Walking the Mardyke Way from Purfleet to Bulphan

A couple of weeks ago I returned to the border of Greater London to walk the Mardyke Way. This ancient river has followed the same course for over 30 million years. Today it carves a path through the Essex countryside on the edge of London. The route I took from Purfleet was around 11-miles followed by around another 3 miles to West Horndon Station. This is great walk through fields, meadows and fens.

Aveley - Mardyke Way

I started at Purfleet to capture the point of the Mardyke’s confluence with the Thames. It has an impressive wide mouth, partly marked by the huge brick 18th Century gunpowder magazine. From here there’s a path beside the river for a relatively short distance before I needed to embark on a wide detour along Tank Hill Road to the village of Aveley. The Old Ship Inn marked the start of Ship Lane with its impressive St. Michael’s Church, the oldest parts of which date from the 12th century.

St. Michael's Church Aveley
St. Michael’s Church Aveley
Mardyke Way sign at Aveley

A mile or so along Ship Lane from Aveley you can find the start of the Mardyke Valley path to Stifford. From here the route closely follows the course of the river passing through fields and fringing woodland.

Mardyke Way

It appeared that the walk had two sections – from Aveley to Davy Down then Stifford Bridge to Bulphan but there’s a walkable path the entire way with only short overgrown areas. There were vast expanses of farmland to the East of the river leading up to Orsett Fen and then beyond into Bulphan and far fewer walkers and cyclists in these upper reaches. It was blazing hot, my neck and calves toasted in the sun.

Harrow Bridge Bulphan - Mardyke Way
Harrow Bridge Bulphan

Harrow Bridge at Bulphan marks one end of the Mardyke Way but it did appear possible to follow the river little further north along the roadside. The promised footpath across fields to West Horndon Station didn’t manifest in reality on the ground despite signs at either end (or at least I could’t find it), meaning I had a precarious at times 2.5-mile walk along Dunnings Lane. An incredible walk that has added to my understanding of the landscape around the fringe of London.

Albion Island Vortex revived – Iain Sinclair’s Histories and Hauntings

Legendary London writer Iain Sinclair takes us on a tour of his exhibition, Histories and Hauntings, at Swedenborg House in Central London. Histories and Hauntings was partly a re-staging of an exhibition that Iain Sinclair organised at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1974 with Brian Catling, Renchi Bicknell, Sam Torrance and others, Albion Island Vortex, but with the addition of subsequent works that continue the themes of that highly influential show.

Iain Sinclair - Albion Island Vortex
Stephen McNeilly and Iain Sinclair at Swedenborg House - December 2023
Stephen McNeilly and Iain Sinclair at Swedenborg House
Iain Sinclair, Histories and Hauntings - Swedenborg House
Iain Sinclair, Histories and Hauntings - Swedenborg House
Iain Sinclair, Histories and Hauntings - Swedenborg House

Filmed by John Rogers December 2023.

Thanks to Iain Sinclair, Stephen McNeilly, and Victor Rees

Walking the Counters Creek – lost rivers of London

Lost river walk that links two of the magnificent seven

The Counters Creek has haunted me for a few years, just as the lost rivers of London collectively haunt London. It was there as a presence when I’d documented the protests to save the communities and buildings in Earls Court in 2015 & 2016. It reverberated beneath the tombstones of Brompton Cemetery when I filmed Andrew Kötting dressed as Straw Bear drifting through the portico. And one possible source of the Counters Creek was a marker on my psychogeographic sound trail around Kensal Rise for Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture. So I was well overdue a walk along its course.

Source of the Counters Creek - Kensal Rise has a Story plaque - John Rogers Brent 2020
One possible source of the Counters Creek on the Brondesbury Ridge
Kensal Green Cemetery Chapel - Counters Creek Walk
Kensal Green Cemetery Chapel – near the source of the Counters Creek

The recognised source of the Counters Creek is not up on the Brondesbury Ridge at the junction of All Souls Avenue and Chamberlayne Road, although it seems highly likely that springs from this high ground feed into the river. Both Nicholas Barton in his classic Lost Rivers of London, and Tom Bolton in London’s Lost Rivers – a Walkers Guide, place the source in Kensal Green Cemetery hidden beneath a large stone slab. From here it crosses the Grand Union Canal and flows across Little Wormwood Scrubs, beneath the Westway and down through Notting Dale, the edge of Holland Park to Olympia (where I stopped for a pint and accidentally realised the pub was close to the Countess’ Bridge that gave the river its contemporary name), Earls Court, Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road, Kings Road, Lots Road, before making a glorious confluence with the Thames in its above ground guise as Chelsea Creek.

