Just off the end of Forest Road, Walthamstow – the signage still over the door of what is now a social club.
Headed out from home 7pm on Sunday night on foot in search of the north-east passage. I’m now well familiar with the other two routes across the marshes that separate Leytonstone from the western city, well from London really. But the most northerly was unknown to me. It lies north of Walthamstow in an unpromising corner of the city at the end of Blackstock Road.
I spent the first 100 yards preoccupied with an uncomfortable right shoe. This had the potential to be a fair old yomp so my footwear had better be right. Once fixed I then became overly aware of the sloshing of the water in my aluminium water bottle – and what were the dangers of drinking from an aluminium vessel. I was only two streets away from home.
Soon past Leyton’s archaeology row with Walnut House, and the former home of Essex County Cricket Club. When this area was being developed at the end of the C19t Palaeolithic flint flakes ‘as sharp as knives’ were turned up, forming what was claimed to be a remarkable ‘Palaeolithic floor’.
The cottages in Vicarage Road are in fine bloom – village Leyton lives with the spirit of the antiquarian Revd. Strype. I check-in with the beguiling 1940’s blocks of flats on the corner of Brewster Road with their cross-work brick patterns, they’re aligned to catch the sun like a standing stone monument ready for the veneration of Julian Cope.
I am trying to understand the ‘northern-ness’ of where I live. Leytonstone gains its identity from being on the eastern fringe – we are eastsiders. That is until you look at a map or walk back from central London via the most direct route and find yourself pushing north up through Clerkenwell and Highbury.
Crossing Lea Bridge Road near the fine stone obelisk protecting the library I wonder whether Markhouse Road runs along a watershed. The ground drops away to the west running off into the river Lea. Numerous streams run beneath the tarmac from the higher ground around Whipps Cross and the Dagenham Brook runs just below Markhouse.
The hop fields in Boundary Road have long since gone. The Lea Valley pylons appear between houses. I pass an electricity substation wearing a wig of Russian vine. St. Saviour’s Church looks abandoned. I wander round to the Gothic building behind which turns out to be Barking Lodge, Diocese of Chelmsford, Barking Area Office. There is a CofE school and further church buildings. An ecclesiastical encampment among the heathens of the marshes.
Past the sad scene marking a ‘Fatal Collision’ among the withering yellow flowers are weathered soft toys and three apples.
I move quickly along crumbling Blackhorse Road – reduced to a post-industrial rat-run. Waltham Forest Council has identified this as a spot to ‘re-introduce the country into the city’ – to allow glimpses of the marshes to break through the phalanxes of asbestos-lined buildings. They’ve got their work cut out.
I cross the Valley between Walthamstow Reservoirs and Tottenham Marshes as the sun ducks behind great puffy cloud formations and stop for a swift half in the Ferry Boat Inn.
There’s a certain optimism in the aspiration that drives up the development of Hale Wharf. Great hunks of isolated apartment blocks with birds-eye views of the rusting Lea Delta but little else in the way of infrastructure unless you plan to commute by coracle. A channel of the river around the site has become clogged with weeds – a metaphor perhaps or am I trying to look too hard for signs and meaning. It’s what this landscape does to you.
I land on the western shore of the Lea at Tottenham Hale. My reaction to ‘North’ as I forward more cautiously is to want to head home – to be back in my local by closing time, impossible on foot without tracing my steps and even then unlikely. I’m tempted by the train at South Tottenham but am not ready to leave the ‘fugue’ and so force myself on – but to where? I hadn’t thought this far ahead – I hadn’t thought much at all. I’m simply following instinct now.
The High Road climbs a steep incline of churches that will soon fade into the synagogues of Stamford Hill. I could turn north again here – for Finsbury Park and beyond. It is 9.40pm and as I stand at the crossroads of Amhurst Road I pledge to get back to my local by 11pm closing. Can’t be done I think, but I won’t give up until I know it’s impossible.
Clapton Common has a dream-like midsummer air with Hassidic Jews strolling across the grass and beneath the hanging boughs in the last light. Large groups of men congregate on the pavements intensely conversing in what I assume to be Hebrew.
Downhill past the Krays’ Evering Road and gyro the roundabout onto Lea Bridge Road.
It’s after 10pm.
I up the pace.
Half-way along Lea Bridge Road my right knee goes. Tendons go taunt and menisci grind against bone – it becomes reluctant to perform its primary function as a joint and bend. This is sure to sabotage my mission – I’m swinging lead in the dark as I cross back over the river.
