New Year’s Day Walk 2018

Whipps Cross Leytonstone

Whipps Cross Leytonstone

Up through the backstreets of Upper Leytonstone emerging on Whipps Cross Road. Early pangs of mid-afternoon hunger are sated at the Lakeside Diner with a sausage baguette. I was only coming out for a local wander, now I need to walk this thing off.

Forest Rise Walthamstow

Around Whipps Cross – recorded from the 14th – 16th Centuries as Phips Cross/ Fypps Cross and literally referring to a cross erected by the Phips family. I cross Woodford New Road to patch of boggy rough ground and pass along St. Peter’s Avenue to Forest Rise. The dead tree stump I photographed in 2010 is still there – thriving in the afterlife.

Hale End Road

Hale End Road

Why did I have the urge to pass through Hale End? I have no idea but as I approached the North Circular crossing I realise how my relationship with the environment was formed by growing up within the acoustic footprint of the M40 – constantly humming out a white noise refrain throughout my childhood from the flyover that curved around the edge of the village. You passed beneath it to go on walks with my Dad in the woods heading up into the Chiltern fringe, and again it loomed ominously overhead walking to the doctors in the next village with my Mum dripping dark liquid down its vast concrete pillars. We viewed glorious sunsets on the other side of the 6 lanes of traffic from a pub garden we often used in my early years. It was an ever present. These motorway/aerterial roads link me to deepest childhood – particularly at sunset as now.

IMG_5164 IMG_5165

Down a street of picture perfect suburban semis in the beautifully named Sky Peals Road. WG (I think the WG means Woodford Green but I have no clue as to why).

Forest Drive Chingford

Then along Forest Drive Chingford, Christmas lights twinkling at the bare forest trees over the road.

River Ching

I cross the River Ching – a candidate for my favourite tributary in the whole of London (I don’t think the Fillebrook counts as I believe it runs into the Dagenham Brook) – and when you consider that the River Lea alone has 30 tributaries (ok some are in Hertfordshire) that is quite an accolade.

Highams Park

Highams Park was the perfect place to end this New Year’s Day walk with its cosy parade by the station and the level crossing. I went into the Tesco megastore and bought some new half-price headphones and a packet of pens.

Walking in the Snow on Wanstead Flats

The overnight arrival of snow was announced early on Sunday morning by the excited screeching of my youngest son. I was initially less enthusiastic as I’d hope to head out on a long walk – perhaps even venture across the river, but a quick glance at the TfL website confirmed that a mere layer of snow had taken out several tube and train lines.

Snowman on Wanstead Flats

Just after midday, with my GoPro fully charged and the kids thawing out in front of the telly after a vicious backgarden snowball fight, I set out over Wanstead Flats. This has been my default location when it snows – the open expanses shielded by perimeter trees conducive to trapping in the snowfall – unlike the surrounding streets where it quickly turns into a grey sludge.

Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers Leytonstone

The football pitches on the Leytonstone side had the goal posts set out in anticipation of Sunday morning matches but the field was dominated by a squad of snowmen.

Louds squeals and hollers went up from a mound of the Alexandra Lake near Aldersbrook where families sledged down to the waters edge. Flocks of birds swooped in for whole slices of bread. Others took advantage of frozen pontoons to rest on the body of the lake.

Snow on Wanstead Flats

As the light faded towards the 3.50pm sunset the temperature dropped another degree or two so that the cold sought out those gaps around the edge of your clothing. I trudged over more snow cloaked football pitches and eventually to the path leading through Bush Wood from where I watched the twinkling lights of the distant city skyline foregrounded by Leytonstone’s iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers.

Barrage balloon posts Wanstead Flats

WW2 Barrage balloon posts

Last night brought rain instead of snow. The kids didn’t get the hoped for day off school and as we made our way along the road this morning, we looked out for forlorn patches of the icy crystals that were the only remnants of winter wonderland of yesterday.

Alexandra Lake Wanstead Flats snow

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone triumphant rebirth as the Heathcote and Star

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

fantastic food, great local beer … and neon – the Heathcote is back!

I used to love the old Heathcote Arms like a trusted, loyal friend. It was who I could turn to when things were bad and celebrate with in the good times. But mostly it was a place I could slump in a corner with a pint, packet of crisps and a pile of books. Often I was so relaxed I’d be nearly horizontal with a belly elaborately embroidered with a mosaic of crisp fragments. It was where I did most of the research for my book, This Other London, in the corner room which was empty most nights by 10.30 when I’d arrive. You could spread out books and maps across two tables and let the creative juices be lubricated by cheap ale.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Selection of canned & bottled Beer at the Heathcote and Star

But then it closed 3 years ago, bought by property developers to be turned into flats and its fate looked sealed. A valiant and spirited campaign followed, it was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and now finally it is fully back in business (I’m skipping over the bit when the developers put in a manager for a limited time).

