Hello dear readers and thanks for dropping by to look at the fifth day of my walk round the London LOOP orbital path. If you’ve been reading the previous posts then just skip down to the read more button as the next paragraph is merely a cut and paste of an earlier one for the benefit of readers who have just landed on this post.
The London LOOP is a little over 150 miles of designated and way-marked public right of way which is just concentric to the M25 motorway and as always I start with a quick word of advice. This post is one of a series and it will make more sense if you read from the beginning as it will explain what lunacy had compelled me to undertake such a large project.
Good stuff, now you’re here, let’s go walking again.
I had left you in the Railway Inn pub in Enfield (there are worse places to be) or more specifically the train home from it at the end of the last section and didn’t manage another days walking for a couple of weeks after that. It was a decent enough day (dry but little sun) during late May school holidays which meant a lot of kids everywhere. After briefly re-introducing myself to the Railway (too good to pass by), I took off at a leisurely pace with the intention of completing a fairly easy eight and a half miles to Chigwell. This constituted one section in my guide book but two on the website which you are more likely to be following.
The walk doesn’t start out too promising as it follows a none too appealing path along the back of a housing estate but soon you come to Enfield Lock on the Lea navigation and I was in luck as I saw a canal boat locking through and regular readers of my pages know I love canals and their craft. This hardy soul was single manning and I know how difficult that is. Having crewed on a few narrowboats I can tell you that locking a boat that length is hard enough graft with two or even three people. I’ll not bore you with details but a flight of locks against you is seriously strenuous toil not to mention the ultimate test of boatmanship.
Enfield Lock is an interesting location as it was home to the Royal Smallarms Factory which for many years produced one of the most famous rifles in armaments history, the Lee Enfield .303 which was named for the designer of the bolt (not the waterway) and the area.
In a previous life I fired one and it is still a great weapon. It was in service in the UK from 1885 until 1957 officially although the sniper variant was used until the 1990’s. It must have been good because they made 17 million of them! I promised you in the last instalment that I would explain the significance of the nearby Ordnance Road which I had just walked past and now you know.
Right beside the navigation I saw something that didn’t please me at all and wasn’t the best continuation of my ramble after the delights of the Railway. The picture is fairly self-explanatory really, it is another closed pub. Not only that but it had obviously been torched. This had originally been the Royal Small Arms Tavern and latterly the Rifles which are both fairly obvious names I suppose.
It had closed in 2006 whereupon it had become the haunt for the local lowlife who had used it for all sorts of nefarious goings on. Whether by accident or design they had managed set fire to it about a year before I walked past it. It has now been torn down and dwellings built on it. Between the Turkey and Tommy’s which I mentioned in the last post and the Rifles, there soon won’t be a pub left in Enfield.
If you want a glimpse at what it looked like inside after the fire have a look here. I stress that I don’t condone “urban exploring” as it is nothing more than a criminal offence and I certainly wouldn’t do it myself.
The Lea navigation is interesting in a predominantly industrial heritage way and also forms the basis of another excellent London walk featured on the same website as the LOOP. I have completed this but again, with so much to do, I have not even begun to write it up. That is something for the long winter evenings and CoVid house arrest I suppose. If that sounds an odd thing to write on a post dated 2013 when CoVid was just a horror novelist’s fantasy, I am editing my original pieces from another website that is sadly no longer with us in 2020. I am posting them here on the basis that I am unlikely to shut my own website down!
Perhaps I am just lucky but I always seem to see working boats when I walk the Lea “cut”, it seems to have a greater proportion of them than a lot of other canals. You can just see two of them moored together in this image and, as always, they brought a smile to my face which was a relief after the sight of the incinerated boozer.
It is remarkable how much wildlife I have seen in London on this walk and here is yet another example gliding gracefully down what is effectively an Industrial Revolution canal. Lovely, isn’t (s)he? Sorry, I an not a twitcher and I don’t know how to tell the sex of a swan.
Walking past the delightfully named Swan and Pike Pool, I saw more “wildlife” that I did not expect to see so close to the centre of London. I’d seen the swan already but I didn’t see any pike in the pool.
These sheep were merrily grazing away, keeping the grass down in the grounds of one of the numerous waterworks to be found around North London. I suppose a metropolis of this size does need a huge amount of water to keep it going. This particular area is part of the King George’s Reservoir complex. Not only is it huge but it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the birdlife there.
