Sunday Walk – Wanstead Flats, North Circular and Hollow Ponds

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

The desire was stay local – within the gravitational field of home but still get in a decent walk. My instinct was to head to the far side of Wanstead Flats and take it from there.

The area of Wanstead Flats burnt so badly last summer gives off a glorious smell of resurgent wildflowers.

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The ragwort was alive with caterpillars of the cinnabar moth munching on its leaves, ingesting toxins to make themselves unpalatable to birds. Ragwort and the cinnabar caterpillar appear to have an interesting relationship that makes for a diverting spectacle on a summer stroll.

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I always have to pay homage to the barrage balloon posts and marvel at their continued survival.

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

After a stop at Aldersbrook Petrol Station for a Starbucks and Greggs donut – which has become one of my favourite Alan Partridge style treats – I head down Park Road and through Wanstead Park which looked as glorious as ever.

St Mary's Wanstead

The bells of St. Mary’s Wanstead tolled as I stood admiring the Borough of Redbridge’s only Grade 1 listed building. I’ve been told St. Mary’s has an interesting crypt that I’ve yet to visit but the interior of the church is a real gem of the East. The graveyard has burials dating back to the establishment of the original medieval church.

Wanstead War Memorial

Wanstead High Street

There’s clearly a Sunday Scene on Wanstead’s wonderful High Street and I bumped into my eldest son carrying a toy keyboard he’d just bought in a charity shop as he headed to a park bench with his mates. A gentleman approached who watches my YouTube videos to ask if I’d made one on the Wanstead Slip and told me of a relic of Wantead House that now resides in a back garden somewhere along Grove Road. It was great to hear his stories of old Leyton and Stratford.

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Snaresbrook – South Woodford

I decided against heading into the forest at Snaresbrook and carried on along the tree-lined road towards South Woodford stopping to take in the modernist glory of Hermitage Court.

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North Circular – South Woodford

Heading up Grove Hill at South Woodford I came to the Willow Path that crosses the North Circular. This seemed like an ideal location to take a selfie which I posted to Instagram as ‘North Circular Selfie’. I’ve been meaning to make a film of a walk round the North Circular (perhaps over two days rather than one long schlep) for some time but now wonder if documenting the walk with a series of selfies charting my gradual decline as the pollution takes its toll might work better.

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Carnarvon Road, South Woodford

Carnarvon Road, South Woodford has some incredible buildings. Firstly you’re greeted with what appears to be the back of some kind of industrial building – although I couldn’t locate the front. Then across the street is this beautiful modernist block that looks as though it may have an interesting former life.

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Epping Forest

I must have walked past this fine oak tree just off Epping New Road at South Woodford a hundred times without noticing this plaque commemorating the planting of the tree by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932 in celebration of the Jubilee of the opening of the forest.

North Circular

Waterworks Corner

At the Rodney Smith stone I decided to turn for home rather than push on through the forest. This of course brought me to one of my favourite London views, from the bridge back across the North Circular at Waterworks Corner. I took another ‘North Circular Selfie’, naturally.

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Walthamstow to the Whipps Cross Lido

I passed through the narrow strip of the forest that takes you behind the Waterworks and St. Peter’s Church emerging at the very tip of Lea Bridge Road. It’s interesting to note that the gate off Snaresbrook Road is labelled ‘Snaresbrook Lido’ and not ‘Whipps Cross Lido’ or ‘Leytonstone Lido’ as I’ve seen the swimming pool named elsewhere.

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The Hollow Ponds

The Hollow Ponds was the perfect place for the walk to end. I rested under an oak tree and nearly nodded off serenaded by the rustling of leaves in the early afternoon breeze.

 

 

Looking for Leytonstone’s Lost Lido at Whipps Cross

One boiling hot morning last week I returned to an overgrown patch of land on the far side of the Hollow Ponds in search of remnants of Leytonstone’s lost Lido. The Whipps Cross Lido was built in 1905 and closed in 1982. It was demolished the following year and the land left to be reclaimed by the forest. I’d gone looking for remains originally with my friend Andrew Stevens, a few years ago on a muddy winter afternoon. That day we mostly found thick undergrowth festooned with used condoms like a plantation of perverted Christmas trees. The location of the Lido had evidently found a new use.

