London River Walk – from the Ravensbourne to the Beck

The idea was Iain’s, noticing that I rarely ventured south of the river he suggested a walk through his manor, Beckenham, following the River Beck. In the course of deciding where to start we somehow settled on the mouth of the River Ravensbourne at Deptford Creek.

River Ravensbourne

River Ravensbourne

We worked our way South through morning Greenwich and over Deptford Bridge, through Brookmill Park to Lewisham, where we gave a nod to the River Quaggy. The passage through Ladywell took me back to the walk I did for This Other London in autumn 2012 to Herne Hill Velodrome that passed this way over Ladywell Fields. Where I peeled off that day over Blythe Hill, Iain and I carried on beside the waters of the Ravensbourne across Catford Bridge to the Linear Park where the Ravensbourne departs and we followed the Pool River to Bellingham.

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

confluence of The Beck and the Chaffinch Brook

In Cator Park, Beckenham (after a David Bowie detour) we find the confluence of the Pool and the Beck (and also see the Chaffinch Brook) and from this point, entering early evening and pushing on for 15 miles for the day, we are now fixed on the source of The Beck.

Families are out in force perambulating around the broad waters of Kelsey Park, it’s a good time to stop for ice cream. It gives us the legs to push on through outer suburbia bound for Shirley.

source of the River Beck

source of the River Beck

I won’t spoil the end of the video, but the moment of finding the source, not quite where we expected, was a moment of mild euphoria. 21-miles river walking through South London, two middle-aged men gazed with love and amazement at a trickle of water dribbling from a pipe in a narrow strip of woodland in Shirley.

 

Pole Hill, Yardley Hill, Gilwell Park, Barn Hill to Enfield

With London wrapped in tragedy I needed to get to high ground, it’s a primal urge, safety, perspective. I remembered the walk of 3 years ago, I now realise on the same date – 18th June – an accidental derive over hills and down to Sewardstone for sunset. This time it was deliberate.

The walk down from Woodford was the pre-amble, a loosening that threw in an unexplored corner of the forest near the Warren Pond. Then along Chingford High Street, clocks forever set 30 years behind the rest of London it seems. No chips from Sam’s this time – straight up the side of the Kings Head to the top of Pole Hill – a marker of time, the centre of the world.

Path to Pole Hill Chingford

Path to Pole Hill Chingford

The fields sloping down the spine of Pole Hill were as beautiful in the evening light as I remembered them. A couple had pitched a tent beneath the trees and were sat ate eating dinner. The views from the top of Yardley Hill were stunning and difficult to wrench away from. The City skyline dwarfed by foregroud trees of Hawk Wood, the enclosure in the forest of pre-Roman times. I could imagine the great Forest of Kent stretching from the south shore of the Thames down to the sea.

Along Sewardstone Green, somehow deep with mud then up and over the final hill with fingers of god breaking out through sagging clouds onto Brimsdown.

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

Crossing the Lea Valley at Sewardstone I bisect the walk just before the winter solstice, setting out in pre-dawn from Leytonstone to Hertford, at this point stalked by horses. I give a nod to my winter self and push on along the sunset river banks for Enfield.

 

Knighton Wood Buckhurst Hill

You never know where your feet will carry you – in this case aided by a W13 bus and riding it to the end at Woodford Wells. Passing The Horse and Well, an 18th Century coaching inn established 1730, I dipped down into Knighton Wood, once part of the grounds of the grand house belonging to Edward North Buxton (1860-1924), author the classic Epping Forest guide book that I take on all my forest walks. Buxton had lived for a period of time at Leytonstone House (along with various other members of the Buxton family). He spent much of his life campaigning to preserve Epping Forest at a time when it was threatened with development using his considerable influence through his family (who were also part of the Truman, Hanley, Buxton Brewing empire and Barclays Bank) and as MP for Walthamstow.

Lord's Bushes Knighton Wood

I can find no mention of Knighton Wood in Buxton’s Epping Forest, published in 1885, but he does mention Lord’s Bushes which forms part of this glorious area of woodland, “conspicuous for its picturesque oaks and beeches, and dense undergrowth of hollies …. an hour may be well spent in exploring its beautiful glades.”

