London Overground Walk – Eastbound Leytonstone to Barking

A walk along the London Overground Railway Gospel Oak to Barking Line (GOBLIN) from Leytonstone to Barking.

This was a walk I first planned as an episode of Ventures and Adventures in Topography with Nick Papadimitriou on Resonance fm, back in 2010. Although it would have followed the whole of the line from Gospel Oak to Barking. Then I walked a very short portion of the route with Iain Sinclair when he passed through Leyton and Leytonstone following the route for his book The Last London, which was flatteringly recorded in the text, “John was the animating spirit of Leytonstone. When he was in attendance, streets from which I felt a double alienation (theirs and mine) came to life.” So the continuation of the lockdown felt like the perfect time to actually walk the Overground from Leytonstone to Barking at least (it’s still advised to only use public transport for essential journeys).

I started my walk by the railway bridge on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone outside the Heathcote and Star. From here I made my way past Leytonstone High Road Station with a nod to the ground of Leytonstone F.C. Then I traversed that curious geographical anomaly, The Wanstead Slip. The Pretty Decent Beer Company, located in a railway arch, were building a bar in the brewery doorway to prepare for the weekend opening of the tap room. It made me realise I had to pick up some draft ale from the brilliant Wanstead Tap nestled in another of the arches. Departing the Tap with a couple of pints of Long Play IPA and some Clapton CFC stickers in my bag, I continued along the railway into Forest Gate.

 

Barking

Barking

Barking

Crossing Woodgrange Road, famous for its association with Jimi Hendrix at the Upper Cut Club, I head into Sebert Road, named after King Sebert of the East Saxons ( 604-616), the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity. The rain started to fall as I walked those fine streets of the Woodgrange Estate and breached a rainy Roman Romford Road. When the railway line opened it ran across open fields on this side of the Romford Road. The streets of Manor Park sprouted from that marshy ground, many of them seemingly named after poets. This route provides a dramatic entrance to Barking: the gasometers rising from the tall grasses of the North Thames Gas Board Sports Ground, the pylons, the North Circular, and the industrial estate. Classic edgelands. I cross the River Roding, the towers of the new London looming all through Barking and out to Dagenham. The terminus of the railway where face-masked communters pour out into the streets.

 

 

Through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Chingford

A walk from the Hollow Ponds in Leytonstone through Epping Forest to Mansfield Park in Chingford passing through Walthamstow Forest, Highams Park, Pimp Hall Park & Nature Reserve and Ridgeway Park.

This video partly followed the path of my last walk before the lockdown as far as Highams Park Lake. On that day in March I turned up the hill to the ridge of land dividing the Lea and Roding Valleys at Woodford. Then I descended into the Roding Valley and walked back to Leytonstone along the River Roding. For this walk I wanted to head in the opposite direction from Highams Park- towards the River Lea.

Heading up Friday Hill it’s impossible not to recall the wonderful story of a monarch (take your pick between Charles II, Henry VIII or James I) who while out hunting in Epping Forest decided to take dinner at the Hall at Friday Hill, Chingford. Asking for the finest cut of beef to be brought to his table he was so impressed that he decided to knight the loin of beef, taking out his sword and declaring “Arise Sir Loin”. And that apparently is how Sirloin steak got its name. The Dovecote pub on Friday Hill used to be called The Sirloin.

I wanted to then connect a chain of open spaces that annoint the high ground at Chingford. First Pimp Hall Park, which takes its name from the old manor house. In the nearby nature reserve you can still see the 17th Century dovecote which provided the farm with a fresh supply of pigeons for their pies.

Ridgeway Park Chingford

Ridgeway Park Railway

Then I walked on through the fine streets of Chingford, passing the Old Town Hall, to Ridgeway Park with its brilliant model railway. Somebody commented on the video that there’s a local story that Walt Disney visited the model railway in Ridgeway and was so taken with it that he was inspired to build his amusement parks. I sincerely hope that’s true.

