Sunday Walk – Wanstead Flats, North Circular and Hollow Ponds

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

The desire was stay local – within the gravitational field of home but still get in a decent walk. My instinct was to head to the far side of Wanstead Flats and take it from there.

The area of Wanstead Flats burnt so badly last summer gives off a glorious smell of resurgent wildflowers.

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The ragwort was alive with caterpillars of the cinnabar moth munching on its leaves, ingesting toxins to make themselves unpalatable to birds. Ragwort and the cinnabar caterpillar appear to have an interesting relationship that makes for a diverting spectacle on a summer stroll.

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I always have to pay homage to the barrage balloon posts and marvel at their continued survival.

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

After a stop at Aldersbrook Petrol Station for a Starbucks and Greggs donut – which has become one of my favourite Alan Partridge style treats – I head down Park Road and through Wanstead Park which looked as glorious as ever.

St Mary's Wanstead

The bells of St. Mary’s Wanstead tolled as I stood admiring the Borough of Redbridge’s only Grade 1 listed building. I’ve been told St. Mary’s has an interesting crypt that I’ve yet to visit but the interior of the church is a real gem of the East. The graveyard has burials dating back to the establishment of the original medieval church.

Wanstead War Memorial

Wanstead High Street

There’s clearly a Sunday Scene on Wanstead’s wonderful High Street and I bumped into my eldest son carrying a toy keyboard he’d just bought in a charity shop as he headed to a park bench with his mates. A gentleman approached who watches my YouTube videos to ask if I’d made one on the Wanstead Slip and told me of a relic of Wantead House that now resides in a back garden somewhere along Grove Road. It was great to hear his stories of old Leyton and Stratford.

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Snaresbrook – South Woodford

I decided against heading into the forest at Snaresbrook and carried on along the tree-lined road towards South Woodford stopping to take in the modernist glory of Hermitage Court.

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North Circular – South Woodford

Heading up Grove Hill at South Woodford I came to the Willow Path that crosses the North Circular. This seemed like an ideal location to take a selfie which I posted to Instagram as ‘North Circular Selfie’. I’ve been meaning to make a film of a walk round the North Circular (perhaps over two days rather than one long schlep) for some time but now wonder if documenting the walk with a series of selfies charting my gradual decline as the pollution takes its toll might work better.

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Carnarvon Road, South Woodford

Carnarvon Road, South Woodford has some incredible buildings. Firstly you’re greeted with what appears to be the back of some kind of industrial building – although I couldn’t locate the front. Then across the street is this beautiful modernist block that looks as though it may have an interesting former life.

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Epping Forest

I must have walked past this fine oak tree just off Epping New Road at South Woodford a hundred times without noticing this plaque commemorating the planting of the tree by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932 in celebration of the Jubilee of the opening of the forest.

North Circular

Waterworks Corner

At the Rodney Smith stone I decided to turn for home rather than push on through the forest. This of course brought me to one of my favourite London views, from the bridge back across the North Circular at Waterworks Corner. I took another ‘North Circular Selfie’, naturally.

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Walthamstow to the Whipps Cross Lido

I passed through the narrow strip of the forest that takes you behind the Waterworks and St. Peter’s Church emerging at the very tip of Lea Bridge Road. It’s interesting to note that the gate off Snaresbrook Road is labelled ‘Snaresbrook Lido’ and not ‘Whipps Cross Lido’ or ‘Leytonstone Lido’ as I’ve seen the swimming pool named elsewhere.

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The Hollow Ponds

The Hollow Ponds was the perfect place for the walk to end. I rested under an oak tree and nearly nodded off serenaded by the rustling of leaves in the early afternoon breeze.

 

 

River Roding Walk – Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill

A walk along the beautiful River Roding from Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill on the 24th February – a day when it felt as if Spring had come early. This is one of my favourite walks – following the meanders through Wanstead, Woodford to Buckhurst Hill (although I’ve yet to walk the Roding beyond Debden). The wooded ridges of Epping Forest rise on the horizon, herons glide over the rushes, and I once saw a snake slither across the path one summer near Woodford Bridge.

