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

Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and Barking Riverside

Barking Riverside – a place like no other
I finally returned to document the development at Barking Riverside a couple of Sundays ago, late in the afternoon. I’d wrongly assumed that the project was largely complete and had only previously skirted around the fringes, firstly in 2017 and then last October at the end of my walk along the Gores Brook. I’ll confess I’d only done a cursory browse of the developer’s website and saw my visit as merely to observe and document, not to critique or unpick the underlying economics and what this might say about the ongoing reshaping of London. However, one comment on YouTube caught my attention this morning:
“love you John and have for years, but I would have liked you to do more of a critique of the politics of this kind of development; I know you get this stuff – not sure why you avoided it”
This is a fair point and particularly as I approach the self-publication of my book ‘Welcome to New London’ that does indeed take in the political dimensions of some new developments in London. But I hadn’t done an adequate amount of research on this complex development to be able to inform any kind of critique.

Barking Riverside, January 2023

Capitalist Realism and Urban development via ChatGPT

I found myself this afternoon thinking about Mark Fisher’s highly influential book, Capitalist Realism, which I confess I haven’t read but my son has, and talked about it a lot. So I turned to ChatGPT to provide a summary and then relate Fisher’s ideas to the subject of urban development and by extension, I suppose we can see how this relates (or not) to Barking Riverside. Below is my exchange with ChatGPT:

hi – can you give me a summary of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism please?

“Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is a book that argues that the dominant ideology in Western societies is a belief that capitalism is the only viable economic system and that it is natural and inevitable. Fisher contends that this belief, which he refers to as “capitalist realism,” has led to a sense of resignation and hopelessness among many people, making it difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism and to fight for change. He also argues that this ideology has had a profound impact on culture and art, leading to a focus on surface-level spectacle and a lack of critical engagement with the underlying realities of society. The book explores the ways in which capitalist realism has been reinforced by political and economic changes, and the ways in which it can be challenged.”

Barking Riverside pylons

Is there any way that Fisher’s ideas relate to the development of cities and the built environment?

“Mark Fisher’s ideas about “capitalist realism” can certainly be related to the development of cities and the built environment. In his book, Fisher argues that capitalist realism has led to a sense of resignation and hopelessness among many people, making it difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism and to fight for change.
In the context of urban development, capitalist realism can be seen as promoting the idea that the current form of urban development is natural and inevitable, and that there are no alternatives to the current patterns of urban growth and development. This can lead to a lack of critical engagement with the underlying realities of urban development, such as the ways in which capitalist urban development can reinforce inequality, lead to displacement of marginalised communities, and contribute to environmental degradation.
Fisher’s ideas can also be related to the ways in which urban development and the built environment are shaped by the demands of capital, or the means of producing and exchanging wealth. The drive for profit can lead to the development of cities that prioritise the needs of business and the wealthy over the needs of the majority of residents. This can manifest in the form of gentrification, where low-income communities are pushed out of neighbourhoods in order to make way for more profitable development.
In summary, Fisher’s ideas about capitalist realism can be applied to the development of cities and the built environment in the sense that they highlight the ways in which capitalist ideology can limit our ability to imagine alternative forms of urban development and obscure the negative impacts of urban development on marginalised communities and the environment.”

ChatGPT’s response here certainly rings true when questioning urban development in London:
– that the current form of urban development is natural and inevitable
– capitalist ideology can limit our ability to imagine alternative forms of urban development

The idea that new homes could be built in collaboration with the local community to meet their housing needs in line with average incomes is seen as being wildly unrealistic. The ratio of social housing to so-called ‘affordable homes’ and private ownership properties is ultimately set by the profit-motive of the developers, despite the low targets set by the GLA. And the cost of ‘affordable homes’ is not based on average incomes, or the incomes in the areas where the homes are being built, but on the balance sheet of the developers.

The ‘Unlost’ River of East London

Following the Mayes Brook from Chadwell Heath to Barking

Scanning my list of walks one weekend when heading out to shoot a YouTube video, the Mayes Brook lept out at me. How had I not walked it before. I’d be tracking the tributaries of the lower reaches of the River Roding during the lockdowns of 2020-21 and walks tracing the Cran Brook, Loxford Water and Seven Kings Water, and the Alders Brook had been some of my most memorable walks of that period. Somehow the Mayes Brook had slipped through the net. So one hot day at the end of July I set out to pay tribute to this ‘unlost’ river guided by a blog post by the brilliant Diamond Geezer.

Catching the tube to Newbury Park I walked along the Eastern Avenue, one of London’s great romantic highways. The sky seems wider above the Eastern Avenue – you sense the vast expanse of the North Sea at the end of the road at Lowestoft. It gives the passage into Chadwell Heath a more epic tone than merely passing from Redbridge into Barking and Dagenham. Likewise the art deco glory of the Plessey Factory beside the road, now defunct it seems, but once part of the defence electronics manufacturer from Ilford that’d used the Central Line tube tunnels between Leytonstone and Gants Hill as a wartime factory. You can still see the squat brick lift entrances nestled discreetly between the houses along the Eastern Avenue.

