Walking the London Loop – Section 4

London Loop Section 4 – Hamsey Green to West Wickham

It was so great to get back out on the London Loop the other week, picking up at the end of Section 5 at Hamsey Green and continuing along Section 4 to West Wickham. Note that I’m walking in the anti-clockwise direction and started on Section 17 at Enfield Lock in January 2018. This does make following the excellent Transport for London maps and directions a little challenging at times, but I’ve got used to reading them in reverse over the last three-and-a-half years.

London Loop sign - Section 4 Hamsey Green

This was a glorious section of the London Loop – I know it probably sounds as if I say that about them all, but some are certainly more bucolic than others and crossing the southern highlands of greater London in sections 5 and 4 from Coulsdon South to West Wickham has been quite stunning. And easily the most physically demanding sections that I’ve walked so far.

The highlight of section 4 was undoubtedly the incredible views back across the London basin from Addington Hills. But the field path that led from Kingswood Lane in Hamsey Green then progressed through Puplet Wood and Selsdon Wood was a real treat. As was seeing the Croydon Trams at Coombe Lane, and crossing Fallen Oak Field. All this in the London Borough of Croydon. And that’s the great charm of the London Loop – it reveals the city anew to you as you walk through great woods and meadows, pass by working farms, and tramp across the commons. You realise just how green the capital is – and what was done to preserve these precious open spaces.

September 2021 is the 20th Anniversary of the London Loop – what better time to get out on London’s orbital path.

A return to Wycombe Wanderers

I hadn’t been to watch Wycombe Wanderers since 1997, when Martin O’Neil was manager and Steve Guppy was flying up the wing being berated by the home fans. Before yesterday that’d been my solitary trip to my hometown club’s new ground. Growing up I’d watched Wycombe at their historic Loakes Park ground with its famous sloping pitch. My grandfather had been an avid Wycombe fan, walking over the hills from Wooburn to Wycombe to watch the blues. My Dad’s cousin, Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman, is still the Wycombe’s all-time record goalscorer and record appearance holder (a ‘bodger’ is a turner of chair legs – chair-making being the traditional industry of Wycombe).

Tony Bodger Horseman of Wycombe Wanderers
Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman – photo Bucks Free Press

We had some Wycombe legends playing for our village cricket club, Wooburn Narkovians, captained by my Dad and where I spent all my summers till the age of 18 – Paul Birdseye who Captained Wycombe for many years (and batted No.3 for Wooburn), Geoff Anthony a Welsh Amateur International (and our wicketkeeper), Howard Kennedy who is among the top 10 appearance makers for the club, and Jack Timberlake who went to school with my Dad and ran the village grocers. Jack also helped set up and run Wooburn Wasps, the youth team where I played from aged 9 to 16. At one time the captain of England schoolboys came to play for us and I got scouted by a number of the big London clubs (we regarded Watford as a London club). This is all background to why I took my youngest son out to Wycombe for his first Wanderers match.

The Little Market House, Wycombe – designed by Robert Adam 1761

It was not only Joe’s first time at Adams Park, but his first proper look at the town of my birth (and where one side of our family can be traced back at least to the 1520s). So on the way to the ground I gave him a quick potted history – the Dial House on Crendon Street where Martin Lluelyn poet and Doctor to Charles I on the scaffold had lived, the Red Lion where Churchill sat astride while campaigning, the Market House marking the distances to London (29 miles) and Oxford (25 miles), the curious ancient stone by the Guildhall that someone suggested could be a mark stone from a neolithic stone circle (there’s another behind the nearby Parish Church). We walked past the old Multi-Racial Centre beneath the fly-over where a number of notable gigs took place in the 70s and 80s, on our way to look at Wycombe College where I did my A-levels. It’s now Buckinghamshire New University. It was interesting to find a plaque on the wall pointing out the original course of the River Wye before it was diverted through a culvert during the 1960s town centre redevelopment.

Paul's Row High Wycombe, August 2021 - the pavement shows the original course of the River Wye before it was culverted through the town centre

A later redevelopment, in the early 2000s, had brought me back to Wycombe to work on an art project with my sister, Cathy, that had been inspired by the scheme. Homesick living in Sydney, I’d searched online for news of my hometown and been surprised to see it unrecognisable from the descriptions of the plans for Project Phoenix. You can read about Remapping High Wycombe project here and download the text I wrote. Our walk through the town confirmed some of our fears of what the resulting Eden Shopping Centre would do to the surrounding parts of Wycombe. Many of the shops were boarded up on Crendon Street and the High Street with its historic medieval market was incredibly sombre compared to what it had been before Eden brought its covered mall to the Newlands carpark. Once one of the most prosperous towns in the country, the Guardian recently reported how it has become a ‘food insecurity hotspot’.

The Wycombe Stone
White Hart Street High Wycombe, August 2021 - photo by John Rogers, the lost byway
White Hart Street

But the spirit of Wycombe is strong, this is the town that started the English Civil War after all. And you can see signs of recovery in the town centre, since my last visit at the end of 2019. We made our way out to Adams Park nestled in the foothills of the Chilterns, and even Joe was beguiled by the sight of the hills rising above the stands. The atmosphere outside the ground was good with live music in the Chairboys Village in the carpark. There was plenty of nose inside the stadium – the Wycombe chants being led by a manic drummer at the back of the terraces who was still there banging that drum long after the final whistle. Sam Vokes, with his 64 International Caps for Wales and 113 Premier League appearances, always looked likely to be the difference between the sides, and his 3rd minute back post header from Jordan Obita’s cross proved decisive. Lincoln City played well, to give them credit, and big David Stockdale pulled off a couple of fine saves to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

Chairboys Village, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Sam Vokes Goal, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021

After the match we walked back into town. Past the Hour Glass where my sister used to drink and my Dad play darts, then down Mill End Road where my Mum went to school. Then we followed Dashwood Avenue all the way back into town as I told Joe stories of Lord Dashwood’s Hellfire Club and showed him the place on the Avenue where we’d brought him to meet my Aunty Carol when he was just a few months old and she was in the final months of her life. Naturally our trip to Wycombe ended with a pint of Rebellion Brewery IPA in The Antelope (well Joe had to have lemonade).

