Through the forest to Loughton

Headed out this afternoon up past the Hollow Ponds through Epping Forest to Loughton.
I didn’t consult my copy of Buxton as much as I should have to glean the names of the specific parts of the forest – such as Gilbert’s Slade that runs beside Forest School and is a muddy bog for most of the year; and also Rushey Plain that I passed at some point.
Here are few images from the walk

Afoot Round London

“Exploration, I hope no-one has said this before, begins at home. Now that the North Pole has been reached and Cook’s tourists penetrate to Patagonia there is very little undiscovered country left outside England for the roving adventurous individual to explore. But in England and especially within an hours ride from London there are vast tracts of terra incognita still left. It would take a long investigation to determine why in the last 40 years these formerly traveled districts have ceased to attract the foot of the wayfarer and explorer”.

Pathfinder – Afoot Round London, 1911

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In search of the North-East Passage

Headed out from home 7pm on Sunday night on foot in search of the north-east passage. I’m now well familiar with the other two routes across the marshes that separate Leytonstone from the western city, well from London really. But the most northerly was unknown to me. It lies north of Walthamstow in an unpromising corner of the city at the end of Blackstock Road.

I spent the first 100 yards preoccupied with an uncomfortable right shoe. This had the potential to be a fair old yomp so my footwear had better be right. Once fixed I then became overly aware of the sloshing of the water in my aluminium water bottle – and what were the dangers of drinking from an aluminium vessel. I was only two streets away from home.

Soon past Leyton’s archaeology row with Walnut House, and the former home of Essex County Cricket Club. When this area was being developed at the end of the C19t Palaeolithic flint flakes ‘as sharp as knives’ were turned up, forming what was claimed to be a remarkable ‘Palaeolithic floor’.

The cottages in Vicarage Road are in fine bloom – village Leyton lives with the spirit of the antiquarian Revd. Strype. I check-in with the beguiling 1940’s blocks of flats on the corner of Brewster Road with their cross-work brick patterns, they’re aligned to catch the sun like a standing stone monument ready for the veneration of Julian Cope.

I am trying to understand the ‘northern-ness’ of where I live. Leytonstone gains its identity from being on the eastern fringe – we are eastsiders. That is until you look at a map or walk back from central London via the most direct route and find yourself pushing north up through Clerkenwell and Highbury.

Crossing Lea Bridge Road near the fine stone obelisk protecting the library I wonder whether Markhouse Road runs along a watershed. The ground drops away to the west running off into the river Lea. Numerous streams run beneath the tarmac from the higher ground around Whipps Cross and the Dagenham Brook runs just below Markhouse.

The hop fields in Boundary Road have long since gone. The Lea Valley pylons appear between houses. I pass an electricity substation wearing a wig of Russian vine. St. Saviour’s Church looks abandoned. I wander round to the Gothic building behind which turns out to be Barking Lodge, Diocese of Chelmsford, Barking Area Office. There is a CofE school and further church buildings. An ecclesiastical encampment among the heathens of the marshes.

Past the sad scene marking a ‘Fatal Collision’ among the withering yellow flowers are weathered soft toys and three apples.

I move quickly along crumbling Blackhorse Road – reduced to a post-industrial rat-run. Waltham Forest Council has identified this as a spot to ‘re-introduce the country into the city’ – to allow glimpses of the marshes to break through the phalanxes of asbestos-lined buildings. They’ve got their work cut out.

I cross the Valley between Walthamstow Reservoirs and Tottenham Marshes as the sun ducks behind great puffy cloud formations and stop for a swift half in the Ferry Boat Inn.

There’s a certain optimism in the aspiration that drives up the development of Hale Wharf. Great hunks of isolated apartment blocks with birds-eye views of the rusting Lea Delta but little else in the way of infrastructure unless you plan to commute by coracle. A channel of the river around the site has become clogged with weeds – a metaphor perhaps or am I trying to look too hard for signs and meaning. It’s what this landscape does to you.

I land on the western shore of the Lea at Tottenham Hale. My reaction to ‘North’ as I forward more cautiously is to want to head home – to be back in my local by closing time, impossible on foot without tracing my steps and even then unlikely. I’m tempted by the train at South Tottenham but am not ready to leave the ‘fugue’ and so force myself on – but to where? I hadn’t thought this far ahead – I hadn’t thought much at all. I’m simply following instinct now.

The High Road climbs a steep incline of churches that will soon fade into the synagogues of Stamford Hill. I could turn north again here – for Finsbury Park and beyond. It is 9.40pm and as I stand at the crossroads of Amhurst Road I pledge to get back to my local by 11pm closing. Can’t be done I think, but I won’t give up until I know it’s impossible.

