A walk around King’s Lynn

Back in May I headed up to King’s Lynn to do a talk and walk at Groundwork Gallery for a fantastic show by arts collective Haptic/Tacit called FieldWork. I’d produced a commissioned essay to accompany the show which you can read on the Groundwork website:

Field work is the work. What follows is the echo. I sit in this very chair skimming through video clips of expeditions through the West London Industrial Belt, the newbuilds colonising Albert Island, the looming transformation of Thamesmead, the freakzone on Orford Ness, the point in Essex where the shimmering sand tempts you to do a death walk along the Broomway. All of England, both real and imagined crumbles into the North Sea off the Suffolk and Norfolk coast. This is edgeland in its most literal sense. The ghost church bells of the lost city Dunwich tolling beneath the waves. W.G. Sebald striding through the East Anglian landscape, walking away from a gnawing melancholy yapping at his heels. ‘Read Sebald and you can never look at the landscape in the same way again’, wrote Suffolk resident Roger Deakin.

continue reading here

After the talk at Groundwork Gallery and a look at the Haptic/Tacit show we went for a stroll around the medieval quarter of King’s Lynn in the company of three town guides with my occasional interjections. Amongst the feast of heritage architecture we were led through a low doorway into a garden where the 14th Century buildings would have faced a wharf where goods were unloaded from across Europe in the period when the town derived great prosperity from being part of the Hanseatic League. The newest buildings in this former commercial enclave dated from the 16th Century.

Our walk ended looking out along the waters of the Great Ouse towards the North Sea. It was a fantastic introduction to the wonders of this storied Norfolk town. I must return soon to further pick up the threads of its watercourses and pilgrim trails.

A10 Live Walk from Ware to Puckeridge

This was a return to Ermine Street for me. Aside from the more obvious strolls from Bishopsgate through Hoxton and Stoke Newington, I’d previously walked the section of Ermine Street through the woods from Wormley to Hertford. It was also a return to a part of the territory north of Ware that had a particularly poignant personal association, as the place I’d walked the day my mother died, and I’d decided to go ahead with my planned walk to the Youngsbury Burial Mounds. These Romano-British tumuli would once have loomed over Ermine Street between Ware and Puckeridge, the section of the road I was walking with Simon. I did wonder how much this would play on my mind during the walk – particularly when we’d cross the River Rib, where I’d made a small offering in memory of my Mum further upstream that day in 2018. But no nothing really came back. Not even at the junction where a street named Ermine Street leaves the A10 and heads towards Thundridgebury – the route I’d taken to the abandoned church now adopted by ghost hunters and occultists.

Simon, co-creator of A10 Live, made the day an enjoyable stroll – helped to maintain the discipline of sticking to the task of following the A10, resisting any urge to deviate along seductive lanes that headed into the hills. The action of walking these old roads makes looking into the past unavoidable. What we’ve come to call England revealed as a colonial outpost – the western edge of a vast multicultural empire. The back of the ancient beyond. I always wonder what the Syrian divisions of the Roman army garrisoned in the Upper Lea Valley must have thought as they progressed north along Ermine Street – what was this strange land, this clay-laden wet earth landscape with its own gods worshipped in the woods and by the rivers. I try to listen to the sound of the voices of that time – the intermingling of languages along that road. We stopped at a new development dubbed after one of the local tribes, Iceni Way. What knowledge did they have of the folk further up the road at Kings Lynn?  What knowledge do I even really have of the lives of the people in these Hertfordshire villages in reality.

A10 Ermine Street - High Cross

The tidy redbrick village hall where I rested on a bench was the perfect picture of an idea of England with its red, white and blue bunting, Shippam’s Paste white bread sandwiches laid out on heavy trestle tables inside, stewed tea poured from an urn into an enamel pot and then into cups laid out on saucers (in my imagination). We spoke to a lady chucking water over her car (not washing it – chucking water over it) by the roadside – her house dated from the 17th Century. Others over the road were older still. An abandoned red telephone box was decaying next door, sealed up still smelling of the urine dispensed by lorry drivers who’d adopted it as an unofficial latrine.

A10 Ermine Street

The end of the A10 at Puckeridge was brutal to the point of near fatal. The path became a grass verge that led to a roundabout. Walkers unwelcome – as if we should dissolve into the car fumes at this point. The only option was to sprint across the lanes of traffic and pray. A police car pinged off the roundabout as I was about to cross the final stretch of tarmac, stopping me in my tracks. The reward for this near-death experience was to find a bridleway ascending a grass bank to a green tunnel of trees that led to a time-slip petrol station from the 1970s that had an antiques shop where you’d expect to pick up a Ginsters Slice and pay for your petrol. It was waiting to be cast in a low-budget folk horror flick where our befuddled travellers seek assistance on a stormy night and stumble upon a cult making sacrifices to the Roman road gods of Ermine Street. Thankfully (or maybe disappointedly) the White Hart in Puckeridge, where we ended our walk, was a friendly village pub serving decent local ale.