The walk ends across the road in Mansfield Park. The park occupies land that used to be common grazing land and a hay meadow – and apparently this gave us the name from Anglo-Saxon ‘Man’s Field’. The views from here across the reservoirs are some of the best in the Lea Valley and I rested a while to drink them in.

EMD Cinema Walthamstow

Hoe Street Walthamstow

Although the video ends here in Mansfield Park I still had to walk back to Leytonstone through a smattering of rain. I passed Chingford Old Church and the famous Chingford Mount Cemetery, Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and George Monoux College. It was the longest walk I’d done in months and by the time I reached Hoe Street, Walthamstow I was really starting to feel it in my legs and lower back. Luckily I had my walking pole with me to help me along, like a weary forest pilgrim passing through Bakers Arms to pick up a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada from the corner shop to sup in the garden at home.

Video filmed on 4th June 2020

London’s Village of Visionaries – Stoke Newington

A walk across the Lea Valley from Leyton to Stoke Newington

I was full of trepidation at the thought of crossing the River Lea for the first time since the lockdown began on 23rd March. In those three months the land on the western side of the valley came to represent the whole bulk of London as we sheltered from the virus. But I knew that eventually I’d have to confront my fear and make this journey. Stoke Newington seemed like a good destination for this first foray beyond my comfort zone. Described as “the village of visionaries” in the Time Out Book of London Walks, Stoke Newington has strong associations with non-comformism, the arts and literature.

Our walk starts in Leyton and crosses the River Lea opposite the Olympic Park then goes over Hackney Marshes from Homerton Road. A smattering of people staked themselves out in the afternoon sun of the hottest day of the year so far as temperatures hit 31 degrees. I headed down through the treeline to the Hackney Cut where two women in bikinis were recovering on the towpath from the effort of hauling their dinghy out of the canal. They stood there peeling layers of green weed from their skin like a pair of moulting swamp creatures. A constant cavalcade of cyclists pinged past dinging their bells to tell me to clear the path. It was a delightful summer scene.

Hackney Cut

Crossing the Cut I decided to revisit the Millfields Community Orchard where I joined the Hackney Tree Muskateers for the wassailing of the fruit trees in the winter of 2013. The throbbing power station beside the orchard I discovered from the comments on my video was formerly the site of the Clapton Stadium where Leyton Orient played in the days when they were Clapton Orient. It apparently later became a greyhound and speedway track.

From here my path took me across Millfields and up Southwold Road to Lower Clapton Road where I was pleasantly surprised to find draft pale ale to take away from the garden of the Crooked Billet pub. I headed up Evering Road with its notorious association with the Kray Twins and the murder of Jack the Hat McVitie. Following Brooke Road N16 I felt the presence of the Hackney Brook running beneath the ground on its way to make a confluence with the sacred River Lea.

Stoke Newington High Street was gridlocked. The old Roman Ermine Street choked with throbbing bus engines rattling the brains of the pedestrians. I took refuge in the beautiful Abney Park Cemetery, opened on the site of Abney House as a model ‘garden cemetery’. This leads us into Stoke Newington Church Street and a visit to the Ecstatic Peace Library Record Shop. I’d prepared for the walk by listening to a new track by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Strawberry Moon. Now a resident of Stoke Newington, the Ecstatic Peace Library is Moore’s publishing venture so there was a nice synchronicity to visiting his shop.

Stoke Newington

The walk inevitably leads into Clissold Park, the grounds of a house built for Quaker anti-slavery campaigner Jonathan Hoare. I hadn’t seen so many people in one place since the lockdown began – a mass of physically distancing sunbathers soaking up the early evening light. The perfect place to end the walk for the video, where I could swig the last of my ale before walking home to Leytonstone.

