Wetlands Trail – Woodberry Wetlands to Walthamstow Wetlands

The approach to Woodberry Wetlands from Harringay Green Lanes was dominated by the, to put it mildly, ‘controversial’ redevelopment of Woodberry Down Estate. The blocks, old and new dominate one side of the horizon around this urban oasis created by the London Wildlife Trust out of an active reservoir. It was only when talking to London Wildlife Trust staff, here to celebrate the first anniversary of Woodberry Wetlands, that I learnt of how this reservoir drew water from the New River and fed it down to the Walthamstow Reservoirs via an underground culvert. It seems incredible that the New River, opened in 1613 to supply London with drinking water still fulfills an important function in the city’s infrastructure.

 

Woodberry Down Estate Woodberry Wetlands

Once the Klezmer Band started to wind down I exited the Wetlands onto the New River Path and slowly followed it down to the edge of Stamford Hill carving a trail along the path of the culvert down to Walthamstow Wetlands at the other end of the pipe.

The New River Harringay

There were plenty of people passing over Clapton Common and I exchanged a few words with some Hasidic Jewish gentlemen about the fate of Tower Court Estate. One landmark that remains is the Church of the Good Shepherd, now a Georgian Orthodox Church, built by the curious Agapemonite Victorian sex cult.

Tower Court Hackney

New signage indicates the intention to create a trail linking the two wetlands. When I next follow this path, after the formal opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, I fully expect to see clumps of backpacked urban hikers schlepping the couple of miles between the two waterscapes.

Woodberry Wetlands Walthamstow Wetlands

Springfield Park is the perfect place to sit on a bench at sunset and watch the world drift by looking across at the dark wooded hills on the eastern flank of the Lea Valley. Revived, I passed Walthamstow Marshes in the fading light to the closed gates of Walthamstow Wetlands due to open this autumn. It took me back to standing at the spot just after sunset in January 2013 when I walked a wide loop from Leytonstone across Leyton Lammas Lands to Wassail the fruit trees in Clapton and Springfield Park before walking back through Walthamstow. With that in mind I made my way along the deserted market for a couple of pints in The Chequers to toast north east London’s new Wetlands.

 

Passageways to the People’s Palace

Harringay Ladder

I find myself at Harringay Green Lanes on a wet Wednesday morning. In such a situation the best option is to slide along the Harringay Ladder down Harringay Passage. With my finger I trace the outline of the date stamped onto the base of the metal bollards – it reads 1884. The slabs are slippery. There is something about the brick confines of the passage that frees the mind. Although I keep returning to thoughts of second breakfast and memories of living up here in 1991-2.

Every 100 yards or so the passage is interrupted by one of the streets that forms the struts of the ladder – Duckett Road, Mattison, Pemberton, Seymour, Fairfax, Falkland, Hampden – a mixed bag of references to local land-owners, military and naval figures, dignitaries of the Hornsey district. It has even been suggested that the names were chosen by the local Masonic lodge

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Loud shriek of seagulls whirling round the gasometers on Mary Neuner Road.

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Wildfowl line up along the New River by the Hornsey Water Treatment Works. A peculiar Brave New World housing development in the shadow of the Northern Heights. New River Village is built on former Thames Water land and boasts that it’s “a prime example of a brownfield site which called for an innovative and creative design solution to release its full potential and deliver a quality environment with tangible community benefits.” I wander along its deserted central … well I’ll flatter it with the word ‘boulevard’. It’s eerily quiet considering there are 622 residential units, just a solitary Eastern European window cleaner who doesn’t know much about it other than that it’s a ‘new village’.

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Stand at the foot of the hill and Alexandra Palace looms above – Temple of the Radio Age. Something about it makes me think of George Orwell, perhaps it’s those images of him sitting at a BBC microphone. It’s also his descriptions in Coming Up For Air of the birth of a new world in the 1920s and 30s – the modern age of artificial food, plastic, and totalitarianism. This merges and is augmented by the sequences from Adam Kossoff’s film, The Anarchist Rabbi, showing how it was used as an internment camp during the First World War. A place built for pleasure, ‘The People’s Palace’, became a place of detention and imprisonment – there is something unnerving about that.

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The BBC radio towers have narratives to reveal and I want to hear what they have to say but I’m 60-odd years too late. Something in the weatherworn brickwork, the arches supported by columns facing the city speaks of an internment camp and you can imagine it used for the same purpose under a British Fascist dictatorship that Orwell feared. This would have been Big Brother’s palace. The knowledge that apparently this is a lively dogging spot lightens the vibe a touch.

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You can see where the renovation brutally ends near the rear of the building. A lady stops to talk and tells me that there is still some damage from the great fire of 1980. She was here when there was another fire, at the wedding show in the 1990s and all the bridalwear models were so panicked they ran out into the January cold near naked in just their pants. Imagining a crowd of topless models charging across the highest point in Haringey is a suitable counterbalance to the gloomy resonances of grizzly German detainees.

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Today is the Knitting and Needlework show. Kossoff used shots of the Palm Court when telling the story of Rudolf Rocker’s imprisonment here. The gentle clamour of the elderly ladies here for the a celebration of home crafts buts up against misery that the men must’ve felt locked up away from their families.

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I continue on to Muswell Hill and mooch around the shops, shelter from the rain in the beautiful 1931 library then schlepp down Cranley Gardens forever famous for the gruesome crimes of Denis Nilsen. Regretting not queuing for an overpriced coffee and Danish at Ally Pally for second breakfast, I stop at the Royal Palace Cafe on Park Road for what many people would call an early lunch of sausage baguette and cappuccino. The rain finally stops.

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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