Last Sunday (10th), feeling ill and leggy, I set off for a walk across Wanstead Flats just before sunset for a wander through Wanstead Park.
The video includes extracts from the audiobook of This Other London.
A Sunday afternoon (last week) wander in Epping Forest, basking in those precious last hours of daylight.
The Tube to Loughton and up Forest Road to where the Loughton Brook meanders along the forest floor.
The ground around Debden Slade was still frozen white, encrusted mud ridges to be traversed like miniature mountain ranges.
I ascended, skirting through the trees – Shelley’s Hill, Kate’s Cellar, Broome Hill and crossed Epping New Road.
The winter light was nourishing. Distance wasn’t an objective. It was about just being in the forest.
I took a late lunch of a generously loaded bacon bap in the carpark of the King’s Oak as the bikers examined each other’s machines, revved the engines and talked of petrol stations on the A12. I got chatting to a couple who watch my YouTube videos and we discussed the great walks heading north of the forest to hills above Waltham Abbey and beyond.
As the sun started to dip below the tree line, I turned back downhill through fronds of frozen ferns, retracing my steps as the gloom became darkness and the lights of Loughton twinkled in the near distance.
This walk to the Youngsbury Burial Mounds had been on my itinerary since the summer of 2015 when I’d marked the tumuli and earthworks of the Upper Lea Valley and the Hertfordshire plateau on an old Ordnance Survery map. But somehow I’d never managed to get out there. A few days before Christmas seemed like the perfect time, the day after the winter solstice, when the white light slices through the bare tree trunks.
The Youngsbury Mounds had been excavated in 1890 by County archaeologist John Evans who wrote a report published as, ‘On the Exploration of a Barrow at Youngsbury, Near Ware, Herts’. Here’s an extract from his report:
“The more eastern of the two barrows is recorded to have been opened a hundred years ago by Mr. David Barclay, the then owner of Youngsbury, and there is a tradition of spearheads, coins, and other objects having been found in it, none of which however are now forthcoming. According to Clutterbuck’s account, it was nevertheless Roman pottery and coins that were found in the barrow, which he says proved it to be of Roman origin. Judging from the appearance of the barrow a shaft has been sunk in it from the top, but I am by no means sure that the original central interment has ever been reached. This barrow is of much the same dimensions as the other, the opening of which I am about to describe, and in all probability it belongs to the same period.
Both barrows stand at the edge of a field known as the Hilly Field, and are partially overgrown with whitethorns and maples. On my arrival at Youngsbury,, by the kind invitation of Mr. Giles-Puller, on the 11th of June last, I found that a preliminary opening had been made in the upper part of the mound on the south side. At its outer end this cutting extended over about a sixth part of the circumference of the barrow, but its vertical sides converged so as to leave a face about 6 feet wide at what was apparently the centre of the mound, and at this point the cutting was about 9 feet in depth. The diameter of the barrow as nearly as could be judged is 60 feet, and the height about 12 feet above the surface of the adjoining field.
Clearing out the loose gravel and soil still further, a magnificent sepulchral urn became visible, lying slightly on one side. It had split into three principal sections and a few smaller fragments, but is in wonderfully good condition, and has been well repaired by Mr. Talbot Ready.
It is an olla formed of well-burnt grey ware, with a bold rim nearly an inch in depth round the opening, and its surface ornamented with parallel markings somewhat like corduroy. These at the neck are wavy, but on the body run in graceful curves. This ornamentation is by no means common, but is not unlike that which occurs on some Late-Celtic urns.”
Not only was the walk a magical experience, the power of the location that had inspired the positioning of the mounds still resonating across the millenia. But also my subsequent visit to the British Museum to look for artefacts excavated from similar Romano-British burials. Passing the abandoned church at Thundridgebury added another layer to the expedition and reading reports of the site being adopted by ghost hunters and occultists who perform rituals in the medieval church tower. It’s a deeply storied and beguiling terrain – I’m already planning my next trip.
After popping down to photographer Jake Green’s studio in Leyton to pick up the new and expanded edition of his fantastic book, Pie and Mash (containing my essay The Dead Pie Shop Trail), I went on a wander down to Stratford that I’ve done periodically ever since I moving to the area.
Somehow this route from Coronation Gardens Leyton, along Leyton High Road, past Drapers Fields, Temple Mills Lane, Leyton Road and Angel Lane to Theatre Royal Stratford East, has been a way of taking the temperature of change in the area from just after the time of the announcement that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympics.