What we hadn’t realised at the time was that the site is quite clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map, and on this occasion I was able to properly scope the site out. Initially all I found were half lumps of concrete buried in the banks of bushes. Not conclusive enough. But soon I unearthed broken sections of clay pipes, and then large pieces of wire-mesh reinforced glass. Finally the smoking gun of a long length of metal pipe running along a high bank overlooking a large hollowed out area matching the size of the footprint of the pool.

Leytonstone Lido

Stood in the deep end being feasted upon by mosquitos I tried to imagine the scene on a boiling hot summer’s day such as this. The kids racing around the poolside and dive-bombing into the water to the rebukes of the life guards. People have told me of the odour of TCP that pervaded one corner, and of entire days spent here at the Whipps Cross Lido, the queue to get in stretching back to Snaresbrook Road.

The London Lidos that have survived are now treasured assets, with some such as Tooting, drawing in swimmers all year round. Brockwell and London Fields Lidos are ‘places to be seen’. If only Leytonstone’s Whipps Cross Lido could have weathered those dark recession years of the early 80’s – you can imagine how popular it would be today.

The Secret Suburb – Higham Hill Walthamstow

This was a tip-off from a friend and the realisation that I had actually never been to Higham Hill, it had remained mythologised as the termination point of the W15 bus with the automated robot voice stating its identity as the ‘W15 to Higham Hill Cogan Avenue’. My mate had mentioned in a follow-up text that the area possessed some interesting industrial history, important developments printing and type, the site recently converted into housing with the blocks named after various fonts.

Higham Hill Walthamstow

Higham Hill was not merely a  suburb of Walthamstow, the latest feasting ground of ravenous estate agents. Higham Hill Road offered fantastic eastwards views towards Epping Forest and Claybury. There was indeed fantastic art deco industrial architecture, abundant allotments, and well-kept open space. I spent three hours wandering round as the sun bashed down burning out the last day of May and I found a beautiful Victorian book for sale for a couple of quid in the Post Office before jumping the bus back to Leytonstone.

A Lea Valley Odyssey – Leytonstone to Rye House

Here are a few images from a research trip I took on Sunday for my new book (as yet untitled). I wanted to start at Leytonstone House, the home of Edward North Buxton – author of Epping Forest (1884) the book that informs most of my forest walks. There was more to the Buxton link but you’ll have to wait for the book to find out (and also till I’ve untangled the complicated web cast by the fact the Buxtons seemed to use about two names throughout the family and all marry members of the Gurney banking dynasty).

It wasn’t my intention to morbidly gawp at the crime scene at the Hollow Ponds where a body was recently discovered but it was en-route to the W16 bus stop on Shernall Street. I then walked from Sewardstone to Rye House near Hoddesdon.

The trip just happened to fall on the second anniversary of the publication of This Other London. Work on the follow up is slower than I would have liked but you know, there it is, you can’t rush these things unless you’ve got a publisher breathing down your neck which I currently don’t have. As my friend Nick Papadimitriou pointed out, ‘you’re gathering lots of material’, and he’s not wrong, there’s stacks of the stuff, and I intend to gather a lot more.

Leytonstone’s Lost Lido

In this meditation on the Hollow Ponds there are two mysteries left unresolved. Firstly the sign on the boathouse that reads, “Have You Seen the Hollow Pond Bear”. I assumed at the time that it was a reference to the area’s long heritage as a gay cruising spot but on reflection wonder if it might actually refer to a Grizzly. Over at the Welsh Harp Reservoir between Barnet and Brent an actual bear escaped from a menagerie there in 1871. So there is precedent for this kind of thing.

Whipps Cross Lido

Opening of Whipps Cross Lido in 1932 From the Waltham Forest Guardian – credit Vestry House Museum

Absent from the video is the Whipps Cross Lido created in 1905 and returned to the forest in 1983. Wikipedia mentions that it was known locally as “the Batho”. I had half a mind to find the footprint of the site but had spent so long filming the geese in slow-motion that I’d used up my time – the sojourn was over. But somewhere beneath the grass north of the Hollow Pond between Lea Bridge and Snaresbrook Roads there lurks the lost lagoon of Leytonstone.

 

Here’s an interesting article about the creation of the Hollow Ponds from the local paper

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2018 Update

Finally went back to look for the Whipps Cross Lido in this video