Walking the London Loop – Hayes to Kingston

It was great to be back out on the London Loop – picking up in Hayes on the May Bank Holiday Monday (6th May), where I’d finished back in March on the section that I’d followed down from Uxbridge. The first part of section 10 continues along the canal a short distance, past the rubble of the Nestle factory, as far as the River Crane, which takes on the role as titular spirit of the walk for much of the day. Then we visit the peaceful storied church of St. Dunstan’s where a memorial to the great comedian Tony Hancock is nestled in a corner of the churchyard.

The next part of the walk through Cranford Country Park towards Hatton Cross is characterised by jumbo jets skimming the rooftops as they came in to land at Heathrow. Seeing London’s great terminus sat on what was once a corner of Hounslow Heath (the ‘heath row’) gave me an enormous desire to jump on a plane and head off traveling once more.

London Loop Section 9

Section 9 finds us again following the River Crane down through spindly woodland to Hounslow Heath, full of memories of ending the first walk here for my book, This Other London. I even found the bench on a mound were I sat and ate a snack in the May sunset those seven years ago.

There was more roadwalking ahead, another section of the Crane, and skirting Fulwell Golf Course before reaching Bushey Park just before sunset. The deer roamed and grazed and I meandered to the gate exiting to Hampton Wick as the dark arrived.

The Thames twinkled as I crossed the great stone bridge into Sunday night Kingston, too late to seek out the King Stone which awaits the start of my next venture out onto the London Loop.

 

London Forest Buses Badge

London Forest bus badge

What a majestic object – a London Forest Buses Driver’s/Conductor’s enamel badge.

According to Wikipedia, London Forest was a short-lived subsidary of London buses that operated between 1989 – 1991 when industrial action in response to proposed pay cuts led to the newly awarded private franchise being transfered to a rival bus operator.

The strike was the first by London bus drivers since 1958 and led to the suspension of bus services in North East London for two weeks. The buses operated out of Walthamstow and Leyton bus garages. London Forest had planned to close Leyton garage but in the end it was Walthamstow bus garage that was closed and eventually developed as housing.

Here’s the text of the Early Day Motion moved by Leyton MP Harry Cohen in the House of Commons:

STRIKE AT LONDON FOREST TRAVEL
EDM #1143
Tabled 16 July 1991
1990-91 Session
That this House notes that the current strike by the 1,300 men and women based at Ash Grove, Clapton, Leyton and Walthamstow garages is the first official indefinite strike in London of busmen and women for 33 years; notes that it has been provoked by the management of London Forest Travel who are trying to enforce new contracts, upon threat of redundancy, which would mean 20 per cent. longer working hours plus a 9. 5 per cent. cut in wages; notes that this would make the working week for many of the bus men and women in excess of 50 hours; further notes that this situation has been brought about by an unrealistic tender submission 25 per cent. below present costs, including pay and conditions, but that management are not taking any cut; and calls for this dispute to be swiftly sorted out, without any reduction in the bus men and women’s pay and conditions, so that the buses can run again.

 

A fascinating moment in the history of the area discovered by searching for London badges on ebay.

Waltham Forest Borough of Culture Walks – new dates announced

John Rogers walks Leytonstone

Delighted to announced some new dates for my walks in Waltham Forest Borough of Culture as part of Waltham Forest Tours curated by William Gallinsky. The last batch of tickets sold out in 2 days, thank you so much to everyone who booked, shared the links and expressed an interest.

 

Here are the new dates

The Philley Brook – 23rd June

In collaboration with Ian Bourn talking about the Leytonstone artist community before the building of the M11 Link Road.

Book here

62341779_2365851386983466_6852610669976485888_n 2

photo by Marco Visconti

Marshlands – 28th July

We’ll be joined by David Boote of the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society who has a wealth of information about the area

Book here

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes

The Ching – 1st September

Multi-talented violinist and composer Ellie Wilson will be participating in this walk – Ellie is the current Epping Forest artist-in-residence

Book here

Ticket for each walk includes a bespoke map by Russell Frost/ Hooksmith Press

 

Here are some photos from the first Philley Brook walk

62437767_2365851416983463_1844657392428515328_n 2

listening to Graeme Miller’s audiowork ‘M11 Linked’ – photo by Marco Visconti

IMG_8138

you can hear the Philley Brook gurgling beneath the street iron

IMG_8145 (1)

listening to Graeme Miller’s audiowork ‘M11 Linked’

