Forest of Surprises

Winter Epping Forest Walk

Epping Forest

Sitting on the outer bank of Loughton Camp looking west into the winter sun fractured through the naked boughs. The Camp feels silent, slumbering, latent. It has a presence, resonating across those millenia since it was constructed when the forest stretched out to the coast and London was a scattering of villages in the woods. I imagine myself watching over a herd sheltering behind the bank, looking over the steep gulley to the west, pulling my heavy cloak around me listening for wolves and bears, hearing boars snuffling amongst the acorns and beech mast. I feel oddly at home in that frame of mind.

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Loughton Camp

Epping Forest

Entering the forest from Loughton, just before 2pm, I felt a calm descend as I made my way over Staples Hill and up to Loughton Camp. The plan was a simple one – meander from Loughton to Epping (or Theydon Bois depending on light and legs).

High Beach Epping Forest

Pillow Mounds

Following the path up Broom Hill to Mount Pleasant I find my way to the Epping Forest Visitor Centre at High Beach. I never quite manage to catch this place open (maybe once 10 years ago with the kids) so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to go for a look around and admire the vintage London Transport posters advertising the forest.

Epping Forest

Verderer’s Path

Epping Forest

view from Honey Lane Quarters

Over Claypit Hill I followed Verderers Path through Honey Lane Quarters, where a majestic view opened up looking over Honey Lane Plain to the hills around Waltham Abbey where I walked just a couple of weeks previously. It’s interesting to read how J.A Brimble laments that this view was obscured by trees when writing his classic London’s Epping Forest in 1950.

Epping Forest

Epping Forest

Crossing Woodridden Hill  (or Woodredden Hill) I entered St. Thomas’s Quarters. The clusters of people wandering from High Beach don’t seem to venture this far from the King’s Oak, and the path along the edge of the farmland offers a wonderful stretch of forest solitude. I’ve walked the other side of this farm to the hills around Copt Hall and Upshire and followed the ridge along to Galleyhill Wood just to the north of Waltham Abbey – glorious walks (followed by a schlepp in the dark through Bumble’s Green to Broxbourne Station). Brimble notes the varied nature of the scenery on this side of Epping Forest and Buxton describes a route similar to the one I follow.

Epping Forest

I crossed the hill into the Warren and entered the last half-hour of daylight. There were three other walkers resting on a fallen tree having a sandwich before turning back down the hill. This beautiful avenue of pines stood guard over the muddy path that snaked its way towards Epping Road and in the direction of Ambresbury Banks.

Epping Forest

An old milestone marked the point where I passed into Epping Thicks. I stuck close to the road, realising that I’d by-passed Ambresbury Banks, and enjoyed this apex of the forest before reaching Bell Common and the descendent through the backstreets of Epping to the station.

 

 

 

First Walk of 2020 – Beyond King Harold’s Tomb at Waltham Abbey

It seemed apt somehow to start the decade with a visit to Waltham Abbey Church and the tomb of King Harold. The supposed burial place of the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, a notable site of medieval pilgrimage and sitting on the Greenwich Meridan. But these weren’t the things that brought me to Waltham Abbey on the 2nd January 2020.

Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey WW1 anti-aircraft gun emplacement

A ridge rising on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey had caught my eye on a number of walks, usually at the end just after sunset where it tempted me to climb its summit to catch the last of the light. Then a recent comment on my YouTube channel informed me of a site of interest near Kennel Wood, a First World War anti-aircraft emplacement, which just happened to be in the vicinity of the hill that had called me so many times. This is where I headed after paying homage at the Abbey and Harold’s tomb.

 

Watch the video above to see the hike into the hills above Waltham Abbey around Monkhams Hall.

 

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

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

River Ching River Ching

The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

Walk from Brentwood to Grange Hill

Brentwood

I found myself late Sunday morning just to the north of Brentwood at Bentley and decided to walk back towards London. I had no real route in mind other than to end up at a Central Line Station somewhere.

Brentwood
I started off down Hullet’s Lane. It was crisp and cold, a few degrees above zero. I then decided to loop back up along Pilgrim’s Lane and across The Mores, a strip of woodland where last autumn I went looking for Stukeley’s Druid temple.

Brentwood

Guided at this stage by an OS Map, I picked up a footpath off Wheeler’s Lane that ran across farmland. The path ended at a locked gate, the stile wrapped in wire. I had no choice other than to find the diverted route of the path that took me round the farmhouse into a track where I plunged into deep soft mud halfway up my calf. It oozed beneath me like quicksand, I wondered what I had stepped into and how far I’d sink. Cold mud filled my boots but I managed to drag myself out onto solid ground. (I checked the other end of the path where it exited onto the road to find a bull and cow slumbering by the stile).

I decided to stick to the road as I continued through Navestock, passing a large Ice Age pudding stone that had been raised on a plinth to mark the millennium, then crossed the M25. After paying homage to a trig point by a medieval moat on Navestock Common, I followed the long steep track to Curtis Mill Green.

Brentwood

There was a scattering of fly-tipping, further up the track beer barrels lay strewn among the hawthorn trees. There was an abandoned cottage crumbling in the undergrowth. Above the hedgerow the sun pitched on distant uplands, a large hill stood resplendent (Cabin Hill?), just visible beyond were the London skyscrapers.

Brentwood IMG_1324

I hadn’t eaten since 8am and wondered whether the need for food would eventually dictate my route. But the hunger didn’t seem to rise above a slight annoyance.

Curtis Mill Lane
My OS map ended at Stapleford Church so from here I was dependent on my phone for navigation. I found a footpath off the main road across farmland heading for Stapleford Aerodrome. For once, a footpath closure provided a happy accident. Forced to scramble through bushes and leap over a stream I found myself confronted with a second world war pillbox nestled into the riverbank obscured by ivy and an overhanging tree. It would have formed part of the Outer London Defence Ring when the airfield was taken over during the war becoming RAF Stapleford Tawney.

Pillbox Stapleford

WW2 Pillbox near Stapleford Aerodrome,

Crossing the field light aircraft buzzed low overhead coming in to land, the sound of their engines making you think of the Hurricanes and Spitfires that operated from the grass runways at Stapleford until 1943.

Brentwood

More paths across bare muddy fields brought me to a familiar junction near Lambourne Church. The battery on my phone was low and it was randomly shutting down, so it was good to know that I could find my way back to the tube network from here by memory. The ‘ancient green lane’ through Conduit Wood, although only passed twice before had the feeling of home. It’s a landscape I imagine woodland sprites occupy.

My knee decided to lock and cease to function as I reached Lambourne End. An old affliction I was sure had gone away. Maybe it was the cold, yomping through deep mud, and the faster than usual pace, I don’t know. So now it meant hauling my useless left leg down the muddy bridleway (Featherbed Lane) to Crabtree Hill in Hainault Forest. The pain started to ease. I could traverse these paths in the dark (as I have done before, and in deep snow too) if needed and started to think of food and a pint at the Red Lion back in Leytonstone.

conduit wood IMG_1375

I eventually stumbled out of Hainault Forest  across Weddrell’s Plain onto Chigwell Row as the sunset gave way to darkness. I remembered the little office licence where I’d bought a can of cold lager and snacks after a long summer evening stroll and bagged a chicken and mushroom slice and a can of lemon Fanta.

The walk in the dark down the hill to Grange Hill Tube Station was completed in a reverie. The lights of London Town shimmered in the distance.

Grange Hill