Last Sunday (10th), feeling ill and leggy, I set off for a walk across Wanstead Flats just before sunset for a wander through Wanstead Park.
The video includes extracts from the audiobook of This Other London.
Walked across Wanstead Flats this morning for the first time since the enormous fire on Sunday that engulfed a large section of the grass and scrub land between Lake House Road and Centre Road, with some damage along the edge of the section towards Aldersbrook Road. The BBC reported that more than 220 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, that was still smoldering on Tuesday. Today you can make your way along the paths that seemed to have largely escaped serious fire damage.
Worringly, there had been further fires overnight by the Empress Avenue allotments in Aldersbrook. One of the fires was started just outside the Aldersbrook Riding School which was being investigated by the Police as a possible act of arson. There were dark burnt patches all around the area. The mound of dung and manure beside the allotments had been set alight and was still smoldering.
Fires had scorched the dry grass and weeds off the end of the lane near the old sewage works and the pylons. One local suggested that the sporadic nature of the fires indicated they’d been started deliberately. It was interesting to note how some plants in heavily burnt areas had escaped damage – you’ll see it in the thistles here and on Wanstead Flats there was a cluster of tall pink flowers (purple loosestrife?) surrounded by blackened earth at what had been the heart of the inferno.
The overnight arrival of snow was announced early on Sunday morning by the excited screeching of my youngest son. I was initially less enthusiastic as I’d hope to head out on a long walk – perhaps even venture across the river, but a quick glance at the TfL website confirmed that a mere layer of snow had taken out several tube and train lines.
Just after midday, with my GoPro fully charged and the kids thawing out in front of the telly after a vicious backgarden snowball fight, I set out over Wanstead Flats. This has been my default location when it snows – the open expanses shielded by perimeter trees conducive to trapping in the snowfall – unlike the surrounding streets where it quickly turns into a grey sludge.
The football pitches on the Leytonstone side had the goal posts set out in anticipation of Sunday morning matches but the field was dominated by a squad of snowmen.
Louds squeals and hollers went up from a mound of the Alexandra Lake near Aldersbrook where families sledged down to the waters edge. Flocks of birds swooped in for whole slices of bread. Others took advantage of frozen pontoons to rest on the body of the lake.
As the light faded towards the 3.50pm sunset the temperature dropped another degree or two so that the cold sought out those gaps around the edge of your clothing. I trudged over more snow cloaked football pitches and eventually to the path leading through Bush Wood from where I watched the twinkling lights of the distant city skyline foregrounded by Leytonstone’s iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers.
Last night brought rain instead of snow. The kids didn’t get the hoped for day off school and as we made our way along the road this morning, we looked out for forlorn patches of the icy crystals that were the only remnants of winter wonderland of yesterday.
Wanstead Flats looked resplendent the other morning cloaked in a thick frost.
A real joy to make this latest episode of my series of walking vlogs as Wanstead Flats is probably my favourite open space in London – and also because it gave me a chance to use the footage of my Dad finding a Hedge Mog on the flats a couple of years ago that I described in Chapter 10 This Other London.
Tested out an old Olympus Zuiko OM 50mm lens on my Panasonic GH3 camera at the weekend over on Wanstead Flats. After a long hibernation you can see Spring starting to visit the Flats.
I wish I was better at identifying wildflowers – I’ve sat here with 3 wildflower books on my desk, looked at 4 websites and I still can’t identify this beautiful little plant that was growing along the avenue that once led from Leytonstone High Road to the gates of the grand Wanstead House.
I show this picture to my 80-year father who instantly identifies it as Blackthorn. A Druid website says that in plant lore, “The Blackthorn tree is esoterically known as both the Mother of the Woods and the Dark Crone of the Woods.” And is also said to have, “the most sinister reputation in Celtic tree lore” associated with “ill omens” and to witches represents “the dark side of the Craft”.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say this is a gorse bush but with the caveat that I could be wrong and they merely look like a gorse to the untrained eye.
Yesterday saw thousands of people take to the streets of London in the March for Homes. This builds on recent high profile housing campaigns such as Focus E15, the New Era Estate, and Our West Hendon. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as one campaigner from Feminist Fightback told me there are 70 social housing estates undergoing ‘regeneration’ which is often just a means of demolishing the existing homes, displacing the tenants and privatising some if not all of the land. The group has calculated that there are around 160,000 tenants facing eviction and/or rehousing. The land value of these 70 estates is estimated to be in the region of £52billion.
There was a great spirit amongst the diverse range of Londoners traipsing through the rain from the congregation points of St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch and the Elephant and Castle – converging on City Hall, Boris Johnson’s Death Star. A lady thrust a yellow flier into my hand whilst I stood on a peddle-dash plinth trying to get a decent shot of the procession from a higher vantage point. ‘Fred & John Towers Not For Sale’ – Leytonstone’s own iconic tower blocks beside Wanstead Flats that played host to snipers and anti-aircraft missiles during the London Olympics. The E15 Campaigners have joined forces to help the residents who face being rehoused while Waltham Forest Council sell off one of the blocks and dispose of 70 Council homes in the process.
Next week the residents of Earls Court will be demonstrating to save the heart being ripped out of their area with a £8billion development. New battle lines are being drawn all across London every day in the fight for the soul and the future of this great ancient city.