Walk along the River Lea from Rye House to Hertford

There are few finer things in life than a walk along the River Lea, the mantra of gravel under foot, gazing into the reflections in the water letting your mind drift. I hadn’t previously walked this section of the River,  taking various other routes to cover the Lea Valley from Rye House into Hertford – usually the New River Path, or through Wormley Woods and along Ermine Street, or even over the hills from Roydon and Stanstead Abbotts dropping down into Ware (and there must have been others too).

It was glorious the entire way – especially that last stretch between Ware and Hertford, where the geese gather in a field and the Bronze Age burial mound at Pinehurst looks over the bend in the river. More walks suggest themselves in the marshes that run nearby and over the hills heading deeper into Hertfordshire. We’re blessed in East London to be part of the Lea Valley ecosystem, such a rich and storied landscape.

 

From the Forest to the Lea – Loughton to Broxbourne

A tragedy on the tracks near Brimsdown meant abandoning my plan to catch the train to Broxbourne and walk along the Lea to Hertford. I’d lost 2 hours at Stratford Station and decided to walk off my frustration in the Forest. Picking up my favoured trail at the top of Ollard’s Grove I headed over Fairmead Bottom and plunged into the Round Thicket which consumed me for a while. Somehow the forest delivered me to where I’d set my mark – Ludgate Plain and the paths leading out towards Lippitts Hill. I could still find my way down to the Lea Valley and regain something of the original plan for the day.

Safely navigating a passage across West Essex Golf Course I picked up Green Path, a track I’d been meaning to walk for a few years now. It brought me to a gorgeous meadow of tall grasses with a view of the eastern aspect of Barn Hill, from where up on the northern ridge, there were expansive views of the hills rising around Waltham Abbey.

Barn Hill

It always feels special crossing the north-eastern boundary of London and I stopped to savour the moment before picking up the Lea Valley path at Sewardstone heading towards Waltham Abbey. Passing beneath the M25 I remembered standing beneath the same flyover discussing London Orbital with the author himself, that book as much a marker in the Capital’s time as the opening of the road. Hungry and tired I stopped in McDonalds, munching a burger and fries on the Essex-Hertfordshire border.

From Waltham Abbey I followed the River Lea Flood Relief Channel. Great views open up across the waters of Hooks Marsh and Seventy Acres Lakes where otters hunker down in their holts and I imagine Viking boats sliding through the reed beds. The setting sun throws luminous rays across Holyfield Marsh, sometimes it feels as if the day’s walk is all about arriving at this moment, a swell of euphoria basking in the last light of the day.

Holyfield Marsh

From here I submitted to the Lea Navigation, the mantra of gravel under foot, steps releasing the spores of memories deposited on previous walks, the intoxication of reminiscence. I arrive at Broxbourne as a light drizzle greys the pavement. There’s a satisfaction that the walk ends where it had intended to start. The beginning becomes the end.

The Tropic of Ruislip

UXBRIDGE fishing lake

This was a walk that I think will be with me for a while. The flood of memory that washed over me on the Grand Union towpath the other side of Ickenham/Ruislip heading up towards Denham. I let go of something. Walks have their own logic free of external reality. Out there nothing else matters. It’s on hold, paused, the world stops. The canal water shimmering like scales on the underside of the railway bridge. The deer plunging into the water then swimming elegantly in search of the right spot, in no hurry, despite the people watching from the towpath. The barges brought to mind The Tropic of Ruislip. I stopped for a pint by the canal. The heat was getting to me. The long road onwards felt like the exit from London and indeed it was as I saw South Bucks District Council on the road signs at Denham. Is this the most westerly point in London (vying with Uxbridge for that honour)? It certainly feels like it.

Denham
There’s a warmth to the Denham housing estates perched right there on the edge of London, looking in more than out. Woods benignly crest the hilltop. The threat posed by HS2 rears its head in Tilehouse Lane as it did on the closed section of road near the River Pinn where work has already begun. A light aircraft swoops down over the treetops to land at the aerodrome, but otherwise all is quiet.

