Wood Street Walthamstow to Larks Wood along the Greenwich Meridian

Larks Wood had eluded me for a couple of years. I would see it as my usual Epping Forest route crossed Oak Hill. It teased me when I was pushing onwards to Loughton and beyond – a detour and distraction – a pull away from the forest – there it was seductively poking above the rooftops of Highams Park.

Larks Wood

On a couple of occasions on winter walks when the light drew in I made towards it but always got bogged down navigating my way around Highams Park Lake and across the Ching, eventually getting lost in the ‘delightful’ suburban swamp that lies on the eastern side of the railway tracks. I would end up finishing my walk in the Tesco superstore in the dark and watching the level crossing.

Wood Street Market

So this time I set out with Larks Wood as my destination, noticing when I referred to my map sat by the standing stones at the end of Wood Street that my path followed the Greenwich Meridian. I couldn’t resist a mooch in Wood Street Market and picked up some copies of Crisis in the second-hand bookshop next door.

Larks Wood Bluebells

Finally arriving at Larks Wood in the early evening I found a tranquil scene of bluebell carpets and only 2 other walkers. To be honest the view across the Lea Valley was not what I’d hoped for – if you push on a little further north there are majestic vistas westwards from Pole Hill, Yardley Hill, and Barn Hill. But it was beautifully peaceful sitting there on the edge of the wood capturing a timelapse on my GoPro. So much so I forgot to have a look at the site of the Larkswood Lido – an excuse for a return journey.

Leytonstone byways to Old Leyton

Be guided by your feet – or a river, road or canal. With the rain lashing down crossing the footbridge over the Link Road the prospects for a stroll did not look good so I fell upon old territory, some of the first streets I walked when I arrived in London as a callow 18-year.

Then the sun broke out over Upper Leytonstone and I followed the old byways along the Leytonstone/Leyton border to Abbotts Park, past the new Exchange development to Leyton Cricket Ground where I imagined I was watching Essex play Australia in 1905. Squinting you can see back to the workers excavating the remains of a Roman villa in the grounds of Leyton Grange back in the 18th Century, until of course the cars come hooning round Church Road.

 

Download the audiobook of This Other London here (excerpt in the video above)

Milton Keynes – City of the Future

I didn’t even bother to check my iCal when Andy from Video Strolls asked if I wanted to come to screen in their event at Milton Keynes Gallery – I just said YES! I’ve shown films in two Video Strolls events in Birmingham and had a great time, but here was the added appeal of an excuse for a wander round Milton Keynes at night.

I’d bought a GoPro on the Monday of the week of the screening for the Nightwalk I filmed with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting for the Overground film. I’d be leaving Iain and Andrew at Hampstead and the plan was that Andrew would wear the GoPro on his head to capture some of the remaining epic nocturnal schlepp (he did and it’s great).

milton keynes go pro

Arriving at Milton Keynes station 10 minutes before the event was due to start I strapped the GoPro on my head and set off across the Milton Keynes grid bound for the gallery on the FAR SIDE. And wow.

I visited Milton Keynes as a kid on a coach trip from High Wycombe with my Mum. Nominally in the same county as Wycombe but further away than London, Milton Keynes was the new town on the map – the concrete citadel of the future rising from the lower end of the Midland Plain. We felt like primitive people from the Amazonian jungle propelled into a Flash Gordon future on a Green Line Bus. I’d never been back since.

Milton Keynes

Although my hazy memory of MK matched what I was seeing 30+ years on – Milton Keynes still seemed futuristic. I think it’s the absence of any other older reference points – a blank architectural slate and the clinical nature of the urban planning. The imposition of paganistic street naming and alignments – Midsummer Avenue is apparently aligned with the Summer Solstice sunrise – has an ‘Age of Aquarius’ tinge. I kept seeing Blake’s Seven super-imposed over the shopping halls – partly because that’s what I was obsessed with at the time I visited Milton Keynes in the 1980’s (Glynis Barber did so much to get me through those difficult early teenage years).

So I swept in late to the Video Strolls event with the red light on my GoPro flashing and introduced my River Roding film with the camera still rolling (don’t worry, the video above is intercut with my point-and-shoot camera). After the screening I walked back through Milton Keynes with Andy Howlett, one half of Video Strolls, and we attempted to process our reactions to this uncanny landscape and ponder on the future of films made purely from strapping a GoPro on your head when out for a wander as a perambulatory equivalent of the early cinematic ‘Phantom Rides‘.

I’ll need to get the camera set on my head straight for a start.

Riding a steam train on the Epping to Ongar Railway

Every Londoner at some point should take a trip on the Epping to Ongar Railway – think of it as a reward for all those times you’ve had to change at Bank during morning rush-hour or been booted off a bus at Agar Grove on a wet Tuesday night in order to “regulate the service”.

