Drifting up the River Roding in a Coracle

The experience of floating up the River Roding in Ryan Powell’s Sensory Attunement Coralce will now be my most potent association with this blessed River. I’ll leave the video to explain how this came to pass and the beauty, drama and comedy of what unfolded. But it’s safe to say this was an experience I shall never forget.

Find out more about Ryan’s project here

Make sure to also watch Sean James Cameron’s video of this eccentric escapade up the River Roding.

My walks with Paul Powlesland in 2021 provides important context for this unforgettable riverine odyssey.

“The coracle – also known as the currach, bull boat, quffa, parasil – is a small, keel-less boat. Their main uses has always been as a means for fishing or transportation. Today, certainly within Europe, their main use tends to be recreational, although in Wales a number of licences exist to permit use as a fishing vessel. In other parts of the world, particularly the Middle and Far East, they are still used for their original purpose – as a workboat for fishing or transportation. The coracle has a long history spanning thousands of years, evidenced in cave paintings of their use from the early Bronze Age and perhaps as far back as the Ice Age. The coracle is likely to be the first form of water transportation” https://www.coraclesociety.org.uk/coracles

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 https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

River Roding Walk – Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill

A walk along the beautiful River Roding from Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill on the 24th February – a day when it felt as if Spring had come early. This is one of my favourite walks – following the meanders through Wanstead, Woodford to Buckhurst Hill (although I’ve yet to walk the Roding beyond Debden). The wooded ridges of Epping Forest rise on the horizon, herons glide over the rushes, and I once saw a snake slither across the path one summer near Woodford Bridge.

 

Transcript of the video

Just a footstep step away from the brutality of Eastern Avenue. We have the glorious little River Roding.
Such a beautiful day. Today is the 24th of February and it feels like spring is really here. And what better thing to do on a day like this than a wander along this beautiful river, the River Roding. This is actually one of my favourite little walks along here. Longtime viewers of the channel may remember the videos I made probably three years ago now, so it’s overdue a revisit, although I don’t expect it to change very much.

One Sunday, about a month ago, I hadn’t been out for a walk, and so I suddenly headed out about an hour before sunset and walked that last hour along here and it was really, really wonderful.

Here’s the first of a collection of really quite interesting and lovely bridges over the River Roding. Forget the bridges of Madison County. Here’s the bridges of the Roding Valley.

This section of the River Roding here is flowing through Wanstead, or ‘Wan Stead’, the white house ‘Woden stead’. I was up here yesterday, given a little tour of the churchyard and the church of St Mary’s Wanstead, really glorious church and still has a very active and quite sizeable congregation. However, their regular services are under threat for some reason. So there is a Save St. Mary’s Campaign.

I’ve been asked a few times about the viability of kayaking or canoeing on the Roding and when you see it here, you think that looks like a reasonable idea. Further along it looks a little bit trickier and the water at the moment is actually quite shallow.

Here we have our next bridge. It’s amazing the variety of bridges on this river I suppose because they were all built at different times. We have a fantastic old pumping station, great cathedrals to the Victorian industrial age aren’t they.

I saw a little grass snake along here once when I was walking along in the morning, I doubt, I’ll see anything today, but you never know.

Just stopped back there by the pumping station to make a little video talking about the things I take on a walk with me. Sean, South London gardener Sean, walking the London Loop Sean, he requested it and I’ll upload it as a separate video though, but it means I’ve been sat there for a while so I better crack on.

All hail the pylon

Sounds like a rather obvious thing to say, but with river walks it does make a difference which side of the river you walk on and the first few times I walked along the Roding I walked on the other side there just like a big park mown grass and it takes you right underneath that pylon. Whereas on this side, a bramble covered bank you’ve got the pylons here and then you’ve got these industrial units that run alongside the Roding.

The first time the jacket comes off after winter is always a magical moment. A day that is marked in the memory for a long time. 24th of February, 2019 look, here I am just a shirt, I could even just be down to a tee shirt if I was a little bit more adventurous, but it’s a big moment, no jacket.

This is where we pass beneath a number of big busy roads. I think that’s where approaching Woodford or in Woodford, I think we’ve got a combination of the North Circular, the Woodford Avenue, maybe a little bit of a feeder road for the M11.

We have to cross the busy road here. This is Charlie Brown’s roundabout and there is some delightful old footage on YouTube of Charlie Brown’s roundabout being built. I believe there was a pub here wasn’t there, called the Charlie Brown? I know there’s going to be several people in the comment section who know all about this.