Leaving the industrial heritage behind, you are quickly climbing the Sewardstone hills o
If you look out to your right,
The next place of interest you reach is Gilwell Park, a Scout activity and training centre which also now helps pay for it’s keep as a conference and wedding venue. It is set in 108 acres of woodland and there are various public footpaths through it, including the one we are on. It was originally a farmhouse and was gifted to the Scout Association in 1919. All I can say is that it must have been an extremely profitable farm.
Be aware that whilst the walking here is delightful, it can be soggy underfoot. When I walked it, there had been no significant rain for some time but there were still large pools of standing water and a lot of mud. I said in the introduction to this whole walk that training shoes (runners / sneakers) are perfectly OK for large portions of it, this is one section I would recommend boots or at least shoes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty.
When you leave the rather muddy Gilwell Park Scout centre the LOOP takes in a bit of a circuitous loop through Yardley Hill and Hawk Wood to rejoin the Bury Road. If you want to avoid the damp conditions in this section you could avoid entering Gilwell Park at all and just continue along Bury Road as far as Chingford Golf Club but be aware that the road is quite busy so be careful.
Frankly, this is a fairly uninspiring section but there is no other way round it. If, for whatever reason, you want to leave the path then Chingford Railway Station lies very nearby but we are going on up a path to the left to see a very interesting building. It is no less than Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Obviously, this refers to the first monarch of that name and not the current incumbent!
I knew it was there but it was only when I got close that I realised what it was as you could easily mistake it for a block of flats (apartment), it looks far more modern than it’s build date of 1543. We have Henry VIII to thank for it although I am sure his decision to have it built was far from altruistic. Apart from his unfortunate habit of wife-swapping, not in the usual sense of the term, he really was a hugely important monarch who left us with so much that is part of our national fabric today.
In one of those quirks of London administration, the Lodge is owned now by the City of London Corporation which might seem quite natural to anyone not from here but let me explain and I warn you that like so many things about this wonderful city it is complicated.
The City of London is not London as most people think of it, it is an area of about one square mile in the centre based loosely on what was the old Roman settlement of Londinium. It has a resident population of less than 10,000 people although this rises by roughly half a million every working day with commuters coming in to work in what is primarily the financial district which is often referred to as “the Square Mile” for obvious reasons.
For historical reasons there are some interesting anomalies as the City is effectively self-governing although they obviously adhere to all British laws. One such anomaly is the fact that they have effectively the last private Army in the UK in the form of the City of London Police who have armed officers. The COLP is the only Force in the country that is not directly controlled by the Home Office but answers rather to an elected body called the Common Council and is funded by the City itself.
I don’t want visitors to panic about this situation, these guys aren’t some sort of rogue militia acting on behalf of the City. They look and act like “bobbies” all over the UK, administer exactly the same laws, adhere to the same disciplinary procedures and everythng else. Yes, you can ask them directions or ask for a photo which I know many foreigners love to do. At this point I will not even start explaining the armed Civil Nuclear Police or we’ll be here all day!
Another rather whimsical situation is that HM the Queen theoretically has to ask the Lord Mayor of London to enter it, a ritual that is played out at Temple Bar, the former entrance to the City on the Strand on certain ceremonial occasions. Obviously she usually drives through it in her Royal cavalcade without stopping to ask for the Mayor to turn out! Speaking of Lord Mayors (or should that be Lords Mayor?) we have two in London. There is the Lord Mayor of London (Saddique Khan as of April 2020) and The Lord Mayor of the City of London who is William Russell as of the same date. Mr. Russell is in charge of the Square Mile and Mr. Khan just about everything else within the M25.
OK, that’s enough of all that and I do hope I have not bewildered you completely. Let’s get back to the Hunting Lodge and the LOOP.
There is not too much to see in the building itself although there are a few displays of Tudor fashion and cooking implements and the timbered roof is impressive but I get the impression it is set up more for school groups and the like. That is not a problem as it is free which ties in with my theory about walking the LOOP being a very budget conscious activity in the capital.
As I hope I am proving, there is so much to see and do on this walk that doesn’t cost anything that you could, if you brought your own packed lunch and didn’t visit every pub as I do, walk the entire route for literally the cost of your transport to and from your start and end points.
I’ve looked it up on your behalf and, again as of April 2020, the Oystercard daily cap is £13:20 off-peak in Zones 1 – 6 which is effectively all of London. This means means that no matter how much public transport you use in one day you cannot pay more than that, but think on. If you were walking the route and staying in central London you would only want two single journeys and this, again off-peak, would only work out to £6:20 which I think you’ll agree is not bad for a day out in London.
I know London can be prohibitively expensive if your budget is tight but it doesn’t have to be and if you box a bit clever it doesn’t have to bankrupt you. I’ll post up a page of tips and links about doing this adventure yourself at the end of the walk proper.