Philley Brook map

Russell Frost with his map of the Philley Brook

A walk along the River Crouch

I scribble some notes down at Althorne Station, 8.15pm with ten minutes till the train comes along the single track Wickford to Southminster Line. It’s Monday 29th April, and the last light is fading. I’m parched and hungry at the end of a 17-mile walk from South Woodham Ferrers. I’d intended to start further along the River Crouch, at North Fambridge and walk the 10 miles to Burnham-on-Crouch, but somewhere on the train journey out from Stratford I’d started to wonder whether 10 miles was a long enough walk and toyed with the idea of starting at South Woodham Ferrers without properly thinking it through. I unconsciously alighted at South Woodham and it took me two hours to fully realise the implications of my mistake as the river path doubled back in a broad meander towards the outskirts of South Woodham Ferrers. Vast tidal mudflats stretched out ahead where I’d mistakenly assumed the path would continue towards North Fambridge. I was left with no choice but to follow the footpath around the ebb and flow of the river and then inland along Stow Creek to the disused railway line near Stow Maries. What had been intended as a straightforward, too straightforward, walk along the River Crouch had become a fieldpath ramble, an exercise in stoicism.

River Crouch Walk

River Crouch Walk

River Crouch Walk P1110196.MP4.00_00_06_22.Still001

By the time I reached North Fambridge it was 5pm, I’d drank all my water and burnt through the sandwich munched back at the beginning of the walk (I’d planned for a 10-mile walk afterall) and had already walked 12.5 miles to reach my intended start point. I looked forward to restocking at North Fambridge for the 10 miles into Burnham-on-Crouch, a couple of cans from a shop sunk on the riverbank and something to munch on, anything, as the hunger started to reach my legs.

There was not so much as a solitary shop at North Fambridge (population 835), and the only pub was closed for refurbishment. I was directed towards the marina where I was told there was a café, a 20-minute detour that proved fruitless as the café closed at 2pm on a Monday. There was an outdoor tap that couldn’t be trusted.

River Crouch Walk

I weighed up my options. Quit and head home. Catch the train to Burnham-on-Crouch to eat and drink then walk back along the estuary, or just call it a day at Burnham. None of them appealed. I hate giving up on a walk so on I pushed along the Crouch, 5-miles to Althorne, the next station. Heading off along the riverside path my hunger suddenly abated and my thirst subsided. I got used to my physical state, accepted it as the price of continuing the quest. Lots of memories, moods and associations swept over the evening-lit mudflats – backpacking, Bondi, a school trip to Swanage. Good feelings.

IMG_7643 2 IMG_7646 2

Reaching Althorne at sunset I tentatively asked a dog walker near the boatyard if there was a shop or pub nearby, ‘Not for 50-miles’, he laughed. ‘It feels that way,’ I replied and off he walked. I sat on a stile and looked along the estuary towards Burnham-on-Crouch and decided it would be madness to continue. So I headed up the lane to the station and the wait on the deserted platform for a train back to Stratford.

River Crouch Walk River Crouch Walk.00_28_22_19.Still015

 

 

Chilterns Walk from Bulstrode Camp to Wooburn Green

The Queen and Albert pub in Wooburn Green wasn’t were I expected to end up when I boarded the 3.15pm train from from Marylebone to Gerrards Cross the week before Easter. Notre Dame was burning down on the TV on the pub wall, an event that had been unfolding whilst I’d been walking over the Chilterns unaware. It was good to hear the Bucks accent from the chatter between the friendly lady behind the bar and the two other punters. It was great to be back in the village where I grew up.

My intention that day had been simple – to take a look at the Iron Age earthwork at Bulstrode Camp, Gerrards Cross. I had a vague childhood memory of people talking about this ancient site but no clear memory of having visited. And with my interest in earthworks and burial mounds it seemed natural to seek out Bulstrode Camp, situated as it is just beyond the borders of Greater London.

© OpenStreetMap contributors  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

© OpenStreetMap contributors Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

Bulstrode Camp is the largest hillfort in Buckinghamshire, spanning over 26 acres (other notable Bucks hillforts include – Whelpley Hill, Ivinghoe Beacon, West Wycombe, Bolebec’s Castle). A ‘plateau camp’, it sits atop a steep escarpment and is today encircled by a private housing estate. Dog walkers perambulate the perimeter as if repelled from the interior by a magic spell. I strode straight across in a bisecting line – better to take in the scale of the earthwork from its interior. It’s a powerful site, even more imposing in this age of bits and bytes.

