Trailing the Pymmes Brook

The Pymmes Brook has been on my itinerary for a while – usually noted down as I walk north up the Lea Valley striking for territory beyond the M25. A fine day in August following a torrential downpour the day before that scuppered an expedition along the River Pinn, provided the perfect opportunity.

Tottenham Marsh
Although the Pymmes Brook makes it confluence with the Lea at Tottenham Hale, the official Pymmes Brook Trail starts slightly further north at Pickett’s Lock and then follows the Salmon Brook part of the way. I decided to stick to what I saw as the full course of the river starting early afternoon near where the Pymmes Brook makes its confluence with the River Lea at Ferry Lane.

Tottenham Marshes are a great oasis with views across to pylons and the highlands of Epping Forest. A smattering of cyclists and joggers. The Pymmes Brook slides along a deep-sided concrete culvert passing by Stonebridge Lock. Men emerge from the undergrowth onto the footpath that curves through Wild Marsh West. The information boards include a mention of the Tottenham Outrage that reached its bloody conclusion not far away on 23rd January 1909.

Pymmes Brook
The river splits in the middle of an industrial estate containing an Electricity Substation and the Tottenham Gas Holder just before Angel Road and the North Circular with the Salmon Brook snaking northwards. It’s a heavily gated area and I’m forced down Leeside Road past a burnt out car. This is classic North Circular industrial edgeland – large warehouse units down dusty roads, blackberry fronds reaching out through the spiked metal fencing, warnings of the danger of death and “multiple hazards”, reminders that every step is being recorded by CCTV cameras. And yet nobody is around. The angry buzz of a remote controlled car scooting round the vast empty IKEA car park fills the air.  Looking at my mid-1950’s Georgraphia Atlas IKEA occupies the site of a ‘Gothic Works’ which appears to have been a type of elaborate metalwork rather than anything to do with the Sisters of Mercy.

Leeside Road

The Pymmes Brook briefly re-emerges snug within its culvert where the North Circular passes high overhead before disappearing beneath the ground. The walk now hugs the North Circular till the old Roman Fore Street where the Pymmes Brook is released from the underworld in Angel Place and moves on around the edge of Pymmes Park. The Park formed part of the grounds of Pymmes House originally built by William Pymme in 1327. The Elizabethan manor house, once the home of William Cecil, was destroyed by fire in 1940. The old walled garden remains.

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It flows through an 1980’s-looking council estate before finally escaping the concrete prison of the culvert near Silver Street and running free through a small grove along smooth muddy banks with trees drooping boughs into the water. A cat hunts in the undergrowth along the riverbank. Here my walk meets the official Pymmes Brook trail in the grounds of Millfield Arts Centre before crossing back under the North Circular and leading me round the edge of Tile Kiln Lane Open Space and a network of picture-postcard north London suburban streets in Bounds Green.
Pymmes Brook Trail
Now late afternoon, the weather warm, I start to hanker after a cup of tea. I’d had doubts about this walk but so far it’d been a revelation – opening up a previously unexplored corner of north London. I still wondered whether I would make it to the source before dark though.

Pymmes Brook Trail
5.45pm and I find myself tucking into a bacon and cheese roll at the Grand Café on Clock House Parade, Palmers Green. Despite the quality of the crusty roll and comfortable seating the café is a tad generously named but does occupy a good spot on the curve of the roundabout at the intersection of the A10 and North Circular. It’s been a hot and humid day and I’m tired with a few miles to go to the source at Hadley Common and only a couple of hours daylight.

With the bacon and tea working into my system it’s time to find the energy for the final push uphill. The Pymmes Brook is back encased in a deep open concrete sleeve for this passage through classic north London bow-fronted suburbia. The New River crosses paths on its journey between Amwell Street, Islington and Amwell Springs Hertfordshire, one of the many journeys I keep promising to do.

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At Arnos Park the Brook is once again liberated, the waters within touching distance for the first time today as they meander beneath a series of quaint wooden bridges around the perimeter of the park. This is the part of the walk I’ve been most looking forward – deep Nick Papadimitriou territory, my old walking comrade who I haven’t stepped out with for over 18 months. The Brook flows alongside a spectacular viaduct that carries the Piccadilly Line across the park. We filmed here in February 2008 doing the first walk and shoot for what became The London Perambulator. I send Nick a text to tell him where I am – he never replied.

