Forest to the Lea Valley – walking video diary and ‘psychogeographical sound sandwich’

Here’s a video of the walk I did last weekend from Leytonstone to Ponders End. I’ve collaged a soundtrack from some old records, field recordings I made on my phone and some music I quickly knocked up on my laptop using Garageband – it more accurately reflects what’s going on in my head as I walk. Bob and Roberta Smith talked of creating a ‘sound sandwich’ when I interviewed him at the Barbican during the Cultural Olympiad where he was performing with his Apathy Band, and he related the idea, using lots of overlapping records playing, to the psychogeographical walks I was undertaking – but in audio form – a ‘psychogeographical sound sandwich’.

Eric Simms BBC

Eric Simms

The first ‘found sound’ on the video is from a gem of a record in the BBC Wildlife Series featuring recordings of birdsong made by Eric Simms originally broadcast on the Radio 4 Countryside programme. It’s a selection of Spring choruses – ‘a busy rookery’ recorded in Sussex, 1960. In the sleeve notes Simms writes, “For me perhaps the quickest way to evoke memories of places is to listen to recordings that I have made of their background sounds”. For me when I walk the sounds of the present are mingled with sounds, voices and memories of other places.

There was a serendipitous moment when I grabbed a bit of a recording of ‘If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses-In-Between’ performed by John Foreman when I just happened to skip to the lines:

Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the Eastward could be seen
Wiv a ladder and some glasses
You could see to ‘Ackney Marshes
If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between

Which is a fairly accurate description of the view from the footbridge over the North Circular between Walthamstow and Woodford, except the song was talking about the overcrowded East End of the 1890s, harking back to some rural idyll just beyond the rooftops. Is this what draws me out into the forest?

 

Read the blog post about this walk here

Walk from Leytonstone to Ponders End

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The urge was to walk without any particular destination and let my feet decide which way to go. They pulled me in a familiar direction – up Wallwood Road and past the Hindu temple to the Hollow Ponds. The merest drop of rain turns Leyton Flats into a bog and a crow paddled in a large pool of rainwater.

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Rooks decorated the bare boughs making rook sounds (is it a Corr or a Raww) gathering for their late afternoon parliament. I can only distinguish the rooks from the crows by remembering my Dad saying ‘A rook on its own is a crow’.

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A rust coloured rivulet trickled near the overflowing Birch Well leading to/from the Eagle Pond, this area is cross-stitched with a tapestry of nameless seasonal ditches and brooks.

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RS Lounge is looking rather sorry for itself these days – I black bin-liner was wrapped around its once glowing neon sign fluttering in the wind like a harbinger of doom. RS was built on the site of the Rising Sun pub which dated back to at least the 1850’s before the £2million refurb that transformed it into an Ibiza style luxury bar and dining thing.

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The thwack of tyres over the cattle grid scares the wildfowl from the pond. The footbridge crossing the North Circular offers one of my favourite views of London a north-western slice across the Lea Valley, tall chimneys spewing out fumes, the tower blocks in the distance set at angles I suppose to maximise sunlight. It’s an expansive, varied vista, industrial London, broad freeways, a carpet of housing, the river, reservoirs, the forest, green plains, hills on the horizon.

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I pick up a stick to help steady my progress through the ankle deep mud. I skit between the path and the undergrowth not so much walking to Woodford as sliding and skating, with my stick and greying beard I feel like Gandalf on Ice.


The Ching gurgles blissfully between steep river banks as it slips round the edge of the lake at Highams Park. Now I have my sights set on Chingford Green – a place that seems incongruous in modern London, like one of those out-of-place artifacts that defy the conventional understanding of human history. I leave the forest sludge and rest my trusty staff against a bench by the pavement and ascend Friday Hill once I’ve acquired a Double Decker from the petrol station to fuel my climb.

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Friday Hill House has the forlorn look of a place that was once loved but now abandoned and unwanted. Built in 1839 by Lewis Vulliamy for the Boothby-Heathcote family, they eventually sold it to the London County Council who constructed the Friday Hill Estate in the grounds and the house became a Community Centre and later an adult education college. Its fate now remains unclear.

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The Chingford United Services Club though appears to be thriving and the Seafood stall in the carpark had a short line of customers eager for cockles, winkles and crab. After admiring the ‘Second Empire’ architecture of The Bull and Crown coaching inn (now a branch of Prezzo) I retire to Sams ‘quality fish and chips restaurant’ – notice the ‘chips’ in plural.

