The Lighting of the Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

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This evening saw the lighting of the first Leytonstone Menorah to mark the last night of Hannukah.

The celebration was organised by Leytonstone and Wanstead Synagogue in Fillebrook Road. It was a beautiful community event, attended by a large crowd in the hundreds, gathered around the Menorah in a raised bed on the corner of Fillebrook and Grove Green Road opposite the tube station. A band played, doughnuts and laktes were handed out, and the Rabbi spoke about the illuminating of the darkness that Hannukah represents.

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

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The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

Two nights by the Thames at Hampton Wick

Thames Path

A fantastic opportunity dropped into my inbox one day – to stay for two nights in one of Fuller’s Beautiful Bedrooms at the White Hart Hotel at Hampton Wick. It was almost too good to be true, the perfect sponsored tie-in, Fuller’s – brewers of London Pride. I didn’t hesitate to accept.

I built a 3-day itinerary around my stay at the White Hart:

Day 1 – walk the Thames Path from Richmond to Hampton Wick
Day 2 – Hampton Court Palace and continue along the Thames Path
Day 3 – Bushy Park and time permitting continue along the Thames Path to Walton or double back along the Thames to Strawberry Hill (Horace Walpole and all that)

Richmond

Thames Path – Richmond to Hampton Wick

I’ve been slowly making my way along the Thames Path over the last year or so and had made it to Richmond during the summer. Having a base at Hampton Wick would allow me to explore this next stretch in a little more detail. It was raining heavily when I arrived in Richmond and I wished the ferries were running – a grand way to arrive at Hampton Court. But alas they only operate in the summer season from March till October, so I made my way along the Thames Path in the rain.
Even in late November the Thames is resplendent – the water running fast and high, the river ever threatening to breach its banks and flood the path. I passed the magnificent Ham House and the famous Eel Pie Island, home to one of the tidal Thames last boat yards.

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A stone monument just before Teddington Lock marked the end of the jurisdiction of the Port of London Authority, the Lock itself the end of the tidal Thames. Passing this point is a hugely symbolic moment on a passage along London’s sacred river. In Ben Aaronovitch’s brilliant Rivers of London novels this section of the river is the borderland between the domains of the deities of the Upper and Lower Thames – Mamma Thames and Old Father Thames. Another stone on the riverbank denotes the border between the Royal Boroughs of Richmond and Kingston.

Eel Pie Island
At sunset I arrived at the ancient town of Kingston-Upon-Thames (Cyninges tun), coronation site of seven Anglo-Saxon kings. The Coronation Stone still stands in the town centre with the names of the Anglo-Saxon kings who ascended the throne carved around its base.

White Hart Hotel

The White Hart Hotel – Hampton Wick

Crossing the old bridge over the Thames I was reminded of passing this way in the opposite direction earlier in the year walking the London Loop. After three hours walking in the rain I was ready to take refuge in a comfortable inn and there right opposite the end of the bridge was the White Hart Hotel where not only would I have a room for two nights but dinner and breakfast as well.

White Hart Hotel

I was greeted by an open fire and a friendly receptionist who told me that my room, the Jane Seymour room, was her favourite in the whole hotel. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I have to be honest and say I was blown away. This was not a room but a suite. A portrait of Jane Seymour seemed to be indicating the way to the huge four-poster bed. I carefully took off my muddy boots by the door. There was a large bathroom where the deep bath filled in less than ten minutes, the soak in that tub was in itself dreamlike at the end of a rainy walk along the Thames Path. I donned my bath robe and made a cup of tea from a wide selection and munched the complimentary handmade biscuits, before having a snooze on a mound of soft pillows on the bed.

White Hart Hotel

Dinner took the experience to the next level. The menu was extensive and creative. For the first night I had the Owton’s dry-aged 8oz sirloin steak with triple cooked chips, grilled tomato and mushroom, plus a watercress and herb salad, which I washed down with two pints of Fuller’s London Pride. The steak was cooked to perfection, the beer was fresh and clear, and the service was exceptional. A fire crackled away by the wall throwing out shadows onto the deep wood interior of the restaurant. I wafted back up to my opulent room in a daze and supped a bottle of London Pride from the mini bar in front of the TV on the sofa before crashing out.

White Hart Hotel

Thames Path to Hampton Court

Breakfast the next morning of course had to be a Full English (which I had without the beans and black pudding) and like dinner the night before was spot on. It set me up nicely to stroll the next stage of the Thames Path to Hampton Court.