 

 

Wanstead Slip

Wanstead Slip

Chatting with a couple of members of the congregation at the beautiful St. Mary’s Wanstead, I wondered whether the parish boundary included the Wanstead Slip, that curious parcel of land on the other side of Wanstead Flats around Cann Hall, Leytonstone. They weren’t sure, and asked for further explanation about what exactly the Wanstead Slip was and how it came to be, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure.

Thankfully,  A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, published by Victoria County History in 1973 has this note on the Wanstead Slip:

“Wanstead lies about 7 miles north-east of the City of London. (fn. 1) It is a dormitory suburb straddling the arterial road to Southend and Colchester and forming part of the London borough of Redbridge. The ancient parish extended from Wanstead Flats north for about 4 miles to the boundary with Woodford. The western boundary marched with Leyton and Walthamstow, and the river Roding formed the eastern boundary. The south-west of the parish comprised a spur called the Wanstead Slip which ran south of Leyton down to the marshes near Temple Mills, and included a small detached part locally situated in West Ham. This was more or less coterminous with the manor of Cann Hall, which was originally in Leyton but appears to have become part of Wanstead by the early 13th century. (fn. 2) The main body of the Wanstead Slip (207 a.) was merged in Leyton sanitary district in 1875 and was constituted a separate civil parish (Cann Hall) in 1894. (fn. 3) The detached part of the Slip (38 a.) was merged in West Ham local government district in 1875. (fn. 4) In the same area a small adjustment of the boundary between Wanstead and West Ham had been made in 1790. (fn. 5) In the south-east corner of the parish Aldersbrook appears to have been transferred from Wanstead to Little Ilford early in the 16th century. (fn. 6) That substantial change evidently took place without legal formalities and caused boundary disputes at later periods. (fn. 7) Later boundary changes included the transfer of 96 a. of Wanstead Flats to East Ham in 1901.”

And there is a further reference in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, in an article on the Hundred of Becontree:

“Domesday Book lists some 19 estates in Becontree hundred, containing 104 hides in 10 villages distinguished by separate names. (fn. 1) Most of these villages later gave their names to the parishes of the hundred, but there were some exceptions. Ham was subsequently split into the two parishes of East Ham and West Ham. Higham later became part of Walthamstow parish. One of the estates in Leyton later became Cann Hall in the neighbouring parish of Wanstead, forming the anomalous ‘Wanstead slip’. Dagenham, which certainly existed in 1086, and which became a separate parish, is not named in Domesday, no doubt because it was then, as later, part of the manor of Barking.”

 

Walk along the River Roding and back to Leytonstone

National Trust Long Walks

Headed out for a short walk mid-Sunday afternoon and found this book in a charity shop in Wanstead – it immediately became apparent that I’d have to carry this heavy tome as some form of atonement for not embarking on a longer schlep earlier in the day.

Eastern Avenue

My only aim was to head for the River Roding where it passes under the Eastern Avenue in Wanstead. It was unseasonably warm and I wanted to bask in the last two hours of sun.

River Roding Wanstead

My mind meandered in tune to the waters of the Roding, over bridges and past the pumping station. I remember startling a grass-snake along here a few years ago one hot summer morning.

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I only recently discovered D. W. Gillingham’s wonderful Unto the Fields, by chance on a walk from Chigwell to Loughton. It was a glorious discovery, an entire book published in 1953 on the Roding Valley. A celebration from another era of a landscape I’ve come to love. The exploration of the territory in the book begins in November:

“Now I have chosen this November morning to introduce you to the fields because November is the beginning of Nature’s year, like the farmer’s at Michaelmas… The fieldfares especially were numerous today; their chattering could be heard everywhere, for the migration down the Roding valley was at its height. A few redwings had come to the valley before them.”

Roding Valley pylon

Gillingham delights in the fog and frost of November mornings. As the russet rays of sunshine pitch onto the banks of the Roding I feel the heat and remove my scarf. The pylons, our protectors, glow orange.

A1400 Woodford Avenue

Passing beneath the titanic piers supporting the North Circular I feel the energy drain from my legs, my thighs become sore and heavy. I consider jumping on a bus at Charlie Brown’s Roundabout up to South Woodford station and heading home for tea. But I resolve to hike along the A1400 Woodford Avenue to Gants Hill instead. The National Trust Book of Long Walks needs to be at least partially appeased.