Chadwell Heath bandstand

‘Chadders’, as my friend exclaimed when she saw where my walk started, is where the Mayes Brook rises, just to the north of St Chad’s Park. I wanted to make a link between this eastern spring and the St Chad’s Well at Kings Cross near the banks of the River Fleet. It seems St Chad of Mercia was associated with wells and springs although I couldn’t find a link to the area. But it gave me something to waffle about in the video.

This first half of the walk was a classic (sub)urban lost river walk – following hints and clues through the streets and alleyways, or in my case following the course as described in Diamond Geezer’s blog, through Chadwell Heath and Goodmayes and back across the border into Redbridge. There was a wide expanse of water in Goodmayes (Good Mayes Brook) Park which you assume is fed by the Mayes Brook, as the Cran Brook, Loxford and Seven Kings Water all feed park lakes along their course. But the river itself remains hidden until you approach Mayesbrook Park where it’s been successfully daylighted and brought back to the surface.

Roxy Avenue, Chadwell Heath London Borough of Redbridge
Roxy Avenue, Chadwell Heath
Roxy Avenue

Leaving the parched earth of Mayesbrook Park, the brook once more disappeared from view and further on flowed above ground, but was not accessible to the walker for the entire way. A fortunate side-effect of this enforced detour into the fringe of Barking was that it took me past the magnificent Elizabethan Eastbury Manor House, built by Clement Sysley.

I did miss a short open section of the Mayes Brook before it crosses the A13 but picked it up on the other side as it ran wide and free across River Road. The last view I had of the river was as it made its final passage through the industrial buildings towards its confluence with the River Roding. From here those waters that rose beneath the ground in a modest street in Chadwell Heath, would flow into the Thames and out into the wild seas.

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

A walk along Loxford Water and Seven Kings Water

A river walk following two tributaries of the River Roding

Our walk starts at Barking Park where the Loxford Water flows beside the boating lake. Barking Park opened in 1898 and is fine example of a late Victorian park. We then walk along South Park Drive where the Loxford Water flows along a culvert to South Park, where the river starts its journey to the Roding.

Our walk along the Seven Kings Water begins on the other side of the lake crossing Green Lane and then walking along High Gardens and Aldborough Road South to Seven Kings High Road. The river leads us into Westwood Recreation Ground where we see the Seven Kings Water flowing above ground for the first time. Our river walk then takes us through Seven Kings Park, around King George’s Hospital and across the A12 Eastern Avenue. We have to leave the side of the river for a while here as it runs across inaccessible land and rough ground and our route takes us up Hainault Road. We are re-united with the river in Elmbridge Road, Hainault where it flows into the Garden of Peace cemetery. We walk parallel to the course of the river along Huntsman Road to Peregrine Road where we again find the Seven Kings Water.

Loxford Water

Loxford Water at Barking Park

Loxford Water

South Park Lake

The last section of the walk takes us into Hainault Forest Country Park where the Seven Kings Water has its source in the lake. Thanks to Paul who suggested this walk in a comment on my video of a walk along the Cran Brook, and Diamond Geezer for his description of the course of the Seven Kings Water and Loxford Water.

London Overground Walk – Leytonstone to Barking

A walk along the London Overground Railway Gospel Oak to Barking Line (GOBLIN) from Leytonstone to Barking.

This was a walk I first planned as an episode of Ventures and Adventures in Topography with Nick Papadimitriou on Resonance fm, back in 2010. Although it would have followed the whole of the line from Gospel Oak to Barking. Then I walked a very short portion of the route with Iain Sinclair when he passed through Leyton and Leytonstone following the route for his book The Last London, which was flatteringly recorded in the text, “John was the animating spirit of Leytonstone. When he was in attendance, streets from which I felt a double alienation (theirs and mine) came to life.” So the continuation of the lockdown felt like the perfect time to actually walk the Overground from Leytonstone to Barking at least (it’s still advised to only use public transport for essential journeys).

I started my walk by the railway bridge on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone outside the Heathcote and Star. From here I made my way past Leytonstone High Road Station with a nod to the ground of Leytonstone F.C. Then I traversed that curious geographical anomaly, The Wanstead Slip. The Pretty Decent Beer Company, located in a railway arch, were building a bar in the brewery doorway to prepare for the weekend opening of the tap room. It made me realise I had to pick up some draft ale from the brilliant Wanstead Tap nestled in another of the arches. Departing the Tap with a couple of pints of Long Play IPA and some Clapton CFC stickers in my bag, I continued along the railway into Forest Gate.





Crossing Woodgrange Road, famous for its association with Jimi Hendrix at the Upper Cut Club, I head into Sebert Road, named after King Sebert of the East Saxons ( 604-616), the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity. The rain started to fall as I walked those fine streets of the Woodgrange Estate and breached a rainy Roman Romford Road. When the railway line opened it ran across open fields on this side of the Romford Road. The streets of Manor Park sprouted from that marshy ground, many of them seemingly named after poets. This route provides a dramatic entrance to Barking: the gasometers rising from the tall grasses of the North Thames Gas Board Sports Ground, the pylons, the North Circular, and the industrial estate. Classic edgelands. I cross the River Roding, the towers of the new London looming all through Barking and out to Dagenham. The terminus of the railway where face-masked communters pour out into the streets.



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


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.