Retreat to Epping Forest

Nearing the end of a boiling Sunday afternoon I had the urge to be under the shade of Forest trees, so headed on the tube to Loughton. My preferred route into the forest from the station for the last few years has been via Ollard’s Grove – a vertiginous street of large Edwardian houses leading off the High Road. The name, Ollard’s Grove, apparently is of medieval origin referencing a tenant who occupied this parcel of land, which before the area was heavily developed, would have commanded fine views over the Roding Valley.

Epping Forest

The path leading past the Nursery is lined with tall stems of scorched thistles. A cluster of rabbits broke and headed for cover as I approached, with one particularly confident bunny sat munching grass beside the path as I passed. I stopped in the wide shade of an oak tree to check the score in the World Cup Final and watched Ivan Perisic fire in Croatia’s equaliser.

Crossing Epping New Road I walk through what must have been the grounds of Fairmead Lodge, which had already been cleared by the time that E.N Buxton was writing his definitive Epping Forest guide in the late 19th Century. The cool shade of the glades on Long Hills is like taking a dip in stream, welcome relief from the relentless heat, that at the far end of the forest, has set Wanstead Flats ablaze.

Eucalyptus Epping Forest

A lone eucalyptus tree stands in a clearing in Hill Wood. A bush ranger in Sydney once explained to me the folly of importing eucalyptus trees as they need bush fires to spread their seeds, dripping oil into the flames to intensify the heat to the temperature required to eject their spores into the surrounding scorched earth.

Epping Forest

The bikers’ tea hut at Cross Roads is doing a brisk trade but I resist the temptation to stop for a drink, bound as I am for Shelleys Hill. I descend through Kate’s Cellar into the part of the forest that I’m probably most familiar with, although more often than not I’m blissfully directionless. Soon I’m on the banks on the Loughton Brook leading me to Staples Pond and the route back out of the forest to the High Road and the news that France had lifted the World Cup.

Unto the Fields (of Chigwell and Loughton)

Chigwell

Sometimes unplanned excursions are the most rewarding. After running an errand to Woodford Bridge I decided to take a short stroll along the road to Chigwell, when I spotted these signs on the metal fencing around a patch of woodland. Permissive access to a former landfill site was too good an invitation to turn down, so through the half-open gate I went …. into another world.

Chigwell walk

The woodland soon opened out into a network of footpaths weaving through tall wild grasses and meadows resplendent with flowers that I sadly can’t confidently name, but will speculate that these are wild foxglove.

Chigwell walk

A high point in the meadow opened out into a glorious view across the Roding Valley to the upper ground of Buckhurst Hill.

Chigwell walk

Footpaths branched off in all directions heading through thickets or up onto hillocks with not a soul around.

Chigwell walk

Through a bramble tunnel I came face to face with a young fox, who froze for a moment before darting off into the undergrowth with a high jump in the air.

I could hear the traffic whumping down the M11 as the path ran parallel for a while before bringing me to a garden gate in a wooden fence and out onto Luxborough Lane.

River Roding tube viaduct

The clear waters of the River Roding were incredibly enticing on such a hot day – I fantasized about floating away in the small abandoned boat beneath the Central Line viaduct.

Roding Valley Recreation Ground

My Australian wife says this looks like a Eucalyptus tree – stood on the parched earth of Roding Valley Recreation Ground it looked quite at home.

Roding Valley Recreation Ground

By this point I was feeling the heat and had nearly drank all of my water, so I sat down by the lake to absorb the coolness coming off the wide expanse of water.

Unto the Fields Gillingham

Making my way to Loughton Station along Roding Road, I spied a blue plaque on the far side on a semi-detached house. I dashed across the road to see who had been honoured in these Loughton backstreets and saw it was for D.W. Gillingham author of Unto the Fields. I immediately looked the book up on my phone, my eyes falling on the sentence, “a meticulous and exquisite record of the woodlands, streams and rivers of the Roding Valley”. I quickly found a 1953 edition on ebay and bought it stood in front of the house where Gillingham lived.