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The turning onto the South Bucks Way appears beside a wide open vista stretching north towards Chorleywood, undulating umber earth, ridges of the Chilterns in the distance. It’s only at the bottom of the field where the South Bucks Way branches away from Old Shire Lane that it becomes apparent that the rolling fields I’ve been swooning over will soon be consumed by HS2. Progress comes at a price it seems.

Through a well-engineered tunnel beneath the M25 and I’m moving towards settlements once again. Through the trees the sounds and movement of the Scout Camp at meal-time, cooks shouting out to each other, children being formed into orderly lines. I traverse that final field of tall furry thistles that brings me to the top of a private housing estate.

I’m truly drained by the heat when I flop on a bench with a box of chips and bottle of Fanta at the bottom of Chalfont St. Peter High Street at quarter past six. I study the map for the onward route. I’m too tired to tackle the next section of the South Bucks Way to Amersham. But to head for the nearest station just over a mile away at Gerrards Cross would feel like a defeat. I split the difference and make for Seer Green.

Over Goldhill Common where I passed around 5 years ago on a similar excursion at the same time of day. I buy a Fab ice lolly in the newsagent as a tribute to this memory.

GREAT LEGS WOOD
A long straight path runs behind the back gardens at the edge of the village and into woods where the light barely breaks through. Pylon strung power lines buzz and crackle loudly over tall fronds of fern in a clearing before Great Legs Woods. This is now that recognisable uplifting sense of the walk’s end, not quite knowing how far there is to go but understanding the destination. The pain in the knees and hips adds to a sense of euphoria as I stop in the middle of a broad field of golden swaying grasses. There is never anyone around, the world is elsewhere – unloading the shopping from Waitrose, scrubbed up for a night out, sitting down in front of the telly. Anywhere but in a field somewhere beyond the town and the city.


A bridge crosses the Chiltern Line and now I seek the path of least resistance opting for the avenue that tops that railway cutting. I have 20 minutes before the hourly train departs and find that extra burst of speed to transport me through the last corner of woodland and along the lane to Seer Green Station – essentially an unstaffed shed beside the tracks. The platform is as peaceful as the woodland I’ve just left, the clicking of the dot matrix display board echoing down the line. There’s a moment to reflect on the journey, to feel it in my legs and coating my skin, before the turbo train eases to a stop and carries me back into London.

Epping Forest in the heatwave

It was probably unwise to head out into the Forest in the peak heat of the day at 3pm. The temperature rose to 30 degrees and stayed there well into evening. I needed shade, but first I required food so stopped for a Full English at Lamb’s Cafe at the top of Lea Bridge Road.

Heading over Whipps Cross, and along Forest Rise, I took the path beside St. Peter’s-in-the-Forest seeking the dark cool patches beneath the trees. I attempted to Livestream direct to YouTube from my phone as I’d done on a recent wander across Wanstead Flats, enjoying the dialogue with viewers as their comments popped up on the screen. But the forest wanted me all to itself and the signal dropped out after a minute.

St Peters in the Forest Walthamstow

Looking at the maps in E.N Buxton’s definitive Epping Forest guide first published in 1884, the raised area of grassland approaching the waterworks is marked as the ‘Poor Allotment’. When looking for the names of various areas in the forest, Buxton is the most comprehensive source. The proposed route of the ‘New North Road’ is sketched out cutting across the allotments (my edition is dated from 1923) – presumably the North Circular which left a much deeper scar upon the landscape.

The footbridge over Forest Road offers one of my favourite views in the area (the other not far away), down along Forest Road to the high ground rising on the far side of the Lea Valley. This stretch of the Forest Road is marked as Haggar Lane on Buxton’s map.

Epping Forest Walthamstow
I continued chuntering a monologue into my camera to be uploaded ‘Uncut’ to YouTube when I got home, to the point where the bridleway over the North Circular offers one of the most spectacular views in the whole of London, laying bare the Lea Valley rust belt. This vista makes me dream of lost highways and diners and drifters propping up lonely bars near closing time. It reveals the true endless expanse of the city. A London that stretches forever.

