A walk through the Ancient Village of Walthamstow

A walk through Walthamstow Village

This lockdown walk started on Essex Road Leyton, checking in at Knotts Green on the way to Walthamstow Village. Knotts Green was likely a later medieval settlement created in a forest clearing as Leyton expanded. The wonderfully named Wild Street, ‘ran along the north side of Knotts Green’. I turned off Leyton High Road into Shernhall Street via an area that had been mentioned in 1537 as Diggons Cross. Shernhall Street itself is believed to be one of the oldest thoroughfares in Walthamstow.

Shernall Street Walthamstow Village

Ravenswood Industrial Estate

Despite only being 6.5 miles from the City of London, much of Walthamstow was covered by forest until 1770s. I imagined that some of the fine old trees along the side of the road were survivors of this transition. Church End is believed to be the site of one of the Saxon villages established on the higher ground in the forest, linked to an earlier settlement by the River Lea by a trackway that followed the line of Church Hill. St. Mary’s Church, first recorded in 1145, replaced an older wooden Saxon church. The wonderful 15th Century Ancient House facing the church helps summon up the spirit of these earlier times.

Walthamstow Village

The Ancient House

There was a wonderful feeling of sanctuary in the churchyard, people laid around in the long grass between the headstones. Groups sat on the tables outside the Nags Head drinking their own booze, access to the Nags Head’s 16th Century wine cellar being denied by the lockdown. Drinkers also loitered around the gravel square on Orford Road as others queued for the Spar.

Walthamstow Village

St. Mary’s Church

I passed the essential Vestry House Museum. Built in 1730 as a workhouse it now also accomodates the Waltham Forest Local Studies Archive. The Monoux Almhouses took me into Vinegar Alley, which I learnt from the comments on this video, was the site of a plague pit.

Walthamstow Village

Vinegar Alley

Locally, Walthamstow Village gets it bit of stick for being the generator of unwanted gentrification that has priced many locals and businesses out of the area (including some of the original gentrifiers). But this discussion obscures the ancient wonders contained within this clearing in the forest. A Walthamstow history that will still be there after the sourdough bread has all gone stale.

 

London’s Hidden Hamlet – Snaresbrook

A walk through the lost Hamlet of Snaresbrook on the edge of Epping Forest, now a part of the parish of Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge. We cross Leyton Flats to the Eagle Pond and look at the Eagle Pub (currently closed due to Coronavirus). Here we see a section of the Sayers Brook or Sayes Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name. We also see Snaresbrook Crown Court which was built in 1841 as the Infant Orphan Asylum. In the video I describe the building as Gothic, but my friend Andrew Stevens texted to correct me saying that it is in fact Jacobethan.
From here we walk along Woodford Road to look at the modernist wonder of Hermitage Court before walking down Eagle Lane to Falcon Close. I ponder upon the idea of Hauntology, a term first used by Jacques Derrida but popularised by cultural theorist Mark Fisher particularly in relation to music. Fisher spoke of “the failure of the 21st Century to really arrive” and now in the 21st Century we experience “culture floating free from time” . I wonder whether the modernist architecture of Hermitage Court is another example of a “lost future” that I feel a nostalgia for.

Snaresbrook Roding Valley
From Falcon Way we look at the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum on Hermon Hill built in 1861, then walk down Cranbourne Avenue to Elmcroft Avenue where we enter the Roding Valley Park. A comment on the YouTube video from Darren Clack mentions that this land occupies the old course of the Roding at some point in the past when the river took a more meandering route. We explore the wonderful parkland beside the North Circular Road and River Roding as far as Charlie Brown’s Roundabout and then turn up Chigwell Road to Hermon Hill. Our walk ends at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford.

Related videos:
River Roding Walks https://bit.ly/2C7ovrR
Mark Fisher: The Slow Canellation of the Future https://youtu.be/aCgkLICTskQ

Filmed on 12th June 2020 during the Lockdown.