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Hampton Court Palace
It’s a delightful 3 miles along the Thames from The White Hart to Hampton Court. It was a brisk bright morning, sun shimmering over the surface of the river – perfect walking weather. I wondered whether the £23.75 admission to Hampton Court Palace would be worth it, but to be fair, although steep that ticket opened up a world of wonders that would keep you occupied for an entire day. I drifted in awe through the apartments of William III with stunning views out across the gardens. Henry VIII’s great hall is like stepping back into the Tudor world (minus the disease and executions). I even managed not to get hopelessly lost in the maze.

I wanted to get more of the Thames Path under my belt so headed over the bridge to East Moseley in the last hour of light as a glorious sunset painted the sky deep orange. Moseley is an ancient settlement, recorded as far back as the 8th Century, and looks a fine town worth exploring. The opposite riverbank is decorated with a colourful parade of stationary houseboats, the most notable of which contains Pink Floyd’s recording studio. As I started to wonder about how to return to Hampton Wick a lovely lady walking her dog offered to give me a lift across the river in her boat. In the summer months they run a ferry service here that’s been in operation for over 400 years.

Thames Houseboats

White Hart Hotel

Dinner at the White Hart

A shower back in my opulent room at the White Hart and the ambience of Hampton Court lingered around the four-poster bed, an extension of the Elizabethan experience. It’d only been a day but the dining room had started to feel like home. I went for a full three-course meal
–    Fuller’s London Porter smoked salmon
–    Malt & barley smoked cod
–    Vintage Ale Sticky Toffee Pudding with Fuller’s salted caramel ice cream
This was naturally washed down with a glorious pint of London Pride. Everything about that meal was on point – from the sourdough bread that came with the smoked salmon, through the chive butter sauce on the cod to the incredible Fuller’s Ice Cream. I celebrated by taking a pint of London Pride back up to my room.

White Hart Hotel

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Bushy Park

It was difficult to choose what to do with my final day – Strawberry Hill has intrigued me ever since seeing it in Patrick Keiller’s film London and visiting for a writers’ conference some years ago. But with the bright clear morning sky Bushy Park was calling. After a marvellous breakfast of Eggs Benedict served on an English Muffin and a fruit salad it was time to say goodbye to the White Hart. I was sad to leave that beautiful bedroom with its sumptuous bed and cosy Elizabethan vibe. But those two nights by the banks of the Thames at Hampton Wick with stay with me for some time to come.

Forest Uprising at Leyton Cricket Ground

Forest Uprising

Forest Uprising

Sunday saw the closing event of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Forest Uprising transformed Leyton Cricket Ground (once used by Essex County Cricket Club) into a steel sound installation plantation, dense thickets of illuminated scaffold poles giving forth the voices of the people of the borough. An alloy People’s Forest.

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East 17’s Tony Mortimer joined Waltham Forest Youth Choir in a rousing rendition of the boyband’s hit, Stay Another Day.

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The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse was an odd beast, but bizarrely compelling. A greenhouse full of broad bean shoots staffed by bio-suited technicians studying the public as much as the plants. What I found peculiar was that it was a less dramatic version of a real underground urban farm in the tunnels beneath Clapham Common that I visited last year. A great way to introduce the next generation to the future of farming.

Forest Uprising

It was a fittingly dreamlike conclusion to Waltham Forest’s year as London Borough of Culture.

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Here’s a playlist of the walks I produced for Borough of Culture 2019

Sunday sunset walk through Bush Wood

Bush Wood

The Shard seems to be aligned perfectly with the avenue of trees that cuts across Wanstead Flats from Leytonstone to what was once the grounds of the grand Wanstead House. I believe I’ve erronously claimed in the past that this avenue was laid out by Humphrey Repton (confusing it with the avenue of trees he planned in Wanstead Park near one of the lakes). The sunset reveals this alignment in the startling burnt sky. One of the reasons the last light is a perfect time to walk on Wanstead Flats.

Bush Wood

It was dark by the time we looped back from Blake Hall Road, following the path to Bushwood Lodge, and then turning into Bush Wood. Our passage through the woods was illuminated by a full moon casting a crystal trail through the muddy woodland. This pond in Bush Wood has always had a slightly mysterious tinge, often dried out in summer, in winter it lurks like a magic bog among the trees. The moon sat above the bare trees solely to cast moonbeams into this very pool.

Walk from Brentwood to Grange Hill

Brentwood

I found myself late Sunday morning just to the north of Brentwood at Bentley and decided to walk back towards London. I had no real route in mind other than to end up at a Central Line Station somewhere.

