Over the Marshes to Harringay

It started as a mundane amble up to Baker’s Arms with the wife for a mooch about. She headed off to pick the kids up from school so I followed my nose down Boundary Road. I’m going to speculate that it was the Boundary between Walthamstow and Leyton but that’s just a wild stab in the dark.

The Dagenham Brook winds its way behind the houses to the River Lee. Further along its course at Marsh Lane Fields the council are lavishing large sums of money on a new bridge across its narrow banks. It’d better be a good bridge, the one that was there already did the job of getting you from one side to the other without getting your feet wet, so this new expensive bridge better come with its own troll, perhaps a kiosk in the middle, and free foot massages.

I took several photographs of the brook from different angles – transfixed by it, wanting document its existence and pay homage to this slither of wildness passing through our realm of bricks and mortar. Some blokes were testing out new car speakers nearby and I wondered how I could justify to them my fixation with what might look like a muddy ditch.
I fumbled around in my head for a bit past lists of chocolate bars and the Suarez 10-match ban and came to the conclusion that people go to great lengths to seek out historical monuments of the man-made world for their supposed links to the past but here was a tangible relic from a much more distant age, as old at least as a Wooly Mammoth, just sliding past the backs of terraced house gardens minding its own business.

I got drawn into the industrial estate off Lea Bridge Road and wandered around admiring the modernist industrial architecture – it’s like a miniature version of the splendour of the Great West Road.

One of the factories in Staffa Road was possibly where the Panjandrum was built. With the high-tech military research funds long gone the great brains of Leyton have turned their attention to constructing giant wooden shoes.

The bridge that took me over the railway tracks was thick with flies – I had a mouthful by the time I reached the other end. I must remember to keep my mouth shut and not have my tongue hanging out in those situations.
The horses mowing the grass of the Lea Valley Riding Centre on the other side were less than sympathetic and harassed me for sugar cubes and Polo mints – neither of which I had.

The once mighty River Lee tamed and subordinate. I’ve written a few thoughts about it in my forthcoming book so don’t want to blow that now – I can’t think of anything else to say for now – just that I prefer the tributaries, although I’ve only mentioned the Dagenham, Coppermill, and Filly Brook in my book.

After following the path round Porter’s Field I ended up in a section of Walthamstow Marshes navigating my way along tunnels cut through a deep growth of brambles. Around and around I went through this maze of thorns with no evident way out. In a clearing a man was laid in the sun reading a book – he just looked up and smirked. I was too embarrassed to ask directions.
By the time I reached Springfield Park with lacerated hands I was more than ready for afternoon tea on the lawns drinking in the view across the Lea Valley to the dark ridge of Epping Forest.

It’s impossible to pass through the area without noticing the spire of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Upper Clapton. Apparently this was previously home to the  ‪Agapemonite sect – what a great name, up there with the Muggletonians.
I couldn’t get a decent photo of the winged creatures looking out from the belfry – Wikipedia says they are a reference to Blake’s Jerusalem.

The Salisbury on Harringay Green Lanes seemed like a natural place to end up. We used to drink here when I lived in a student house up on the Harringay Ladder. One night the pub was closed so they could film a scene for the Chaplin biopic directed by Dickie Attenborough and starring Robert Downey Jr.
From memory Chaplin is stood at the bar and berated by a couple of locals about not supporting the war effort during WWI. He’d be safe in the Salisbury today – there was only me and a couple of old fellas.

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Down the Hackney Cut

With the sun finally out I set off walking West and got sidetracked by the Hackney Cut/ Lee Navigation.

Part of the Olympic legacy seems to be to get rid of every trace of graffiti they can reach. The walls are now being coated with a paint resistant chemical that looks like hardened slime.

I chatted to some engineers who said they are building a tunnel under the Cut for a new tube line running into Pudding Mill Lane. I think he meant Cross Rail.

This swan near the entrance to the Hertford Union Canal made me think of Andrew Kotting in his swan-shaped pedalo as he arrived at the end of the journey he’d made with Iain Sinclair from Hastings in the film Swandown.

It’s difficult to tell if this is part of the new ‘sanctioned’ graffiti or not – but it looked nice reflected in the water.

During the Olympics the Fringe at Swan Wharf was a £90/day pop-up private members club – looked very quiet today.

Well it’s definitely Fish Island, the Riviera needs a bit of work. According to wikipedia it’s “home to one of Europe’s largest growing creative communities”.

At the Bow Flyover I looped back to the Wick and had a lovely pint of Citra Ale brewed on-site at the Crate Brewery. That was a bit more like a Riviera.

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Lea Valley in 2005 before the Olympic Blitz

Bob Stanley presents this great look at the urban wilderness of the lower Lea Valley for the Culture Show before work on the Olympic site and the big shopping centre began – includes interviews with Iain Sinclair and Richard Wentworth.

It’s well worth seeking out Stanley and Paul Kelly’s film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? set around the locations in this video – it’s a real gem and brilliantly captures the area at a moment of transition.

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Walk from Leytonstone to the Thames

Been meaning to do this walk for a while – heading south in a straight line from Leytonstone across Stratford and Abbey Marshes bound for the Plaistow Levels beside the river Thames.

 Leyton High Road –

 

“Local history is the cradle of true patriotism, and local patriotism is the best stimulant to efficiency and progress”

Fifty Years A Borough 1886-1936 – The Story of West Ham by Donald McDougall, 1936

 

 “There seems to be no doubt that the name comes from the Saxon, indicating the Street by the ford, or Stratford”.

 Old Stratford looks down upon the arrivistes

“It is quite likely that the area was a centre of communal life of the (pre-Roman) period and that it saw Druid ceremonial at its best”

The Greenway

East Ham and West Ham were simply known as Hamme at the time of Edward the Confessor.

Alfred the Great is said to be responsible for the creation of some of the watercourses around Stratford such as the Channelsea River which he created to drain water from the Danish ships moored in the River Lea.

Channelsea River 2
a home at Bromley-by-Bow – note the jacket hung up left of the bed

Limehouse Cut

“These streams had for many years been deteriorating, silting up, and at times giving off very offensive smells.”

another unofficial home
the marsh monster

“But before there were small clustered villages, and before the unassailable fortress stood sentinel on the bank of the river, what people lived in the forests and marshy lands? What did they do in the struggle to live?
The first great work of these unrecorded hands was to build a wall of earth all along the north bank of the river so tha a great belt of swampy land was made fertile and flourished into meadows and pastures.”
The Story of Tower Hamlets, 1967

West Ham Abbey “stood on the banks of the Channelsea River, one of the waterways created by Alfred the Great, in a very low-lying area now almost entirely covered by factories, warehouse and gasometers.”
Fifty Years a Borough

Lea Walk

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Headed out for a wander beside the Lea in the late afternoon sun. They’re building a whole new world over the road – the pace of building of the Olympic Park is startling. We duck down away from the madness and into the quiet shade of the willow trees.

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On a section of the bank that looks prone to flooding the boys spot a dead hairy crab washed up with piles of rubbish. The eldest suggests that the pollution must have killed it and he then returns the decaying crustacean to the water.

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We pass through dense thickets of pink flowers catching the sun. Using my 1950’s wildflower book I posit that these may be Himalayan Balsam, that this tattered tome tells me are commonly found by rivers and streams.

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The boys can’t resist the pull of the open sea of pitches on Hackney Marshes and they sprint across. We follow the water again along the Hackney Cut past the barges, joggers and fishermen and reach Lea Bridge Road at the magic hour of last light.