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.

The uncanny world of West London

West London for me reeks of uncanniness, a sense of something slightly out of the ordinary that you can feel humming in the brickwork, radiating off the too green parkland grass, and nestling behind the net curtains. The garden suburbs at Hanger Hill Garden Estate and the Brentham Estate almost belong to a suburban version of the Hobbit shire, more than railway fueled urban expansion into the Middlesex countryside. The fairy princess said to be slumbering under the bus stop at Ealing (Ealine’s) Haven adds to the mystery, along with the Saxon Warriors excavated still wearing their cloaks in Hanwell, and the glorious legend of Horsenden Hill and Horsa’s mighty ghostly steed roaming the fields of Greenford at night. All of this and more swirled through my mind as I wandered from West Acton Station through Perivale and Greenford to Northolt on Easter Saturday.

river brent

River Brent

I could basically park hop the whole way – Hanger Hill Park, Pitshanger Park, Perivale Park, Northala Fields, and Belvue Park. The Northala Hills should be added to that list of the uncanny – giant mounds of Wembley and White City rubble, burial mounds of c20th grand spectacle. A magnificient sight – climb to the top and drink in the expansive views.

northala hills

I could have pushed on, but I’d been led out here by the memory of a walk from Easter 2014 along the Grand Union Canal that ended across Belvue Park and into The Crown pub. So that is where my homing instincts dragged each weary foot.

Walk from Cockfosters to Borehamwood

After walking the London Loop section 17 from Enfield Town to Cockfosters, I became enchanted by Camlet Moat and went out and bought Christopher Street’s London’s Camelot and the Secrets of the Grail. In the book, Street posits a number of sacred alignments cris-crossing London and one in particular linking Camlet Moat to the church in High Barnet along a Ley Line. This also bisects the site of the Battle of Barnet. So that became the principle aim of my walk – heading out from the glories of Cockfosters Station, across Hadley Common then through Barnet onwards to Borehamwood.

Barnet Church

London Loop Section 20 in the snow – Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (then to Romford)

This time a week ago London was covered in snow – the ‘Beast from the East’ returned and plunged us back into the Ice Age (or so it felt, the hyperbole is justified). Looking out at my snow-drenched garden I had a strong urge to hit the high ground, walk head-long into a blizard, confront this beast face-to-face. So I got the tube to Grange Hill bound for Havering-atte-Bower.

Hainault Forest snow

I’d done a portion of this walk with Rick Pearson for his podcast, London’s Peaks, and at the time vowed to return, partly to capture this majestic route on video but also to see how the walk could be extended.

London Loop section 20

From the top of Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (the highest point in the London Borough of Havering) follows most of Section 20 of the London Loop, which starts at Chigwell. I’d covered the Chigwell end with Rick and also about a decade ago for my radio show, so I cut that part out in favour of extending the walk at the other end.

Redwood Trees Havering

As you would expect with the temperature below freezing there were very few people about, Hainault Forest virtually deserted. The climb into the foothills of Havering Country Park, wading through deep muddy puddles was tough but the reward more than adequate compensation. There’s an avenue of majestic Californian Redwood trees that runs though the top end of the wooded park that takes the breath away – it was an honour to be in their presence, these huge benign gods of the glade.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

The snow started coming in horizontal when away from the cover of the Redwoods, the wind whipping it up off the Havering Hills. Edward the Confessor had his hunting lodge here, some say this is where the pious king died. Havering-atte-Bower feels like an ‘out-of-place artefact’, a hill village in London that would be more at home in the Chilterns.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

I push on through the intensifying flurry, to Bedfords Park, losing my bearings in Bower Wood before crossing into Rise Park and out onto the A12 to catch a Route 66 bus home.

 

 

Lea Valley Walk from Blackhorse Road to Cheshunt

As the Beast from the East part 2 bends the bushes in my garden in half and dusts it all in snow I look back to the walk I took up the Lea Valley last weekend. Then it seemed certain that the cold was behind us and spring appeared to be breaking over Gillwell Hill. I was feeling sluggish and dark and sought out old/new paths. I took the Overground to Blackhorse Road, then proceeded up Blackhorse Lane turning off into Sinott Road looking for the path that runs alongside the reservoirs.

