Unearthings: On and Off Watling Street with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting

Just under a year after the premiere of our film, London Overground, Iain Sinclair mentioned joining him out on the road again with my camera. This time he was walking a section of  Watling Street, the Roman road said to have much older origins, in the company of the great film-maker Andrew Kötting, from Canterbury to London. I joined them one morning along Shooters Hill Road in South London where they were accompanied by artist Anne Caron-Delion. This first walk followed the road to Westminster (another branch goes across London Bridge to the City) – passing over Blackheath, through Deptford (the ‘deep ford’), New Cross, Peckham, Elephant and Castle, along the way.

Enroute Iain had mentioned a second passage that related to Watling Street but branching off from Shooters Hill to take in the Shrewsbury burial mound and follow cult author Steve Moore’s ‘psychic circuit’ down to Woolwich. This brings Alan Moore into the story and led to a second walk. Steve Moore had been Alan Moore’s mentor, teaching him both the arts of magick and comic book writing. Alan had celebrated Steve’s territory of Shooters Hill in an essay published in London, City of Disappearances, entitled Unearthing. This seemed like the perfect title to appropriate as the title for the film.

 

The film that I made from the two walks ‘on and off’ Watling Street with Iain Sinclair was premiered at an event at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards-on-Sea last October, where Andrew Kötting also premiered his film of the whole walk, A WALK BACK TO THE LAST LONDON BY WAY OF WATLING STREET.

The event was called, Lights Out for the Last London: Down Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers.

“To pull away from its gravity, he sets off on a Watling Street pilgrimage with long term collaborators (and filmmakers) Andrew Kötting and John Rogers.
Their adventures, told through differing and contradictory memories, become a live performance, a conversation, a film of record.
The collision at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards is a unique coming together for the three walkers. Anything could happen.”

Kino-Teatr John Rogers Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting

The video above captures the discussion with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting after the screenings.

The uncanny world of West London

West London for me reeks of uncanniness, a sense of something slightly out of the ordinary that you can feel humming in the brickwork, radiating off the too green parkland grass, and nestling behind the net curtains. The garden suburbs at Hanger Hill Garden Estate and the Brentham Estate almost belong to a suburban version of the Hobbit shire, more than railway fueled urban expansion into the Middlesex countryside. The fairy princess said to be slumbering under the bus stop at Ealing (Ealine’s) Haven adds to the mystery, along with the Saxon Warriors excavated still wearing their cloaks in Hanwell, and the glorious legend of Horsenden Hill and Horsa’s mighty ghostly steed roaming the fields of Greenford at night. All of this and more swirled through my mind as I wandered from West Acton Station through Perivale and Greenford to Northolt on Easter Saturday.

river brent

River Brent

I could basically park hop the whole way – Hanger Hill Park, Pitshanger Park, Perivale Park, Northala Fields, and Belvue Park. The Northala Hills should be added to that list of the uncanny – giant mounds of Wembley and White City rubble, burial mounds of c20th grand spectacle. A magnificient sight – climb to the top and drink in the expansive views.

northala hills

I could have pushed on, but I’d been led out here by the memory of a walk from Easter 2014 along the Grand Union Canal that ended across Belvue Park and into The Crown pub. So that is where my homing instincts dragged each weary foot.

Walk from Cockfosters to Borehamwood

After walking the London Loop section 17 from Enfield Town to Cockfosters, I became enchanted by Camlet Moat and went out and bought Christopher Street’s London’s Camelot and the Secrets of the Grail. In the book, Street posits a number of sacred alignments cris-crossing London and one in particular linking Camlet Moat to the church in High Barnet along a Ley Line. This also bisects the site of the Battle of Barnet. So that became the principle aim of my walk – heading out from the glories of Cockfosters Station, across Hadley Common then through Barnet onwards to Borehamwood.

Barnet Church

London Loop Section 20 in the snow – Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (then to Romford)

This time a week ago London was covered in snow – the ‘Beast from the East’ returned and plunged us back into the Ice Age (or so it felt, the hyperbole is justified). Looking out at my snow-drenched garden I had a strong urge to hit the high ground, walk head-long into a blizard, confront this beast face-to-face. So I got the tube to Grange Hill bound for Havering-atte-Bower.

Hainault Forest snow

I’d done a portion of this walk with Rick Pearson for his podcast, London’s Peaks, and at the time vowed to return, partly to capture this majestic route on video but also to see how the walk could be extended.

London Loop section 20

From the top of Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (the highest point in the London Borough of Havering) follows most of Section 20 of the London Loop, which starts at Chigwell. I’d covered the Chigwell end with Rick and also about a decade ago for my radio show, so I cut that part out in favour of extending the walk at the other end.