I spent more than an hour exploring its ‘beautiful glades’, now enhanced by some of the surviving landscaping of Buxton’s home at Knighton House with resplendent rhododendrons in full bloom. There are also the ornamental lakes, wilder, more untamed than the ponds in Wanstead Park. I had pleasant chats with the dog walkers and at one point stood inside a hollowed out tree staring up at the sky the ambient sound being processed through mould, bark, and insect colonies to create an organic mix. I would love to mic that tree up, a giant arboreal ear. For a moment I had stepped out of the day-to-day urban life and was backpacking once more, the musty woody aroma, the embrace of the forest transporting me back to jungle trekking in Thailand, Sumatra, Sarawak. Such is the magic and enchantment of trees.

Edith Walks – Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair and their band of Mummers

Edith Walks Iain Sinclair Jem Finer

Ahead of EDITH: A Performance at St John’s on Bethnal Green  in the East End Film Festival I recall the day I spent with Andrew Kötting’s merry band of Mummers as they started out on their 100-mile pilgrimage to Hastings from Waltham Abbey

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The bird, a raven a rook a crow?, sits on Iain Sinclair’s arm. Iain tells Andrew Kötting it’s ‘a corpse feeder, an eye pecker’, he’ll find Harold on the battlefield, or in this case Andrew buried up to his neck on Hastings beach. Andrew’s suit is a collaboration with his daughter Eden, decorated and annotated for the Jack in the Green festival in Deptford and Hastings. Iain suggests Andrew should be barefoot, ‘What for 100 miles’, Kötting retorts.

Edith Walks Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair
I’d met up with David Aylward and Jem Finer just off the train out of Stratford – easily identifying them on the platform at Waltham Cross – Jem with his custom-built shopping trolley mounted recorded device, Dave dressed in camouflage fluro. We stop off on the walk into town to pick up some WD40 to lubricate the squeeking sound coming from Jem’s audio jalopy, now wondering about the reality of dragging this thing 100 miles to Hastings.

Edith Walks Claudia Barton Iain Sinclair
We gather around the modest stone monument behind Waltham Abbey that claims to be the final resting place of at least some of Harold’s remains. Anonymous Bosch takes pin-hole photos whilst we mooch around the graveyard. From afar the group has the look of a bizarre wedding party milling around before the service, excited anticipation, taking photos, catching up small talk. These are the final moments before their epic schlepp to Hastings retracing the footsteps of Edith Swan-neck to sort through the hacked rotting corpses on the battlefield at Hastings looking for the remains of her beloved Harold.

Edith Walks Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Andrew Kotting

My own journey will end at Enfield Lock, cut short by the necessities of parenthood, but Andrew has invited me to gather some footage for possible inclusion in our London Overground film with him and Iain as a mad side journey, ‘Treat it as some kind of crazed vision’, Andrew advises. It found its home in the film with Andrew dressed as the Straw Bear in Brompton Cemetery talking about the experience of walking with Iain Sinclair, how it alters your idea of time, the images of Andrew’s troupe of Mummers wandering through the fly-tipping beneath the M25 fly-over just south of Waltham Abbey perfectly illustrating this sentiment. Some of the footage also ended up more appropriately housed in the film Kötting made of their expedition, Edith Walks.

Claudia Barton chats idly to Jem Finer about the real historical Edith Swan-neck and her link to the shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk, ‘I like the idea of her being a little bit spiritual and a little bit nut nut. All women in those days knew the power of herbs and a little bit of sorcerey’, she says with a smile. Gliding along the Lea Navigation towpath in flowing white gown she stops to inspect the flowers in the hedgerow channeling Edith’s plant lore.

David Aylward is turning every solid object we pass into a percussive instrument, jumping onto a moored industrial barge knocking out an infectious rhythm. Passing cyclists wonder what madness they have stumbled upon, thinking better of asking and peddling on bemused.

Edith Walks Claudia Barton Andrew Kotting Iain Sinclair
Passing beneath the M25 with Iain Sinclair I have to call along the path, ‘Iain, look, it’s your road’, he smiles and we stop to chat about his millenial yomp around the M25. Iain leads us up the footpath beside the viaduct to a grassy area next to the road barriers battered by London Orbital traffic noise. Anonymous Bosch reclines in the grass taking snaps and shooting video on various devices, I spot at least three.

Anonymous Bosch
I was gutted to wave them off at Enfield Lock. Iain and Andrew suggested I could rendezvous with them further down the route but it isn’t to be. Claudia/Edith picks up the hem of her flowing white wedding gown out of the Lea Valley trail dust, Jem tinkers with his audio device and off they go to Hastings.

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Edith: A performance at the East End Film Festival Sunday 25th June 8.00pm.

