Aimless Wander from Leyton to Tottenham IKEA via Walthamstow

How did I find myself in the cafe of the Tottenham IKEA at 6pm on a Wednesday?  The large window is an almost perfect Lea Valley picture frame – the best thing in the store. The magnetic attraction of an IKEA cafe on an edgeland wander dates back for me to November 2009 recording an episode of our radio show Ventures and Adventures in Topography in Monks Park with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp. It was cold Sunday afternoon, we were damp and tired and found ourselves in the Wembley Trading Estate. We knew the only source of food and warmth in the area at that time on a Sunday was the IKEA Cafe. We dreamt of meat balls and made our way to the flatpack Valhalla. They’d sold out of meat balls of course.

#Cafe at #IKEA Tottenham

A post shared by John Rogers (@thelostbyway) on

Eight years later and on the other side of the North Circular the Tottenham IKEA Cafe had a good stock of meat balls but I had a ham and cheese toastie instead. This was a less structured excursion. I’d left home with no real aim other than just to walk – Tottenham IKEA had emerged in my mind as a waypoint – something to aim at. I took in the buildings of Lea Bridge Road, Leyton both old and those taking shape then marvelled at the architecture of Argall Avenue Industrial Estate. The football pitches at Low Hall were freshly marked out ready for the weekend fixtures.

I thought of Arthur Machen’s ghost hunting expedition to Tottenham in the early mystical years of the 20th Century. He also recorded journeys out to Edmonton and Ponders End as if they were the darkest reaches of the Amazon. And wandering the backstreets of Tottenham for the first time I felt as if I were in a remote part of London. I teenage girl approached me with a pair of size 4 trainers and tried to convince me to buy them for my children (how did she know I had kids?).

Leaving IKEA I jumped on the first bus that came along assuming they all went to Tottenham Hale and soon found myself heading towards Edmonton. I jumped off straight away thinking I could catch a 34 bus to Walthamstow Central and started walking along Montagu Road looking for a bus stop. I kept walking with no bus stop in sight. The light started to dim and I got that feeling of uncertainty when in unknown backstreets in the gloom – the desire to get clear, back to familarity or at least to main streets. I turned into Town Road after checking that it looked ok, there was something in the air that made me feel uneasy. I considered continuing along Montagu Road and taking a later turning but decided this was the quickest (safest) option. A bus came along, you have to flag them down round these parts, there are no bus stops. Off I went to Tottenham Hale thinking about Machen’s Tottenham story.

Montagu Road Edmonton

Later that night, around midnight, I checked the news online and saw a headline in the Guardian, ‘Man killed in north London shooting’ – I instantly knew where the crime had taken place. Of course I would be wrong, north London is a huge area. I scanned the article of the location of the killing of the ‘man in his 40’s or 50’s’ and there it was Bounces Road, one of the roads leading off Montagu Road just past Town Road, one of the alternative routes I’d considered when feeling the urge to get clear of the area, yards away from where I’d flagged down the bus.

The East-West Passage – Stratford to the City via Bethnal Green

Fresh off the train from Ramsgate into Stratford International I needed to stretch my legs so set off Westwards. Cutting down beside the Copper Box Arena and along the Lea Navigation towpath I crossed onto the Hertford Union Canal – which connects the Lea Navigation to the Regent’s Canal.

I emerged onto Roman Road as the sunset started to light up the blocks of flats above the shops. I follow the ancient London to Norwich route through Globe Town and Bethnal Green to the junction with Shoreditch High Street, itself the Roman Ermine Street striking north through the Hertfordshire countryside and beyond continuing north through Lincoln to York. On the other side of this two millenia old confluence is the narrow lane, Holywell Street associated with the Shoreditch Holy Well and the Holywell Priory, although the site of the Holy well has been reported as being in nearby Bateman’s Row.

I’m sucked into the belly of the Barbican, escaping across the modern A1 North Road and down Long Lane through Smithfield. I always get the shivers passing across the ‘Smooth Field’ as this is where my namesake, John Rogers the Martyr was burnt at the stake on 4th February 1555.

John Rogers Martyr

My feet lead me to the road that links me to the place of the my birth, the A40, and where John Rogers the Martyr was vicar at St. Sepulchre. I pay my respects to the great heretic then head for the Central Line at Chancery Lane.

Out to Claybury Victorian Asylum

“cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”Lenny’s Documentary

This was in some way a reprise of a walk I did in March 2007 inspired by a line from Ian Bourn’s early video work Lenny’s Documentary set in Leytonstone, “cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”.

