The Essex Way – Epping to Ongar

A September walk along the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar taking in Toot Hill and Greensted.

The Essex Way is an 82-mile long distance path from Epping to Harwich that I’ve been planning to walk for a few years now, but never quite made the time to do it. So one Sunday in mid-September I decided to walk a section from Epping to Ongar taking in beautiful countryside on the very edge of London where the Central Line trains used to scuttle through the fields until 1994.

Iain Sinclair & Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

I had to photograph Iain Sinclair in front of Leytonstone’s Olympic Fish Bar in Church Lane. The great London writer had come to introduce his film collaboration with Andrew Kötting, Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema in Leytonstone Library. Iain had been a prominent critic of the London 2012 Olympics, resulting in Hackney Council temporarily banning him in 2008 from speaking in its libraries.

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

Iain Sinclair introducing Edith Walks

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

Iain Sinclair introducing Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

When introducing Iain Sinclair, I mentioned how in the boom years of the psychogeography revival at the turn of the millenium, the idea of a Sinclair – Kötting collaboration was considered the psychogeographer’s ‘dream ticket’. Then while I was working at the National Film Theatre that dream ticket quite incredibly manifested itself with the film Offshore Gallivant, which screened at the NFT in 2006. Iain gave a humorous account of the making of the film as the crew spent the entire trip throwing up over the side of the boat meaning little footage was actually shot, however somehow Kötting still managed to make a film.

Iain related this to the making of Edith Walks, one of a number of subsequent collaborations between the pair, documenting a pilgrimage in the wake of King Harold’s wife Edith Swanneck from Waltham Abbey to the battlefield at Hastings. The nature of a 100-mile walk meant footage was not easy to capture throughout. Some of the scenes I shot at Waltham Abbey and on the towpath to Enfield Lock made their way into the final cut. A fair percentage of the film was shot on iphones using a Super8 app. The result was something magical and entrancing that the audience received warmly and sparked a fascinating discussion after the screening.

Edith Walks by Andrew Kötting

Iain Sinclair in Edith Walks directed by Andrew Kötting

Edith Walks Kötting

Claudia Barton as Edith Swan Neck

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema is the first Wednesday of the month at Leytonstone Library

Across the Marshes from Leyton Filter Beds to Walthamstow Wetlands

This is the second in my series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We start at the Leyton WaterWorks Centre, part of the Lee Valley Regional Park. I find the Essex Filter Beds one of the most beguiling locations in East London – for its role in providing the booming population of the city with clean drinking water, and the way it has become a haven for plant, bird and insect life. It’s a real oasis in the East.

We move on past the abandoned pitch and put, which I still dearly miss, and pay homage to the course of the old River Lea by the Friends Bridge (important not to cross here as it takes you over the border into Hackney). The path that leads beneath Lea Bridge Road and along the top of Leyton Marshes apparently follows the course of the aqueduct that linked the filter beds to the reservoirs at Coppermill Lane.

Waterworks Leyton

Walking across Leyton Marshes always reminds me of joining the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee on a Beating of the Bounds in 2006. They talked about the ancient common rights of pasture that existed on the marshes based around the Lammas grazing system (‘Loaf Mass’). The importance of learning the boundaries of your parish. Grazing on the marshes ended in the early 20th Century but Belted Galloway cattle have recently been reintroduced to helped rebalance the ecology of this precious landscape.

Leyton Marshes

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Sandy Lane takes us to the railway arches where A.V. Roe built his notorious tri-plane in 1909. From here we enter Walthamstow marshes.

John Rogers Marshlands walk

Guided walk July 2019 – photo by Marco Visconti

The walk ends at Walthamstow Wetlands, taking in the tremendous views of the reservoirs from the Coppermill Tower.

