Woolwich to Thamesmead via Lesnes Abbey – Green Chain Walk

This was a return of sorts, rooted in a pang to partly retrace the steps of my 2012 walk for This Other London from Woolwich to the Dartford Salt Marshes. Back in early June of this year I headed out of Woolwich Town Centre up across Plumstead Common, picking up the Green Chain Walk to Lesnes Abbey, a gem on the edge of woodland overlooking the Thames. Instead of continuing east to Erith I followed the Green Chain down through Thamesmead to the Thames Path, closing the loop back at Woolwich. A glorious South London Loop.

 

Along the Thames Path from Putney to Richmond

Beautiful walk along the Thames Path from Putney to Richmond, taking in Barnes, Mortlake, and Kew, filmed on the 14th May.

 

Here are Turner’s drawings of Syon Park

Zion House, Isleworth 1802-10
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-zion-house-isleworth-d08269

Castle Seen from River, with Punt and Row of Trees in Foreground. ?Zion House, Isleworth
c.1815–17

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-castle-seen-from-river-with-punt-and-row-of-trees-in-foreground-zion-house-d10770

A walk along the River Crouch

I scribble some notes down at Althorne Station, 8.15pm with ten minutes till the train comes along the single track Wickford to Southminster Line. It’s Monday 29th April, and the last light is fading. I’m parched and hungry at the end of a 17-mile walk from South Woodham Ferrers. I’d intended to start further along the River Crouch, at North Fambridge and walk the 10 miles to Burnham-on-Crouch, but somewhere on the train journey out from Stratford I’d started to wonder whether 10 miles was a long enough walk and toyed with the idea of starting at South Woodham Ferrers without properly thinking it through. I unconsciously alighted at South Woodham and it took me two hours to fully realise the implications of my mistake as the river path doubled back in a broad meander towards the outskirts of South Woodham Ferrers. Vast tidal mudflats stretched out ahead where I’d mistakenly assumed the path would continue towards North Fambridge. I was left with no choice but to follow the footpath around the ebb and flow of the river and then inland along Stow Creek to the disused railway line near Stow Maries. What had been intended as a straightforward, too straightforward, walk along the River Crouch had become a fieldpath ramble, an exercise in stoicism.

River Crouch Walk

River Crouch Walk

River Crouch Walk P1110196.MP4.00_00_06_22.Still001

By the time I reached North Fambridge it was 5pm, I’d drank all my water and burnt through the sandwich munched back at the beginning of the walk (I’d planned for a 10-mile walk afterall) and had already walked 12.5 miles to reach my intended start point. I looked forward to restocking at North Fambridge for the 10 miles into Burnham-on-Crouch, a couple of cans from a shop sunk on the riverbank and something to munch on, anything, as the hunger started to reach my legs.

There was not so much as a solitary shop at North Fambridge (population 835), and the only pub was closed for refurbishment. I was directed towards the marina where I was told there was a café, a 20-minute detour that proved fruitless as the café closed at 2pm on a Monday. There was an outdoor tap that couldn’t be trusted.

River Crouch Walk

I weighed up my options. Quit and head home. Catch the train to Burnham-on-Crouch to eat and drink then walk back along the estuary, or just call it a day at Burnham. None of them appealed. I hate giving up on a walk so on I pushed along the Crouch, 5-miles to Althorne, the next station. Heading off along the riverside path my hunger suddenly abated and my thirst subsided. I got used to my physical state, accepted it as the price of continuing the quest. Lots of memories, moods and associations swept over the evening-lit mudflats – backpacking, Bondi, a school trip to Swanage. Good feelings.

IMG_7643 2 IMG_7646 2

Reaching Althorne at sunset I tentatively asked a dog walker near the boatyard if there was a shop or pub nearby, ‘Not for 50-miles’, he laughed. ‘It feels that way,’ I replied and off he walked. I sat on a stile and looked along the estuary towards Burnham-on-Crouch and decided it would be madness to continue. So I headed up the lane to the station and the wait on the deserted platform for a train back to Stratford.