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

This isn’t merely a re-boot but a full-scale resurrection with Electric Star Pubs taking out a 20 year lease on the Heathcote and pumping buckets of cash into a total refurb. Last week’s packed and thumping launch party wasn’t the time to make a proper judgement, my first reaction being that it was a bit Nathan Barley, and thinking I’d title this post ‘The New Heathcote – it’s ‘Totally Mexico’. And it is ‘Totally Mexico’ but not in the sense of a Hoxditch boozer selling Dutch wine.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

The Electric Star team are pulling out all the stops to make this a pub for everyone, no easy feat, a true community hub – a place where I could slouch in a corner planning suburban explorations and muttering to myself beside a table full of toddlers chucking mash potato around, while wannabe Instagrammers struggle to get the perfect food-porn shot. Or if you’re really square, a nice place to meet friends and neighbours for a drink.

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

Mini sample burgers

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Buffalo Chicken with strong kick of English Mustard

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

The function room where we were presented with samples of the well-measured menu will be free of charge to community groups – which is a fantastic resource. There’s a games room out the back with pool and table-tennis. Live footy on the telly with big screen events planned. There’s a huge garden. The ale selection is spot on with beers from Leyton breweries Signature Brew and East London Brewery with Camden Hells Pale on keg. And bloody hell the food is great. The burgers by Paul Human are incredible, the Buttermilk Chicken is crispy and well seasoned, in fact the tucker is so tasty that the vegan option of Cowboy Beans even had me scraping the plate clean. And the staff are really friendly and helpful too, they look happy to be there.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Cowboy Beans (vegan)

Signature Brew at Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

I even found myself back in there Saturday night with the place packed again, punters arriving in taxis, bumping into neighbours at the bar, burgers flying out of the kitchen, post-mortem of the Arsenal match on the TV. It might even inspire me to crack on and finish my next book.

Leytonstone on BBC London Robert Elms Show ‘Round Your Manor’

BBC London Robert Elms John Rogers Leytonstone

It was a real pleasure to go on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London yesterday to talk about the wonders of Leytonstone as part of the ‘Round Your Manor’ feature. There was a great response from Leytonstonians online to Robert’s request for information about the area – he was particularly amused to hear that Fanny Craddock had lived in Leytonstone.

You can listen again to the show here on the BBC iPlayer (I come in at about 1hr 38mins)

The Heathcote Arms Leytonstone to re-open in October

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

Great news at last regarding our beloved Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone. The Electric Star Group have taken out a 20-year lease on the pub and are investing £500,000 to get the pub open by the end of October.

It’s been grim walking past this sacred watering hole every day seeing it empty and neglected for the last 6 months but you knew that somebody would see the potential to restore this legendary boozer to, well I can’t honestly say its former glory but at least a pub once again.

Electric Star have a great roster of pubs in East London including the Leyton Star (shame they changed the name though from the King Harold removing a visible reminder of the last Anglo-Saxon king’s strong links to the area). Their other pubs include The Star of Bethnal Green, The Star by Hackney Downs, and The Last Days of Shoreditch. I believe the Heathcote will become the Heathcote-Star.

Last week Rob and Steve from Electric Star told a community meeting at the pub their plans for the Heathcote which include a function room, big screen sports, pool and arcade games, upstairs hotel accomodation, food, and locals discount scheme. It will also be kid and dog friendly. Other Star pubs have hosted live music so I guess this might be in the plans for their Leytonstone branch. There certainly used to be great live music and comedy nights at the Heathcote so it would be fantastic to see this return.

Heathcote Arms campaign

photo from the Waltham Forest Guardian

The re-opening of the Heathcote is another great example of what can happen when a community comes together. When it initially closed in 2014 after being sold by Stonegate to property developers many people assumed that it would simply be converted into flats like so many other pubs in London. But a wide cross-section of the community came together (some of whom had never even been in the pub) to launch a campaign and get the Heathcote listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Local MP John Cryer gave his unwavering support, CAMRA (particularly James Watson) joined the cause, and Waltham Forest Council adopted a pub protection policy. And now we have our pub back.

Great work to everyone involved in making this happen. See you for a pint in the Heathcote Arms in October.

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Update: November 2017

Read my review of the Heathcote and Star here

Long Live The Heathcote Arms 


The Heathcote Arms on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone is closed once more, two years after it reopened following its initial closure in September 2014. The pub was bought by property developers Equity Estates whose plans to part-demolish and build Flats was thwarted by the pub’s status as an Asset of Community Value and Waltham Forest Council’s pub protection plan. I’ve been told by people in the industry that a number of pub operators offered to buy the Heathcote from Equity Estates but were quoted unrealistically inflated prices.

The Heathcote has the potential to be a great pub once more, Waltham Forest can ill afford to lose any more pubs. Let’s hope the Council continue their policy of opposing pub conversions and this building returns to the community as soon as possible.