Counters Creek Walk
Interestingly, Nicholas Barton only dedicates one paragraph to the Counters Creek
Grand Union Canal - Counters Creek Walk
I was guided along the course of the Counters Creek by Tom Bolton’s brilliant London’s Lost Rivers – a walker’s guide published by Strange Attractor Press

It truly is one of the great lost river walks – not as celebrated as the Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, or Effra – but certainly worthy of a song as Paul Whitehouse had improvised from the deck of a Thames Clipper as we filmed a chat about the Thames and passed the confluence. It’s a shame that song never made the final cut of Episode 2 of Our Troubled Rivers. But the song of the Counters Creek can still be felt rising through its culvert beneath the streets of west London.

John Rogers and Paul Whitehouse
John Rogers and Paul Whitehouse during the filming of Paul Whitehouse Our Troubled Rivers

Visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia

A 3-day trip to the capital city of Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia with my wife at Easter. Featuring some of the major architectural sites of Ljubljana and a trip to Lake Bled in the Julian Alps.

We arrived in Ljubljana to a downpour that lasted into the evening, Easter Monday. We wandered the rainy streets taking in Jože Plečnik’s Central Market and the Dragon Bridge, then ate Ossobuco with crispy greens and risotto for a late lunch. The youngsters in the restaurant spoke with the intonation of Italian but containing Slovenian words. I’ve been fascinated with this cultural soup ever since my wife started to explain her father’s complex personal history – born in interwar Italy in a region that became Yugoslavia after the Second World War rendering his family stateless. His parents though, had been born in the same town when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, his father an ethnic Italian, mother Slovene-Hungarian. That town is now in Slovenia. We recently discovered Heidi’s great uncle Zorco’s Wikipedia page where his Profession is listed as ‘Warlord’. After the war he served as the Italian military attaché in Czechoslovakia and died on a level crossing in the Czech Republic some years later. We once visited the castle in Merano, Italy near Bolzano where he served in the Italian military – a place where the primary language is German.
The old buildings in Ljubljana reeked of the postcard idea of Mittle Europe I’d been carrying in my head. A city long held by the Habsburg Dynasty it’s threaded through with European history, and now ranks amongst the continent’s most successful cities (depending on which metrics you apply).

Lake Bled Cafe, Slovenia

On our second day we took the bus to Lake Bled in the Julian Alps. We arrived to an intense hail storm and took refuge in a cafe where I became fixated by a painting of a rural scene showing an old house with a round-towered church on a hill. It’s exactly the kind of feature that W.G Sebald would have injected meaning into – I guess here I’m thinking of his brilliant book Vertigo which I associate with the border regions of this area.
(I later discovered that the painting appears to be by German artist Christian Friedrich Mali, Ländliche Idylle , 1860)

The rain cleared and we walked the path that lapped around the shimmering alpine body of water. Sunbeams broke through the storm clouds to illuminate the church on an island in the lake. We ate a traditional apple cake with cream.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Back in Ljubljana early evening we went hunting a socialist modernist (soc mod) masterpiece spotted from the bus. I got a rush of adrenalin when we found Milan Mihelič’s Petrol station on the edge of the city centre. The concrete bloom caught the sunset. Aside from the time spent with Heidi it was the highlight of the trip.

Petrol Station Ljubljana

On our final day we took a boat trip on the Ljubljanica River, and wandered the streets spotting more Soc Mod masterpieces and other fine buildings. It was the first of what I feel will be more journeys exploring this part of Mittle Europe.

Read: Socialist Modernism in Ljubljana

Pub Chat – talking walking at Filly Brook, Leytonstone

Episode 3 of Pub Chat finds me having a pint at the brilliant Filly Brook, Leytonstone. This is obviously my favourite ‘pub’ name in the world (Filly Brook isn’t strictly a pub, more of a tap room) being named after Leytonstone’s lost river that gurgles beneath the street just yards away. In fact, Weston’s map of the Philley Brook / Filly Brook from this very blog is framed on the wall inside. The beer’s great as well. On this occasion I was supping a collaboration between Filly Brook and Pretty Decent Beer Co., Connections Pale Ale, in celebration of the month-long cultural festival hosted by Filly Brook with £1 from every pint being donated to charity.

Filly Brook Leytonstone

Some Fantastic Tales of Bloomsbury

This London walking tour takes us around the fabulous squares of Bloomsbury with its fantastic tales.

Our walk starts with the incredible story of Oliver Cromwell’s body being kept in the cellar of The Red Lion pub in Holborn in 1661 and its possible secret burial. Then in Red Lion Square, we investigate the story that the square is haunted by three ghostly cloaked figures. There’s also Conway Hall and the house inhabited by members of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
We move on to Queen Square with the Italian Hospital, Mary Ward Centre, Queen Charlotte, The Queen’s Larder and the Devil’s Dyke. Our Bloomsbury walk passes the Horse Hospital into Russell Square, once the site of a Parliamentarian fortification during the English Civil War. Next we walk along Bedford Way to Gordon Square which is heavily associated with the Bloomsbury Set (Virginia Woolf etc.). The walk ends with a spooky story in Woburn Square.

filmed in September 2022

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.