River Ching Walk
I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.
So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.
Connaught Water to Newgate Street
We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.
We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.
We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.
We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.
Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium
The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.
From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.
A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.
The Last Leg
On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.
Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press