Brentwood
I started off down Hullet’s Lane. It was crisp and cold, a few degrees above zero. I then decided to loop back up along Pilgrim’s Lane and across The Mores, a strip of woodland where last autumn I went looking for Stukeley’s Druid temple.

Brentwood

Guided at this stage by an OS Map, I picked up a footpath off Wheeler’s Lane that ran across farmland. The path ended at a locked gate, the stile wrapped in wire. I had no choice other than to find the diverted route of the path that took me round the farmhouse into a track where I plunged into deep soft mud halfway up my calf. It oozed beneath me like quicksand, I wondered what I had stepped into and how far I’d sink. Cold mud filled my boots but I managed to drag myself out onto solid ground. (I checked the other end of the path where it exited onto the road to find a bull and cow slumbering by the stile).

I decided to stick to the road as I continued through Navestock, passing a large Ice Age pudding stone that had been raised on a plinth to mark the millennium, then crossed the M25. After paying homage to a trig point by a medieval moat on Navestock Common, I followed the long steep track to Curtis Mill Green.

Brentwood

There was a scattering of fly-tipping, further up the track beer barrels lay strewn among the hawthorn trees. There was an abandoned cottage crumbling in the undergrowth. Above the hedgerow the sun pitched on distant uplands, a large hill stood resplendent (Cabin Hill?), just visible beyond were the London skyscrapers.

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I hadn’t eaten since 8am and wondered whether the need for food would eventually dictate my route. But the hunger didn’t seem to rise above a slight annoyance.

Curtis Mill Lane
My OS map ended at Stapleford Church so from here I was dependent on my phone for navigation. I found a footpath off the main road across farmland heading for Stapleford Aerodrome. For once, a footpath closure provided a happy accident. Forced to scramble through bushes and leap over a stream I found myself confronted with a second world war pillbox nestled into the riverbank obscured by ivy and an overhanging tree. It would have formed part of the Outer London Defence Ring when the airfield was taken over during the war becoming RAF Stapleford Tawney.

Pillbox Stapleford

WW2 Pillbox near Stapleford Aerodrome,

Crossing the field light aircraft buzzed low overhead coming in to land, the sound of their engines making you think of the Hurricanes and Spitfires that operated from the grass runways at Stapleford until 1943.

Brentwood

More paths across bare muddy fields brought me to a familiar junction near Lambourne Church. The battery on my phone was low and it was randomly shutting down, so it was good to know that I could find my way back to the tube network from here by memory. The ‘ancient green lane’ through Conduit Wood, although only passed twice before had the feeling of home. It’s a landscape I imagine woodland sprites occupy.

My knee decided to lock and cease to function as I reached Lambourne End. An old affliction I was sure had gone away. Maybe it was the cold, yomping through deep mud, and the faster than usual pace, I don’t know. So now it meant hauling my useless left leg down the muddy bridleway (Featherbed Lane) to Crabtree Hill in Hainault Forest. The pain started to ease. I could traverse these paths in the dark (as I have done before, and in deep snow too) if needed and started to think of food and a pint at the Red Lion back in Leytonstone.

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I eventually stumbled out of Hainault Forest  across Weddrell’s Plain onto Chigwell Row as the sunset gave way to darkness. I remembered the little office licence where I’d bought a can of cold lager and snacks after a long summer evening stroll and bagged a chicken and mushroom slice and a can of lemon Fanta.

The walk in the dark down the hill to Grange Hill Tube Station was completed in a reverie. The lights of London Town shimmered in the distance.

Grange Hill

Fitzrovia Chapel

Fitzrovia Chapel

An unexpected London treasure sits just off Mortimer Street inside the new Pearson Square development, the old Middlesex Hospital Chapel. Fitzrovia Chapel, built in 1891 by John Pearson, is the only surviving building of Middlesex Hospital which was established on the site in 1755. The Hospital was sold to developers in 2005 and demolished in 2008.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The English Heritage listing for the chapel states that the interior is of “polychrome marble and mosaic decoration” in an “Italian Gothic style”. The “Font is carved from solid block of deep green marble with symbols of Four Evangelists at each corner and inscribed with Greek palindrome copied from the font of Hagia Sophia.”

Fitzrovia Chapel

I wandered in one lunchtime and was blown away by its beauty. Now managed by a trust, Fitzrovia Chapel hosts events and concerts, corporate shindigs and product launches. I was told it’s particularly popular with the local fashion industry. At the time I visited there was an installation that was part of the Frieze Art Fair.

It’s definitely worth a visit when you’re in Central London and open Wednesdays 11am – 4pm.