London’s Village of Visionaries – Stoke Newington

A walk across the Lea Valley from Leyton to Stoke Newington

I was full of trepidation at the thought of crossing the River Lea for the first time since the lockdown began on 23rd March. In those three months the land on the western side of the valley came to represent the whole bulk of London as we sheltered from the virus. But I knew that eventually I’d have to confront my fear and make this journey. Stoke Newington seemed like a good destination for this first foray beyond my comfort zone. Described as “the village of visionaries” in the Time Out Book of London Walks, Stoke Newington has strong associations with non-comformism, the arts and literature.

Our walk starts in Leyton and crosses the River Lea opposite the Olympic Park then goes over Hackney Marshes from Homerton Road. A smattering of people staked themselves out in the afternoon sun of the hottest day of the year so far as temperatures hit 31 degrees. I headed down through the treeline to the Hackney Cut where two women in bikinis were recovering on the towpath from the effort of hauling their dinghy out of the canal. They stood there peeling layers of green weed from their skin like a pair of moulting swamp creatures. A constant cavalcade of cyclists pinged past dinging their bells to tell me to clear the path. It was a delightful summer scene.

Hackney Cut

Crossing the Cut I decided to revisit the Millfields Community Orchard where I joined the Hackney Tree Muskateers for the wassailing of the fruit trees in the winter of 2013. The throbbing power station beside the orchard I discovered from the comments on my video was formerly the site of the Clapton Stadium where Leyton Orient played in the days when they were Clapton Orient. It apparently later became a greyhound and speedway track.

From here my path took me across Millfields and up Southwold Road to Lower Clapton Road where I was pleasantly surprised to find draft pale ale to take away from the garden of the Crooked Billet pub. I headed up Evering Road with its notorious association with the Kray Twins and the murder of Jack the Hat McVitie. Following Brooke Road N16 I felt the presence of the Hackney Brook running beneath the ground on its way to make a confluence with the sacred River Lea.

Stoke Newington High Street was gridlocked. The old Roman Ermine Street choked with throbbing bus engines rattling the brains of the pedestrians. I took refuge in the beautiful Abney Park Cemetery, opened on the site of Abney House as a model ‘garden cemetery’. This leads us into Stoke Newington Church Street and a visit to the Ecstatic Peace Library Record Shop. I’d prepared for the walk by listening to a new track by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Strawberry Moon. Now a resident of Stoke Newington, the Ecstatic Peace Library is Moore’s publishing venture so there was a nice synchronicity to visiting his shop.

Stoke Newington

The walk inevitably leads into Clissold Park, the grounds of a house built for Quaker anti-slavery campaigner Jonathan Hoare. I hadn’t seen so many people in one place since the lockdown began – a mass of physically distancing sunbathers soaking up the early evening light. The perfect place to end the walk for the video, where I could swig the last of my ale before walking home to Leytonstone.

The mighty Clapton CFC

Went along with my son and one of his friends to watch Clapton CFC (Community Football Club) at Wadham Lodge, Walthamstow on Saturday. It’s been a long time coming. I lived near the Old Spotted Dog ground in the early 90’s – home of Clapton FC, but we never made it past the doors of the pub to a match.

Clapton CFC

Clapton CFC 27 April 2019

The atmosphere that the fans have created at the temporary home of Clapton CFC (they move into a bigger ground next season) is something to behold, and incredible for a team playing in the Middlesex Counties League. Saturday’s exciting (and slightly fortunate) 3-2 victory over London Samurai Rovers have taken them to the brink of the league title, and the double, in their first season.

I’ll be back for more next season. FORZA CLAPTON CFC.

 

Over the Marshes to Harringay

It started as a mundane amble up to Baker’s Arms with the wife for a mooch about. She headed off to pick the kids up from school so I followed my nose down Boundary Road. I’m going to speculate that it was the Boundary between Walthamstow and Leyton but that’s just a wild stab in the dark.

The Dagenham Brook winds its way behind the houses to the River Lee. Further along its course at Marsh Lane Fields the council are lavishing large sums of money on a new bridge across its narrow banks. It’d better be a good bridge, the one that was there already did the job of getting you from one side to the other without getting your feet wet, so this new expensive bridge better come with its own troll, perhaps a kiosk in the middle, and free foot massages.

I took several photographs of the brook from different angles – transfixed by it, wanting document its existence and pay homage to this slither of wildness passing through our realm of bricks and mortar. Some blokes were testing out new car speakers nearby and I wondered how I could justify to them my fixation with what might look like a muddy ditch.
I fumbled around in my head for a bit past lists of chocolate bars and the Suarez 10-match ban and came to the conclusion that people go to great lengths to seek out historical monuments of the man-made world for their supposed links to the past but here was a tangible relic from a much more distant age, as old at least as a Wooly Mammoth, just sliding past the backs of terraced house gardens minding its own business.

I got drawn into the industrial estate off Lea Bridge Road and wandered around admiring the modernist industrial architecture – it’s like a miniature version of the splendour of the Great West Road.

One of the factories in Staffa Road was possibly where the Panjandrum was built. With the high-tech military research funds long gone the great brains of Leyton have turned their attention to constructing giant wooden shoes.

The bridge that took me over the railway tracks was thick with flies – I had a mouthful by the time I reached the other end. I must remember to keep my mouth shut and not have my tongue hanging out in those situations.
The horses mowing the grass of the Lea Valley Riding Centre on the other side were less than sympathetic and harassed me for sugar cubes and Polo mints – neither of which I had.

The once mighty River Lee tamed and subordinate. I’ve written a few thoughts about it in my forthcoming book so don’t want to blow that now – I can’t think of anything else to say for now – just that I prefer the tributaries, although I’ve only mentioned the Dagenham, Coppermill, and Filly Brook in my book.

After following the path round Porter’s Field I ended up in a section of Walthamstow Marshes navigating my way along tunnels cut through a deep growth of brambles. Around and around I went through this maze of thorns with no evident way out. In a clearing a man was laid in the sun reading a book – he just looked up and smirked. I was too embarrassed to ask directions.
By the time I reached Springfield Park with lacerated hands I was more than ready for afternoon tea on the lawns drinking in the view across the Lea Valley to the dark ridge of Epping Forest.

It’s impossible to pass through the area without noticing the spire of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Upper Clapton. Apparently this was previously home to the  ‪Agapemonite sect – what a great name, up there with the Muggletonians.
I couldn’t get a decent photo of the winged creatures looking out from the belfry – Wikipedia says they are a reference to Blake’s Jerusalem.

The Salisbury on Harringay Green Lanes seemed like a natural place to end up. We used to drink here when I lived in a student house up on the Harringay Ladder. One night the pub was closed so they could film a scene for the Chaplin biopic directed by Dickie Attenborough and starring Robert Downey Jr.
From memory Chaplin is stood at the bar and berated by a couple of locals about not supporting the war effort during WWI. He’d be safe in the Salisbury today – there was only me and a couple of old fellas.

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