Hedgerley Bucks

With the site surveyed and recorded on camera I still had around 3 hours of daylight left so headed out over the fields of Bulstrode Park to Hedgerley Village where the parish church sits high on a hill surrounded by a bluebell wood. At this point the temptation to strike off for Wooburn was too great.

The lowering sun sliced shafts of light through the pine trunks in Egypt Woods as the pheasants gave out their evening call. My Dad would have had a field day and we briefly spoke on the phone discussing the best route to Wooburn (he thought I was way off course).

My chosen path took me over Littleworth Common and now the journey took on the feel of a return to a childhood home as Wooburn Common (the land of the ‘fuzz hoppers’ as my Nan would call them) showed itself nearby on the map.

Egypt Woods

I arrived beneath the Radio Tower at the top of Farm Wood at the hour of sunset. This tower loomed over my childhood as a mysterious structure poking out of the dark wood above Wooburn Park where I spent all my summers with my Dad as he played for Wooburn Narkovians Cricket Club. I had only been this close twice before (at night with the Scouts and with my kids about 10 years ago).

From the edge of the wood, in the last light, I looked down across Wooburn, the river valley carved out by a glacial flow that deposited a rock that still sits idly on the Green by the bus stop. The River Wye gently trundles along its floor. I stood there as day slid into night before making my way across the park to the pub.

 

Vincent Van Gogh in Brixton – with Iain Sinclair

“I enjoy the walk from home to the office and in the evening from the office back home. It takes about three-quarters of an hour.”

– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

A chilly December day and an invitation from Iain Sinclair to look inside the Brixton residence of Vincent Van Gogh, where the Dutch artist lived for a year between 1873 – 1874. The plan is to then follow Van Gogh’s footsteps on the daily walk he took to work at a commercial gallery in Covent Garden. Iain had recently been commissioned by Tate Etc. magazine to write an article on Van Gogh as a walker to coincide with the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain that runs until 11th August.

“So I began, unpremeditated, a series of walks through those odd, unreal, summer days while I attempted to connect Van Gogh’s English addresses. Surviving houses and chapels, in the end, feel less significant than the movement between them, when weather and light and random encounters effect an interweaving in the strands of time.”

– Iain Sinclair, Tate Etc. Issue 45

Van Gogh Ramsgate

Van Gogh sketch of Ramsgate

Van Gogh didn’t start producing art until he left London, aside from occasional sketches in the margins of letters he sent to his brother Theo. But he did spend a lot of his time in Britain walking, not only in London but also when he worked in a school in Ramsgate.

“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, January 1874

Van Gogh House

Van Gogh House, 87 Hackford Road

Our journey starts though, at the San Mei Gallery nearby in Stockwell, the owners of which have recently purchased the property at 87 Hackford Road and are in the middle of a grand restoration project. Livia Wang told us about their plans for the Van Gough House, to host international artist residencies, tours and workshops aimed at the local community, and a studio space. I remembered the production of Nicholas Wright’s play, Vincent in Brixton that I’d seen multiple times while working at the National Theatre in 2002. Nicholas Hytner’s magical production brought that Hackford Road home vividly to life, featuring a debut performance by a young Emily Blunt playing the landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer, with whom the Dutchman fell hopelessly and unrequitedly in love.

“My dear Theo,

I now have a room, as I’ve long been wishing, without sloping beams and without blue wallpaper with a green border. It’s a very diverting household where I am now, in which they run a school for little boys.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

Vincent in Brixton

flier for the event I produced and hosted at Brixton Art Gallery, 2002

Iain leads the way from the house in Hackford Road up Van Gogh Walk and onto Clapham Road. He notes the speed at which Van Gogh must have walked in order to do the journey in 45 minutes. We proceed along Clapham Road, past Kennington Park and the Old Town Hall down Kennington Road to Lambeth North, Victorian Van Gogh era houses lining the route. We cross Westminster Bridge, a point in his commute that the painter in embryo noted in his letters, the light over the Thames.

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_10_22_15.Still013

Lambeth Walk

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_12_44_03.Still015
We then proceed along Whitehall to the National Gallery and Iain can’t resist going into the gift shop to buy a postcard of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, another piece of the painter still in London. The final leg of the journey takes us along the Strand and then ascend Southampton Street where there’s no trace of the gallery where Vincent worked selling prints to affluent Londoners.

 

You can book guided tours of the Van Gogh House here

The Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate runs until 11th August 2019