Along the Harcamlow Way from Roydon to Ware

The joy of absconding – escaping from the obligations of everyday life and just wandering the countryside or the city streets. That was how I felt on the train out of Stratford to Roydon on the Essex – Hertfordshire border. What I was absconding from in reality were my own plans to survey the Royal Docks in a wide looping walk (that I eventually did this past weekend). In the end this glorious walk took me far away from the hurly burly of urban living, away from humanity, and into another space and time trapped in the beguiling landscape along this section of the Harcamlow Way.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

After running the gauntlet of a path colonised by truly giantic Giant Hogweed, and passing across fields and fields of beans, light aircraft buzzing overhead, I approached possibly the most magical location on the route. Moat Wood of course has a moat, but some moats appear as muddy ditches, some as a hard to make out dip in the ground, but this moat was full to brim shimmering in the defracted sunlight breaking through the leaves. The scant information about the moat added to its mystery – it most likely protected a medieval farmhouse or minor manor house. I stayed for a while gazing into the waters, before pushing on along the field edge to the call of pheasants unseen amongst the woodland.

Moat Wood Hertfordshire

The views now changed from earlier vistas stretching across the Stort Valley to Harlow, now looking across the Lea Valley, and imaginging a future walk following the River Ash. Crossing the disused railway line that once connected to the mainline at St. Margarets, I’m reminded of a walk that passed over a section of the line further down near Easneye that I took three of four years ago the week before Christmas. It’s a walk that has never left me. I smiled to think back to my sodden trench feet from that day as I kicked up dust in the evening sun on the path that took me over the River Ash and in a wide arc to the sunset backstreets of Ware.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

Trek along the Norwood Ridge – One Tree Hill to Crystal Palace

This was a walk I’d long been planning to take, a turning on one of the This Other London schleps that I skipped in order to stay on track to make it to the Autumn Omnium at Herne Hill in 2012. Now free of an itinerary, the route I wanted to follow was along the Norwood Ridge, a dark smudge of high ground on the Landscape of London map, that runs from One Tree Hill to Selhurst, around 5 miles further south. This is a glorious walking trail that takes in The Horniman Museum and Gardens at Forest Hill, Sydenham Woods and Sydenham Wells, and Crystal Palace Park.

Wycombe revisited – 100th Episode of the Walking Vlog series

I felt an undue amount of pressure when trying to choose where to go for the 100th Episode of my Walking Vlog series. When out walking from Theydon Bois to Chigwell Row for the 98th Episode I’d asked the YouTube viewers for suggestions and they’d really come up with the goods. But one particularly resonated, from talented author Scarlett Parker:
“The hundred dilemma got me thinking about ‘hundreds’, the geo-administrative divisions of yore. Not sure how you could rein in this concept for a manageable walk. There are the famous Chiltern Hundreds, which is your, erm, jurisdiction.”

This was perfect – the Chiltern Hundreds > The Desborough Hundred Psychogeographical Society that I formed with my sister Cathy for our Remapping High Wycombe project > the significant sites walk we devised to bring the project to its conclusion. There was added significance in that I started my YouTube channel for this project to host some of the video documentation.

Walking into town from Wycombe Station I ticked off the first of the significant sites/’nodules of energy’ – the Dial House, home to Charles I’s physician Dr Martin Lluelyn; the ancient lane of Crendon Street; the supposed ‘mark stone’ by the Guildhall, and Robert Adam’s market house which we used as the HQ of the DHPS and installation site for the event on 18th June 2005.

The temperature that day 13 years ago was hitting the high twenties and again the mercury was pushing upwards at 27 degrees. It’d be hard going in the hills. I’d mustered some walking partners back then to make it more of an event – an old friend Jerry White, who’d brought along a mate, my Dad, and Nick Papadimitriou who’d I’d recently met for the first time. Today I’d be reprising the experience alone.

I gathered my thoughts in the churchyard before pushing on up Castle Hill Mount, said by some of the old Wycombe antiquarians to be partly formed of the burial mound of a Saxon warrior. The route onwards into the Hughenden Valley takes me through the grounds of Wycombe Museum, past the house where poet & composer Ivor Gurney stayed, and along the path above Wycombe Cemetery.

Looking back down into the valley there’s a stretch of newbuilds that highlights one of the major changes in the town. Gone is the great engineering factory of Broom & Wade and also Harrison’s Stamp Factory, and a student accommodation colony has taken the place of the industrial heart of Wycombe. When I’d led Nick, Jerry and Mike through this section in 2005, this was what made them see Wycombe as a town with its own distinctive industrial heritage, not just another satellite commuter town. Now that it’s gone – what does this say about Wycombe today?