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It’s not been the brightest of days and now 30mins before sunset it’s positively gloomy. I’m drawn along the path beside the parish church to the crest of Kings Head Hill and a close-up of the view I’d taken in earlier from the bridge across the North Circ. I keep plodding on, my destination reached but my feet aren’t ready to quit just yet.

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Halfway down the hill past Sunnyside Lodge and opposite a fine cottage-style electricity substation there is a brass plaque set in the pavement commemorating the 1986 Year of Peace. An odd place to celebrate an international event unless of course Chingford has a hidden link to the Baha’i Faith that seems to have instigated the event. Is the substation a temple pumping out peace around the world? Nothing would surprise me about Chingford.

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Looking across the Lea Valley at sunset this corner of North East London always makes me think of America – open spaces, wide roads, car lots, Wim Wenders directing Paris Texas, David Lynch weirdness, possibility. The sodium lights of the industrial Lea Delta after a muted sunset. Pylons, sheep grazing on the grassy banks of the reservoir. A Harvester pub and restaurant which I would love to enter but my boots are caked in London Clay which has also splattered up my legs to my knees.

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Now I am bound for Ponders End in the dark. The tower blocks of the Alma Estate (Kestrel, Cormorant, Merlin and Curlew House) guide me in by the few lights still shining, with the estate slated for a £150 million regeneration scheme I guess they must have started to move tenants out.

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A Roundabout of Death tricks me to walking along the hard shoulder before doubling back to find my way to the Station – cars zipping past at speed heading for the desert, for Vegas, or more likely Waltham Abbey and Cheshunt. My feet led me well on this walk – I should trust them more often.

 

Over Pole Hill

I‘d taken a mazy path from Woodford Green, through Knighton Wood, across Whitehall Plain and onto Station Road Chingford for a bag of chips munched on a bench at Chingford Green outside the Assembly Hall which was hosting a performance by the Ex-Servicemen’s Wives Choir. It was like the 1950’s.

Pole Hill Chingford

A path in the car park at the rear of the Kings Head pub led to the summit of Pole Hill. I was breathing heavily as I came upon the clearing and soon realised that the view would be significantly better in winter when the bare boughs wouldn’t obscure the vista.

Pole Hill obelisk

 

 

 

The stone obelisk bears two plaques. The highest records the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia – forever in my mind Peter O’Toole garbed in white and directed by David Lean) who bought 18 acres at the top of Pole Hill where he planned to build a house where he and his friend Vyvyan Richards would print his now famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The dream remained unfulfilled but they did build a hut with a pool where Richards lived until 1922.

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The second plaque – well you can read it yourself – but I take this as meaning that Chingford Green isn’t the land that time forgot but the place where time began. It wasn’t the 1950’s down there – it was the year 130.

I don’t know why some annoying pedant has scribbled that “This is not the Highest Point in Ldn”, nobody claims that it is to my knowledge, a portion of the population of Chingford deny that it’s even in London – refusing to acknowledge the 1963 London Government Act that brought the area into London from Essex.

Yardley Hill

Moving on through Hawk Wood I then made the steep ascent of Yardley Hill through a field of buttercups to fantastic views down the Lea Valley and westwards over the Northern Heights.

Lea Valley view from Fernhill Wood

Skirting the huge Scout encampment at Gilwell Park and surviving a narrow country road with no footpath that appears to be a where the speed limits of 4×4 vehicles are tested, I was rewarded with this view from the edge of Fernhill Wood – creation smiling upon Brimsdown.

Sewardstone

I came down off the hill into Sewardstone (named after, “Seward, a great Saxon thane” – Village London 1883) just before 9pm.  Just beyond the edge of London, a place where the buses stop running at 6.23pm. Sewardstone is an oddity – the only area outside Greater London with a London postcode – E4. I’d long wondered what was out here, the lack of detail on the OS map is matched by the reality on the ground. A couple of farms, a row of houses and a pub with a nice garden … oh and a Premier Inn.

McDonalds Waltham Abbey

My only desire had been to hit the outer limits of London through the forest, to land on a name on a map like a game of ramblers monopoly. But now the reality of finding some transport back into town hit home. The only thing left was to take the long road schlepp in the dying light towards Waltham Abbey.

