The Mayor’s London Borough of Culture Walks

John Rogers walks Leytonstone

Come for a walk with me to celebrate Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019

I’m really excited to be leading a series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture, running from June to October 2019.

The walks will explore various aspects of Waltham Forest from its topography, culture, overlooked heritage, and psychogeography. Local people of interest will join me on the walks – to contribute to the pool of knowledge. The aim will be not simply to impart information but to share a way of looking at the landscape and the built environment. In the words of the legendary music journalist Greil Marcus the walks will aim to reveal, “the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience”. A bespoke map of each walk is being produced by artist & printer Russell Frost of Hooksmith Press, Leytonstone, who created the fantastic artwork at the top of this post.

Here are the details of each walk with a link to book tickets:

 

Walk 1: Leytonstone’s Lost River – The Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

Book here

John Rogers Philley Brook walk

Philley Brook walk – photo by Vaseem Gill

An interactive walk that follows Leytonstone’s buried river, The Philley Brook (Fillebrook). The walk will not only trace the course of the river but also look at ways of identifying buried rivers and streams. We’ll explore aspects of the history and culture of the area as they relate to the meander of the Philley Brook. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. We’ll be joined by a Leytonstone film-maker and artist Ian Bourn. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 9th June, 2pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Walthamstow Marshes
Walk 2: Marshlands

An edgeland walk that explores Waltham Forest’s historic marshlands. We traverse the ancient Lammas Lands and explore the rich heritage of the area from the Bronze Age through to the birth of the aviation industry. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. We’ll be joined by local historian, David Boote from the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society.
Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 14th July, 2pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

 

Highams Park Lake

Highams Park Lake

Walk 3: The Ching

A meander along the beautiful River Ching that flows through Waltham Forest from Epping Forest through Highams Park and the streets of Chingford to its confluence with the River Lea near Banbury Reservoir. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost.
Date: 18th August, 2pm
Duration: 3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Dagenham Brook

Walk 4: The Dagenham Brook

This overlooked stream that runs from Leyton Jubilee Park to Coppermill Lane Walthamstow, leads us through the streets of Leyton and Walthamstow weaving stories as it flows.  We’ll be joined by Leyton artist Lucy Harrison. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost
Date: 8th September, 2pm
Duration: 2-3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

 

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Walk 5: Over Pole Hill – Where Time Begins

The north-eastern frontier of both Waltham Forest and Greater London. This takes us up over Pole Hill, the highest point in the borough, which sits on Zero Longitude and was used by the Greenwich Observatory to set its telescope. We also explore the terrain of the forest fringe and the borough boundary. We’ll be joined by artist and illustrator Rachel Lillie who has a special interest in Epping Forest. Participants will be encouraged to make a record of their journey as part of the experience. Includes bespoke printed map by Hooksmith Press/Russell Frost.
Date: 6th October, 2pm
Duration: 2-3 hours
Price: £10/£8 concs

Book here

Waltham Forest Tours

More information about other Waltham Forest Tours events can be found here

 

 

Spring in Epping Forest

Leyton Flats, Leytonstone

Sometimes, in the absence of a better plan for a walk, you should alllow yourself to be guided by your feet. That’s what I did last Sunday, leaving home at 2pm, directionless.

Blackthorn, Leytonstone

My trotters led me up Leytonstone High Road to the Green Man Roundabout – gateway to the forest. The gorse (I think) was burning brilliant yellow in full bloom, the white blackthorn flowers waved at the early Spring picnicers nearby on Leyton Flats.

metal post near Birch Well

Metal Post Birch Well

I followed the path that runs behind Snaresbrook Crown Court, the borderlands of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest. Next to the Birch Well I spotted a metal post beside a low standing stone, the embossed text no longer legible. My best guess is that they are boundary markers, perhaps of the old Borough or the Parish.

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Birdsong rang out across Gilbert’s Slade in celebration of the arrival of Spring, and I sat on a pile of logs to savour the scene. This is a tract of land that is forever boggy and swampy, noted by Buxton in his Epping Forest book of the 1880’s and still very much the case. He laments the lack of beech trees here, where hornbeam, holly and oak dominate.

Highams Park Lake

The wildfowl were lively on the waters of Highams Park and I rested again, one of my favourite spots on this Forest walk. This is a route described and mapped by Buxton and one I’ve followed frequently over the years, memories of those previous walks and the churnings of my mind annotated into the footpaths, re-read and added to with each passing.