Pymmes Brook
As the brook works its way through a wooded gully I catch a whiff of sewage and hope it’s merely my imagination. Sadly London’s waterways are prone to becoming polluted from industrial waste and drainage overflow. Just the other day the London Waterkeeper posted a photo on Twitter of chemicals pouring into the Pymmes Brook.

Oakhill Park
Moving now into a summer sunset across Oak Hill Park full of evening football training, joggers, group workout sessions, tennis matches. A man sits sucking down a can of strong lager behind the concrete pavilion and hurriedly moves on as I approach. A large tree lays prone across the Brook.
Pymmes Brook

By the time I’m through East Barnet Village the light has almost entirely ebbed away. A fox and cub mooch around some undergrowth on the verge of a housing estate as the Brook nears its source. The final climb from Barnet the first real sense of gaining altitude through foothills of peak suburbia.

Hadley Common Lake

I reach the lake on Hadley Common where the Pymmes Brook gurgles up beneath the still surface at 9pm – stumbling through pitch-black woods guided by the chatter of fishermen. I linger for a while and shoot a time-lapse before heading off back into the housing estate for a bag of chips and the road to Cockfosters Station.

Viking Trail to the Beavertown Brewery

Left home at 5pm with no plan except a vague idea to head towards to the Beavertown Brewery at Tottenham Hale and their Saturday taproom which closed at 8. I was torn between my usual walk until dark and/or my knee stops working, and the desire to actually get somewhere by a specified time.

From Midland Road, the schlep of my old work commute with a nod to the home of Harry Beck’s Blue Plaque (but stupidly not shot of it for my walking vlog) then down Coopers Lane and Farmer Road yards away from the wheel screech of Leyton High Road but always tranquil somehow.

Antelope Church Road

So sad to see The Antelope on Church Road boarded up. At a meeting to discuss the future of the Heathcote Arms last week – miraculously re-opened although still owned by a property developer – James Watson from CAMRA told the room that Waltham Forest has lost something like 50% of its pub stock. Thankfully now the local authority seems determined to lose no more – the Heathcote was among a number of pubs granted Asset of Community Value status. Let’s hope that like the Heathcote, the Antelope gets to be reborn.

I decided against the scenic route to Tottenham Hale, down Marsh Lane and over the Marshes because by now I could start to feel the tingle of a Beavertown Gamma Ray American IPA on my taste buds, so opted for the fast track via Markhouse Road and Blackhorse Road.

It’s sad to pass the boarded up Standard opposite Blackhorse Road Tube – once a legendary rock venue. I came here when I was 16 to watch my mate Johnny Lee play with his band. It was a big gig for a provincial outfit – it was said A&R men hung out at the bar looking to spot the next big thing.

The hubbub of the Beavertown Taproom crowd can be heard from a good 200 yards away – I thought it might be me and another 20 or so beer fans sat in the carpark of a Tottenham Industrial Estate. How wrong. There must have been 150 of the trendiest people I’ve seen in one place since I was backstage at a Katy Perry concert. Thank god I’ve got a beard.

Beavertown Brewery tour

After a transcendent Neckoil Session IPA and a Beaver Double IPA I tentatively enquired whether they did any brewery tours, “This is the tour I’m afraid”, the barman said gesturing from the bar to the expansive unit of polished brewing vessels. I must have looked visibly disappointed because he called a fella named Cosmo over and asked if he wouldn’t mind showing me around. At 8pm on a Saturday when they’d been flat out serving for hours they’d have been perfectly entitled to say No – but Cosmo couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, swinging back the barrier and leading me among the brew kit towards a 30 barrel mash tun where 5,500 litre batches are brewed using a tonne of malt for the 5% beers and double that for the stronger beers.

He explained how sugars are extracted from the malt by stewing and steeping it like a gigantic pot of tea. Then it is pumped into a copper for heating before it is cooled where the flavours of the hops start to emerge. The brew passes through a heat exchange into a fermenter where yeast is added and some more hops for dry hopping ‘to give extra hoppy aromas’ explained Cosmo. It is further chilled and carbonated for a week before either being kegged, canned (Beavetown have the best cans), or put into a wooden barrel for barrel-aging.

Beavertown cans

I can think of no finer end to a walk than to be given a guided tour of the brewery of one of your favourite beers. I walked away with the rosy glow of strong beer and a carrier bag containing a Beavertown T-shirt and a mixed six pack. I’ve got one cracked open on the desk beside me now.