Walk along (and off) Watling Street from Cricklewood to Oxford Circus

Cricklewood

After visiting a friend I decided to go for stroll in a sudden outbreak of September sun. Considering the options – my friend’s suggestion of walking to Horsenden Hill, or my vague pang to retrace old routes to Stonebridge Park in the name of nostalgia – I didn’t fancy the long tube ride home at the end. Eventually, my feet decided for me, as they often do, and drew me south along the A5, the old Watling Street, one of the most ancient roads in Britain.

Shoot-Up Hill

There’s an air of chaos on parts of this oldest of thoroughfares, things going down left-right-and-centre. ‘It’s crazy’, says the Scottish guy in the queue at Co-op check-out as I wait to pay for my discounted falafel wrap. One bloke seems to object to me admiring the architecture – or was he offering further information? It was hard to tell in that vibe.

Hillman CricklewoodAt various times I considered deviating from the route as I passed Brondesbury and Kilburn High Road stations but something kept me plodding on, like a well-drilled Roman Centurion returning to Londinium from a stint in the provinces.

Folkies Kilburn

State Cinema Kilburn

The glorious George Coles (of Leyton) designed Gaumont State Cinema played a big part in calling me along the road. It’s tower rising like a beacon above the Victorian/Edwardian shopping parade, apparently inspired by the Empire State Building.

Abbey Road tourists IMG_3022

My discipline waned when I realised that the famous Abbey Road ran parallel to Watling Street. Surely the Beatles were tapping into the psychogeographical resonances of the area when they went all mad and mystical. Abbey Road originally linked the 12th Century Kilburn Priory, sat on the banks of the Westbourne, with an area of woodland owned by the Priory of St. John in Clerkenwell, now simply called St. John’s Wood. The tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken on the zebra crossing were oblivious to all of this and were merely imitating the iconic Beatles Abbey Road album cover.

Chiltern Street

I avoid Lord’s Cricket Ground and pass down Baker Street with a nod to Chiltern Court before turning into Chiltern Street. Paul Weller poses for a photo with a couple of builders. The beginnings of sunset dance on the russet brickwork.

The seductive contours of Marylebone Lane encourage me to follow the flow of the submerged River Tyburn, a meander through smart-set hang-outs and catwalk pavements till I arrive within the gravitational vortex of Oxford Circus where I am sucked beneath the ground into the tube and projected back blissfully East.

 

Some of my favourite footpaths

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk, Harringay

Benfleet, Essex

Benfleet, Essex

Kensington Church Walk

Kensington Church Walk

Holyfield Marsh

Lea Valley Walk, Cheshunt

John Rogers Gants Hill station

Gants Hill Station

Epping Long Green

Epping Long Green

The Ridgeway near Chinnor

The Ridgeway near Chinnor, Bucks

River Stort Navigation

River Stort Navigation

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

Barn Hill, Sewardstone

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Pitstone Hill Ridgeway

Ridgeway at Pitstone Hill, Bucks

Wanstead Flats Leytonstone winter frost

Wanstead Flats, Leytonstone

Epping Walk

Epping Forest

Argyle Walk

Argyle Walk

Argyle Walk, WC1

Epping Footpath

Epping in the direction of Harlow

Hainault Forest

Hainault Forest

Stepney Green

Stepney Green

P1030026

Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail, Suffolk

Harringay Passage

Harringay Passage

Greenway Hackney

The Greenway, Hackney

IMG_4388

River Lea Navigation

IMG_7667

Southwold, Suffolk – footpath on the disused railway line

wooburn field 1-lores

Wooburn Green, Bucks

Havering-atte-Bower

Havering-atte-Bower

Shooters Hill

Shooter’s Hill

Theydon Bois

Theydon Bois

Aldeburgh Beach

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Hughenden

Hughenden, Bucks

Walking the London Loop – Elstree to Moor Park

I’ll be honest, in the past when I crossed paths with the London Loop signs on a walk I was slightly disdainful. ‘What’s the point’, I thought, of following this orbital trail around the edge of London when the capital is so rich with places to walk and explore. You didn’t need a pre-ordained, officially endorsed path to point the way. You could wander randomly anywhere in London and it would throw up a route as rich as any promoted by Transport for London, and I still believe that to be true. But now having walked 5 sections (well 4.5 really) of the London Loop I’ve been forced to revise my opinion of this 150-mile path.

London Loop 15-14 v.2.00_01_58_02.Still003

 

I did my first section – from Enfield to Cockfosters (Section 17) back in January when I needed to hit the road but lacked the energy or imagination to work out my own walk. The London Loop guided me through a territory largely unkown to me. A couple of weeks later I found myself heading back to Cockfosters to pick up the trail through to Elstree & Borehamwood (Section 16), although on this occasion I branched off on my own path for a large portion of the way to take in areas I wanted to explore that were off the London Loop.

