The most poignant moment in making this elegy for a London meadow – Marsh Lane Fields, came when I couldn’t recall where exactly the horses had been tethered beneath the pylons. It was the memory of that image – so striking when I’d first seen it on my personal discovery of Marsh Lane Fields, new to the area Beating the Bounds in the driving rain with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee – that made me realise not only had the horses been erased from the landscape but the pylons as well. How was it possible that I hadn’t noticed before. I’d surveyed the changes to the site when passing through on one of the walks for This Other London and the fact I was running late for the wassailing in Clapton made me hurry through.
Sunday night I dug out my old camcorder from the top of the wardrobe and spooled through a miniDV tape I shot in December 2006 when the NLLDC returned to Marsh Lane to lead a protest against the proposed enclosure of one end of the ancient Lammas Lands by the London Olympic Authorities for the relocation of Manor Garden Allotments from Hackney. One protest had begotten another. First time this was attempted, in 1892, the people of Leyton marched onto the fields led by their councillors and tore the fences down. A plaque on the Eton Manor Athletics Club commemorates the event. It’s said the land was drained by Alfred the Great and bequeathed to the people of Leyton as common pasture based on the old Lammas grazing system. This mattered little to the Olympic people and their fences went up.
I fast-forwarded through the footage of the protest, the singing of an old marching Song sung during he footpath protests of the early 20th Century. Were the horses a misplaced memory of the stables on the site of the Lea Valley Pitch and Putt (was that a figment of my imagination as well?). But eventually there were the horses munching the grass in Standard Definition, today closely mown and rebranded Leyton Jubilee Park, grazing where now allotment holders cultivate rhubarb.
The assassination of the great avant-garde composer, Cornelius Cardew by the Stasi, the course of the Philly Brook, King Harold in Leyton and the pilgrimage route to Waltham Abbey along the High Road, a near collision with a cyclist on the pavement, the Knights Templar, echoes of midwest America, and a glorious sunset – all in a long walk round the block the other evening.
Left home at 5pm with no plan except a vague idea to head towards to the Beavertown Brewery at Tottenham Hale and their Saturday taproom which closed at 8. I was torn between my usual walk until dark and/or my knee stops working, and the desire to actually get somewhere by a specified time.
From Midland Road, the schlep of my old work commute with a nod to the home of Harry Beck’s Blue Plaque (but stupidly not shot of it for my walking vlog) then down Coopers Lane and Farmer Road yards away from the wheel screech of Leyton High Road but always tranquil somehow.
So sad to see The Antelope on Church Road boarded up. At a meeting to discuss the future of the Heathcote Arms last week – miraculously re-opened although still owned by a property developer – James Watson from CAMRA told the room that Waltham Forest has lost something like 50% of its pub stock. Thankfully now the local authority seems determined to lose no more – the Heathcote was among a number of pubs granted Asset of Community Value status. Let’s hope that like the Heathcote, the Antelope gets to be reborn.
I decided against the scenic route to Tottenham Hale, down Marsh Lane and over the Marshes because by now I could start to feel the tingle of a Beavertown Gamma Ray American IPA on my taste buds, so opted for the fast track via Markhouse Road and Blackhorse Road.
It’s sad to pass the boarded up Standard opposite Blackhorse Road Tube – once a legendary rock venue. I came here when I was 16 to watch my mate Johnny Lee play with his band. It was a big gig for a provincial outfit – it was said A&R men hung out at the bar looking to spot the next big thing.
The hubbub of the Beavertown Taproom crowd can be heard from a good 200 yards away – I thought it might be me and another 20 or so beer fans sat in the carpark of a Tottenham Industrial Estate. How wrong. There must have been 150 of the trendiest people I’ve seen in one place since I was backstage at a Katy Perry concert. Thank god I’ve got a beard.
After a transcendent Neckoil Session IPA and a Beaver Double IPA I tentatively enquired whether they did any brewery tours, “This is the tour I’m afraid”, the barman said gesturing from the bar to the expansive unit of polished brewing vessels. I must have looked visibly disappointed because he called a fella named Cosmo over and asked if he wouldn’t mind showing me around. At 8pm on a Saturday when they’d been flat out serving for hours they’d have been perfectly entitled to say No – but Cosmo couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, swinging back the barrier and leading me among the brew kit towards a 30 barrel mash tun where 5,500 litre batches are brewed using a tonne of malt for the 5% beers and double that for the stronger beers.
He explained how sugars are extracted from the malt by stewing and steeping it like a gigantic pot of tea. Then it is pumped into a copper for heating before it is cooled where the flavours of the hops start to emerge. The brew passes through a heat exchange into a fermenter where yeast is added and some more hops for dry hopping ‘to give extra hoppy aromas’ explained Cosmo. It is further chilled and carbonated for a week before either being kegged, canned (Beavetown have the best cans), or put into a wooden barrel for barrel-aging.
I can think of no finer end to a walk than to be given a guided tour of the brewery of one of your favourite beers. I walked away with the rosy glow of strong beer and a carrier bag containing a Beavertown T-shirt and a mixed six pack. I’ve got one cracked open on the desk beside me now.
The Tour de France coming to Leyton – a momentous event surely. The kids were even allowed a day off school – giving the Tour the same weight as the recent Royal Wedding.
I scanned the route for the best vantage point which by coincidence happened to be the closest part of the stage to home – the corner out of Orient Way into Ruckholt Road. The tour scooting over land owned by the Knights Templar and across the old manor of Ruckholts.
We sat by the roadside for 2 hours being pelted with cheap merchandise. My son was hit in the throat with a bag and my head was narrowly missed by an aggressively hurled box of Yorkshire Tea.
We’d been promised a good show. Somebody I knew even said the caravan was the best bit. A flotilla of 8 foot tall Fruit Shoot bottles hurtled by at breakneck speed.
There were some white rabbits – stares fixed straight ahead.
One van blared out Gangnam Style – “Still!!” exclaimed my 8 year-old son.
The leaders zipped past in a blink of an eye. Impressive.
Then the peloton was upon us like a swarm of angry hornets – a blur upon the retina, an optical illusion, we couldn’t even turn our heads to see them round the bend into Ruckholt Road. We didn’t get the hoped for pile up – darn it. There’d been a grape rolling around in the road moments before that we’d hoped would slide under the tyres.
“Well that wasn’t worth it”, my 8 year old declared.
“Oh well, it’ll be something to tell your grandchildren”, I attempted to console them, “the day the Tour de France came to Leyton”.
I’m becoming slightly obsessed with East Village, the name given to the London 2012 Athlete’s Village. It’s fascinating to watch a new neighbourhood slowly creak into life. And it’s right on my doorstep – a small provincial settlement dropped onto the marshes. There are few things as mundane as waiting at a bus stop on a wet Wednesday evening – but these are the experiences that form the bedrock of the narrative of a place, a world away from the glitz and hype of the multi-billion pound Olympic Games when celebrated gold medalists strutted these same streets. They’ve moved on to become a face on the front of a box of cereals and now people with less accessible histories and mythologies and moving onto the same ground, stubbing their toes on a loose paving slab, munching on fried chicken, dropping their dummies out of a pram.