I first did a version of this walk along the Walbrook back in November 2011, but was keen to return starting nearer to one of the supposed sources and also visit the recently opened London Mithraeum that sits upon the banks for this ancient stream. The route I followed in early December, drew from two principle sources – Nicholas Barton’s classic book, The Lost Rivers of London, and a sketch map of London Under Henry II by Marjourie B. Honeybourne from Norman London – An Essay by Professor F.M Stenton (pub. 1934). Stenton’s essay and the map is informed by a contemporary Norman description of London by William Fitz Stephen.
The route starts at St. Leonard’s Church Shoreditch, and goes past the Shoreditch Holy Well in Bateman’s Row. From here it follows the course of the river down Curtain Road to Blomfield Street where it was partially excavated during Crossrail works. Then we cross London Wall and go through Angel Court where another part of the river was uncovered in the 1970’s. We go behind the Bank of England at Lothbury then follow the buried river down Walbrook to the Temple of Mithras. From here we go down Dowgate Hill to where the Walbrook makes it’s confluence with the Thames near Canon Street Station.
Click here to see my video of another walk along one of the ‘Lost rivers of London’ – the Tyburn
This walk and video was inspired by a comment on my YouTube channel, urging me to visit Linder’s Field in Buckhurst Hill. I had to confess I’d never heard of it and in the way that digital maps can deceive you, thought I’d never been anywhere near it somehow.
To make more of a walk, I decided to start down by the River Roding, one early afteroon at the end of November, when really the winter should be starting to bite but in reality it was quite mild. The terrain brought to mind my recent discovery of D.W Gillingham’s wonderful book about the Roding Valley, Unto the Fields, published in 1953.
“Now I have chosen this November morning to introduce you to the fields because November is the beginning of Nature’s year”.
Gillingham writes of the misty, frost covered mornings in November when this winter the frost didn’t arrive until near the end of December. I’m not complaining.
Following a stream through a housing estate, remains of Gillingham’s world, I found Linder’s Field on the other side of a footbridge and realised it was the open space I’d seen from the tube a hundred times on the way to Loughton and Theydon Bois and wondered how to reach it. A magical place sealed from the outside world.
It’s become a tradition of mine of over the last 15 years or more to head into Central London late in the afternoon one day between Christmas and New Year to wander the streets around Holborn and Bloomsbury. I started at Chancery Lane and was drawn along Red Lion Street, not noticing before the many times I’d passed this way, that the Old Red Lion pub was the place where the exhumed body of Oliver Cromwell had been stored before his rotting corpse was executed at Tyburn 2 years after his actual death. I can imagine business at the pub was slow during the period that his cadaver would have stunk the place out.
I turned off Lamb’s Conduit Street into Dombey Street and then followed the curvature of Orde Hall Street. According to UCL’s Bloomsbury Project this parcel of land had originally belonged to Rugby School since the 16th Century and had gradually been developed over the ensuing centuries.
“It was built in 1882 and replaced the former slums of Little Ormond Yard, purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works to improve housing in the area
It was named after John Orde Hall, member of the Holborn District Board of the Metropolitan Board of Works
It was designed for respectable working people.”
Queen Square always makes me think of Geoffrey Fletcher who I’m sure drew the gas lamp above although I can’t find the reference right now. The square was built in the early 18th Century and is notable for the various medical institutions that surround it, the most interesting to me being the elaborate Italian Hospital which closed in 1990.
I wanted to visit the British Museum to look at the Romano-British burial urns and grave goods for a video I was in the process of editing. The extra security checks now mean that the queues to enter stretch back along Great Russell Street.
Despite my focus on the Roman Britain rooms I can’t help being drawn in by the Anglo Saxon artefacts. We visited Sutton Hoo at exactly this time 3 years ago and the impression has never left me. The intricacy and beauty of even everyday objects seems so at odds with the Victorian image of the Anglo-Saxon era as dark and barbaric.
I passed through Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia and crossed into Soho. The spectacle of the queues outside the Supreme Store have become one of the tourist sights of London gauging by the twenty or so people stood opposite taking pictures.
I then traversed Leicester Square and crossed Charing Cross Road to Cecil Court where the shops were all shut, which is just as well as I may have been tempted to part with too much money for this lovely copy of Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho, a story of London’s Beat Generation.
I couldn’t resist being drawn along Brydges Place despite the foul stench of urine, accumulated over centuries. It delivered me to the rear of The Harp, one of central London’s finest real ale pubs, where the drinkers gathered in the alley and out the front. It was the perfect end to this winter wander.