At that point I thought I was done with the London Loop and it wasn’t until the beginning of July that I returned to Elstree to continue the path through to Hatch End (Section 15) carrying on to Moor Park (Section 14). It was a glorious walk across meadows and woodland, the inevitable golf courses, past lakes, and over hilltops offering incredible expansive views. It opens your eyes to the extent and beauty of London’s open spaces and farmland encircling the city – spaces that were often fought over to be saved for the people of the London and the surrounding suburbs, precious resources not to be taken for granted.

London Loop Section 14

Will, I return to continue my counter-clockwise walk on the London Loop? I’m still not sure. I did leave home to walk Section 13 to Uxbridge two weeks ago but instead meandered from Ruislip to Denham and beyond into Bucks. But this time when I passed the London Loop signs on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, instead of a dismissive glance I gave them a nod and a smile and a thanks for the magnificient walks.

Along the Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Highgate

There was some discussion with my wife about the last time I’d been along Haringey’s Parkland Walk but in any case we’re sure a pram was involved meaning it must have been at least 10 years ago. It has become one of the most requested walks on my YouTube channel and with the snow starting to melt after the ‘Beast from the East’ had smothered London in Siberian snow, it seemed like the perfect timing.

Parkland Walk Haringey

The Parkland Walk follows the railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace that opened in 1867, closing to passengers in 1954 and carrying freight till 1964. The Parkland Walk opened in 1984 – the intervening 20 years would have been a fascinating period of its existence, left to be reclaimed by nature and intrepid urban ramblers.

Parkland Walk Haringey

For some reason I’ve always thought the Parkland Walk Nature Reserve could be accessed from Harringay Green Lanes, maybe it once connected with the small nature reserve there, but in reality it starts at Oxford Road on the far side of Finsbury Park. There the snow had already started to turn to slush but as the path moved into the foothills of the Northern Heights it transitioned into an icy track flanked by deep-sided banks of snow capped pines. It was along here that Stephen King got spooked by a mystical presence, recorded in the short story Crouch End. The synopsis on Wikipedia reads, “After encountering something unseen beyond a hedge, Lonnie becomes unhinged, and eventually disappears while the couple is walking through a tunnel”. Published in 1980, it means that King had been one of those intrepid urban ramblers walking the disused railway line when he encountered that eerie presence.

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk Haringey

I encountered no superficial forces along the walk mostly just joggers, dog-walkers and Dads hand-in-hand with toddlers. I did meet a lovely bloke called Matt from Melbourne though who recognised me from my YouTube videos and said he’d watched most of them. That’s always nice.

Parkland Walk Haringey tunnel

Highgate Woods snow

At Highgate I entered Highgate Woods, a remnant of the old forest of Middlesex, now managed by the Corporation of London. The snow lay thick and heavy here, kids dragged sledges looking for a place to sled, stomping over the earthwork that carves a diagonal line across one corner of the woods. I wonder how much more of this ancient landscape is buried beneath the suburbanized hills and valleys of Highgate, Muswell, Hornsey and Crouch End.

ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

possible site of the ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

 

Walking the London Loop – Enfield Lock to Cockfosters section 17

I must have crossed paths with the London Loop hundreds of times and coincidentally followed its paths for short sections before branching off on my own route. But one grey unpromising January Saturday I decided to walk one whole section of the London Loop – section 17, from Enfield Lock to Cockfosters (this is in the reverse direction as the Loop is organised clockwise).

London Loop Enfield

The Lea Valley line was running for once at the weekend, and leaving Enfield Lock Station I turned into Albany Park. Here I met the Turkey Brook which would be my companion for much of the day – till it was replaced by the Salmon Brook near the walk’s end.

Forty Hall Park London Loop

The London Loop takes you across the thumping traffic of the A10, roughly following the route of the old Roman Ermine Street, and into Forty Hall Park. There’s a natural temptation to be drawn off path for a gander at Forty Hall, the grand 17th Century residence of former Lord Mayor of London, Nicholas Rainton and now Enfield Borough’s Museum. But I decide to stick true to my course and plough on round Forty Hill. A white egret paddles in the Turkey Brook before elegantly flying up into a tree as I pass. At first I think it’s a young heron before more knowledgeable people correct me in the comments on the YouTube video.

The Turkey Brooks Hilly Fields Park

The bandstand in Hilly Fields Park is locked so I eat my lunch perched on a fallen tree instead. A Cockapoo, yaps and strains at its lead desperate to get a bite of my chicken baguette, before its owner drags it away. It’s a wet grey afternoon, January for me is almost the classic winter month, the last before you get a glimmer of Spring around the middle of February. This is the perfect landscape in which to revel in winter’s damp bare nakedness.

