape of The Essex Serpent. Progress along the Chelmer was marked by a series of locks – Barnes Mill Lock, Sandford Lock, Cuton Lock. Paper Mill Lock notable as a filming location for the brilliant BBC TV show Detectorists, which is set in the North Essex countryside.

Ulting Church appeared through the denuded trees on a bend in the river where swans munched on greens in the field. The present church dates from 1150 and was once a site of pilgrimage, said to be as significant as Walsingham (although I am unable to find out why).

Chelmer

The mist rose off the river in the last hour of daylight and I wondered if The Chelmer had a deity like the rivers of London in Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent series of books. If such a god/dess does exist they dwell in those reaches near the Langford reservoirs around the point where the Blackwater joins the Chelmer before it breaks free of the Navigation and heads through Maldon to the Blackwater Estuary.

River Chelmer

I followed the Langford Cut as far as the Tesco Extra the size of a village, on the edge of Maldon, and followed the Chelmer to the dock. It was pitch black, the only illumination coming from a lamp on a sail barge moored at the quay. It feels like an unfinished journey – I need to return to walk the Blackwater Estuary out to the sea. On the bus back to Chelmsford I started to plot my return.

2019 – A Great Year of Walking

A review of my walks in 2019 on my YouTube channel – a fantastic year of hiking.

From river walks along the Tyburn, Roding, Thames, Philley Brook, Ching, Dagenham Brook, Hogsmill, Crouch, and Lea to the woodlands of Epping Forest and the wide open spaces of Wimbledon Common and Wanstead Park. The London Loop featured large as I covered the sections from Moor Park to Ewell. I walked the first stage of the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar. I strolled the East London streets of Old East and West Ham, the beautiful porticos in Modena, Italy. And every step of the way you were there – Thank you so much for joining an amazing year of walking in 2019.

There’s more to come in 2020!

 

Music used in this video: Fern by ann annie / Fresh Fallen Snow by Chris Haugen / Tupelo Train by Chris Haugen / Pachabelly by Huma-Huma / Ambiment – The Ambient by Kevin MacLeod / Nevada City by Huma-Huma / Breathing Planet by Doug Maxwell / Little Drunk, Quiet Floats by Puddle of Infinity / Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt

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 Dagenham Brook

This walk following the Dagenham Brook was the fourth in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture 2019. The Dagenham Brook started life as a humble ditch rising in Higham Hill with sewage flowing into it from Walthamstow. The name comes from the ‘Dagenham Commissioners of Sewers’ under whose jurisdiction it fell.

We start the walk on the corner of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way where an embankment and trenches from Roman or Romano-British earthwork and Roman burials were excavated, leading some historians to speculate that this may have been an important waystation on the Roman road between London and Colchester.

Leyton F.C

We then follow the Dagenham Brook across Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) then through the Warner Estate and onto Lea Bridge Road. I was joined on the two guided walks by artist Lucy Harrison who explored the life of the Warner Estate in a fascinating project, WE. We take a look at the abandoned ground of Leyton F.C once one of the oldest football clubs in London, founded in 1868 – now derelict.

From here we cross Lea Bridge Road and walk down Blyth Road (also part of the Warner Estate) and up Bridge Road to Markhouse Road. This is one of the old roads of Walthamstow crossing Markhouse Common. The name derives from ‘maerc’ meaning a boundary as the boundary between Leyton and Walthamstow ran through Mark House manor. Markhouse Common was sold to property developers in the 19th Century.

We turn into Veralum Avenue then Low Hall Road and South Access Road passing the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. Low Hall Manor was a 14th Century Moated manor house with extensive grounds – two-storey timber framed building like the buildings in Tudor Close. The 17th Century farmhouse was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944. The Dagenham Brook probably fed the moat.

Dagenham Brook

We walk around Low Hall Sports Ground and into Low Hall Wood Nature Reserve to look at Owen Bullet’s artwork, The Clearing, and pick up the Dagenham Brook. Turning into North Access Road we see the River Lea Flood Relief Channel and pass by St. James Park. We walk beneath the railway bridge and turn into Salop Road then Elmfield Road. We follow Elmfield Road round until we reach Coppermill Lane and the end of the walk.

Many thanks to Max ‘Crow’ Reeves for joining me on the walk. Take a look at Max’s photo book following a season with Clapton CFC.

Hooksmith Press maps

Further history of the Dagenham Brook can be found here in the Victoria County History