I should have said this back at the beginning of the walk, the Roding rises up near Stanstead Airport, I can’t remember the exact name of the little village where it rises, and it makes its way down through the Essex countryside and then it’s confluence with the Thames is down at Barking. I’ve walked it as far as Abridge. I have crossed it other points further North, but it’s a little bit more difficult to follow after Abridge. The footpath doesn’t run along the river, so you’re zigzagging across it. But I would like to go and walk the upper reaches of the Roding at some point because it’s such a beautiful, magical little river.

Some glorious birdsong in the trees and bushes on the river bank here. The birds are obviously very happy that the weather’s improved. The path here is so overgrown I don’t think it’s legitimately passable, so you have to go up service road here that goes to the waste disposal, sort of recycling area and see if I can get back on the river further up. If you’re interested in the idea of edgelands, you could do no worse than walk along the River Roding, classic edgelands in the urban part of it anyway. Everything you could want along here.

I do remember actually going along this little sort of alleyway. So that’s the way ahead. Couple of different generations of Thames Water facilities here. The more a recent utilitarian brick block on the right, and then the picturesque what I would guess is a Victorian utility over there. Close to the banks, the river. The Wynn Valley pumping station.

Now we’re back on the banks of the River Roding.

Here we have another bridge across the river. I don’t think any two bridges have been the same so far. We start to see the terrain around the river open up slightly, passing through Woodford still heading towards Buckhurst Hill and the wooded Hills there rising in the distance, which I guess must be the edge of Epping Forest.

How good does it feel to have a 5.30pm sunset? It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s just that extra sort of hour from a month ago is enormous. It feels like we’re being propelled into a glorious summer. It’s just after four. Now about a quarter past four, and this is obviously, as I’ve said, probably every walk, this is a time when the magic happens. This is glorious. It uplifts the soul as you walk into the sunset.

So a little bit of a decision point coming up ahead because when we get to Roding Valley, that’s where can’t carry on to Buckhurst Hill you have to kind of go up the hill and around to rejoin the river. So I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do there. I suppose we’ll see, we’ve still got a little ways to go before that and actually really glorious section of the river.

The Roding Valley hinterland.

So peaceful here. I suppose it’s the time of day and also as the river kind of frees itself from the urban fringe.

That’s interesting. I have no memory of this housing estate here beside the river makes me wonder whether it’s been built in the last three to four years. [Looks at map on phone] This is where I am. Looks as if this estate is part of the old London Guildhall University sports ground. That’s my Alma mater.

Believe the word meander is the name of a river in Turkey. I extrapolated that information from the title of a book where a guy kayaks along the Meander in Turkey. It’s a book I really need to read, isn’t it?

Here we have the bridge that carries the Central Line, over the River Roding, really majestic structure.
This is one of my favourite little stretches of the river, it’s where my first walk along the Roding ended and I think I may end today’s walk here as well. The other side of this recreation ground, you have to depart from the river and work your way up through the streets of Buckhurst Hill and do a big loop to rejoin the river at the park where I was recently. If you look at the video, I go to Linder’s Field. That’s a continuation of the Roding there.

I’ll just walk to the far end of this recreation ground here where the allotments are and where the Roding then can be left in peace for a while before it gets to the Roding Valley recreation ground at Buckhurst Hill, and we were just before Christmas.

What a really wonderful walk. I’m so glad I came back out here today, to mark really what I hope is the beginnings of spring. You can never be too sure, it did snow twice in March last year, but no, not this year. Anyway, again, thanks again for coming with me, see you on the next walk, wherever that may be.

Walk along the River Roding and back to Leytonstone

National Trust Long Walks

Headed out for a short walk mid-Sunday afternoon and found this book in a charity shop in Wanstead – it immediately became apparent that I’d have to carry this heavy tome as some form of atonement for not embarking on a longer schlep earlier in the day.

Eastern Avenue

My only aim was to head for the River Roding where it passes under the Eastern Avenue in Wanstead. It was unseasonably warm and I wanted to bask in the last two hours of sun.

River Roding Wanstead

My mind meandered in tune to the waters of the Roding, over bridges and past the pumping station. I remember startling a grass-snake along here a few years ago one hot summer morning.