London Loop Clay Hill

A lane across the top of Clay Hill gives me a view of the distant smudge of Nick Papadimitriou’s ‘Scarp’ – the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire Tertiary Escarpment. It makes me think of my old walking buddy, most likely now sat in his Child’s Hill tower block, possibly even gazing at the same view.

London Loop section 17 P1000523

Passing over Cuckold’s Hill I approach Botany Bay. My wife had seen it on the map, and being an Aussie had told me a song I must sing on the way, but it escapes me in the moment (back at home she sang ‘Botany Bay’ to be included in the video).

Cuckold's Hill Enfield

The muddy fields of Enfield Chase take their toll on my legs and as I top the hill facing the Trent Park Obelisk I’m ready for the walk to end. The light is dimming, it’s the last 20 minutes or so of daylight as I take a short-cut and find myself at Camlet Moat. I’d seen a book in Watkins Esoteric Bookshop that had placed King Arthur’s Camelot in Enfield and dismissed at the time as an amusing fantasy. But looking into the wide green waters of the moat it doesn’t seem so crazy. Excavations turned up remains of stone foundations and Roman artefacts pointing at a heritage older than that of the Norman baron Geoffrey de Mandeville with whom it has been previously associated with. Now sat here with Christopher Street’s ‘London’s Camelot and the Secrets of The Grail’ beside me I read his theory with a different attitude.

Camlet Moat Camelot P1000596

Trent Park is closing. Families and couples holding hands emerge from the woodland and make their way down the long driveway towards Cockfosters. It’s been an interesting experiment, sticking doggedly to a section of the London Loop, not one I’m sure to repeat, but an enlightening wander all the same. Now to read more about Camelot in North London.

Epping Lower Forest & out through North Weald to Greensted

On a map, Epping Lower Forest has never seemed too appealing – separated from the main body of Epping Forest by the town of Epping, I’ve bypassed it on the way out to Harlow but never walked its glades. In that quiet week between Christmas and New Year I set out from Epping towards Ongar and stepped off Epping Road into the Lower Forest for the first time.

Epping Lower Forest
E.N Buxton, writing in 1884, describes it as a “pretty wood”, where, “a summer’s afternoon may be well devoted to its exploration; I say summer advisedly, as parts of it lie low and swampy”. It was fortunate for me that despite approaching midday the ground was still mostly frozen, the deep muddy trenches of footpaths solid glistening white, so walking was more like clambering across rocky ground. A man walking his dog told me of a herd of 40 or 50 deer his mournful looking hound had just scattered, ‘if you keep your eye out on the far side you may see them re-gathering’. And sure enough, as I munched my M&S Turkey sandwich on the Stump Road I became aware of being watched silently by a small cluster of grey deer. It was magical.

Norwegian Memorial North Weald

The planes from North Weald Airfield had regularly passed loudly above the treetops and that was where I was heading next. An important fighter station during WW2, and still a busy civilian airfield with small planes buzzing off all over the country, there is a campaign to save the site as the threat of development looms. An iconic Hurricane fighter plane stands guard at the front gate. The security guards let me come in for a wander round to soak up the atmosphere and feel the wind whipping in across the runway. Pilots for 7 countries flew from RAF North Weald during the Second World War, the memorial near main road has a carved stone tablet dedicated to the Norwegian airmen who lost their lives.

North Weald Airfield
Following a tarmac path into a thicket across the road there’s a pillbox peeking out from the dense undergrowth. The narrow tunnelled entrance is littered with the usual detritus of the suburban fringe. Lords knows what you’d find inside. Moving across the fields on the far side of North Weald Bassett I now kick myself for virtually walking straight past North Weald Redoubt Fort, part of the late Victorian defences of London and now beloved of urbexers and ghosthunters.

North Weald WW2 defences
I cross the disused section of the Central Line near Ongar Park Lodge heading into the last light and dash back down the farm track to see the last steam train of the day chugging along the line back to Epping. A sign on the gate warns that a bull with a pregnant cow is in the field although I’m reassured by the couple in the Lodge that they’re elsewhere.

Toot Hill Water Tower

Entering a narrow strip of woodland by the field edge I see movement on the other side of the tree line – a man holding a bird, a shooter with his kill I assume. But as I move towards him for a chat I see that the bird is very much alive and standing proudly upon his arm. He tells me it’s a Harris Hawk, a hunting bird, that he’s been exercising out above the fields. The rabbit leg it methodically tears apart with its yellow hooked beak was acquired from a butchers rather than a burrow. It’s a majestic beast. We walk together down through the wood, the three of us, to the water tower at Toot Hill where we part company.

Greensted Green sunset

The walk isn’t to last much longer, cut short by a deep irrigation ditch carved across a field cutting me off from the continuation of the footpath. Climbing up through deep mud to the high ground at Greensted, boots caked in mud, I catch the most resplendent sunset breaking over the facing hill and know that 2018 will bring a year of great walks.