The peaceful A21 that bypasses the town centre is as tranquil as the hills and certainly safer than that death track by Gilwell Park. The MaccyD’s on the Middlesex/Herts border, now a familiar waypoint on recent Lea Valley wanders, shows the way to Waltham Cross station and the return to London.

Urban Druid

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I recorded this video on a walk in Epping Forest last November – ruminating of the idea of urban druidry. I’d just bought Living Druidry by Emma Restall Orr – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Druidry correspondence course for years, initially tickled that such a thing was even possible but then increasingly drawn into the idea of connecting with some form of environment based faith system (you can put that down to impending middle age if you like). But every time I dip my toe in the pagan pond it always turns up ethereal folk swanning around in Wiltshire or somewhere similarly scenic and Arthurian.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

Well for me there is nothing more Arthurian than Epping Forest – one of the candidates for the real King Arthur was knocking around these parts, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who re-fortified Ambresbury Banks up near Theydon Bois. But getting away from supposed previous Golden Ages why can’t druidry be just as relevant to a dirty old city like London as to the chalk downlands and sweeping green hills.

In my mind though, when I entertain the idea the Urban Druid it looks as if it would be to druidry what Tony Hancock’s artist was to the art world in The Rebel.

 

 

Eastern (London) mysteries

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Strange goings on out east of Leytonstone – in that mysterious hinterland around Epping Forest before you emerge into the bosom of Essex proper. Two bulletins from this eldritch zone appeared in my reading today.

First this:

“Maybe it’s time I cleared up some misconceptions and actually allowed some genuine facts about what I’ve done come to light,” Stefan Jaworzyn announces, from deep within his inner sanctum in Chingford, on the outskirts of East London”Wire magazine, Feb 2014

The ‘noise guitarist, improviser and extreme film connoisseur’ had apparently been holed up in Chingford for 17 years in ‘self-imposed solitude’. After ending a recent forest yomp myself in Chingford one Sunday evening it appears to be the perfect place to look inwardly – or even to further an appreciation of ‘video nasties’ and ‘transgressive art’  as Jaworzyn has done from what I can glean from the first two pages of Edwin Pouncey’s enlightening article.

Possibly more alarming though is this vision of the future prophesized in last week’s edition of 2000AD. These panels in Strontium Dog lept out at me.

2000adOngar

artwork – Carlos Ezquerra, script – John Wagner. 2000AD prog 1865

The future neo-Nazi Brotherhood planning a slaughter of mutants “south of Ongar”. Luckily Johnny Alpha successfully rumbles this genocidal scheme and hopefully in this week’s comic we’ll see the mutant army kick some future neo-Nazi butt in a battle Royale at Ongar.

Ongar was for a long while the eastern terminus of the Central Line till its station closed in 1994. According to wikipedia the Navy codenamed a top secret torpedo ‘Project Ongar’ as they thought it would be ‘the end of the line for torpedo development’. Let’s hope that at the end of the 22nd Century, Ongar is the end of the line for the nazi Brotherhood.

Walk to Chingford

Lying on my back in the garden in the shade of the Sumac tree I kept seeing a view in my head. It wasn’t of Tuscan hills or the Chilterns but the view from the end of The Drive in Walthamstow that looks down along the Lea Valley. So at 7.30pm I set off.

I might not have made it as far as Chingford Road if I’d had the £20 in my pocket to take a boat out on the Hollow Ponds, full of families splashing about.

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The original George Monoux School dates from 1527. I bought a pamphlet about it in the Vestry House a while back but haven’t read it yet so that’s all the info I can pass on for now.

 

Immense views stretch out from the footbridge over the North Circular near the Crooked Billet Roundabout. The Holiday Inn Express in a weed-strewn lay-by had the forlorn look of a mid-west motel on the Lost Highway.

Where will they film the obligatory scene at the greyhound stadium that every mockney Gangster movie is required to have once they’ve converted ‘the Stow’ to housing? Lucky Blur stuck it on their Parklife album cover.

There’s a battle raging over the future of the track. ‘Save our Stow’ claim it as ‘the most historical greyhound track in the world’. I passed Catford Dogs on one of my walks for This Other London – also awaiting the same fate. London just has 3 of its original 33 dog tracks left.

I landed up at Chingford Mount as the sun was taking a dip in the Banbury Reservoir and jumped a 158 back to Leyton.


– the map above moves around if you click on the ‘play’ icon