IMG_6443

I only recently discovered D. W. Gillingham’s wonderful Unto the Fields, by chance on a walk from Chigwell to Loughton. It was a glorious discovery, an entire book published in 1953 on the Roding Valley. A celebration from another era of a landscape I’ve come to love. The exploration of the territory in the book begins in November:

“Now I have chosen this November morning to introduce you to the fields because November is the beginning of Nature’s year, like the farmer’s at Michaelmas… The fieldfares especially were numerous today; their chattering could be heard everywhere, for the migration down the Roding valley was at its height. A few redwings had come to the valley before them.”

Roding Valley pylon

Gillingham delights in the fog and frost of November mornings. As the russet rays of sunshine pitch onto the banks of the Roding I feel the heat and remove my scarf. The pylons, our protectors, glow orange.

A1400 Woodford Avenue

Passing beneath the titanic piers supporting the North Circular I feel the energy drain from my legs, my thighs become sore and heavy. I consider jumping on a bus at Charlie Brown’s Roundabout up to South Woodford station and heading home for tea. But I resolve to hike along the A1400 Woodford Avenue to Gants Hill instead. The National Trust Book of Long Walks needs to be at least partially appeased.

Clayhall sunset

The pylon sky sunset glows as I continue along the Woodford Avenue and brings new life to my tired legs. The view of a Toby Carvery across the road also inspires me to pursue the walk – my sons and I had been discussing the prevalence of Toby Carveries in the area before I headed out for reasons I can’t recall. I sent them both the photo below.

Toby Carvery Gants Hill

At this stage I start to see the Beehive Harvester around every bend of the road and tell myself that I should settle down there and read the National Trust Book of Long Walks and make some notes of things that had passed through my mind on the walk – minor meditations that will be gone by the time I reach home. But before it appears I’m tempted to follow Redbridge Lane East to the roundabout by Redbridge Tube Station where I’m momentarily seduced by the Beefeater Red House. I vow to return, for now I have promised the book of Long Walks that I’ll complete the circuit by walking home.

Redbridge A12

There’s something epic and romantic about the A12 – the Eastern Highway out through Essex to Suffolk – carved across a landscape of broad skies. It’s America. It makes me imagine far off places well beyond Lowestoft.

Redbridge Lane West

Along Redbridge Lane West, lamp-posts illuminating leaves. Across George Green to pick up the old Roman marching route back through Leytonstone to home.

 

Wanstead to Barking along the River Roding

A Friday morning at the end of September and the chance to walk along the River Roding from Wanstead to Barking. Finally I hunted down the elusive Alders Brook near the City of London Cemetery. A dog walker who has been strolling this way for 30 years told me he’d never heard of it and I had to show it marked on my old A-Z. But there it was, overgrown and clogged up but still running free through the undergrowth.

Uphall Camp Barking

source: An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 2, Central and South west. Originally published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1921.

The other side of the construction carnage around Ilford town centre I stood on the streets where the Iron Age settlement of Uphall Camp stood, near the banks of the Roding. Today lines of terraced houses named after periods of British History cover the site.

overgrown football pitch at Wanstead

football pitch at Wanstead

Ilford new buildings

Ilford

The River Roding at Barking

The River Roding at Barking

I passed the Quaker burial grounds at Barking before picking up the riverbank path down to the wharfside developments that have temporarily created tumbleweed wild west outposts. After breaching the A13 sadly it was time to head back to Leytonstone before I had reached Beckton which was the aim for the day. But I had surveyed more of the land the lies along one of our sacred Eastern rivers, and seen parts of the London of the distant past and got a glimpse of one of the new Londons taking shape.

Return to the River Roding

It was hard to believe that it had been over 7 months since my last stroll along the River Roding, when I had left this beguiling watercourse at Roding Valley after walking up from Redbridge Station one warm July morning.

River Roding

I decided to pick up where I’d left off and found the river bank where I’d sat down and felt like Huckleberry Finn. Where lush green undergrowth burst from the bank today was muddy brown and spindly bare. It was a beautiful clear late February day, great walking weather.

River Roding IMG_7890 IMG_7941

It’s crazy in a way that I’m walking this short river in sections given that it runs a mere 11 miles from Dunmow in Essex before spilling into the Thames at Barking Creek, but there it is, and I shall now endeavour to divide my walks along its course across the 4 seasons. This particular river ramble involved two significant diversions, one through the backstreets of Buckhurst Hill and another through an industrial estate at Debden. It was a detour that led to an interesting encounter at one of Britain’s most sensitive buildings – but you’ll need to watch the video above to get that story.

River Roding IMG_7963