Traversing Rushy Plain into Upper Mill Plain you become aware of this as being part of a spine of high ground separating the two valleys of the Roding and the Lea falling away from either side. It’s a special spot.

I soon found myself at Woodford Green cricket pitch just as the final balls were bowled before a much needed drinks break. Then I followed Monkhams Lane down alongside Knighton Wood, once Buxton’s backyard, before following Forest Edge to Buckhurst Hill.

London Overground with Iain Sinclair – watch the full documentary online

London Overground retraces legendary London writer Iain Sinclair’s journey with film-maker Andrew Kötting around the Overground railway for the book of the same name. Directed Shot and edited by John Rogers.

The film follows Sinclair reprising the walk over the course of a year rather than the day’s walk of the book. Iain is once again joined by Kötting in parts, along with Chris Petit (director of Radio On) and Bill Parry-Davies on the 35-mile circular yomp.

London Overground charts Sinclair walking through this changing landscape from his home in Hackney, through Shoreditch down to Wapping where he revisits his earlier book Downriver. In the company of Andrew Kötting once more they ramble in both senses from the Thames foreshore at Rotherhithe through Canada Water, Surrey Quays to Queens Road Peckham. At Willesden Junction he is joined by film-maker and author Chris Petit as they survey the developments around Old Oak Common. Sinclair and Kötting walk through the night to reprise their original yomp in reverse. Dalston is surveyed with local campaigner Bill Parry-Davies logging what has been lost in the rampant redevelopment and checking in on cherished corners of the area. We meet noir novelist Cathi Unsworth at Shepherds Bush/Westfield and artist Marcia Farquhar in Kentish Town.

What emerges from the film is a snapshot of the city in transition and also a unique insight into the most important chronicler of contemporary Londoner. ‘The city’ Sinclair says at one point, ‘is a series of psychic mappings that reinforce our own identity’.

Featuring original music by Standard Planets, Bill and Adam Parry-Davis, and Free Seed Music.

London Overground premiered at the East End Film Festival with a screening at the Rio Cinema, Dalston – 2nd July 2016

Walking the London Loop – Elstree to Moor Park

I’ll be honest, in the past when I crossed paths with the London Loop signs on a walk I was slightly disdainful. ‘What’s the point’, I thought, of following this orbital trail around the edge of London when the capital is so rich with places to walk and explore. You didn’t need a pre-ordained, officially endorsed path to point the way. You could wander randomly anywhere in London and it would throw up a route as rich as any promoted by Transport for London, and I still believe that to be true. But now having walked 5 sections (well 4.5 really) of the London Loop I’ve been forced to revise my opinion of this 150-mile path.

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I did my first section – from Enfield to Cockfosters (Section 17) back in January when I needed to hit the road but lacked the energy or imagination to work out my own walk. The London Loop guided me through a territory largely unkown to me. A couple of weeks later I found myself heading back to Cockfosters to pick up the trail through to Elstree & Borehamwood (Section 16), although on this occasion I branched off on my own path for a large portion of the way to take in areas I wanted to explore that were off the London Loop.

At that point I thought I was done with the London Loop and it wasn’t until the beginning of July that I returned to Elstree to continue the path through to Hatch End (Section 15) carrying on to Moor Park (Section 14). It was a glorious walk across meadows and woodland, the inevitable golf courses, past lakes, and over hilltops offering incredible expansive views. It opens your eyes to the extent and beauty of London’s open spaces and farmland encircling the city – spaces that were often fought over to be saved for the people of the London and the surrounding suburbs, precious resources not to be taken for granted.

London Loop Section 14

Will, I return to continue my counter-clockwise walk on the London Loop? I’m still not sure. I did leave home to walk Section 13 to Uxbridge two weeks ago but instead meandered from Ruislip to Denham and beyond into Bucks. But this time when I passed the London Loop signs on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, instead of a dismissive glance I gave them a nod and a smile and a thanks for the magnificient walks.