London’s Village of Visionaries – Stoke Newington

A walk across the Lea Valley from Leyton to Stoke Newington

I was full of trepidation at the thought of crossing the River Lea for the first time since the lockdown began on 23rd March. In those three months the land on the western side of the valley came to represent the whole bulk of London as we sheltered from the virus. But I knew that eventually I’d have to confront my fear and make this journey. Stoke Newington seemed like a good destination for this first foray beyond my comfort zone. Described as “the village of visionaries” in the Time Out Book of London Walks, Stoke Newington has strong associations with non-comformism, the arts and literature.

Our walk starts in Leyton and crosses the River Lea opposite the Olympic Park then goes over Hackney Marshes from Homerton Road. A smattering of people staked themselves out in the afternoon sun of the hottest day of the year so far as temperatures hit 31 degrees. I headed down through the treeline to the Hackney Cut where two women in bikinis were recovering on the towpath from the effort of hauling their dinghy out of the canal. They stood there peeling layers of green weed from their skin like a pair of moulting swamp creatures. A constant cavalcade of cyclists pinged past dinging their bells to tell me to clear the path. It was a delightful summer scene.

Hackney Cut

Crossing the Cut I decided to revisit the Millfields Community Orchard where I joined the Hackney Tree Muskateers for the wassailing of the fruit trees in the winter of 2013. The throbbing power station beside the orchard I discovered from the comments on my video was formerly the site of the Clapton Stadium where Leyton Orient played in the days when they were Clapton Orient. It apparently later became a greyhound and speedway track.

From here my path took me across Millfields and up Southwold Road to Lower Clapton Road where I was pleasantly surprised to find draft pale ale to take away from the garden of the Crooked Billet pub. I headed up Evering Road with its notorious association with the Kray Twins and the murder of Jack the Hat McVitie. Following Brooke Road N16 I felt the presence of the Hackney Brook running beneath the ground on its way to make a confluence with the sacred River Lea.

Stoke Newington High Street was gridlocked. The old Roman Ermine Street choked with throbbing bus engines rattling the brains of the pedestrians. I took refuge in the beautiful Abney Park Cemetery, opened on the site of Abney House as a model ‘garden cemetery’. This leads us into Stoke Newington Church Street and a visit to the Ecstatic Peace Library Record Shop. I’d prepared for the walk by listening to a new track by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Strawberry Moon. Now a resident of Stoke Newington, the Ecstatic Peace Library is Moore’s publishing venture so there was a nice synchronicity to visiting his shop.

Stoke Newington

The walk inevitably leads into Clissold Park, the grounds of a house built for Quaker anti-slavery campaigner Jonathan Hoare. I hadn’t seen so many people in one place since the lockdown began – a mass of physically distancing sunbathers soaking up the early evening light. The perfect place to end the walk for the video, where I could swig the last of my ale before walking home to Leytonstone.

Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington

Abney Park Cemetery, London from fugueur on Vimeo.

The other summer I spent the afternoon filming the stone carving workshop at Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington led by Nigel Mantel. Then Nigel gave me a brief tour of the cemetery including the ruined chapel and the grave of Constable William Tyler, a policemen shot near Tottenham Marshes during what’s known as the Tottenham Outrage in 1909 (the grave of 10 year-old Ralph Joscelyne, who was also shot during the incident, was overgrown and inaccessible).