A Stroll Around the Isle of Dogs

At the end of April, and still nursing a sore and swollen ankle from slipping down a wet grassy bank on Harmondsworth Moor in West London, I took a hobble around the Isle of Dogs. I needed to walk after two weeks with my foot up and had been invited to film the wonderful artist Maud Milton creating one of her great mosaic roundels for the London Overground at her studio in Trinity Buoy Wharf. So after the interview I set off from East India Dock Basin and made my way around the shoreline of the Isle of Dogs to Poplar Dock and Blackwall Basin. I then diverted briefly through the Canary Wharf Estate (No Filming!!) before turning through Cubbitt Town back to the Thames finishing at Island Gardens.

Isle of Dogs

A Walk Around Canning Town

What links Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, Danny Dyer, Sylvia Pankhurst and Kier Hardie? Yes, Canning Town – the too often overlooked quarter of East London.

Back in early March I set off from Star Lane DLR and headed towards Rathbone Market. It was impossible to ignore the late-Victorian Italianate splendour of Canning Town Public Hall, built by the Borough of West Ham in 1892. This was the scene of many significant political meetings addressed by the likes of Keir Hardie (MP for West Ham South), Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, and Bertrand Russell.

I then went in search of the scene of one of the most intriguing meetings of the early 20th Century, when Charlie Chaplin met Gandhi in a house in Cannng Town in 1931, today marked by the Gandhi Chaplin Memorial Park.

Canning Town Newham
Canning Town near the Royal Docks

From there I crossed the A13 to Keir Hardie Recreation Ground and then along Victoria Dock Road, Freemasons Road to Canning Town Recreation Park where the walk ends at the beautiful Carnegie Library at Custom House, the birthplace of legendary East London actor Danny Dyer.

The World’s End – walking with Iain Sinclair through Tilbury

‘The Jungle began in London’

The second chapter of Iain Sinclair’s The Gold Machine opens with that line, ‘The jungle began in London’. This reflection comes beside a ‘fast-flowing’ brown river in Peru, following the footsteps of a journey made by his great-grandfather, Arthur Sinclair. ‘This Peruvian expedition had been an unspoken requirement most of my working life’, he writes. And in 2019 he finally made the journey with his daughter Farne and the filmmaker Grant Gee. But why had we come out to Tilbury to pick up the threads for this video?

The answers were littered along the walk we took from Tilbury Town to East Tilbury – from the Docks to Bataville. Stood outside a derelict boarded up guest house as Saturday traffic whizzed past, Iain looked up at the attic windows and explained:
“It’s very easy for me to imagine Joseph Conrad as a merchant mariner coming ashore in Tilbury and lodging there and looking out of this particular dirty pane of glass and dreaming the entire story of everything I’ve written ever since, or whispering in my ear and pushing me to write it, because the beginning the middle and the end of everything I’ve ever written begins in Dock Road Tilbury and it essentially begins with this building the wonderfully named Rourke’s Drift Guest House … those windows upstairs, just the faces are at the window. And I mean that’s it for me, this is where the ghost started to come through and push everything that follows.”

Iain Sinclair Downriver

We had not just gone in search of the origins of a journey to Peru, but the creation myth of Iain’s life of writing the hidden stories of London into existence. Once articulated, you realise Arthur Sinclair’s 19th Century travels as a planter to the tropics, are threaded through Iain Sinclair’s books, the tendrils from the jungle wrapped around the streets of East London and back down the Thames Estuary and out to sea.

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair

We stood on the wharf watching the passenger ferry pull out across the Thames for Gravesend. The sky so wide looking eastwards to the North Kent Marshes, and Iain talked of his great-grandfather’s first departure from this very spot bound of Ceylon. But also of Joseph Conrad’s Thames voyages and his own departure to the jungles of the Congo that became the basis of Heart of Darkness. A journey that also started at Tilbury. There were so many overlapping narratives that washed up along the foreshore as we walked. We wound up looking for the modernist espresso bar designed by architect Bronek Katz as a hub for the Bata Factory workers at East Tilbury, now butchered and blackened and operating as a kebak and burger joint called, Essex Kitchen. We never made it as far as Joseph Conrad’s house at Stanford-le-Hope, the best walks always act as preludes to future schleps. ‘The walk is the walk’, Iain said, whatever it contains is the narrative.

Livestream Walk – Ladbroke Grove & Portobello Road

Taking advantage of being over in West London with a rare burst of sunshine between the rain showers, I decided to livestream my walk down Ladbroke Grove and then along Portobello Road. I managed to catch the last of the market beneath the Westway, where we come across a great bookstall with some tempting editions of classic books. We pass the Electric Cinema, the Mews featured in Alfie, the site of the Travel Bookshop made famous by the movie Notting Hill, and the home where George Orwell lived in 1927 on his return from Burma.

It was fantastic to interact with viewers while I walked, giving me directions and places to look out for, looking up information. There were 962 chat messages in total during the stream. Thanks to everyone who took part in this participatory stroll through Notting Hill.