Lost Futures of East London

A walk from Leytonstone to Fairlop Waters via Clayhall, Barkingside and Fullwell Cross

Fairlop, in the London Borough of Redbridge, takes its name from the famous Fairlop Oak, an enormous oak tree in Hainault Forest that was said to be 900 years old in its prime. The tree fell into poor health and the trunk was hollow by the time it became the focus of the annual Fairlop Fair when thousands of Londoners flooded out through the forest for festivities around the tree. In 1805 flames from a picnic set light to the tree causing great damage. Then in 1820 the Fairlop Oak finally blew down. That was the destination for this lockdown walk.
Our walk takes us from Leytonstone High Road through Wanstead to the Redbridge Roundabout and Charles Holden’s Redbridge Tube Station. We then go along Redbridge Lane East. I revisit my thoughts on Mark Fisher’s idea of Hauntology as a ‘nostalgia for lost futures’. I also recently read an essay by Alastair Bonnett that explains how the word ‘nostalgia’ was “devised in 1688 by Johannes Hofer by combining the Greek ‘nostos’ (home) and ‘algos’ (pain) in order to depict a malady brought on by being distant from one’s homeland… The earliest English uses of the term are geo-psychological. According to the OED, the first English usage is from 1770 and derives from Joseph Banks, botanist on James Cook’s Endeavour. ‘The greatest part’ of the crew, Banks wrote in his diary, are ‘now pretty far gone in the longing for home which the Physicians have gone so far as to esteem a disease under the name of Nostalgia” (The Geography of Nostalgia: Global and Local Perspectives on Modernity and Loss by Alastair Bonnett).

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

We visit Clayhall Park, named after the manor that was first recorded in the area in 1203. Here we see the plaque embedded in a stone to commemorate the planting of trees by The Men of the Trees in 1937. We then walk through Barkingside to the majestic Fullwell Cross Library. This glorious building was designed by notable architect Frederick Gibberd who later designed Heathrow Airport, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and was chief planner for Harlow New Town.
The walk ends at the beautiful Fairlop Waters which had been used as an airfield in both WW1 and WW2 and in 1947 was considered for the location of London’s major intercontinental airport.

After a rest by the calming waters I set out for the 6-mile walk home at 7.45pm. I took on a can of Becks beer and bag of Bagel Bites for fuel. People bathed in the glorious evening light in Barkingside Recreation Ground. An old mile stone poked out of the long grass by the entrance to the Tesco Superstore. The Cadbury’s signage on the boarded up Cranbrook Food and Wine caught the start of the pre-solstice sunset as I powered into Gants Hill to top up with a can of Beavertown Gamma Ray Pale Ale for the push along the Eastern Avenue back to Redbridge. By the time I hit The George at Wanstead on the far slope of the Roding Valley, I was experiencing that state of euphoria common in the final stages of a long walk – an intoxicating brew of adrenaline, endorphins mixed with memory and nostalgia. The streets of Leytonstone were quiet as I made those final steps home.

 

Filmed on 18th June 2020
“© OpenStreetMap contributors” https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

A walk through the Ancient Village of Walthamstow

A walk through Walthamstow Village

This lockdown walk started on Essex Road Leyton, checking in at Knotts Green on the way to Walthamstow Village. Knotts Green was likely a later medieval settlement created in a forest clearing as Leyton expanded. The wonderfully named Wild Street, ‘ran along the north side of Knotts Green’. I turned off Leyton High Road into Shernhall Street via an area that had been mentioned in 1537 as Diggons Cross. Shernhall Street itself is believed to be one of the oldest thoroughfares in Walthamstow.

Shernall Street Walthamstow Village

Ravenswood Industrial Estate

Despite only being 6.5 miles from the City of London, much of Walthamstow was covered by forest until 1770s. I imagined that some of the fine old trees along the side of the road were survivors of this transition. Church End is believed to be the site of one of the Saxon villages established on the higher ground in the forest, linked to an earlier settlement by the River Lea by a trackway that followed the line of Church Hill. St. Mary’s Church, first recorded in 1145, replaced an older wooden Saxon church. The wonderful 15th Century Ancient House facing the church helps summon up the spirit of these earlier times.

