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.

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Lambeth Walk

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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.

The Mayor’s London Borough of Culture Walks

John Rogers walks Leytonstone

Come for a walk with me to celebrate Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019

I’m really excited to be leading a series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture, running from June to October 2019.

The walks will explore various aspects of Waltham Forest from its topography, culture, overlooked heritage, and psychogeography. Local people of interest will join me on the walks – to contribute to the pool of knowledge. The aim will be not simply to impart information but to share a way of looking at the landscape and the built environment. In the words of the legendary music journalist Greil Marcus the walks will aim to reveal, “the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience”. A bespoke map of each walk is being produced by artist & printer Russell Frost of Hooksmith Press, Leytonstone, who created the fantastic artwork at the top of this post.

Here are the details of each walk with a link to book tickets:

 

Walk 1: Leytonstone’s Lost River – The Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

Book here

John Rogers Philley Brook walk

Philley Brook walk – photo by Vaseem Gill

An interactive walk that follows Leytonstone’s buried river, The Philley Brook (Fillebrook). The walk will not only trace the course of the river but also look at ways of identifying buried rivers and streams. We’ll explore aspects of the history and culture of the area as they relate to the meander of the Philley Brook. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. We’ll be joined by a Leytonstone film-maker and artist Ian Bourn. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 9th June, 2pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Walthamstow Marshes
Walk 2: Marshlands

An edgeland walk that explores Waltham Forest’s historic marshlands. We traverse the ancient Lammas Lands and explore the rich heritage of the area from the Bronze Age through to the birth of the aviation industry. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. We’ll be joined by local historian, David Boote from the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society.
Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 14th July, 2pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

 

Highams Park Lake

Highams Park Lake

Walk 3: The Ching

A meander along the beautiful River Ching that flows through Waltham Forest from Epping Forest through Highams Park and the streets of Chingford to its confluence with the River Lea near Banbury Reservoir. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost.
Date: 18th August, 2pm
Duration: 3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Dagenham Brook

Walk 4: The Dagenham Brook

This overlooked stream that runs from Leyton Jubilee Park to Coppermill Lane Walthamstow, leads us through the streets of Leyton and Walthamstow weaving stories as it flows.  We’ll be joined by Leyton artist Lucy Harrison. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 8th September, 2pm
Duration: 2-3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

 

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Walk 5: Over Pole Hill – Where Time Begins

The north-eastern frontier of both Waltham Forest and Greater London. This takes us up over Pole Hill, the highest point in the borough, which sits on Zero Longitude and was used by the Greenwich Observatory to set its telescope. We also explore the terrain of the forest fringe and the borough boundary. We’ll be joined by artist and illustrator Rachel Lillie who has a special interest in Epping Forest. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost.
Date: 6th October, 2pm
Duration: 2-3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Waltham Forest Tours

More information about other Waltham Forest Tours events can be found here

 

 

Walk to the Bluebell Wood

Bluebells Devon

Bluebells and Wild Garlic burst from the high hedgerows on the lane up out of the North Devon village. Dad had said he’d show me the Bluebell Wood.

Devon walk

We headed out at 6pm for those last two hours of golden light, up along the lane that runs above the link road, hills rising in the distance. The Hawthorn was in flower (a little early?) and ‘the Old Fella’ told me how they used to eat the leaves when he was a kid, called them ‘bread and cheese’. I tried one, it didn’t taste anything like bread and cheese.

wild garlic

We passed a dell thick with Wild Garlic.

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Over the fallow field and beside the perfect babbling brook to the edge of the Bluebell Wood.

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The pungent aroma of the Bluebells fills your nostrils as soon as you step over the stile into the wood. The flowers cascade down the hillside to the brook below. It’s almost too perfect.

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wild garlic

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At the end of the wood you splash through the water running downhill over cracked shale to a hill crested with oaks. I swear I spotted a Hobbit puffing on his pipe sitting in the shade.

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We didn’t have time to tackle the hill and the long loop back round to the village so we retraced our steps through the Bluebell Wood, over the fields and home.

 

 

 

Spring in Epping Forest

Leyton Flats, Leytonstone

Sometimes, in the absence of a better plan for a walk, you should alllow yourself to be guided by your feet. That’s what I did last Sunday, leaving home at 2pm, directionless.

Blackthorn, Leytonstone

My trotters led me up Leytonstone High Road to the Green Man Roundabout – gateway to the forest. The gorse (I think) was burning brilliant yellow in full bloom, the white blackthorn flowers waved at the early Spring picnicers nearby on Leyton Flats.

metal post near Birch Well

Metal Post Birch Well

I followed the path that runs behind Snaresbrook Crown Court, the borderlands of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest. Next to the Birch Well I spotted a metal post beside a low standing stone, the embossed text no longer legible. My best guess is that they are boundary markers, perhaps of the old Borough or the Parish.

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Birdsong rang out across Gilbert’s Slade in celebration of the arrival of Spring, and I sat on a pile of logs to savour the scene. This is a tract of land that is forever boggy and swampy, noted by Buxton in his Epping Forest book of the 1880’s and still very much the case. He laments the lack of beech trees here, where hornbeam, holly and oak dominate.

Highams Park Lake

The wildfowl were lively on the waters of Highams Park and I rested again, one of my favourite spots on this Forest walk. This is a route described and mapped by Buxton and one I’ve followed frequently over the years, memories of those previous walks and the churnings of my mind annotated into the footpaths, re-read and added to with each passing.

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From Epping Forest by Edward North Buxton

Although the end point of the walk would be determined by the sunset, the Royal Forest pub beside Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge always looms large in my mind around this point. Would I be able to get past it – or would all paths lead to the pub?

Daffodil Epping Forest P1100566

I picked up the course of the gentle River Ching and followed it along the lower reaches of the forest, downhill from Woodford. London is blessed with these meandering tributaries that often get overlooked in favour of the grand rivers of the city or the celebrated ‘lost rivers’ of London, buried but not forgotten. The Ching is a modest water course, going about its business flowing from the forest to the Lea.

Welcome to Waltham Forest Chingford

On Rangers Road, Chingford I pass a second Waltham Forest boundary marker of the day – on the other side this time is not Redbridge but the County of Essex. Today has not only been a forest wander but a borderland walk.

Royal Forest Chingford

Somehow I contrived to arrive on Chingford Plain as the sun started to set shortly after 6pm meaning the only logical thing was to progress to the bar at the Royal Forest Brewer’s Fayre where I processed the walk over a couple of pints and toasted the arrival of Spring in Epping Forest.