Walk around the London Olympic Park during Lockdown

On Friday 8th May I decided to take a walk around the London Olympic Park (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) to see what it was like during lockdown. The park is just a 15-minute walk from my home, but crossing the junction of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way felt like breaching a major boundary. Temple Mills Lane, a rare survivor of the old pre-Olympic streetplan, was quiet. Two people hit balls against the wall of the Lea Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre.  The Velodrome was closed but a dribble of cyclists were taking advantage of the outdoor track. The ghosts of the Eton Manor Sports Club and Eastway Cycle Track wafted in the air. Groups of people had socially distant kickarounds and some bold souls threw frisbees. A solitary security guard/park ranger went up to speak to clusters of people blatantly flouting the government restrictions which, were relaxed slightly 3 days later.  The walk then continued beside the River Lea and pass back towards Hackney Marsh via East Wick and Here East.

Olympic Park lockdown

You can also watch my most recent lockdown walk here.

Lockdown walk around Leyton using digital maps

I wanted to give my lockdown walks around the local area a bit of added interested and remembered a couple of great digital resources that reveal layers of information about the streets of London.

Firstly I explored Museum of London Archaeology’s Archaeology of Greater London interactive map which allows you to see the locations of archaeological finds from the prehistoric through to the medieaval period. Leyton and Leytonstone are relatively rich in prehistoric artefacts – mostly stone axes and flint shards, but there was also a Lower Paleolithic Floor at Walnut Tree House at the end of Francis Road, and a socketed Bronze Age Axe found on Murchison Road near the junction with Francis Road. I wondered if this had any relation to the Bronze Age settlement excavated at Oliver Close, Leyton not for away from Francis Road on the other side of the High Road.

Leyton archaeology lockdown walk

There was surprisingly little from later eras, however a decorared Saxon Tombstone was found on Leyton High Road near the junction with Lindley Road. This places it in the zone of what W.H Weston believes was the Saxon settlement, or ‘Tun’ that gives Leyton its name ‘Lea-Tun’. This is also close to the site of the Roman settlement found by estate workers in the grounds of Leyton Grange on the opposite side of the High Road.

The other layer to my lockdown walk was provided by the morbidly fascinating Bomb Sight interactive map that translates the London bomb census from October 1940 to June 1941 onto a navigable map, allowing you to identify individual buildings hit by World War Two bombs.

 

Last long walk before the Lockdown

This walk on Saturday 21st March feels like a very long time ago now. The pubs had been ordered to close the night before. Supermarket shelves were emptied in a frenzy of panic buying. Social distancing measures had recently been introduced. People had been urged to only use public transport for essential journeys. We knew the lockdown was imminent and that this was likely to be my last decent walk for a while.

I wanted a route that took me out into nature and kept me clear of the crowds. It also needed to deliver me home without the need for public transport. My feet knew the way and trod a path through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Highams Park then down through Woodford to the River Roding.

Lockdown walk

On the way out I passed Leytonstone House, which had been home to members of the Buxton Family from the late 18th Century until 1868. It’s where Edward North Buxton lived for a time before he moved to Buckhurst Hill and authored his definitive guide to Epping Forest in 1884. There’s a mulberry tree in the grounds of Leytonstone House that’d been adorned with brightly coloured tree dressings, I imagine to mark the Spring Equinox the day before.

There were an alarming number of people on Leyton Flats heading towards the Hollow Ponds drawn  by the arrival of Spring. The Gorse bushes and Blackthorn trees were in full blossom. I paid homage to the Birch Well and headed for Gilbert’s Slade, giving the crowds the slip in the process.

Crossing the North Circular I picked up a footpath I hadn’t used before running parallel to the road and followed it to new sections of the forest for me. The white noise of the road was oddly cleansing. Turning back through the thick trees of the forest, all was calm. The trees seemed to be murmuring that everything would be ok.

lockdown walk

After skirting Humphrey Repton’s Highams Park Lake it was time to make the turn over the ridge occupied by Woodford Green and cross into the Roding Valley. The streets slumbered like a deep Sunday afternoon in the 1950’s. Views over rooftops stretched to the far side of the river valley. The water tower at Claybury Hospital stood proud on its hill. Passing through the streets of Buckhurst Hill I found myself on Forest Edge, crossing tracks once more with E.N Buxton. Knighton Wood contains the remnants of the landscaped garden of his house.

lockdown walk

I eventually picked up the River Roding on the other side of Ray Park. Of all the many times I’ve walked the Roding between Wanstead and Buckhurst Hill I’ve only once walked it in a southerly direction, and that was 13 years ago. Today it was blissfully free of people. I stopped to pause just after passing Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. An Egret swooped low to the water and elegantly landed in the shade of an overhanging tree. For a moment it was as if everything was how it should be. All the troubles of the world were far away from that riverbank.

