The Enchantments of the River Roding

A walk along the west bank of the River Roding from Barking to Creekmouth

There was a strong pull back to the River Roding to complete the walk I’d started with Paul Powlesland of the River Roding Trust. Paul had shown me the path the Trust had opened up with volunteers from the Friends of the River Roding, restoring an ancient right of way from Ilford Bridge to Barking Town. A lost world had been revealed of salt marshes and swaying reed beds, as the invasive growth had been hacked back and hundreds of sacks of dumped rubbish hauled up to the roadside to be carted away. That walk had ended at the Trust’s self-built moorings just on the edge of Barking Town Centre, another occluded world of plank walks stringing together narrowboats bobbing amongst the riverside growth, scored by birdsong. It was a complete revelation.

Today I would continue alone without Paul’s puckish energy leading the way, narrating the walk infused with his infectious enthusiasm. He’d set off from the source of the River Roding at Molehill Green near Stanstead Airport in Essex, with another member of the Trust, Jenny, to walk the entire length of the river over the Easter weekend. I’d imagined their quest may have ended by Easter Monday as I made my way to riverbank by Barking Tesco, but dropped him a text anyway.

This first section of the walk is a series of development invoked diversions, pushing me away from the riverside to the North Circular then around Fresh Wharf. The towers have marched along the Thames and are now progressing inland up her tributaries like a marauding Viking fleet. While admiring the calm waters at Town Quay beside one such construction site, a gust of wind blew my 1863 map into the river. I then received a text from Paul saying they’d stopped at the moorings to dump their camping gear and would be right behind me soon. The two events seemed connected in some way.

River Roding near Jenkins Lane
River Roding

The Metropolitan Police Detention Centre at Fresh Wharf casts a bleak shadow across Hand Trough Creek, which appears from old maps to be the remnants of the Roding’s Back River. A footpath branches off into a grove of fruit trees in blossom. Heading into Cuckold’s Haven and beneath the A13 Alfred’s Way, epic pylons rise to electrify the sky. The enormous Showcase Cinema enjoys its last month of being dormant before the hoards kick the doors down in May. I hear a voice behind me, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’. I turn and there’s Paul and Jenny on the final stretch of their River Roding hike. They wear the tint of three nights sleeping in fields beside the riverbank, jumping hedges to strictly follow the course of the river.

We pass Jenkins Lane sewage treatment works, the end of the Northern Outfall Sewer. The treated water flows along a concrete trench beside the path and gushes out in the Thames beside the River Roding Flood Barrier. Paul and Jenny hop the wall and clamber across the stones to toast the walk at the exact confluence of the River Roding and the Thames. It’s a real treat to witness this special moment, all part of the magic offered up by this beguiling eastern tributary of the Thames – one the enchantments of the River Roding.

River Roding walk - Paul Powlesland
Paul and Jenny at Creekmouth

Watch my original walk with Paul Powlesland along the west bank of the River Roding from Ilford Bridge to Barking Moorings

llford Bridge to Barking Moorings

Video Description:

This walk takes along an ancient footpath beside the River Roding from Ilford to Barking moorings that has recently been opened up by the Friends of the River Roding. This previously overgrown, inaccessible strip of land between the North Circular and the Roding is hoped will form part of an ‘Edgelands Park’ linking together existing green spaces near the river with this riverside path which will then connect with the Roding Valley Way at Ilford. Paul Powlesland formed the River Roding Trust with a group of people living on narrowboats who work on maintaining the river and the riverbank. Due to their efforts the River Roding is now navigable from Barking Wharf to Ilford Bridge for the first time in 50 years.

This River Roding walk starts at Ilford Bridge and picks up the path on the west side of the river, passing through the edge of Ilford to Little Ilford. Here we see the Saltings formed by the semi-tidal waters of the River Roding creating a beautiful wetlands environment of swaying reeds. There are also a number of concrete bases stretched along the riverbank that appear to be part of its industrial past. Across the river we see the housing development built on the site of a chemical works, which had been built on the site of Uphall Camp – an Iron Age enclosure and possible hillfort that had also been used by the Romans.

Old Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Walking the River Lea from Hackney to the Thames

Reflecting on a cold cold January walk on an Easter weekend as we look forward to Spring despite forecasts of April snow. If you want a snapshot of how London is changing you could do no worse than take this stroll from the edge of the Olympic Park and hug the banks of the River Lea to its confluence with the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

You see the towers of new Stratford and hug the contours of the Stadium. Across the Navigation the old wharfs and industrial heart of Hackney Wick is being remodelled. Passing beneath the Bow Flyover the Navigation once again provides a slideshow of change, here to the East the developments around Sugar House Lane that have been rising sluggishly from the factories and warehouses on the south side of Stratford High Street. A similar vista greets us through Bow as well till we hit the huge distribution centres of Sainsburys and Amazon beside the riverbank as we approach Cody Dock.