River Crouch Walk River Crouch Walk.00_28_22_19.Still015

 

 

Chilterns Walk from Bulstrode Camp to Wooburn Green

The Queen and Albert pub in Wooburn Green wasn’t were I expected to end up when I boarded the 3.15pm train from from Marylebone to Gerrards Cross the week before Easter. Notre Dame was burning down on the TV on the pub wall, an event that had been unfolding whilst I’d been walking over the Chilterns unaware. It was good to hear the Bucks accent from the chatter between the friendly lady behind the bar and the two other punters. It was great to be back in the village where I grew up.

My intention that day had been simple – to take a look at the Iron Age earthwork at Bulstrode Camp, Gerrards Cross. I had a vague childhood memory of people talking about this ancient site but no clear memory of having visited. And with my interest in earthworks and burial mounds it seemed natural to seek out Bulstrode Camp, situated as it is just beyond the borders of Greater London.

© OpenStreetMap contributors  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

© OpenStreetMap contributors Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

Bulstrode Camp is the largest hillfort in Buckinghamshire, spanning over 26 acres (other notable Bucks hillforts include – Whelpley Hill, Ivinghoe Beacon, West Wycombe, Bolebec’s Castle). A ‘plateau camp’, it sits atop a steep escarpment and is today encircled by a private housing estate. Dog walkers perambulate the perimeter as if repelled from the interior by a magic spell. I strode straight across in a bisecting line – better to take in the scale of the earthwork from its interior. It’s a powerful site, even more imposing in this age of bits and bytes.

Hedgerley Bucks

With the site surveyed and recorded on camera I still had around 3 hours of daylight left so headed out over the fields of Bulstrode Park to Hedgerley Village where the parish church sits high on a hill surrounded by a bluebell wood. At this point the temptation to strike off for Wooburn was too great.

The lowering sun sliced shafts of light through the pine trunks in Egypt Woods as the pheasants gave out their evening call. My Dad would have had a field day and we briefly spoke on the phone discussing the best route to Wooburn (he thought I was way off course).

My chosen path took me over Littleworth Common and now the journey took on the feel of a return to a childhood home as Wooburn Common (the land of the ‘fuzz hoppers’ as my Nan would call them) showed itself nearby on the map.

Egypt Woods

I arrived beneath the Radio Tower at the top of Farm Wood at the hour of sunset. This tower loomed over my childhood as a mysterious structure poking out of the dark wood above Wooburn Park where I spent all my summers with my Dad as he played for Wooburn Narkovians Cricket Club. I had only been this close twice before (at night with the Scouts and with my kids about 10 years ago).

From the edge of the wood, in the last light, I looked down across Wooburn, the river valley carved out by a glacial flow that deposited a rock that still sits idly on the Green by the bus stop. The River Wye gently trundles along its floor. I stood there as day slid into night before making my way across the park to the pub.

 

Vincent Van Gogh in Brixton – with Iain Sinclair

“I enjoy the walk from home to the office and in the evening from the office back home. It takes about three-quarters of an hour.”

– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

A chilly December day and an invitation from Iain Sinclair to look inside the Brixton residence of Vincent Van Gogh, where the Dutch artist lived for a year between 1873 – 1874. The plan is to then follow Van Gogh’s footsteps on the daily walk he took to work at a commercial gallery in Covent Garden. Iain had recently been commissioned by Tate Etc. magazine to write an article on Van Gogh as a walker to coincide with the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain that runs until 11th August.

“So I began, unpremeditated, a series of walks through those odd, unreal, summer days while I attempted to connect Van Gogh’s English addresses. Surviving houses and chapels, in the end, feel less significant than the movement between them, when weather and light and random encounters effect an interweaving in the strands of time.”