Walthamstow Village

The Ancient House

There was a wonderful feeling of sanctuary in the churchyard, people laid around in the long grass between the headstones. Groups sat on the tables outside the Nags Head drinking their own booze, access to the Nags Head’s 16th Century wine cellar being denied by the lockdown. Drinkers also loitered around the gravel square on Orford Road as others queued for the Spar.

Walthamstow Village

St. Mary’s Church

I passed the essential Vestry House Museum. Built in 1730 as a workhouse it now also accomodates the Waltham Forest Local Studies Archive. The Monoux Almhouses took me into Vinegar Alley, which I learnt from the comments on this video, was the site of a plague pit.

Walthamstow Village

Vinegar Alley

Locally, Walthamstow Village gets it bit of stick for being the generator of unwanted gentrification that has priced many locals and businesses out of the area (including some of the original gentrifiers). But this discussion obscures the ancient wonders contained within this clearing in the forest. A Walthamstow history that will still be there after the sourdough bread has all gone stale.

 

Black Lives Matter in Leytonstone

Video of the community Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Leytonstone on Saturday 13th June at Linear Park on Grove Green Road.

The event was organised by Grove Green Ward Labour Party. A powerful speech was given by Grove Green Councillor Anna Mbachu. As a healthcare worker, Anna spoke movingly of how she has witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the BAME community. Tom Taylor from the local Labour Party, and organiser of the protest, spoke of the long heritage of anti-racism in East London going back to the Battle of Cable Street through to the Rock Against Racism Festival in Victoria Park in 1978. Hussain from the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques urged people to network within the community with like-minded people. Passing cars and buses beeped their horns in support, cyclists rang their bells. The names of black people who have lost their lives in racist attacks, after interactions with the police, from Covid-19, the Windrush Scandal, and in the Grenfell Tower Fire were read out whilst the protestors took the knee and observed a minute’s silence.

Social distancing was very well observed throughout with positions marked out on the pavement 3 metres apart and plenty of stewards were on hand to make sure the event passed safely. It was great to see so many families in attendance, including my youngest son who helped make this video.

 

 

London’s Hidden Hamlet – Snaresbrook

A walk through the lost Hamlet of Snaresbrook on the edge of Epping Forest, now a part of the parish of Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge. We cross Leyton Flats to the Eagle Pond and look at the Eagle Pub (currently closed due to Coronavirus). Here we see a section of the Sayers Brook or Sayes Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name. We also see Snaresbrook Crown Court which was built in 1841 as the Infant Orphan Asylum. In the video I describe the building as Gothic, but my friend Andrew Stevens texted to correct me saying that it is in fact Jacobethan.
From here we walk along Woodford Road to look at the modernist wonder of Hermitage Court before walking down Eagle Lane to Falcon Close. I ponder upon the idea of Hauntology, a term first used by Jacques Derrida but popularised by cultural theorist Mark Fisher particularly in relation to music. Fisher spoke of “the failure of the 21st Century to really arrive” and now in the 21st Century we experience “culture floating free from time” . I wonder whether the modernist architecture of Hermitage Court is another example of a “lost future” that I feel a nostalgia for.

Snaresbrook Roding Valley
From Falcon Way we look at the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum on Hermon Hill built in 1861, then walk down Cranbourne Avenue to Elmcroft Avenue where we enter the Roding Valley Park. A comment on the YouTube video from Darren Clack mentions that this land occupies the old course of the Roding at some point in the past when the river took a more meandering route. We explore the wonderful parkland beside the North Circular Road and River Roding as far as Charlie Brown’s Roundabout and then turn up Chigwell Road to Hermon Hill. Our walk ends at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford.

Related videos:
River Roding Walks https://bit.ly/2C7ovrR
Mark Fisher: The Slow Canellation of the Future https://youtu.be/aCgkLICTskQ

Filmed on 12th June 2020 during the Lockdown.