The volunteer run trains operate on the defunct section of the Central Line that continued east from Epping through North Weald to Ongar stopping along the way at the tiny Blake Hall Station )which had the distinction of being the quietest station on the Underground with just 6 passengers a day till it closed in 1981). Tube services between Epping and Ongar stopped in 1994 but a band of passionate Railway enthusiasts run trains on the old line regularly throughout the year.

Routemaster Epping Ongar Railway

I cajoled my youngest son into the trip with tales of the golden age of steam which relied heavily on references to the Harry Potter films. The adventure starts in fine style with a journey by Routemaster from Epping Station to North Weald where we boarded a train chuffing out steam. It was interesting to see how my son was more taken by the Routemaster than the train, making me realise that he’s grown up in a post-Routemaster world whereas once you’re sat down in the train carriage it’s only the sound of the hissing chugging engine that makes the train experience distinctive.

Ongar Station

Ongar Station

North Weald Station has been loving and beautifully restored to its 1940’s grandeur complete with vintage advertising and dark wooden ticket office. Ongar Station, built in 1865 and Grade II listed, dates from the time when this was the eastern outpost of the Great Eastern Railway before being transferred to London Underground in 1949, and has been returned to its original state.

Epping Ongar RailwayThere was something magical about watching the steam billowing out across the Essex fields and getting caught in clouds around the bare tree boughs making them look like candy-floss trees.  I think next time the trains are running I’ll walk the route to experience it from the fields.

More info about the Epping Ongar Railway can be found here

Return to the River Roding

It was hard to believe that it had been over 7 months since my last stroll along the River Roding, when I had left this beguiling watercourse at Roding Valley after walking up from Redbridge Station one warm July morning.

River Roding

I decided to pick up where I’d left off and found the river bank where I’d sat down and felt like Huckleberry Finn. Where lush green undergrowth burst from the bank today was muddy brown and spindly bare. It was a beautiful clear late February day, great walking weather.

River Roding IMG_7890 IMG_7941

It’s crazy in a way that I’m walking this short river in sections given that it runs a mere 11 miles from Dunmow in Essex before spilling into the Thames at Barking Creek, but there it is, and I shall now endeavour to divide my walks along its course across the 4 seasons. This particular river ramble involved two significant diversions, one through the backstreets of Buckhurst Hill and another through an industrial estate at Debden. It was a detour that led to an interesting encounter at one of Britain’s most sensitive buildings – but you’ll need to watch the video above to get that story.

River Roding IMG_7963

The abandoned City of London

The streets of the City of London seem more abandoned than usual on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year. Walking between Liverpool Street and Holborn out-of-hours is my favourite place ‘to get away from it all’ any time of year – on balmy summer evenings it has the feel of Madrid in August, empty streets, closed bars. But life does continue to lurk on odd corners mopping up the tourist trade and servicing the small but growing resident population of the Square Mile.

Bow Lane office

But when I went wandering early evening on Sunday there was barely a sole around save for in the vicinity of the transport hubs. Once I had breached the London Wall at Moorgate I had the City to myself (under the watchful gaze of CCTV). It threw up Daniel Defoe’s descriptions of London during the plague years when people fled the City, and the post-apocalyptic images in The Day of the Triffids and 28 Days Later. You sense the buildings starting to breathe once more free of the insect hoards.

Watling Street

Watling Street

The ancient Watling Street lit a path in Christmas lights to the dome of St. Paul’s where folk scuttled around. Cross the road to Carter Lane and the people disappeared, whatever traffic there was inaudible, the bells of a distant church chimed.

Carter Lane

Carter Lane

It was only when Fleet Street conjoined with Aldwych did I move among the herd – up Southampton Row, the traffic lanes of Gower Street, popcorn munchers at Odeon Tottenham Court Road – but here a sense of loneliness gripped me – I missed the quietude of the hills and valleys of the Walbrook and the Fleet.

A slice of Moscow hidden on the London Underground

A midweek morning drop the kids off at school then wander. The patch of forest off-cut opposite The Green Man glimmered in the morning sun – it was irresistible. I followed the back roads up to the Redbridge Roundabout then suffered the Eastern Avenue till the chunks of pollution got too big to chew down and I ducked off the main thoroughfares again till emerging at Gants Hill.

Lurking beneath the roundabout at Gants Hill is a network of tunnels more like a space station than a tube station – the eastern cousin of the subterranean complex at Hanger Lane, opened the year before Gants Hill was finally revealed in 1948. Both stations sit upon the Central Line – Gants Hill’s ‘bright empty space’ beneath the roundabout the great tube architect Charles Holden‘s tribute to the Moscow Metro which he had been invited to visit after the builders of the Moscow network had originally been inspired by Holden’s Piccadilly Circus station. (Hanger Lane was completed by a former assistant of Holden – Frederick Curtis).

The golden vaulted ceilings of the concourse between the platforms reverses the pattern of other underground stations which show their wares upfront with decorative ticket halls. At Gants Hill the ticket hall is barely there – a minor node in the tangle of tunnels before the escalators guide you to Valhalla deep below the traffic hell.