Harmondsworth – Medieval London Village Under Threat

This walk, filmed in April 2021, starts over in West London with a walk from West Drayton to the medieval village of Harmondsworth. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book but pre-dates the Norman conquest with the manor at one time being held by King Harold. The parish church of St. Mary dates from 1067 and its Great Barn raised between 1425 and 1427 was called ‘The Cathedral of Middlesex’ by Sir John Betjeman. The village is now threatened by the expansion of Heathrow Airport with the building of a Third Runway which would involve the demolition of at least 761 homes in the area and the entire village of Longford, according to a report on the BBC website.


The video looks at the buildings of Harmondsworth including the Five Bells pub, the church, tithe barn and Harmondsworth Hall before passing along Moor Lane for a look at the Barnes Wallis memorial. We cross the Duke of Northumberland’s River and the River Colne to Harmondsworth Moor where we stand atop the Keyhole built using stone from the original Waterloo Bridge. Crossing Wray’s River we walk along (or rather hobble, following an accident) Accommodation Road and down to the A4 Colnbrook By-Pass and the the Bath Road and through the village of Longford. The walk ends at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.
Massive thanks to Alexandre for suggesting this walk.
Reading about the Last Wolf of Perry Oaks from Highwayman’s Heath by Gordon S. Maxwell published in 1935

Exploring the area around Lincoln’s Inn Fields

This video picks up from my walk along Fleet Street at Christmas (video that has now chalked up over 550,000 views somehow). I wanted to cover the north side of Fleet Street starting from Lincoln’s Inn Fields then Carey Street, Bell Yard, Star Yard and into Chancery Lane. I visited the London Silver Vaults, prompted by the most recent Ben Aaronovitch book, False Value, and also took in King’s College Maughan Library. Returning to Fleet Street we pass the Daily Telegraph Building, Daily Express Building, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese before heading along Shoe Lane. Our walking tour ends at Dr John’s House in Gough Square, which many people simply couldn’t believe I’d missed out of my original Fleet Street video after visiting his statue at St Clement Danes.

The Mystery of the Horned Church

One evening a friend sent me a photo of a church with the caption, ‘Why is there a cow on this church?’ On closer inspection the cow looked like a bull with horns, which would be just as odd. I immediately thought of the cult of Mithras and the overlap with Christianity. But even so why was it displayed on the eastern apex of a church roof, even if that church was in a place called Hornchurch.

The St. Andrew’s Church website just added to the sense of mystery:
“At the East end of the roof is a bull’s head statue, which is a unique feature to find on a church. However, in 1222 the first written reference to the church mentions the monasterium cornutum or horned church at Havering. There are numerous legends and theories to explain the existence of the horns, but the truth remains obscure. In 1610 the horns were thought to have been made of lead but when they were repaired in 1824 they were found to be made of copper. In 1999 the copper horns were stolen from the bull’ s head. They were never recovered and new horns replaced them in 2001.”

The only solution was to strike out on foot to see what could be discovered on the ground. So the other week I caught the Elizabeth Line to Romford and walked down to the Roman Hornchurch Road and met Roxanne in St Andrew’s Churchyard to investigate.

Bull's head on St. Andrew's Hornchurch
St. Andrew’s Hornchurch

From St. Andrew’s we strolled up to the windmill at Upminster, which Rox told me had only recently re-acquired its sails. Naturally I thought of Don Quixote and how he saw a field of windmills as a hoard of giants and charged them on his donkey. It might also be a good metaphor for my practice of walking. The other significant location on the old Roman road that I wanted to visit was St. Leonard’s Church where the Revd. William Derham made the first accurate calculation of the speed of sound from the church tower in 1709. A Fellow of the Royal Society and contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton, Derham sounds like quite a character to have found himself in what would have been a fairly sleepy Essex village.

St. Andrew's churchyard, Hornchurch
St. Andrew’s churchyard, Hornchurch

Roxanne departed and I continued to the medieval tithe barn, which dates from 1450 and now houses the brilliantly named Museum of Nostalgia. Sadly it was closed the day I visited. Crossing back over the Ingrebourne Valley, I encountered the odd isolated stretch of the London Overground which connects Romford to Upminster via Emerson Park along a single track. An information board in St. Andrew’s Park informed me that this cutting was carved out by the Anglian ice sheet around 450,000 years ago ‘marking the maximum southerly extent of the ice sheet during the whole of the Ice Age’ making it ‘one of the most important Ice Age sites in Britain.’

Upminster windmill - John Rogers
Upminster windmill

My circuit was completed by returning to the heart of Hornchurch around the Queen’s theatre. Firstly I admired Fairkytes Hall, a mid-18th century house whose former occupants included Joseph Fry (son of Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer) a member of the influential Quaker family famous for chocolate and banking. And finally Langtons House, an even finer 18th century pile with gardens laid out to plans created by Humphrey Repton. The only way to round off such a glorious perambulation around Hornchurch and Upminster was to catch the train from Emerson Park along the single track back to Romford.

Massive thanks to Roxanne Maguire for inspiring and instigating this walk