I hobble to a corner shop and seek medicine in the form of a can of Stella Artois hastily necked. I’m moving a bit more freely now. It took me 40 minutes to reach this same point on the way out. It’s 10.30 – no chance of making last orders.
Down Church Road, into Capworth Street which is surreally blocked bumper to bumper rush hour style as two drivers lock horns in argument, “So I can be this ignorant and drive”, one menacingly reasons whilst leaning through the window.
In Francis Road at 10.49. The pain returns. To seek more Stella would surely sink me – have to grit my teeth.
A final burst and I break through the swinging pub doors 1 minute before the bell rings. Marge is behind the bar. I recount my quest as I order my pint.
“You made good time then”, she says.
“Not really, it’s just before 11″ I reply.
“I know, but we close at 11.30 on a Sunday.”
Received this by email. I did a beating of the bounds around the Leyton Marshes Lammas Land when I first moved to the area – wonderful way to connect with the landscape in a ritualistic perambulation. Walthamstow Marshes is a similarly blessed spot and deserving of such veneration.
The Lammas Lands Defence Committee invites you to join us for our annual Autumn Walk around Walthamstow Outer Marsh on
Sunday 1 November.
Meet us at the Lee Valley Ice Centre car park, Lea Bridge Road at 2.15pm (Buses 48, 55, 56). Or meet up for lunch first at the nearby Princess of Wales.
The walk will take about 2 to 2 and a half hours and will end at the King’s Head Bridge near the Ice Centre.
Please wear sensible flat waterproof shoes or boots!
More information from Katy 0790 415 9398 or Laurie 0208 539 3330.
Set off with no aim other than to head in the general direction of Baker’s Arms – by the most indirect route practical.
Avebury Road always has a certain appeal, the romance of it and only this evening did I spot the compatibility of its conjunction with Southwest Road.
Further up off Bulwer I again clock Hawbridge Road and I play amateur etymology conjoining the prefix ‘Haw’ = the fruit of the sacred Hawthorne with ‘Bridge’ to suppose that this was a bridge over the Fillebrooke (PhillyBrook/ Phepes Broke). A rummage in W.H. Weston’s History of Leyton and Leytonstone shows a hand-drawn C18th map with the stream running southwest (road?) from Whipps Cross to Ruckholt – a course that would cut through Bulwer. This could have been the Haw Bridge. Another piece of pagan symmetry arising from the Fillebrook is where it once ran through or beside Coronation Gardens in Leyton is today a maze – a pagan symbol of springs and places of worship.
View Larger Map
google map showing the possible course of the Phillybrook – a windmill was recorded as sitting on the banks of the stream where the corner of Francis and Newport Roads is today
I pick up a track off Bulwer Road that runs between backs of houses. There are lock up garages for rent and fly-tipping so elaborate that it borders on installation art – Jeremy Deller recreating a liminal space as a site-specific piece.
The sunset breaks orange over the Lea. A large crow squawks. There’s a tyre in a shopping trolley waiting patiently outside a phonebox in front of an electricity substation.
Around the corner in Forest Road there is an absolutely majestic example of the architecture of the electricity substation. These things are like temples to the industrial age. Somebody please do a photographic project on them.
slideshow of photos from the walk
In West End Avenue (where the Fillybrooke was last seen above ground) you can see the back of a large abandoned wing of Whipps Cross Hospital with a noughts and crosses pattern of smashed windows.
It is bitingly cold and I’m a bit peckish but I push on over Lea Bridge Road and along the beguiling Shernhall Road with its amazing views across the Roding Valley and the Lord Raglan pub that encouragingly allows no caps nor hoods. I turn back at the end and head down Addison Road which delivers me to the warmth of The Village pub in time to catch the football results come rolling in.
Escaping along Wood Street, Walthamstow from the Tumble in the Jungle softplay I again noticed the curious old stones that litter the grass area abutting Whipps Cross Roundabout. The ones in the picture look as though they are ‘unworked’, natural rocks, possibly like those desposited by glacial flows (there was one such stone next to the bus stop at Wooburn Green). Nearby are others that are smooth and seem to have been worked by a mason and are slightly blackened. Before I get too carried away speculating about mark stones and lost neolithic monuments of Epping Forest I’d suggest that they are the remains of an old derelict building, most likely a church. Checking a local history pamphlet sheds no light – no mention of old stone buildings. So maybe…
As a snippet of dereliction fetish how about this spiral staircase running up the side of a boarded up office block, again on Wood Street – deserves the building to be restored just to keep it company.