Psychogeographer-in-residence walk No.5

This glorious walk over Pole Hill and along what J.A Brimble called the ‘western escarpment’, is the final video in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We begin at Chingford Station, an early staging post for forays into Epping Forest when it was declared ‘The People’s Forest’ by Queen Victoria when she came to Chingford in 1882 in celebration of the passing of the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which preserved the forest for the citizens of London. Queen Victoria’s 7th son, the Duke of Connaught, became the first Ranger of Epping Forest, and our walk heads along Connaught Avenue.

At the end of Connaught Avenue we start our ascent of Pole Hill, the highest point in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. At the summit is a trig point and an obelisk bearing two plaques. The first notes that the “pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pound M.A. Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory.” The second commemorates the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) who owned this land until 1922 when it was incorporated into Epping Forest.

Often overlooked though is the concrete base of a Second World War Anti-Aircraft Gun which would have scanned the skies above the Lea Valley as German bombers made their way to wreak destruction on the London Docks.

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We follow the footpath through woodland and descend into the valley of the Hawksmouth, before climbing once more, this time across Yates’ Meadow and Yardley Hill. From here are some of the finest views of London as we stand perched on its northeastern border, with Essex behind us. The towers of the City shimmer in the distance calling to mind PJS Perecval’s description of London’s orgins as a “stockade in the woods – the Llyndin of the ancient Britons.” (London’s Forest, 1909).

We retrace our steps back down the edge of Yardley Hill, and into Hawk Wood. One of the participants in the guided walks I led with artist Rachel Lillie, emailed me with this note on the possible origins of the name of Hawk Wood, “In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court. Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

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Crossing Bury Road we enter Bury Wood till we reach the point where the Cuckoo Brook crosses the footpath. From here we turn across Chingford Plain, a place I end many forest walks bathed in glorious sunset. Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge stands proudly on the hill from where Henry VIII would watch the hunt on the plain below. A Brewer’s Fayre sits invitingly next to the Hunting Lodge or you can continue across the grasslands where cattle graze back to Chingford Station.

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

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The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

‘Winter Time’ Walk in Epping Forest

Bury Wood Epping Forest

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The clocks went back and I awoke to a clear blue sky calling me out to walk. I headed for Chingford and up along the edge of Bury Wood, crossed Bury Road and through the beautiful Hawk Wood on the edge of Epping Forest. I’ve been intrigued about the name for a while and was sent this beguiling note on the name by Joanna from the Chingford Historical Society:

“In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court.Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

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Yate's Meadow

Up over Yate’s Meadow (the name of which I learnt from some lovely people who came on my Pole Hill walk – it’s only marked Yardley Hill on the OS Map) for what must be one of the most spectacular views of London – the towers of the City encased in forest – a stockade in the woods as in ancient legend.

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Up over Lippitts Hill, footpaths offering stunning views over Enfield and Waltham Abbey.

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The vista from this side of the ‘western escarpment’ between forest and Lea is beyond London looking out at England stretching the length of the island – or so it seems on days like this.

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Down Thompsons Lane, then Wellington Hill, and ascending Rats Lane – the path of angry dogs.

Back in Epping Forest at Hill Wood the trees so majestic I gasped out loud. They deserve to be worshipped.

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Chingford Plain at sunset was the perfect end as a cold nip embellished the air. Winter’s here it said, the dark evenings have descended.

 

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.

 

 

Epping Forest Winter Walk

Epping Forest

A Sunday afternoon (last week) wander in Epping Forest, basking in those precious last hours of daylight.

The Tube to Loughton and up Forest Road to where the Loughton Brook meanders along the forest floor.

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The ground around Debden Slade was still frozen white, encrusted mud ridges to be traversed like miniature mountain ranges.

I ascended, skirting through the trees – Shelley’s Hill, Kate’s Cellar, Broome Hill and crossed Epping New Road.

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The winter light was nourishing. Distance wasn’t an objective. It was about just being in the forest.

I took a late lunch of a generously loaded bacon bap in the carpark of the King’s Oak as the bikers examined each other’s machines, revved the engines and talked of petrol stations on the A12. I got chatting to a couple who watch my YouTube videos and we discussed the great walks heading north of the forest to hills above Waltham Abbey and beyond.

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As the sun started to dip below the tree line, I turned back downhill through fronds of frozen ferns, retracing my steps as the gloom became darkness and the lights of Loughton twinkled in the near distance.

Boudicca’s Obelisk in the Epping Forest Uplands

Boudicca’s Obelisk

The mythology linking Boudicca to Epping Forest is a strong one – stemming from the 18th Century belief that Ambresbury Banks was Boudicca’s Camp during the time of her rebellion against the Romans. It is also believed that she died somewhere in the uplands north of the Forest, either through eating poison berries or bleeding out into the waters of the Cobbins Brook. The mythology found its way into the landscaping of Warlies Park in 1737 with the building of two obelisks in honour of the Queen of the Iceni – one commanding views of the Lea Valley high on a hill, the other built in brick at the edge of a field near the Cobbins Brook. I passed both obelisks on this beautiful walk that took me from Epping, around the grounds of Copped Hall through Warlies Park (once the home of the Buxtons of Leytonstone) and finishing on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey with a route 66 bus back through the nightime forest to the tube station at Loughton.