Walk from West Ruislip to Beaconsfield

I was woken early by the postman and had the urge to walk – but where. After weighing up the options I decided to head west by the simplest route – to the end of the Central Line and then walk westwards from there.
The only maps I had were an A-Z, which was good for about 2 miles before I dropped off the edge of its pages, and a ’30 miles around London’ road map which kept me going in roughly the right direction. Otherwise I found my way by following my desires (and the footpaths).


View W Ruislip to Beaconsfield in a larger map

Across the road from West Ruislip Station I entered a world of Bluebell banks down hollow ways and gentle streams crossed by wooden bridges. Old Clack Farm has its own post box. Crossing Breakspear Lane and Jordans Lane, jumping over ditches and clambering over rickety stiles to safety were as treacherous as anything Indiana Jones had to deal with.
I lost a shoe in the deep mud of a horsefield in Harefield, my socked foot plunging ankle-deep in mud. I didn’t see a single shop between West Ruislip and Chalfont St. Peter. I resisted the rustic temptations of the Breakspear Arms and The Dumb Bell saving myself for a end of walk pint in Beaconsfield Old Town only to find that the pubs have mutated in an old Aunt’s chintzi lounge dominated by nattering diners. I started off further west down the London Road to Wooburn and Wycombe but after a mile or two realized I’d end up stranded with no train home.
Beaconsfield New Town was ghostly quiet at 9.30pm. A handful of people kicking their heals on the station platform waiting for the train to Marylebone. 7 hours on the move and 18 miles covered in a haphazard line, a left sock and shoe still caked in mud, only one pint downed and a feeling of euphoria. I’d found the entrance to Arcadia at the end of the Central Line

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Walking in Palestine with Raja Shehadeh

In 2008 I was lucky enough to have a chat with author Raja Shehadeh about his book Palestinian Walks: ‪Forays into a Vanishing Landscape‬.
On the one hand I was talking to a fellow rambler about the experience of walking and the love of the landscape. I was also intrigued by the Palestinian idea of the ‘Sarha’ meaning to roam without restraint where the spirit takes you, which I thought had symmetry with the English ‘topographical rambling’ tradition and the psychoegeographic ‘derive’ or drift.
But of course Raja’s experience of walking in the hills of Ramallah carries a bit more jeopardy than a walk across Leyton Marshes. He sees a connection to the land through walking as being essential to both the human condition but also an important element of non-violent resistance to the occupation of Palestine. Walking as an act of liberation.

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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Doorways and Alleyways of East London

Dragged the family out for a wander around the vicinity of Brick Lane.

The boys weren’t that enthusiastic but I promised them some kind of adventure.

The usual parental instruction to ‘stay close’ and ‘hold my hand’ was loaded with the added tale that these streets were known to consume people, that you could stop to tie your laces, your friend would wander into one of these lanes and alleys never to be seen again.

Cock Hill

‘Where do they go?’, the boys asked
‘They’re devoured by the city itself’, I said
‘That’s just nonsense’, the eldest retorted
‘Yeah, just stupid’, added the little one.

We have a set of Bob and Roberta Smith letter blocks at home.
Heidi and the boys admired this mural and concluded that it would have been better if Bob had done it.

Commercial Street

There was an absence of graffiti tourists today – no lumbering parties touring early Banksy’s and derivatives.
We had the walls to ourselves.

The C18th Huguenot doorways of Fournier and Princelet Streets kept them occupied.

There was a big bonfire out the back of Christ Church Spitalfields sending great plumes of smoke over the rooftops.

We grab bagels in Brick Lane then walk down Bethnal Green Road under a full moon to the tube station.

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