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From Epping Forest by Edward North Buxton

Although the end point of the walk would be determined by the sunset, the Royal Forest pub beside Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge always looms large in my mind around this point. Would I be able to get past it – or would all paths lead to the pub?

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I picked up the course of the gentle River Ching and followed it along the lower reaches of the forest, downhill from Woodford. London is blessed with these meandering tributaries that often get overlooked in favour of the grand rivers of the city or the celebrated ‘lost rivers’ of London, buried but not forgotten. The Ching is a modest water course, going about its business flowing from the forest to the Lea.

Welcome to Waltham Forest Chingford

On Rangers Road, Chingford I pass a second Waltham Forest boundary marker of the day – on the other side this time is not Redbridge but the County of Essex. Today has not only been a forest wander but a borderland walk.

Royal Forest Chingford

Somehow I contrived to arrive on Chingford Plain as the sun started to set shortly after 6pm meaning the only logical thing was to progress to the bar at the Royal Forest Brewer’s Fayre where I processed the walk over a couple of pints and toasted the arrival of Spring in Epping Forest.

 

 

Pole Hill, Yardley Hill, Gilwell Park, Barn Hill to Enfield

With London wrapped in tragedy I needed to get to high ground, it’s a primal urge, safety, perspective. I remembered the walk of 3 years ago, I now realise on the same date – 18th June – an accidental derive over hills and down to Sewardstone for sunset. This time it was deliberate.

The walk down from Woodford was the pre-amble, a loosening that threw in an unexplored corner of the forest near the Warren Pond. Then along Chingford High Street, clocks forever set 30 years behind the rest of London it seems. No chips from Sam’s this time – straight up the side of the Kings Head to the top of Pole Hill – a marker of time, the centre of the world.

Path to Pole Hill Chingford

Path to Pole Hill Chingford

The fields sloping down the spine of Pole Hill were as beautiful in the evening light as I remembered them. A couple had pitched a tent beneath the trees and were sat eating dinner. The views from the top of Yardley Hill were stunning and difficult to wrench away from. The City skyline dwarfed by foregroud trees of Hawk Wood, the enclosure in the forest of pre-Roman times. I could imagine the great Forest of Kent stretching from the south shore of the Thames down to the sea.

Along Sewardstone Green, somehow deep with mud then up and over the final hill with fingers of god breaking out through sagging clouds onto Brimsdown.

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

Crossing the Lea Valley at Sewardstone I bisect the walk just before the winter solstice, setting out in pre-dawn from Leytonstone to Hertford, at this point stalked by horses. I give a nod to my winter self and push on along the sunset river banks for Enfield.

 

Lippitt’s Hill, Fernhills, Hangman’s Hill and Jacob Epstein at Loughton

The Friday after the Westminster Terrorist attack and flags are flying at half-mast over the public buildings at Woodford. I head down over the golf course to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge and pop into The View Visitor Centre where I buy a postcard of a painting by Jacob Epstein. The lady at the counter tells me that she thinks that it shows ‘The Lost Pond’ (the painting is untitled) – Epstein lived at Baldwin’s Hill, Loughton and often painted the forest. She has matched the image on her morning dog walks along the Loughton Brook. She shows me roughly where the Lost Pond is on the map covering the floor although it isn’t marked. ‘I’ll try and head back that way later’, I tell her, although I’m bound in the opposite direction – out through Bury Wood towards Fernhills.

Before I’d found myself lost in the forest in the dark the previous weekend I’d been tempted to follow the Cuckoo Brook north. Checking the map in the pub afterwards I saw how it would have led me to an area just outside the forest I’d never visited so today that was where I headed.

Epping Forest view

The views from Fernhills were as fine as I’d hoped for – stretching out over Waltham Abbey and to the Epping Uplands. The footpaths of the Greenwich Meridian Trail towards Mott Street also offered majestic views of the Lea Valley and led me to witness the curious anomaly of Hangman’s Hill. A mini reversed towards me from Pynest Green Lane and the young driver wound down the window, ‘Do you the story about this area?’, she asked. ‘No, but I bet you do’, I replied. ‘Apparently if you release your breaks your car is pulled uphill’, she told me, ‘this was a place where people were hung and they were dragged up here to the gallows’. She then released the handbrake and the car appeared to slowly roll back up the hill. As we stood there a couple of lads pulled alongside in their car and the same thing happened.

As I walked off I saw them both repeatedly returning to the same spot and surrender their vehicles to paranormal forces not wanting to mention that on foot you could see that there was a slight camber in the road that actually sloped away downhill.