River Lea Walk

River Lea at West Ham

Forced away from the Riverbank at Cody Dock we wander into a slice of living history – the old industrial Lea Valley landscape around Bidder Road and Stephenson Street. Pylons rise over car and scrap yards, paint shops, and other staples that were once essential to the functioning city. These spaces keep being pushed further East till eventually they’ll end up in the sea. Someone first urged me to come down here some 7 or 8 years ago, just after the Olympics, ‘Go and see it while you can,’ Chris said.

A path beneath the A13 takes us into Bow Ecology Park where once Shipworks straddled the Lea. On the other side of the water one of the many simulacra produced by New London rises on what they call City Island or ‘mini Manhattan’ in the marketing literature. A tight cluster of colourful tower blocks tethered to the reality of Canning Town by an iron bridge. In lockdown it appears like a fever colony, no one permitted to leave the isolation blocks save for supply runs to Sainsburys Local.

Bidder Road, Lower Lea Valley
Bidder Road
City Island on the River Lea
City Island
City Island on the River Lea
City Island and Canning Town

Once you find a way off City Island through yet more new building developments around the mouth of the Lea that borrow names from the recorded past, we find our way to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Jim Finer’s Long Player installation continues to mark time in the lighthouse, and the River Lea slides into the Thames and heads off along Bugsby’s Reach bound for the sea.

Q&A Video: The most Remote part of London and Other Questions Answered

Last weekend I sat down in the London Olympic Park and delved into a long list of brilliant questions submitted via the Community tab on my YouTube channel and Instagram Stories.

Here’s a list of the questions with the timestamps in case you’d like to navigate to a particular part of what became an epic video:

Contents of this video
0:00​ Intro Stratford Olympic Park
01:32​ Grotty Fringe of the Olympic Park
02:21​ Will you do more South London walks?
02:49​ Most memorable bit of folklore
04:24​ Which era of London would you most like to walk around
06:19​ Do you get scared walking on your own
06:47​ If you could say one thing to planners and architects what would it be
08:21​ If you needed your ashes scattered in London where would it be
09:28​ Favourite pre-Roman or prehistoric site in London
10:14​ Particular walking book you would like to see reprinted
10:38​ Is there a river flowing from Hampstead Heath through Belsize Park
11:05​ Do you listen to music on your walks
11:22​ Where have you felt the most remote
12:00​ What’s your longest walk
12:42​ How I started my walks
13:56​ Would you consider walking further afield such as the Thames Estuary around Tilbury and Gravesend
15:02​ Where are the women psychogeographers
19:01​ Favourite discovery on a walk
20:07​ Who was Jack the Ripper?
23:23​ Will we ever know more about Boudicca?
24:39​ What is your professional background or upbringing
26:07​ Growing up in the Chilterns
26:52​ Austin Osman Spare walk
27:42​ First Job and have you been unemployed for a long period of time
29:38​ What got you into psychogeography
32:05​ Psychogeography outside London
34:26​ Best thing you found on your travels
35:02​ When will you do a walk through Temple
35:35​ Radical Rambler Cap?
36:00​ Will the Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art make a comeback?
36:20​ Would you another City e.g Bristol
37:30​ Favourite Author, Novel, Ale
38:29​ Views on some modern architecture
39:10​ Will you do a Southend walk to the Anglo Saxon burial site at Prittlewell
39:20​Thames Bridges walk
40:02​ How does your wife feel about your long walks
41:21​ Strangest encounter on a walk
43:44​ If you could walk anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
45:20​ Kray Twins walk?
46:22​ Most disappointing walk
47:34​ Will you get a haircut after the restrictions are lifted
47:40​ Will you write another book?
48:31​ Any trouble or threatened on a walk?
50:15​ Inspiration to start and film these walks
53:10​ Thank you for your questions

Related links and videos:
South London Walks
The Legend of Horsenden Hill
Remapping High Wycombe
My Longest Walk
Thames Estuary Tilbury Walk
Dr Tina Richardson – psychogeographer
Rachel Lichtenstein
Laura Oldfield Ford
Janet Cardiff The Missing Voice
Austin Osman Spare Strange Attractor Press
Leytonstone Centre for Contemporary Art