The Return to Modena

It’s strange to think of Modena in Coronavirus lockdown, even though we approach a similar situation here in London. My visit there in early December 2019 was a poignant return to the city where I’d lived with my wife from 2000-01. I hadn’t considered the symmetry of being there at the beginning of the new millennium and returning as its second decade ended. I was absconding into the past, stalking memories.

Coming out of Modena Station was like stepping back through time. I looked straightaway for the cycle shed where we would park our bikes before jumping on the train for Saturday day-trips to the other towns and cities of Emilia-Romagna – Bologna, Ferrara, Parma, Carpi, Vignola. That first view of Modena was almost overwhelming.

Modena

I let my feet guide me around the streets after I’d found my apartment in Via Masone. They led me to Piazza Grande and into the Duomo, then eventually out to the edge of the city along Via Emilia. It was close to sunset, I was being drawn away from the Historic Centre towards the busy arterial road. The memories I’d annotated onto the streets those twenty years ago guided me back to the door of the building that’d housed the English School where we’d come to work. Now it was a firm of accountants.

I continued to follow these invisible tracks over the next two days from morning into the night. Enjoying the simple pleasures of a morning cappuccino and brioche in a bar, my Italian slowly, falteringly returning. Frosty nightwalks round those medieval streets dripping in Christmas lights, gazing up at shuttered windows wondering about the lives of the people who dwelt there. It was quiet enough then in the early December build-up to Christmas, quarantined it must be deadly silent.

Modena

Although keen to get back to my family, I was reluctant to leave Modena. The election result that broke during the night confirmed Britain would be leaving the EU. I was glad I’d sat out the horror show in this city that still wore the mantle of old Europe.

I gave myself enough time for a drift around the centre of Bologna before heading out to the airport. The first snowflakes floated in beneath the high porticos that line Via Independenza. By the time I reached Piazza Maggiore kids were scooping up giant snowballs and a blizzard blew viciously along the portico. At this point I realised I’d left my hat on the train. At least I’d be leaving something behind in Italy.

 

The end of winter in Epping Forest

Trees Epping Forest

Loughton Camp

Walk from Loughton Camp to Honey Lane Plain and back via Baldwin’s Hill

3.30pm on Sunday afternoon and a walk up from the station to the sentinel trees of Loughton Camp – the watchers in the woods. Why have I been drawn along this route throughout the winter? There is great comfort in the kind embrace of Loughton Camp, it feels safe here, as it would have done back through time.

Trees Epping Forest

I pushed through bronzed bracken and birchbark scattered the ground on the edge of Great Monk Wood. I wanted to seek out new corners of Epping Forest and identified patches on the map to the north of High Beach.

Trees Epping Forest

Through the trees down the hill from High Beach, following unnamed streams skipping over fallen branches. Have I walked here before? A summer five years ago heading for Hoddesdon where I think I gave up at Waltham Abbey and headed home.

Honey Lane

The thatched water trough at the foot of Honey Lane Plain was the point I was heading for, sparked by a photo in J.A. Brimble’s London’s Epping Forest – perhaps the last point in the forest to mark off my map (there must surely be others?). The forest appears to have spread down the hill, encroaching on the open plain that Brimble described in 1950. The ground sodden, like a water meadow, it has been known as Honey Lane Plain for at least 500 years. The Woodbine pub looks like an inviting stop on a summer walk.

Honey Lane Plain
I climb back up through the trees for a beautiful sunset view from the top of the hill. Towns and towers on distant ridges, places that I can only think it must be St Albans and Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City.

Deershelter Plain
The sun had set by the time I reached Deershelter Plain. The thick tufts of grass acted as islands among a sheet of ankle deep water. The deer skipped through the Birch trees in clusters as I sploshed onwards into the gloom.

full moon
Thankfully I found the Green Ride just as the last light gave way and could be guided by the full moon. There was not a soul around, even the deer were still. Perfectly peaceful. I’d decided to head back to Loughton via Baldwin’s Hill, foolishly hoping to get there for sunset.

The darkness obscured the true nature of the deep muddy ruts that the Clay Road had become. The last climb was painful slog up a mountain of mud. I slid out of the forest onto the street and straight into a large puddle.