Across the fields from Epping to Roydon

pylon in field near Epping

11am at the tube station bound for the end of the Central line at Epping where fieldpaths branch off from the transport network. Epping is like a frontier post on the border between London and the ancient tribal territories of Essex. The fields appear above rooftops. It’s a release, a necessary abandonment of the day-to-day, of the troubled city, its beehive activity.

It’s a sultry Saturday, I’m running a slight temperature. Fat sagging clouds hang oppressively low over the skyline.


Along beside a deepditch by the field edge with a trickling brook. The sound of rushing water beneath the iron Thames Water manhole cover , a slight whiff of sewage, a mechanical intrusion pulling you back to the toilets of West Essex, the sewage farm out here somewhere tucked away behind a thick barrier of weeds. Stems of borage sway in the autumn zephyr. An electricity substation hums beside a double hedge where muddy planks ferry you over the brook. Not a soul around. Solitude. ‘Solitary, slow and wayward’ will be my credo for the day.

Epping Long Green

Crossing Cobbins Brook I try to remember the story of Boudicca in these hills and the link to this modest watercourse. Did she wash the blood from her hands in its waters, or was it here that the warrior queen bled out?

I rest on a hilltop overlooking Orange Wood. The south-westerly gathers pace shunting the clouds reluctantly across the sky. You have to stop and admire the spectacle taking place above your head. Then the wind drops and the clouds slow to a resting stop.

Stort Valley Way
Approaching Epping Green a deer skips across a patch of rough ground ahead of me. A posse of ramblers appear too close behind on Epping Long Green, and I feel as if I’m being pursued by a hungry pack. I skip over the deep muddy track that skirts copy wood sensing they will get bogged down on the ankle-deep ruts and it seems to work. I don’t see them again. In fact the only other person I see on the way down to Roydon is a fellow walker eating a sandwich on a bench in Nazeing Churchyard.

Netherhall Common
Birds flying in alignment with the pylons in a field looking down across the Lea Valley. I hear the distant rumble of the Rye House Speedway track, as I walk along the ridge above Netherhall Common.

The light is dimming as I drop down the field edge to the beginnings of the River Stort Navigation and the point where I first considered this walk back in April when I was walking the towpath to Bishops Stortford.

Nazeing, Essex

The rain progresses from drizzle to pitter-patter as I move along the Lea to Rye House station and the journey’s end.

 

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

Grubby Mitts Cecil Sharp House

There was something so perfect about The Grubby Mitts playing Cecil Sharp House. Bedford’s art rockers at the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society nestled in the well-heeled streets of Primrose Hill. London’s village hall. In my mind they belong in large spaces, I’d first seen them at Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party Conference at the Spa in Scarborough, an even more cavernous venue.

When I arrived Andy Holden was on the stage holding up ceramic cats to a camera under a table lamp as the band played and the close-up cat images were projected on the big screen while Holden narrated. This wasn’t the main gig, but a performance piece called Catharsis. The cats had belonged to Holden’s Grandmother who left them to him in a series of large cardboard boxes after her death – his performance taking the form of a peculiar ‘unboxing video’.

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

The main hall at Cecil Sharp House is huge, with echoes of folk heroes and grand dances. The Grubby Mitts crowd stuck mostly to the bank of seating around the wall leaving the ballroom floor clear aside from a handfull of die-hards forming a line across the middle of the space. It worked – seemed to fit the mood, the awkward school disco kids, let the sounds fill the void. The show was apparently linked to Andy Holden’s current Art angel show with his father Peter Holden, Natural Selection.

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

I only lasted half a song before taking the floor and joining the ranks of the standing, barely dancing line. The band worked through most (if not all) of their album What The World Needs Now Is along with what I presume were newer tunes. A three-piece brass section joined some numbers swelling the sound into the high vaulted ceiling euphorically. Holden twisted knobs hunched over at a table of electronics, played the guitar, and gesticulated at the drummer. It was a majestic performance from the whole band.

It ended with a stunning rendition of To A Friend’s House the Way is Never Long. The band departed the stage and then stood in the hall with the rest of us as the lights came back on and the audience dribbled out into the Primrose Hill night. I rarely go to gigs these days aside from local nights in Leytonstone, this was perfect. Wandering down into Camden Town, freezing cold, I fancied a pint but turns out Camden Council have rigid licencing laws with no booze sold after 10.30pm on a Sunday. Rather than pissing me off it just added to the quirky vibe of a magical event.

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone triumphant rebirth as the Heathcote and Star

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

fantastic food, great local beer … and neon – the Heathcote is back!

I used to love the old Heathcote Arms like a trusted, loyal friend. It was who I could turn to when things were bad and celebrate with in the good times. But mostly it was a place I could slump in a corner with a pint, packet of crisps and a pile of books. Often I was so relaxed I’d be nearly horizontal with a belly elaborately embroidered with a mosaic of crisp fragments. It was where I did most of the research for my book, This Other London, in the corner room which was empty most nights by 10.30 when I’d arrive. You could spread out books and maps across two tables and let the creative juices be lubricated by cheap ale.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Selection of canned & bottled Beer at the Heathcote and Star

But then it closed 3 years ago, bought by property developers to be turned into flats and its fate looked sealed. A valiant and spirited campaign followed, it was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and now finally it is fully back in business (I’m skipping over the bit when the developers put in a manager for a limited time).