– Iain Sinclair, Tate Etc. Issue 45

Van Gogh Ramsgate

Van Gogh sketch of Ramsgate

Van Gogh didn’t start producing art until he left London, aside from occasional sketches in the margins of letters he sent to his brother Theo. But he did spend a lot of his time in Britain walking, not only in London but also when he worked in a school in Ramsgate.

“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, January 1874

Van Gogh House

Van Gogh House, 87 Hackford Road

Our journey starts though, at the San Mei Gallery nearby in Stockwell, the owners of which have recently purchased the property at 87 Hackford Road and are in the middle of a grand restoration project. Livia Wang told us about their plans for the Van Gough House, to host international artist residencies, tours and workshops aimed at the local community, and a studio space. I remembered the production of Nicholas Wright’s play, Vincent in Brixton that I’d seen multiple times while working at the National Theatre in 2002. Nicholas Hytner’s magical production brought that Hackford Road home vividly to life, featuring a debut performance by a young Emily Blunt playing the landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer, with whom the Dutchman fell hopelessly and unrequitedly in love.

“My dear Theo,

I now have a room, as I’ve long been wishing, without sloping beams and without blue wallpaper with a green border. It’s a very diverting household where I am now, in which they run a school for little boys.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

Vincent in Brixton

flier for the event I produced and hosted at Brixton Art Gallery, 2002

Iain leads the way from the house in Hackford Road up Van Gogh Walk and onto Clapham Road. He notes the speed at which Van Gogh must have walked in order to do the journey in 45 minutes. We proceed along Clapham Road, past Kennington Park and the Old Town Hall down Kennington Road to Lambeth North, Victorian Van Gogh era houses lining the route. We cross Westminster Bridge, a point in his commute that the painter in embryo noted in his letters, the light over the Thames.

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_10_22_15.Still013

Lambeth Walk

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_12_44_03.Still015
We then proceed along Whitehall to the National Gallery and Iain can’t resist going into the gift shop to buy a postcard of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, another piece of the painter still in London. The final leg of the journey takes us along the Strand and then ascend Southampton Street where there’s no trace of the gallery where Vincent worked selling prints to affluent Londoners.

 

You can book guided tours of the Van Gogh House here

The Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate runs until 11th August 2019

 

River Roding Walk – Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill

A walk along the beautiful River Roding from Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill on the 24th February – a day when it felt as if Spring had come early. This is one of my favourite walks – following the meanders through Wanstead, Woodford to Buckhurst Hill (although I’ve yet to walk the Roding beyond Debden). The wooded ridges of Epping Forest rise on the horizon, herons glide over the rushes, and I once saw a snake slither across the path one summer near Woodford Bridge.

 

 

Walking the London Loop – Section 11 Uxbridge to Hayes

A walk along Section 11 of the London Loop from Uxbridge to Hayes and Harlington. Taking in the Grand Union Canal, River Colne, and Stockley Park on the route. This western edge of the London Loop is characterised by watercourses – rivers, canals, lakes, and the industrial western fringe of London. It is classic edgelands territory.

This was an eventful walk. I was pelted with great lumps of hail and briefly lost my bearings where the River Colne feeds a series of fishing lakes.

London Loop Section 11 map

Then there was a curious a towpath encounter with a guy in shades at the junction of the canals near West Drayton who told me how the barges were once used for drug dealing (in the 1980’s), stashes in the bushes, even underwater, old Hippies making a few quid and serious criminals with connections at Heathrow. It’s all changed now, he tells me, but “it was a war zone down here 30 years ago”, he says as his parting shot. Walking on, not more than 100 yards, three skinny pale furtive blokes hunched under a bridge over the towpath – doing business. They shoot me a furtive look. Is this what prompted the man in shades to stop me – a warning of what was ahead?

The other side of West Drayton, at Stockley Park is a Black Mirror Techno World presaged by a large Tesla dealership. Eerily silent on a Sunday afternoon as early evening light broke through the leaden clouds.

The London Loop always seems to deliver – looking forward to the sections ahead.