London Loop Section 20 in the snow – Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (then to Romford)

This time a week ago London was covered in snow – the ‘Beast from the East’ returned and plunged us back into the Ice Age (or so it felt, the hyperbole is justified). Looking out at my snow-drenched garden I had a strong urge to hit the high ground, walk head-long into a blizard, confront this beast face-to-face. So I got the tube to Grange Hill bound for Havering-atte-Bower.

Hainault Forest snow

I’d done a portion of this walk with Rick Pearson for his podcast, London’s Peaks, and at the time vowed to return, partly to capture this majestic route on video but also to see how the walk could be extended.

London Loop section 20

From the top of Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (the highest point in the London Borough of Havering) follows most of Section 20 of the London Loop, which starts at Chigwell. I’d covered the Chigwell end with Rick and also about a decade ago for my radio show, so I cut that part out in favour of extending the walk at the other end.

Redwood Trees Havering

As you would expect with the temperature below freezing there were very few people about, Hainault Forest virtually deserted. The climb into the foothills of Havering Country Park, wading through deep muddy puddles was tough but the reward more than adequate compensation. There’s an avenue of majestic Californian Redwood trees that runs though the top end of the wooded park that takes the breath away – it was an honour to be in their presence, these huge benign gods of the glade.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

The snow started coming in horizontal when away from the cover of the Redwoods, the wind whipping it up off the Havering Hills. Edward the Confessor had his hunting lodge here, some say this is where the pious king died. Havering-atte-Bower feels like an ‘out-of-place artefact’, a hill village in London that would be more at home in the Chilterns.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

I push on through the intensifying flurry, to Bedfords Park, losing my bearings in Bower Wood before crossing into Rise Park and out onto the A12 to catch a Route 66 bus home.



The most Eastern Point in Greater London

Sometimes quests come to you unexpectedly. I was looking for the source of the Mar Dyke on Google Map and spotted a heritage marker in a field near the village of Bulphan in Essex. Zooming in on the map to see what artefact or building was to be found, it simply read ‘Easternmost Point of Greater London’. I had to go and see what was there.

“Map data ©2024 Google”
“Map data ©2024 Google”

The journey to the eastern edge of Greater London starts on the Romford to Upminster Overground line (to be renamed the Liberty line) and then goes along St Mary’s Lane to Thames Chase Community Forest, crosses the M25 to St Mary Magdalene in North Ockendon then picks up Fen Lane to the border of Greater London on the banks of the Mar Dyke, in the London Borough of Havering.

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

Walking the River Rom

My walk along the River Rom started on the edge of Hainault Forest following a section of the London Loop to our first sighting of the Rom near Carter Lane. This is where I’d initially encountered the Rom, on walks over Dog Kennel Hill, and up the avenue of Redwoods to Havering-atte-Bower. I’d wondered about its course, suspecting its passage to the Thames would not be an easy one as it traversed Romford and industrial Dagenham.
We pass through the streets that lead to Collier Row and down North Street to Romford Town Centre and Romford Market. Leaving the town centre we follow the Rom through a series of parks, Grenfell and The Chase where it becomes the boundary between the London Boroughs of Havering and Barking and Dagenham. In its lower reaches the Rom becomes the Beam River before it runs through the site of the Ford motor works at Dagenham.

London’s Peaks podcast 
London Loop videos 
Hainault Forest video 
Havering-atte-Bower video
The Golden Lion Romford 

Open Street Map “© OpenStreetMap contributors” using data available under the Open Database Licence

State Drive – VYEN
Dream Escape – The Tides
Fresh Fallen Snow – Chris Haugen
Little Drunk, Quiet Floats – Puddle of Infinity

Roding Valley Edgelands Walk from Wanstead to Chigwell

Finding myself in Wanstead near the Roding at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to head for Chigwell – a great place to end a walk in the dark. I would like to have had more daylight to go looking for the springs that gave Chigwell – or Cicca’s / King’s Well its name. But it wasn’t to be. In daylight hours Chigwell has been a place I’ve passed through, crossing the Roding Valley or heading up to Hainault Forest and Havering-atte-Bower. I’ve yet to find the time to dwell there hunting for the wells and springs. That feels like a summer pursuit.