Clayhall sunset

The pylon sky sunset glows as I continue along the Woodford Avenue and brings new life to my tired legs. The view of a Toby Carvery across the road also inspires me to pursue the walk – my sons and I had been discussing the prevalence of Toby Carveries in the area before I headed out for reasons I can’t recall. I sent them both the photo below.

Toby Carvery Gants Hill

At this stage I start to see the Beehive Harvester around every bend of the road and tell myself that I should settle down there and read the National Trust Book of Long Walks and make some notes of things that had passed through my mind on the walk – minor meditations that will be gone by the time I reach home. But before it appears I’m tempted to follow Redbridge Lane East to the roundabout by Redbridge Tube Station where I’m momentarily seduced by the Beefeater Red House. I vow to return, for now I have promised the book of Long Walks that I’ll complete the circuit by walking home.

Redbridge A12

There’s something epic and romantic about the A12 – the Eastern Highway out through Essex to Suffolk – carved across a landscape of broad skies. It’s America. It makes me imagine far off places well beyond Lowestoft.

Redbridge Lane West

Along Redbridge Lane West, lamp-posts illuminating leaves. Across George Green to pick up the old Roman marching route back through Leytonstone to home.

 

Wanstead to Barking along the River Roding

A Friday morning at the end of September and the chance to walk along the River Roding from Wanstead to Barking. Finally I hunted down the elusive Alders Brook near the City of London Cemetery. A dog walker who has been strolling this way for 30 years told me he’d never heard of it and I had to show it marked on my old A-Z. But there it was, overgrown and clogged up but still running free through the undergrowth.

Uphall Camp Barking

source: An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2, Central and South west. Originally published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1921.

The other side of the construction carnage around Ilford town centre I stood on the streets where the Iron Age settlement of Uphall Camp stood, near the banks of the Roding. Today lines of terraced houses named after periods of British History cover the site.

overgrown football pitch at Wanstead

football pitch at Wanstead

Ilford new buildings

Ilford

The River Roding at Barking

The River Roding at Barking

I passed the Quaker burial grounds at Barking before picking up the riverbank path down to the wharfside developments that have temporarily created tumbleweed wild west outposts. After breaching the A13 sadly it was time to head back to Leytonstone before I had reached Beckton which was the aim for the day. But I had surveyed more of the land the lies along one of our sacred Eastern rivers, and seen parts of the London of the distant past and got a glimpse of one of the new Londons taking shape.

Out to Claybury Victorian Asylum

“cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”Lenny’s Documentary

This was in some way a reprise of a walk I did in March 2007 inspired by a line from Ian Bourn’s early video work Lenny’s Documentary set in Leytonstone, “cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”.

Claybury Hospital was the fifth London County Asylum, designed by asylum architect George Thomas Hine, and opened in 1893. It was closed in 1995 and converted into a slightly eerie gated community of luxury flats popular with Reality TV stars and Premier League footballers. Claybury is also mentioned by Iain Sinclair in both Rodinsky’s Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein) and London Orbital in relation to the mysterious hermit of the Princelet Street Synagogue David Rodinsky, whose sister was a patient there.

The walk also took in the Merchant Seaman’s Orphange on Hermon Hill, founded in 1827, also converted into apartments. From there I dropped down, crossing the River Roding, past the Pet Cemetery and a Toby Carvery. The route then took a lop-sided slant through a nest of streets into the Crooked Hat Plantation, one of those curious pockets of ancient woodland, once part of the great Forest of Essex, cut off and stranded by urban sprawl.

The views from Claybury are superb, some of the finest in London. When I was here 10 years ago, sliding around in the mud, I spoke to a lady walking her dog who’d worked in the asylum as a nurse. Today it was hot and humid. A group of Secondary School kids were returning from a trip to the pond. I skirted the railings to get a good view of the iconic water tower before walking down a long road through the grounds of the private settlement. There was an eerie Stepford Wives vibe about the place – it spooked me, so I got out as fast as I could and jumped the tube back to Leytonstone.