Lea Valley

Down a narrow road (Folly Lane) past the Muslim Cemetery, fly-tipping in the clumpy scrub, a Traveller site, pylons, mini-roundabout, Costco – an almost textbook example of ‘Edgelands’ – you could bus academics out here to scratch their chins and make notes. I’m incredibly tired and heavy legged but really need to push through.

Edgelands

Walthamstow fly-tip

Past the pumping station on Harbet Road, on the other side of the road the fly-tip at the end of the world. A field littered with trash spread between the Lea, the roadside, and the North Circular viaduct. Tall chimneys puke up fumes in the near distance. An open wound in the city’s armpit.

Harbet Road London IMG_5402

On I plod on past the North London Vehicle Pound and follow the road down to the riverside path beneath the flyover. A couple of guys with a huge dog mooch around beside the undergrowth. Cyclists buzz past, head down racing against the Monday-Friday stress (it always catches up in the end).

Camden Hells brewery

At Pickett’s Lock my spirits lift and mood improves. Is it because I’m approaching the edge of London and can I leave my cares behind under a bush?

Harvester Ponders End

The sun starts to dissolve the milky clouds. The birds sing the sky yellow. Ponders End. Spring.

Rammey Marsh

Rammey Marsh wide and clear before the summer growth obscures its view from the river path. I love this stretch into Waltham Abbey, it’s where my mind often wanders when I’m trapped indoors.

Lea Valley

The last leg into Cheshunt proceeds at a slow plod, I’d burnt off the last of my energy covering the 4 miles from Pickett’s Lock to Waltham Abbey in under an hour fuelled but the burst of sunshine. Now the sky fades slowly back to a deep charcoal grey and the cold seeps up off the riverbank. I sit on a bench to see out the last of the light as a barge chugs northbound towards Ware and Hertford.

 

 

Along the Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Highgate

There was some discussion with my wife about the last time I’d been along Haringey’s Parkland Walk but in any case we’re sure a pram was involved meaning it must have been at least 10 years ago. It has become one of the most requested walks on my YouTube channel and with the snow starting to melt after the ‘Beast from the East’ had smothered London in Siberian snow, it seemed like the perfect timing.

Parkland Walk Haringey

The Parkland Walk follows the railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace that opened in 1867, closing to passengers in 1954 and carrying freight till 1964. The Parkland Walk opened in 1984 – the intervening 20 years would have been a fascinating period of its existence, left to be reclaimed by nature and intrepid urban ramblers.

Parkland Walk Haringey

For some reason I’ve always thought the Parkland Walk Nature Reserve could be accessed from Harringay Green Lanes, maybe it once connected with the small nature reserve there, but in reality it starts at Oxford Road on the far side of Finsbury Park. There the snow had already started to turn to slush but as the path moved into the foothills of the Northern Heights it transitioned into an icy track flanked by deep-sided banks of snow capped pines. It was along here that Stephen King got spooked by a mystical presence, recorded in the short story Crouch End. The synopsis on Wikipedia reads, “After encountering something unseen beyond a hedge, Lonnie becomes unhinged, and eventually disappears while the couple is walking through a tunnel”. Published in 1980, it means that King had been one of those intrepid urban ramblers walking the disused railway line when he encountered that eerie presence.

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk Haringey

I encountered no superficial forces along the walk mostly just joggers, dog-walkers and Dads hand-in-hand with toddlers. I did meet a lovely bloke called Matt from Melbourne though who recognised me from my YouTube videos and said he’d watched most of them. That’s always nice.

Parkland Walk Haringey tunnel

Highgate Woods snow

At Highgate I entered Highgate Woods, a remnant of the old forest of Middlesex, now managed by the Corporation of London. The snow lay thick and heavy here, kids dragged sledges looking for a place to sled, stomping over the earthwork that carves a diagonal line across one corner of the woods. I wonder how much more of this ancient landscape is buried beneath the suburbanized hills and valleys of Highgate, Muswell, Hornsey and Crouch End.

ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

possible site of the ancient earthwork Highgate Woods