Hughenden Manor
The heat is taking its toll as I climb up the Hughenden Valley to admire the view from the terrace of Benjamin Disraeli’s grand mansion. I daren’t rest yet as I have to drop back down into the valley then climb again to the (Isaac) Disraeli monument on the edge of Tinker’s Wood. Beneath this monument is where I’d rested on previous variations of this walk and it’s where I take a moment to pause once again and consider the passing of the previous 13 years since I was here last.

The zig-zag streets of Downley offer yet more great views across the valley to the Iron Age Earthwork at Desborough Castle – my next point of interest. The outer banks are high and imposing, but thankfully the dense tree canopy offers respite from the sun. I imagine the Desborough Hundred Moot taking place within the sunken enclosure in the deep past, as envisioned by Annan Dickson in his 1935 book, Chiltern Footpaths.

Desborough Castle Wycombe

Back down in town it feels as if another kind of grand gathering is taking place upon the Rye. The grass is dotted with puddles of pink flesh soon to turn lobster red. Boaters splosh their oars in the Dyke. The open air pool where I learnt to swim is sadly closed for the rest of the day.

Cut Throat Wood Wooburn

Cut Throat Wood

From the Rye I follow the patron stream of the area – the Wye, or the Wyke – trundling quietly behind the Marsh and the Mead to Loudwater where my Mum grew up. By now I’m tired and just want to sit in a nice pub garden with a cold pint. I could drop down Watery Lane to the Falcon at Wooburn, near the field where I played as a kid. But that would be the end of the walk. No, I stick to my plan to climb one last hill (so I thought) up Whitehouse Lane and along Grassy Bank looking over to Cut Throat Wood – a place that so dominated childhood days walking with my Dad and many a wistful recollection of those happy days. It’s the perfect ending to this revisiting of memory grounds, that further pushes me on under the railway line and up into the quiet roads leading into Beaconsfield Old Town and the train back to Marylebone.

Central Line Countryside Walk from Theydon Bois to Chigwell Row via Lambourne End

Theydon Bois is under-rated as a gateway to the London Countryside – it’s the equivalent of a Himalayan Base Camp for the London / West Essex edgeland walker. I fueled up on a great hot salt beef bagel before taking the footbridge over the Central Line tracks and down across fields to where I was confronted by the magnificent Theydon Bois Earthwork. This land sculpture by Richard Harris was commissioned by the Woodland Trust and completed in 2013. One kilometre of chalk and flint paths spiral their way into the side of the hill in a shape inspired by tree seeds. I stood atop one of the inner banks as the traffic throbbed past on the M11 and gave praise to the landscape.

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Moving across fields on the far side of the motorway near Hydes Farm, I examine my OS map and discover that the section of footpath I’m looking for aligns with the Roman Road further north at Hobbs Cross, that I walked along in 2016. This modest path that runs up the field edge makes a perfectly straight line to the acknowledged Roman Road that linked London to Great Dunmow, passing through Leyton and Leytonstone along the way. I turn to follow the route imagining the passage of Legions drawn from across the Roman Empire, hot desert lands, and what they must of made of this cold muddy terrain.

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To the north of Aridge I encounter my old friend the River Roding, ambling through the fields flanked by tall grasses and rushes. I pay my respects then cross the road and head for Lambourne End.

River Roding at Abridge

I lament not having time to have a look at the medieval Lambourne Church, but glad of the beguiling path leading down to Conduit Wood. A gnarly old tree beside a murky green pond looks to be home to a colony of wood sprites. An information board tells us that the path “runs alonsgide and ancient green lane”. The woods have a feel of magick and timelessness, where the path could as easily lead to another plane of existence as Gallman’s End Farm where I actually find myself.

Lambourne Church

A bridleway so deep in mud that it has made me hate horses, takes me down to the edge of Hainault Forest. Several comments on the YouTube video inform me that this quagmire goes by the name of Featherbed Lane.

Hainault Forest

A pond in Hainault Forest captures the sunset and holds it fast just beneath the surface of the water. It’s glorious to be in the forest celebrating what feels like one of the first real spring days (it was 15th April) after a long hard winter. I decide to toast the arrival of the new season and head off into Chigwell to purchase a can of San Miguel which I swig heartily as I make my way down off the high ground to Grange Hill Station.

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.