Turning back across High Beach I decided to find the location of Jacob Epstein’s painting but had forgotten the directions the lady had given me to the ‘Lost Pond’. Arriving at Baldwin’s Hill Pond I matched it to the postcard and found a good enough likeness to declare in the video above that this was spot Epstein had painted. Subsequently it has been pointed out that the ‘Lost Pond’ is elsewhere, near the Loughton Brook. The hunt for the location of Epstein’s painting goes on.

Woodbury Hollow Loughton

Emerging from the forest I was greeted by the expansive views right across London from Woodbury Hollow, apparently reaching as far as Crystal Palace and Croydon.

 

On 2nd May I’ll be in conversation with Will Ashon at the Wanstead Tap about his new book Strange Labyrinth – Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London’s Great Forest

Lost in Epping Forest in the Dark

“The spirit of devotion for the woods, which breathes through the simple expression of the poet [John Clare], is akin to “that hereditary spell of forests”, which Robert Louis Stevenson describes as acting “on the mind of man who still remembers and salutes the ancient refuge of his race.”

From the opening pages of London’s Forest by P.J.S Perceval published in 1909 which follows on from a quote by John Clare. He continues:

“Such a refuge once was London. Indeed she makes her first claim on history as a mere stockade in the woods – the Llyndin of the ancient Britons. Her wood and fen and heath, with the sweet country which once surrounded her, have disappeared, while a part only of the Essex Forest remains to recall the once great forest of the East Saxon Kingdom, which once had Lundentune for its port and ecclesiastical centre.”

To me Epping Forest is still a place of refuge, a haven from the pressures of urban life, a step through time. I headed out on Saturday, departing the tube at Woodford, then turning down Whitehall Lane by Bancroft’s School. Perceval writes how Bancroft’s was once the site of a poor-house. Its annual fees of £16,323 are more in the tradition of the mansion belonging to the Earl of Essex that had previously occupied the same land. The Earl wanting to be close to his supposed love Queen Elizabeth I when she used the hunting lodge on Chingford Plain.

Warren Pond Epping Forest

My wander took me past the Warren Pond and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. I reflected that this is often where my forest walks end, in the bar of the Premier Inn next door but today I wanted to walk on into sunset. I crossed Chingford Plain and took a path beside the road for a short distance before turning into the rump of the trees past bushcraft shelters dotted amongst the undergrowth.

bushcraft shelter epping forest

The light started to give out as I crossed the Cuckoo Brook so I consulted my map to pick a route towards an exit and a way home. I decided to walk East towards Loughton, a simple case of staying on the path I was on till I hit the road by The Warren.

I got caught up in the reverie of being alone in the woods while people bustled around going home from the shops, pubs filled up, and streets were abuzz with activity. Then I came upon a narrow lane in the darkness and looked for the way across to head down towards Loughton but the far side was blocked by hedgerows and fences. I followed the lane what I thought was south till finally becoming slightly concerned that I was going in the wrong direction. My map reading isn’t the best but surely I couldn’t have gone wrong on a straight path. I checked my compass then the map on my phone – both indicated that I was heading north towards High Beach, placing me between Springfield Farm and the Field Study Centre. Impossible I thought, how could that be?

Epping Forest Chingford Map

I decided to follow my nose and turned away from the road back into the now pitch black forest and walked for 15 minutes or so using instinct, enjoying the quiet of the night trees. Something splashed in a pool beside the path then was gone into the undergrowth. A pair of green eyes looked out at me from a clump of holly. I started to feel like an intruder – the animals that avoid human contact during daylight could reasonably expect to have the forest to themselves at night but here I was clomping along the gravel path disturbing their nocturnal activities. I stood still for a moment hoping to sense some wildlife moving around in the trees – but there was just silence. Beautiful silence.

I checked my phone once more and it indicated that I was heading North East. I put this down to lack of GPS coverage in the forest and returned to my cheap old-school compass. It too told me that I was walking in a northeastern direction. I decided to head South for Chingford, and hopefully pick up paths familiar enough to be recognised in the dark. My concern now wasn’t spending a few hours walking in circles in the forest at night (actually very pleasant) but finding myself having to make my way along dark country roads to a station at the mercy of speeding cars not anticipating a stray walker.

I still couldn’t make out any familiar features in the gloom but simply kept following the compass needle south enjoying the quiet of the evening. It made me think it would be nice to spend an entire night wandering the forest if you could manage to avoid the doggers, cottagers, and deep ditches (if people stuck to having woodland sex in the ditches that would help to avoid all hazards in one go).