 

‘Winter Time’ Walk in Epping Forest

Bury Wood Epping Forest

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The clocks went back and I awoke to a clear blue sky calling me out to walk. I headed for Chingford and up along the edge of Bury Wood, crossed Bury Road and through the beautiful Hawk Wood on the edge of Epping Forest. I’ve been intrigued about the name for a while and was sent this beguiling note on the name by Joanna from the Chingford Historical Society:

“In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court.Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

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Yate's Meadow

Up over Yate’s Meadow (the name of which I learnt from some lovely people who came on my Pole Hill walk – it’s only marked Yardley Hill on the OS Map) for what must be one of the most spectacular views of London – the towers of the City encased in forest – a stockade in the woods as in ancient legend.

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Up over Lippitts Hill, footpaths offering stunning views over Enfield and Waltham Abbey.

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The vista from this side of the ‘western escarpment’ between forest and Lea is beyond London looking out at England stretching the length of the island – or so it seems on days like this.

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Down Thompsons Lane, then Wellington Hill, and ascending Rats Lane – the path of angry dogs.

Back in Epping Forest at Hill Wood the trees so majestic I gasped out loud. They deserve to be worshipped.

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Chingford Plain at sunset was the perfect end as a cold nip embellished the air. Winter’s here it said, the dark evenings have descended.

 

In the footsteps of W.G Sebald – The Rings of Saturn walk Southwold to Dunwich

A walk along the Suffolk coast from Southwold to Dunwich

While on holiday in Southwold in August, I was determined to complete the walk from Southwold to ‘the lost city’ of Dunwich described in W.G. Sebald’s hugely influential book, The Rings of Saturn

The book is based around a journey on foot along the Suffolk coast from Lowestoft to Bungay and takes a number of long disgressions into the past. I purchased The Rings of Saturn on my way to Southwold in 2013, knowing only that it was set in Suffolk. When I turned to page 75 I saw a photograph of the Southwold lighthouse that we were staying beneath.

Southwold lighthouse

Sebald arrives in Southwold “footsore and weary” from his long walk from Lowestoft and rests on Gunhill. He describes a visit to the Sailor’s Reading Room. After a few days in Southwold he sets off over the bailey bridge across the River Blyth, along the disused railway line to Walberswick, then a long schlep along the beach to the ‘lost city’ of Dunwich.

I attempted to follow this route on that first holiday in Southwold, but turned back at Walberswick. Our return after an absence of a few years gave me the opportunity to finally follow Sebald’s footsteps from Southwold to Dunwich, a truly magical and memorable walk, captured in the video above.

Rural edgeland wander in the rain

My friend joked that he wondered what kind of Wycombe edgelands I’d be leading him round when we met at the station. ‘Let’s head down to Wooburn instead’, I reassured him, far more scenic for his enormous dog, and the woods above the village would give us some partial cover from the persistant rain.

Wooburn Green

We climbed up the bare field above the cricket pitch at Wooburn Park where I spent all my childhood summers and admired the view from the edge of Farm Wood.

shaggy parasol mushroom

Shaggy Parasol mushroom?

There were numerous deep hollows and steep banks throughout Farm Wood and Mill Wood. Some looked as if they could be bomb craters (although I don’t think Wooburn was bombed during the war) – another you could take for an earthwork. My friend and I settled on the idea that they must have been formed either by water running down the hill towards the river at the foot of the valley, or a legacy of the glacial flows that carved this out landscape.

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

My friend departed back at Wooburn Green and I sat and watched the rain from Perkys Coffee House on the Green. A cafe like this was unimaginable in Wooburn when I was a kid and also when I returned from Australia with my wife 20-odd years ago.

After the surprisingly good coffee and toasted sandwich had sunk in, I felt the pull back up out of the valley, ascending Whitepit Lane with its fine views over the village.

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

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The scrubby fields blocked with concrete sentinels started to adopt an edgeland feel that I began to see wherever I looked. The caravan park where my parents had lived in the 1950’s is still there in a chalk pit near the top of the hill (Dad said lumps of chalk would regularly fall upon the roof). The field looking towards Pig Wood was protected with a large metal gate. Shipping containers sprouted from the earth at the top of Juniper Lane.