For 50% off ‘friends list’ use the code: EDITH

Andrew Kötting and author Iain Sinclair take another epic journey through England’s buried history in EDITH. Following on from Swandown and By Our Selves (both screened by EEFF) Kötting and Sinclair embarked on a 108 mile walk from Waltham Abbey to St Leonards-on-Sea in memory of Edith Swan Neck, the mistress of King Harold.
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Reconnecting and consoling historic lovers after nearly 1,000 years, the experience has inspired a film (Edith Walks), bookwork and this special live film-music-performance event, incorporating spoken word from Iain Sinclair, with music and soundscapes by David Aylward, Claudia Barton, Jem Finer and Andrew Kötting, set to the spectral images of Kötting’s film. A chance to experience an extraordinary project in the atmosphere of St. Johns on Bethnal Green, with EDITH as their hallucination.

The film Edith Walks is on general release across the UK from 23rd June

 

Exploring Old & New Barking – Abbey Ruins to Barking Riverside

There’s yet another new London taking shape on the edge of Barking at Barking Riverside:

“A brand new neighbourhood is being created alongside two km of Thames river frontage at Barking Riverside, one of the most ambitious and important new developments in the UK. Outline planning permission was granted in 2007 for 10,800 homes on the former power station site.”Barking Riverside website

The excursion out to Barking Riverside began wandering through the footprint of the ruins of Barking Abbey, that great powerhouse of early medieval London. I then followed the banks of the River Roding down to Barking Creek and Creekmouth Open Space, before continuing along River Road to the huge Barking Riverside site, finishing at Dagenham Dock Station.

By the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House with Iain Sinclair

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair in Charlton Park

The mirror by the Mulberry Tree at Charlton House made this shot impossible to resist. Being with Iain Sinclair by a Mulberry Tree made me think of the detailed description of the silk trade in WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, silk worms feed on mulberry leaves. I’ve just read the chapter in Iain’s forthcoming book The Last London where he retraces an East End perambulation from Austerlitz with Sebald’s friend, the poet Stephen Watts.

This black mulberry is believed to be around 400 years old, just marginally younger than Charlton House, built in 1607. But unlike the bricks and mortar of the grand Jacobean mansion the mulberry tree is a living being, arms reaching out into the park and the fine public convenience behind by the road.

We were passing through the park filming a thread coming off the Watling Street project, a tributary running off Shooters Hill, another film now taking shape to be presented in the autumn.

Wetlands Trail – Woodberry Wetlands to Walthamstow Wetlands

The approach to Woodberry Wetlands from Harringay Green Lanes was dominated by the, to put it mildly, ‘controversial’ redevelopment of Woodberry Down Estate. The blocks, old and new dominate one side of the horizon around this urban oasis created by the London Wildlife Trust out of an active reservoir. It was only when talking to London Wildlife Trust staff, here to celebrate the first anniversary of Woodberry Wetlands, that I learnt of how this reservoir drew water from the New River and fed it down to the Walthamstow Reservoirs via an underground culvert. It seems incredible that the New River, opened in 1613 to supply London with drinking water still fulfills an important function in the city’s infrastructure.

 

Woodberry Down Estate Woodberry Wetlands

Once the Klezmer Band started to wind down I exited the Wetlands onto the New River Path and slowly followed it down to the edge of Stamford Hill carving a trail along the path of the culvert down to Walthamstow Wetlands at the other end of the pipe.

The New River Harringay

There were plenty of people passing over Clapton Common and I exchanged a few words with some Hasidic Jewish gentlemen about the fate of Tower Court Estate. One landmark that remains is the Church of the Good Shepherd, now a Georgian Orthodox Church, built by the curious Agapemonite Victorian sex cult.

Tower Court Hackney

New signage indicates the intention to create a trail linking the two wetlands. When I next follow this path, after the formal opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, I fully expect to see clumps of backpacked urban hikers schlepping the couple of miles between the two waterscapes.

Woodberry Wetlands Walthamstow Wetlands

Springfield Park is the perfect place to sit on a bench at sunset and watch the world drift by looking across at the dark wooded hills on the eastern flank of the Lea Valley. Revived, I passed Walthamstow Marshes in the fading light to the closed gates of Walthamstow Wetlands due to open this autumn. It took me back to standing at the spot just after sunset in January 2013 when I walked a wide loop from Leytonstone across Leyton Lammas Lands to Wassail the fruit trees in Clapton and Springfield Park before walking back through Walthamstow. With that in mind I made my way along the deserted market for a couple of pints in The Chequers to toast north east London’s new Wetlands.