Redwood Trees Havering

As you would expect with the temperature below freezing there were very few people about, Hainault Forest virtually deserted. The climb into the foothills of Havering Country Park, wading through deep muddy puddles was tough but the reward more than adequate compensation. There’s an avenue of majestic Californian Redwood trees that runs though the top end of the wooded park that takes the breath away – it was an honour to be in their presence, these huge benign gods of the glade.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

The snow started coming in horizontal when away from the cover of the Redwoods, the wind whipping it up off the Havering Hills. Edward the Confessor had his hunting lodge here, some say this is where the pious king died. Havering-atte-Bower feels like an ‘out-of-place artefact’, a hill village in London that would be more at home in the Chilterns.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

I push on through the intensifying flurry, to Bedfords Park, losing my bearings in Bower Wood before crossing into Rise Park and out onto the A12 to catch a Route 66 bus home.

 

 

Along the Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Highgate

There was some discussion with my wife about the last time I’d been along Haringey’s Parkland Walk but in any case we’re sure a pram was involved meaning it must have been at least 10 years ago. It has become one of the most requested walks on my YouTube channel and with the snow starting to melt after the ‘Beast from the East’ had smothered London in Siberian snow, it seemed like the perfect timing.

Parkland Walk Haringey

The Parkland Walk follows the railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace that opened in 1867, closing to passengers in 1954 and carrying freight till 1964. The Parkland Walk opened in 1984 – the intervening 20 years would have been a fascinating period of its existence, left to be reclaimed by nature and intrepid urban ramblers.

Parkland Walk Haringey

For some reason I’ve always thought the Parkland Walk Nature Reserve could be accessed from Harringay Green Lanes, maybe it once connected with the small nature reserve there, but in reality it starts at Oxford Road on the far side of Finsbury Park. There the snow had already started to turn to slush but as the path moved into the foothills of the Northern Heights it transitioned into an icy track flanked by deep-sided banks of snow capped pines. It was along here that Stephen King got spooked by a mystical presence, recorded in the short story Crouch End. The synopsis on Wikipedia reads, “After encountering something unseen beyond a hedge, Lonnie becomes unhinged, and eventually disappears while the couple is walking through a tunnel”. Published in 1980, it means that King had been one of those intrepid urban ramblers walking the disused railway line when he encountered that eerie presence.

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk Haringey

I encountered no superficial forces along the walk mostly just joggers, dog-walkers and Dads hand-in-hand with toddlers. I did meet a lovely bloke called Matt from Melbourne though who recognised me from my YouTube videos and said he’d watched most of them. That’s always nice.

Parkland Walk Haringey tunnel

Highgate Woods snow

At Highgate I entered Highgate Woods, a remnant of the old forest of Middlesex, now managed by the Corporation of London. The snow lay thick and heavy here, kids dragged sledges looking for a place to sled, stomping over the earthwork that carves a diagonal line across one corner of the woods. I wonder how much more of this ancient landscape is buried beneath the suburbanized hills and valleys of Highgate, Muswell, Hornsey and Crouch End.

ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

possible site of the ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

 

Huge crowd protests against development of Walthamstow Town Square

It was a bright, freezing cold Saturday lunchtime. Any doubts that the winds blowing in from Siberia would effect the turn-out of the protest against the proposed development of Walthamstow Town Square were dispelled as soon as I stepped onto the patch of grass that the Council want to bury beneath four mega blocks. A huge crowd were mustered in the square listening to speakers put forward the case against the development. There were even a couple of people swanning around dressed as cardboard tower blocks.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

Waltham Forest Council have got it into their heads that they need to compete with Westfield Stratford just down the road, by giving planning permission to property behemoths Capital and Regional to build a new mall and four monster tower blocks of ‘luxury’ apartments, one the size of Centrepoint. They claim there’s no viable alternative.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The hundreds of local people in the Town Square heartily disagree. They want to see genuinely affordable homes and social housing. Just 20% of the homes in the new scheme will be classed ‘affordable’  – priced at up to 80% of market rates, in a new luxury development will mean they will be far from ‘affordable’ for the majority of local people in housing need.

The genuine question is, who benefits from this scheme? And why have Waltham Forest’s Labour Councillors enthusiastically endorsed such a plan when both Walthamstow and Leyton & Wanstead Labour Parties have passed motions calling for the plans to be reviewed and alternatives explored?

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The Mall development shouldn’t become Waltham Forest’s HDV, but the dogmatic intransigence of a minority within the Council could see this campaign snowball into something much bigger if the strength of feeling on display Saturday is anything to judge by.

Find out more about the campaign to save Walthamstow Town Square here

And there’s some good background in the Waltham Forest Echo

If you live in Waltham Forest and oppose the scheme please write to your local councillors – they’ll also be knocking on your door in the coming weeks canvassing for the local elections so ask if and why they support the Mall development.