Soon I recognised the section of path leading down from the Long Hills towards Magpie Hill and Connaught Water. The sign for the Cuckoo Trail marked the route that I assumed I’d taken an hour previously, highlighting just how far off trail I’d been. The trees parted and the sky opened up over Chingford Plain.

Settled with a pint of IPA and packet of Prawn Cocktail crisps in the Premier Inn next to the Hunting Lodge I studied my OS Map trying to work out how I’d managed to get my location so wrong. It boiled down to one simple error – that when I’d crossed the Cuckoo Brook and checked my map in the poor light I’d assumed I was on a different path – one that ran east – west, when in fact I was beyond Woodman’s Glade heading north through Bury Wood across Ludgate Plain towards Lippitts Hill. The loudness of the helicopters from the Police heliport should have been a clue.

But it proved once again, that even what starts out as a simple walk in the woods can turn into a minor adventure as long as you manage to get lost.

 

Edgeland stumble – Leytonstone to Picketts Lock

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There’s a light patter of rain on the tree canopy along the edge of Leyton Flats as I head out on a Sunday morning walk – a rarity for me as I usually start in the afternoon and walk into the sunset. But today I have to introduce a secret film at Close Up in the evening.

The rain makes gentle circles in the Birch Well – a Victorian drinking spot for the grazing cattle who wandered this way until the BSE outbreak in the 90’s. This first narrow section of forest offers little opportunity for aimless wandering nor allows you to surrender to the woodland spirits because you encounter a road crossing about every 300 yards.

A giant fallen tree lies across the path leading out of Gilberts Slade. I’m feeling the effects of a viral cold, heavy legged, sore feet, wondering how far I’ll make it.

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The long wet grass by the gypsy stone at Woodford soaks my trousers to the knee. I pause for a moment under a tree at Highams Park Lake. The broad shade on the far side and the meander of the River Ching is a favourite spot in the Forest, it has a middle earth like magic even though BBQ smoke and the sound of playing children waft over from the back gardens of surrounding houses.

I stop at the Royal Café in Chingford Hatch for sausage, egg, and chips with tea so strong you could stand a spoon upright in it. Hunger must be dealt with first before assessing whether I have the desire to push on with the walk. I’ve been waiting for this walk to claim a narrative. I can pinpoint almost every other forest schlep with some event or association – even minor excursions like the one that ended here one wet day and I left my walking stick propped against a bench over the road and felt like I was abandoning an old friend. Maybe this stop in the Royal Café will provide that narrative hook.

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The Café sits on the ground floor of a block of flats – there’s a decorative tiled relief set into the wall showing a vase brimming full of flowers in bloom above the letters of the London County Council 1949.

The profusion of peddle-dash along the side of New Road Chingford, the nearby Harvester, these are some of the great signifiers of the London fringe – you find the same motifs heading west through Greenford and Northolt.

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At Chingford Mount I buy a two-pack of socks from Poundland and put both pairs on sat on a bench near the clock tower. With food in my belly and dry socks on my feet I feel like a new person ready to pursue the quest.

Lower Hall Lane offers up a classic slice of Lea Valley edgeland. Men sitting in parked cars in this deadend road – cabbies waiting for the next call. Suburban husbands escaping bungalow wives. Newbuild housing abuts the Grade II-listed Victorian pumping station. A grand brick pile built in 1895 by the East London Water Works, the local paper reports arrests made in recent years for planning violations. Permission to convert to site to residential use was granted by Waltham Forest Council in 2007 but now appears to be under review.

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19th Century excavations in Lower Hall Lane unearthed a series of Bronze Age Cremations – one of many such sites that line the Lea Valley. Further archaeological investigations in Lower Hall Lane revealed a medieval brew house, barns, moats, walls, and ditches. It’s a site of continuous human usage stretching back thousands of years. Today it’s just me and the dog barking at the gate of the deserted pumping station. A shiny new thick chain and padlock adorn the adjoining cottage gate. Perhaps someone is inside watching me from behind the curtains.

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I sauntered past London Waste up the cycle track on the opposite side to the towpath. From the bridge I spot the polythene of a temporary home flapping in the thick undergrowth – makeshift settlements scatter the fringes of London, like Harvester restaurants. A shrine suspended on a pylon pays tribute to ‘RIP Hasan 1987 – 2011’.

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I loiter in the foyer of the Odeon of Picketts Lock  before getting the train back to Stratford from Ponders End.