Clapton Common has a dream-like midsummer air with Hassidic Jews strolling across the grass and beneath the hanging boughs in the last light. Large groups of men congregate on the pavements intensely conversing in what I assume to be Hebrew.
Downhill past the Krays’ Evering Road and gyro the roundabout onto Lea Bridge Road.
It’s after 10pm.
I up the pace.

Half-way along Lea Bridge Road my right knee goes. Tendons go taunt and menisci grind against bone – it becomes reluctant to perform its primary function as a joint and bend. This is sure to sabotage my mission – I’m swinging lead in the dark as I cross back over the river.
I hobble to a corner shop and seek medicine in the form of a can of Stella Artois hastily necked. I’m moving a bit more freely now. It took me 40 minutes to reach this same point on the way out. It’s 10.30 – no chance of making last orders.

Down Church Road, into Capworth Street which is surreally blocked bumper to bumper rush hour style as two drivers lock horns in argument, “So I can be this ignorant and drive”, one menacingly reasons whilst leaning through the window.

In Francis Road at 10.49. The pain returns. To seek more Stella would surely sink me – have to grit my teeth.
A final burst and I break through the swinging pub doors 1 minute before the bell rings. Marge is behind the bar. I recount my quest as I order my pint.
“You made good time then”, she says.
“Not really, it’s just before 11″ I reply.
“I know, but we close at 11.30 on a Sunday.”

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High Wycombe’s ‘Nodules of Energy’ Walk

I dug out a miniDV tape the other day from a walk I did in May 2005 for the Remapping High Wycombe project. I’d never watched it back – the walk (and therefore the tape) had served its purpose – I’d mapped out the final points in what we were calling the ‘nodules of energy’ of the town. I’d borrowed this term from a talk Iain Sinclair had given with Will Self at Hawksmoor’s St. Luke’s Church in Old Street. He’d used it in reference to the church itself, William Blake’s burial site in nearby Bunhill Fields. We transposed this idea onto High Wycombe and came up with our own ‘nodules of energy’ for the town.

The walk in the video documents the final stretch of these – Ivor Gurney’s lodgings, Malmer’s Well ancient British fortification, the old straight Bronze Age track of Coffin Walk, Harrison’s Stamp Factory, Disraeli Monument, Tinker’s Wood (the home of Bodgers and Bandits) and Compair Broome and Wade.
I’m using the camcorder to scribble down video notation – haphazard, rough, the sounds of scuffed feet and birdsong. Watching it back I could almost remember every step of the way.

I sought out this tape and hastily hacked this video because now my mind is turning back to the walks we planned that never embarked upon. Out beyond the Hughenden Valley, breaking free of the Chilterns escarpment and into open country.

There’s more about this walk here

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Merlin’s Cave, Penton Mound

I recently remembered that we didn’t play the whole of this field recording from the walk Nick and I did around the Wells, Springs and Pleasure Gardens of Islington and Pentonvile – so here it is. One of my favourite walks this one – on a cold January Sunday night starting as we pass Merlin’s Cave on Penton Mound.
You can read more about the walk and the pleasure gardens here on the Ventures and Adventures blog.

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This is the walk I did today

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This is the walk I did this afternoon depicted in a beautiful map in Edward North Buxton’s ‘Epping Forest’ (1923). Wish I had refered to Buxton’s book before heading out as he would have pre-warned me 88 years in advance of the swamp that consumes Gilbert’s Slade in winter. Not only did this fill my left shoe with freezing mud but also cause me to twist my right knee in the midst of the hornbell and holy. I swear the blackbirds and sparrows celebrated this throughout the treetops. Nonetheless I pushed on through dusk. By the time I reached Salway Hill I was a limping muddy wreck, albeit in a nice new cap sent by some kind folk who live on a cotton farm in Mississippi.

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Had I been visiting in the later half of the 18th Century I could have dragged my right leg along the old Lea Bridge Road to Woodford Wells where SP Sunderland (1912) informs us that the chalybeate spring was used by invalids to ease their pains. But alas this is 2011 so I was left to slope down Snakes Lane to board a rail replacement bus service.

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An winter stroll along the arbours of the Pleasure Gardens of Finsbury and Pentonville

Since I started this blog over 6 years ago there has been a preoccupation with the sites of the pleasure gardens, wells and springs of Islington – spread out along the slopes of what E.O. Gordon calls, The Penton Mound.
So it gave me great pleasure to return to this, admittedly half-researched, area for an episode of Ventures and Adventures in Topography.
Here is the resulting radio show and also link to previous posts on the blog about the pleasure gardens of Islington.

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