I crossed the Roding and climbed the steps to Roding Lane South, the terminus point of the 366 bus route. There’s something so romantic about a single-decker in a layby at the end of a bus route. This is a road that has it all – not only the bus terminus but the river, the pylons rising from the throbbing substation, the private hospital opposite the pet cemetery, the listed Victorian pumping station, the industrial estate complete with transit bus depot. A limping lady who saw me filming came to tell me that one of the industrial units had been converted into temporary housing and she was sure the pylons were draining her energy.

Trebor Woodford

Trebor House 1956

The large blue building on Woodford Avenue opposite the Toby Carvery, always draws me in. A 50’s industrial building it’s almost perfect in its symmetry and form. I often feel a slight guilt in my admiration. The comments on the YouTube video banished any such guilt in focussing my attention on this functional building as people told me that it was originally the Trebor sweets factory – a legendary Willy Wonka-like location. Who didn’t grow up sucking on Trebor Refreshers and still partake of an Extra Strong Mint. I had no idea that Trebor had started life in East London, one of the founders in fact from Leytonstone – Sydney Herbert Marks. The original factory was in Katherine Road, Forest Gate and was destroyed by a German bomb in 1944.  This glorious building, Trebor House, was built in 1956 on the site of a bungalow as the Trebor HQ.

subway sign

subway woodford

I took the subway beneath Woodford Avenue and made my way along Roding Lane North towards Hospital Hill Wood where the water tower from the Victorian Claybury Asylum still dominates the summit. The light was starting to fade now. It’d been a wet and  gloomy day and the hopes of sunset from the highlands was dim. The strip of shops along the Green at Woodford Bridge were a welcoming sight but I couldn’t afford to linger, even with the second lock down looming and chances to sit in a cafe diminishing by the day.

Claybury Hall Chigwell old picture

Claybury Hall 1797

In Chigwell Road, Thurlby House sat back off the road remembering former glories from the end of the 18th Century when it was built, and through the 19th Century when its Doric columns were added. It became a Dr. Barnardo’s Home in the early 20th Century and a public library after the Second World War. It’s now private apartments.

The Three Jolly Wheelers sits right on the Essex border as you enter Chigwell. It feels like a border crossing. Dark woods lining the long road. You can imagine the scene in the inn in stagecoach days when a passage through the forest after dark would have been ill-advised. It did look cosy, but I was saving myself for a final Sunday pint in the Red Lion back at Leytonstone – itself an old coaching inn.

The 12-minute wait for a tube at Chigwell Station on the Central Line Loop offered time to absorb the walk. I didn’t get to properly explore Chigwell at my leisure once again but studying the map on the platform did introduce me to the Chigwell Brook, a tributary of the River Roding that I’d previously overlooked. But that will be a walk for another day.

River Ingrebourne Walk from Harold Wood to Rainham

London Loop Sections 22 + 23 – Harold Wood to Rainham

The Ingrebourne River is a walk that’s often suggested in comments on my YouTube videos. It rises somewhere on South Weald Common and runs through the London Borough of Havering to the Thames at Rainham. The Romford Recorder reports that the “earliest mention comes in a charter of the boundaries of Upminster Hall manor from 1062, four years before William the Conqueror.
There it’s called “Ingceburne” – probably the river of somebody called “Inga”

Setting out to walk the Ingrebourne the other week, I noticed that the London Loop sections 22 & 23 follow the course of the river from Harold Wood to Rainham. It’s a walk that would combine the revelations of a suburban river walk with the joys of the London Loop. And it was a walk that delivered on all points – parklands, riverscapes, pylons, country parks, pillboxes & tett turrets, an over-enthusiastic cow, and a beautiful sunset over Rainham.

Tett Turret Ingrebourne

Tett Turret on site of RAF Hornchurch

WW2 Pillbox Ingrebourne Valley

WW2 Pillbox on site of RAF Hornchurc

Music in this video from the YouTube Audio Library
Nevada City by Huma-Huma
Fresh Fallen Snow by Chris Haugen
Tupelo Train by Chris Haugen
Little Drunk, Quiet Floats by Puddle of Infinity
Pachabelly by Huma-Huma