Claybury Hospital was the fifth London County Asylum, designed by asylum architect George Thomas Hine, and opened in 1893. It was closed in 1995 and converted into a slightly eerie gated community of luxury flats popular with Reality TV stars and Premier League footballers. Claybury is also mentioned by Iain Sinclair in both Rodinsky’s Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein) and London Orbital in relation to the mysterious hermit of the Princelet Street Synagogue David Rodinsky, whose sister was a patient there.

The walk also took in the Merchant Seaman’s Orphange on Hermon Hill, founded in 1827, also converted into apartments. From there I dropped down, crossing the River Roding, past the Pet Cemetery and a Toby Carvery. The route then took a lop-sided slant through a nest of streets into the Crooked Hat Plantation, one of those curious pockets of ancient woodland, once part of the great Forest of Essex, cut off and stranded by urban sprawl.

The views from Claybury are superb, some of the finest in London. When I was here 10 years ago, sliding around in the mud, I spoke to a lady walking her dog who’d worked in the asylum as a nurse. Today it was hot and humid. A group of Secondary School kids were returning from a trip to the pond. I skirted the railings to get a good view of the iconic water tower before walking down a long road through the grounds of the private settlement. There was an eerie Stepford Wives vibe about the place – it spooked me, so I got out as fast as I could and jumped the tube back to Leytonstone.

My longest walk – Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City

Looking back now to this monumental yomp at the end of May I wonder what on earth I was thinking walking 30 mazy miles across Hertfordshire from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City (29.2 miles to Welwyn Garden City the other 0.8 miles was finding the pub back in Kings Cross Station). So I dig my walking journal out of my backpack to unpick the day.

Waltham Cross

Waltham Cross

30th May 2017

On the train – That buzz of excitement when heading out on an expedition really hit me as I walked up Platform 11 at Stratford for the train to Waltham Cross. Only decided to head off over breakfast, chose the route quickly, violent bad dreams I saw as a warning to stay out of Essex and abandon the half-planned walk through Ongar to Chelmsford. I almost forced myself that way but as soon as I saw a route from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City I was seduced – it was calling me. A quick dash to WH Smith in Westfield to get an OS Map and pick up the Chelmsford map too for another day not plagued by nightmares.

City of London Coal Tax Post, Wormley Wood

City of London Coal Tax Post, Wormley Wood

3.20pm – resting on a fallen tree in Wormley/ Derry’s Wood 12 miles in – much further to this point than imagined and still no idea of where I’ll end up (entertaining various possibilites including Hertford and Hatfield). I passed through the far side of this wood in the snow in February walking along Ermine Street to Hertford. I’m slowly filling in the OS 174 map. Super humid today and feeling it a bit, waiting for my second wind. Good just to stop and savour a moment in the woods beneath the canopy, under ancient boughs, the spirit of Pan – is this where we’re meant to reside?

Quarry footpath Hertfordshire

Quarry footpath, Hertfordshire

10.30pm – in the Packing Yard Pub in Kings Cross Station. 29.2 miles in the end, too bloody far, feel dizzy. The classical music in the Howard Centre at Welwyn Garden City was a suitable end. Where this differed from my epic Hertford hike just before Christmas is that I didn’t really stop – just a couple of 5 minute rests. If I’d stopped,  I’d never have made it. Clambering along the overgrown stream bed was a real moment, my arm still hums from the nettle stings. The irony being that I only intended to do 14-miles, how did it end up being so long and taking 10.5 hours?

 

Watch the video at the top of this post for the full story of my epic hike from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City

The Secret Suburb – Higham Hill Walthamstow

This was a tip-off from a friend and the realisation that I had actually never been to Higham Hill, it had remained mythologised as the termination point of the W15 bus with the automated robot voice stating its identity as the ‘W15 to Higham Hill Cogan Avenue’. My mate had mentioned in a follow-up text that the area possessed some interesting industrial history, important developments printing and type, the site recently converted into housing with the blocks named after various fonts.

Higham Hill Walthamstow

Higham Hill was not merely a  suburb of Walthamstow, the latest feasting ground of ravenous estate agents. Higham Hill Road offered fantastic eastwards views towards Epping Forest and Claybury. There was indeed fantastic art deco industrial architecture, abundant allotments, and well-kept open space. I spent three hours wandering round as the sun bashed down burning out the last day of May and I found a beautiful Victorian book for sale for a couple of quid in the Post Office before jumping the bus back to Leytonstone.

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 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.