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

This isn’t merely a re-boot but a full-scale resurrection with Electric Star Pubs taking out a 20 year lease on the Heathcote and pumping buckets of cash into a total refurb. Last week’s packed and thumping launch party wasn’t the time to make a proper judgement, my first reaction being that it was a bit Nathan Barley, and thinking I’d title this post ‘The New Heathcote – it’s ‘Totally Mexico’. And it is ‘Totally Mexico’ but not in the sense of a Hoxditch boozer selling Dutch wine.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

The Electric Star team are pulling out all the stops to make this a pub for everyone, no easy feat, a true community hub – a place where I could slouch in a corner planning suburban explorations and muttering to myself beside a table full of toddlers chucking mash potato around, while wannabe Instagrammers struggle to get the perfect food-porn shot. Or if you’re really square, a nice place to meet friends and neighbours for a drink.

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

Mini sample burgers

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Buffalo Chicken with strong kick of English Mustard

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

The function room where we were presented with samples of the well-measured menu will be free of charge to community groups – which is a fantastic resource. There’s a games room out the back with pool and table-tennis. Live footy on the telly with big screen events planned. There’s a huge garden. The ale selection is spot on with beers from Leyton breweries Signature Brew and East London Brewery with Camden Hells Pale on keg. And bloody hell the food is great. The burgers by Paul Human are incredible, the Buttermilk Chicken is crispy and well seasoned, in fact the tucker is so tasty that the vegan option of Cowboy Beans even had me scraping the plate clean. And the staff are really friendly and helpful too, they look happy to be there.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Cowboy Beans (vegan)

Signature Brew at Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

I even found myself back in there Saturday night with the place packed again, punters arriving in taxis, bumping into neighbours at the bar, burgers flying out of the kitchen, post-mortem of the Arsenal match on the TV. It might even inspire me to crack on and finish my next book.

Did you know this about London?

County Hall London L.C.C 1939

“Did you know that you can get one of the best-cooked meals in London at the Hotel and Restaurant Technical School at the Westminster Technical Institute?

Did you know that in Victoria Park in east London the L.C.C. runs the finest “Lido” in the country?

Did you know that at Avery Hill, Eltham, the L.C.C. has provided the largest Palm Houses and Greenhouses outside Kew?

Do you know that no one, however poor, need ever sleep out in London, that a bed is ready for any destitute man who applies at the L.C.C. Welfare Office?

The L.C.C. is not at all the sort of body to rest on it’s laurels.”

From – Fifty Years of the L.C.C. by S.P.B. Mais published in 1939

Bohemian London – stroll through Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury

Leaving the Robert Elms Show at Broadcasting House I follow my nose through the streets of Fitzrovia. I notice the name change of Union Street to Riding House Street and the home of Olaudah Equiano whose autobiography describing his experiences of Slavery helped bring about its abolition.

I take in the new development of Pearson Square, which appears left-over from the Kings Cross redevelopment and designed to funnel the wind through its walkways.

The old apartment blocks remind me of the world of Patrick Hamilton in his novel The Midnight Bell, lonely boarding rooms for clerks and shop-girls, typists, and workers in the rag trade.

Soon my feet carry me into Charlotte Street and to the door of what in my experience is the most authentic Italian Cafe in London – people chatting in Italian, well-read copy of Gazetta Dello Sport folded up on the counter, bank of TVs with the latest Italian football news.

The Brunswick Centre

A quick look at the Persian and Bronze Age Britain galleries in the British Museum before strolling down Woburn Walk to Judd Books and the unavoidable purchases. At this point I’m on autopilot, well-worn tracks from my days living at the Angel, an afternoon amble, baby in the pram on the way to Coram’s Fields. The Bruswick Centre a glorious hunk of sculpted utopia rendered in concrete.

Sometimes in my desire to push the boundaries of London, to venture out beyond the city fringe into the provinces, it’s easy to overlook the multiple wonders of a mazy wander round the streets of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury.

 

Leytonstone on BBC London Robert Elms Show ‘Round Your Manor’

BBC London Robert Elms John Rogers Leytonstone

It was a real pleasure to go on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London yesterday to talk about the wonders of Leytonstone as part of the ‘Round Your Manor’ feature. There was a great response from Leytonstonians online to Robert’s request for information about the area – he was particularly amused to hear that Fanny Craddock had lived in Leytonstone.

You can listen again to the show here on the BBC iPlayer (I come in at about 1hr 38mins)

Lights Out: Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers

Andrew Kotting Lights Out

Looking forward to presenting the film of the excursions I made with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kötting, and Anne Caron-Deline along Watling Street with a fascinating detour following the trail of Alan Moore from Shooter’s Hill. The event will also include a new film and performance by Andrew Kötting, plus readings and conversation with Iain Sinclair and whatever else occurs on the night.

Here’s the information for the event at Kino-Teatr, Saint Leonards 29th October 6pm:

“Lights Out for the Last London: Down Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers.

The Last London, described by Alan Moore as ‘the masterpiece in a career of masterpieces’, is Iain Sinclair’s final reckoning with a city stretched beyond its limits.

To pull away from its gravity, he sets off on a Watling Street pilgrimage with longterm collaborators (and filmmakers) Andrew Kötting and John Rogers.

Their adventures, told through differing and contradictory memories, become a live performance, a conversation, a film of record.

The collision at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards is a unique coming together for the three walkers. Anything could happen.

The collaborators will be happy to sign copies of books (including Last London) at the event.”

Tickets are £12 available from Kino-Teatr box office and online from Ticketsource