Juniper Lane, Flackwell Heath

Juniper Lane, Flackwell Heath

My Dad told me the they used to call the bottom of Juniper Lane ‘Spicer’s Crossing’ after a fella who’d been killed on the railway line there and whose ghost haunted that part of the Lane.

I moved on along Boundary Road, the rain still lashing down.

Loudwater viaduct

M40 Viaduct at Loudwater

Passing beneath the viaduct carrying the M40 overhead was always a powerful experience as a kid. We used to climb up into its interior via a service hatch – like crawling through the air vents of a space station – a terrifying experience.

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The Railko factory appears to have been demolished and with it has gone the powerful odour of burnt plastic that it puffed out into the air. My Mum worked there at one point, making circuit boards I believe. A single strip-light illuminated the first floor office of a square industrial unit at the end of a cracked concrete drive. What goes on in these places? The company appears to have connections to Qatar.

The Wheatsheaf High Wycombe

The Wheatsheaf High Wycombe

This unassuming timber-framed building, formerly The Wheatsheaf pub, has recently discovered to have been built in 1399, making it the second oldest standing building in High Wycombe after the parish church. There are now plans to fully investigate the heritage of the site and unravel its history.

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I end my wander at The Antelope pub, itself a building with a good few years under its eves, with a pint of IPA from the Rebellion Brewery in Marlow. There’s only one other punter in the pub, an old fella eating from a take-away container. Music blares out over an empty dance-floor.

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (or Fillebrook) – part of a series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

The route of the walk in the video is as follows:

Fillebrook Route

Start at St. Andrew’s Church – go behind to patch of land beside St. James Lane – Bury Field Farm – note church on boggy high ground – gas lamp beside church – note course across Forest Road

Follow the footpath beside St.Andrew’s Church and turn left  into Coleworth Road

Turn right into Hainault Road to block of modern flats – brook runs through car park

Turn left into Lytton Road

Turn left into Wadley Road

Brook cuts across Ripley Mews and Temple Close (linking to carpark behind flats) – can hear under street iron

Continue back along Lytton Road

Turn left into Esther Road – see where brook comes through metal gate continues under houses – flooding

Back to Lytton – look down across back gardens

Turn left into Wallwood Road – Wallwood Farm Estate – Stratford Langthorne

See where brook comes through opposite Kings Passage

Listen to river in Kings Road (be careful of cars) – then it goes through St. John’s Ambulance

Along Kingswood Road to Queen’s Road – see brook running across – listen (watch out for traffic)

Kingswood Road – ex-Fillebrook Road

Turn right into Fairlop Road – then left into Bulwer Road – left into Chelmsford (alt. route goes from Grove Green Road straight into Fillebrook Road)

Turn right Into Fillebrook Road from Chelmsford Road opp Damon Albarn house and Leytonstone & Wanstead Synagogue

At end of Fillebrook Road turn right into Drayton Road – Drayton Road sound of river opposite flats – then left into Southwest Road

Turn right into Avebury Road – right into Cavendish Road – left into Scarborough Road

Philley Brook Fillebrook

The Philley Brook in Drayton Road

Turn right into Grove Green Road – look at Stuart Freeborn Murals on other side of the railway – Heathcote and Star Pub

Turn right at Heathcote into Pretoria Road – then left into Newport Road

[Ian Bourn diversion not in the video but on guided walk: Grove Green (Farm) – Stuart Freeborn – Claremont Rd – Northcote Arms -Francis Road]

Across Francis Road – alleyway into Dawlish Road

Through Sidmouth Park

Cross Leyton High Road – note –  Brooke House – go through Coronation Gardens  – maze + water feature

Exit onto Oliver Road – note Leyton Beach – turn left

Turn right into Dunedin Road – (note Ruckholt Road) go through new development to Orient Way – end at Allotments

Graham Millar M11 Linked

Listening to Graham Millar’s M11 Linked on Grove Green Road

 

Walking in Waltham Forest talk

I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about my walks for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture at Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society on Wednesday 16th October – more details here