I also realise that I am still writing in a style very like I did on the much-missed Virtual Tourist site which was much more geared to being a travel advice site from insiders with tips like this than a blog site. I got so used to it over 12 years that I doubt I’ll change now and I don’t really want to. Besides, it is my site and I can do what I like (get me being all assertive)!
All that writing and we’re still at Queen Elizabeth’s “little place in the country” but there you go. I was lucky the day I walked this section as it was school holidays and they had a rather interesting falconry display for free on the lawn outside.
As I mentioned above, I am no ornithologist and know as little about hawks flying over Chingford as I do about swans gliding along the Lea so I don’t know exactly what these magnificent creatures are. I know I have one follower here who is a keen bird-watcher so can you help me here I.J?
I am also no photographer and was using a little compact camera with a dodgy lens so there has been a lot of cropping and straightening going on with the images and this is the best I can manage. Those birds move a lot faster than you might think and are simply magical to watch in flight but damned hard to photograph as they do so. I know the youngsters were completely enraptured and I freely admit that I was too.
I will give you a link here to the website of the company that put on this wonderful entertainment and you should really go and see them in action if you ever get the chance. I just noticed whilst editing this piece that they are based in the gorgeous village of Eynsford in Kent and I had actually walked past their place on another of my rambles years before.Small world, eh?
If you have read this series of travelogues from the beginning you will know that apart from my ambition to complete the entire LOOP path, I had also determined myself to pop into every open pub I pass for a drink and so my next port of call was the rather grand looking Royal Forest Hotel. The exterior is rather grand, perhaps reflecting it’s late 19th century origins, if with more than a slight nod to the Tudor building I had just been in, but inside it was just another Premier Inn / Brewers Fayre place and not really my kind of thing. They are fine and their attached Brewer’s Fayre restaurants are good value, I even have a little used loyalty card and I do recommend their fish pie, although it is all freezer to table stuff with not too much actual cooking going on.
I have no specific complaints at all, my cider was in good order and served promptly and the surroundings comfortable enough but it is effectively just a chain hotel bar. I finished the pint swiftly enough and it was time to get walking again.
If you are following the route on the website given above, we have now passed from Section 18 to Section 19 and a little over four miles will take us all the way to Chigwell. To be perfectly honest, this section is pretty unremarkable although a short way in you come upon the rather good Warren Wood pub which I inexplicably omitted to take an image of.
What a difference from the bar I had left not long before with friendly staff and locals who were somewhat incredulous at my 150 mile pubcrawl round London idea but seemed to approve of the sentiment. I did discover that it has been a pub since at least the 1861 census so they should know a thing or two about running a good one!
Dragging myself out of the wonderful pub I walked a bit further and was now in Buckhurst Hill although the path doesn’t really go into it but merely skirts it.
Buckhurst Hill is yet another place that owes it’s existence to the railway and later the Tube. Although it is mentioned in documents as far back as 1135, it was only with the arrival of the “iron road” that it rapidly developed into the somewhat affluent suburb it is today.
In fairly quick succession you cross the Central Line (Tube) go through a housing estate and then cross the M11 motorway. Not the most exciting of walking but necessary, I suppose.
One notable exception to the noise and fumes is the rather charming Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve which is the largest remaining water meadow in Essex at an impressive 160 acres. One thing of particular note here, apart from the wonderful environment, is the fact that they have a disabled fishing facility which is something I had never before heard of nor even considered. I thought it was such a brilliant idea I have made it the featured image on this post in case you thought it was all going to be about fishing! Well done the Essex Wildlife Trust.
A fairly unmemorable walk followed the glory of the Nature Reserve and brought me eventually into Chigwell Village which I knew well enough to be able to navigate myself to the William the 4th pub, the establishment nearest the Tube Station.
Like so many suburban pubs, the ones that have actually survived have all had to go “gastropub” in order to do so which is not my preferred type of establishment but I accept it as the price of them remaining in business.
It was pleasant enough and a pint sitting in a comfy sofa reading up my next stage on the guide book was just what was needed.
I wandered the short distance down to the station and checked out one of the excellent information boards that are dotted around the entire route. It must have taken some time and money to do all the signage for the LOOP and I, for one, am very grateful for it.
Down I went into the Tube with another section of the guidebook completed and plenty more to look forward to. I do hope you’ll join me on Section 20. If you do so, I’ll show you some lovely countryside, a couple of churches and, yes, some more pubs so stay tuned and spread the word.