Hello dear readers and thanks for dropping by to look at the fifth day of my walk round the London LOOP orbital path. 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.
Thanks for clicking and welcome to this instalment. If you have read previous sections of this travelogue you will know that I left you at the village of Chigwell and it was from there that I recommenced a few days later.
A brisk walk up the main street brought me to a fine looking church with an odd architectural style for the area, basically an original Norman building which hasn’t been improved by Victorian and even more modern additions. I wandered in and spoke to the very friendly folk there who gave me a short leaflet explaining the history of the place and also very helpfully indicating out various points of interest.
I have an interest in military history and also military memorials as is evidenced in many of my other posts so several of the plaques to the fallen of various conflicts were closely studied. The memorial plaque that perhaps interested me the most however was not military but dedicated to a chap called George Shillibeer who I had never heard of.
It transpires he was no less than the man responsible for the first London omnibuses (now just buses to you and me) in 1829 and so, to a great extent, you have him to thank for the iconic “big red London buses” you see to this day.
Regrettably, without a patent, other competitors soon put him out of his business and he went bankrupt and eventually ended up in debtors prison. By profession he was a coach-builder and on his release from prison he went into another line of business namely making a new type of funeral hearse. He ended up being a successful undertaker, dying himself in 1866 in his 69th year. It really is amazing what you can find out from a visit to a small “country” church.
Hopefully if you visit the building will be open and you can have a look round. I do recommend you look up inside as some of the work on the roof is fascinating.
Adjacent to the church, as is so often the case in the UK, is the war memorial, commemorating the dead of the two world wars. As I said in the last paragraph, these things fascinate me and I always stop to pay my respects and usually take a few images for inclusion in the War Memorial website.
Just across the road from the church was a sight which saddened me considerably. As a much younger man I used to play rugby locally and we were fond of a beer as rugby players usually are. We would sometimes take ourselves to a wonderful old pub called Ye Olde Kings Head, near our clubhouse, which was originally built in 1547 and was said to have been a secret meeting place for roundheads during the English Civil War. There is even evidence for a tunnel leading from the place to allow people to come and go unseen.
More recently, it was a haunt of Sir Winston Churchill who used to dine here and I have heard anecdotal evidence that Rod Stewart, who had a house nearby, was known to get up and jam with the local musicians. It has now been bought by Lord Sugar’s property company and turned into a Turkish restaurant which I think is a disgrace.
Attempting to lighten my despondency at the loss of such a wonderful and historic pub, I strode on purposefully, heading for the country and it didn’t take me long to find it. Within about 15 minutes of leaving the sadly demised pub I was looking at the vista you see here and my spirits lifted considerably. Once again I have to stress that this is no more than half an hour’s easy stroll from a Tube station.
Sadly, my buoyant mood was not to last. My guidebook had mentioned a pub in Chigwell Row called the Maypole so, having been thwarted at the King’s Head, that was my target.
Well, you are probably ahead of me here, dear reader. Yes, this was the awful sight that greeted me – another dead pub. Nothing for it but to press on again.
A thankfully short walk down the A1112 Romford Road brought me to the Hainault Forest Park which turned out to be delightful with plenty to see and do including the rather odd “woodhenge” one portion of which you see here.
This paragraph is not about anything interesting but merely a technical hint if you do decide to walk this section of the LOOP.
As you exit the Forest Park you come onto a golf course (watch out for flying golf balls, I am not joking) and it can be difficult to find your way across even though it is not really far. The trick is to follow the trees that have the yellow markings on them as shown in the image and you will be fine.
Having hopefully successfully negotiated the 15th fairway without injury, you then follow the golf club boundary, looking out for some lovely views back over London and then take a track on your right to be confronted by this magnificent sight, a large stand of giant sequoia which are relatively young and should get much taller. Apparently these became very popular after the Californian Gold Rush and this particular plantation, numbering about 100, originally framed the entrance to Havering Park.
Passing from the glories of the Country Park, I was almost immediately confronted by another wonderful sight, that of the Church of St. John the Evangelist which stands on the site of a Royal chapel dating back to 1201. Regrettably, it was locked as is so often the case these days with churches but I found it interesting to research nonetheless. Whilst slightly disappointed, the exterior was pleasant to look at and I do hope to return sometime it is open for a look inside.
Although now nothing more than another London suburb there are huge Royal connections here and it is probably this link that led to the first church on the site, one of two to serve the Royal palaces nearby. Yes indeed, Royal palaces in Romford!
The first building was the site of the Kings chapel (the other being the Queen’s) although the first definitive documentary proof is a plan of 1578. All was not, however, sweetness and light in local ecclesiastical circles and there were many disputes between Havering and nearby Romford, with Noak Hill and Hornchurch often involving themselves as well.
As always, lawyers were making themselves busy in the middle of the whole messy business. To make a long story short, Havering became an independent parish under jurisdiction of the local Bishop. What an unholy mess!
The building stood (much repaired and restored) until 1876 when it was demolished to be replaced two years later by the present structure, built to the design of Basil Champneys in the Decorated style. So there you have the brief potted history of St. John the Evangelist.
The Church is in the charmingly named village of Havering-atte-Bower which I had long wondered about and only bothered to research when I was originally writing up this walk elsewhere. The suffix “atte-bower” merely means “at the Royal Bower (a name given to a Queen’s residence)” and this is the royal connection I mentioned.
Havering Palace played host to Edward the Confessor, Henry’s VII and VIII with the latter granting it to his first three wives, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, none of whom managed to enjoy it for too long. The young Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) and her sister Mary were raised nearby in another nearby Royal residence called Pyrgo Palace. Neither structure still remains.
After my wholly unsuccessful attempts earlier in the day to have a pint, it was a huge relief as I wandered down into the village proper to come across the Royal Oak a short distance down the road so I was in there like a shot. Well, it was after 1700 by this time, hadn’t had a pint and I was thirsty!
The pub had obviously been recently refurbished and was very pleasant which did raise the prospect of just remaining there for the evening but at this time of year in this weather I had an absolute minimum of three hours good light left and so I thought I would press on a bit. If you are following this the website previously provided, you have just finished Section 20 and I reckoned I could easily complete Section 21 of the walk, Havering-atte-Bower to Harold Wood.
Editing this in 2020 from my original piece written in 2013 saddens me slightly. I never plan anything, much to the annoyance of anyone travelling with me and which is why I generally travel, and usually walk, alone as I like to just let events unfold as they will. If I had decided to, I could have stayed in the Royal Oak all evening and I am sure I would have had a fine time. I had no set destination but I wanted to do more and, in those days, I still could.
Into my late 50’s I would usually do over 10 miles a day, typically 12 – 14 and that included plenty of stops for places of interest and liquid refreshment. Now, a mere seven years later, following a little health scare in 2019 and with a pair of knees that have very recently decided to turn traitor on me, I sometimes struggle to get half that distance done. I don’t worry about getting old, it is hopefully coming to us all but it just irritates me a bit, the ultimate case of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” I suppose. I’d rather walk five miles a day than not at all. Right, no time to get maudlin, Fergy, there’s walking to be done.
This paragraph is another little technical tip as the path is hard to find here if you want to walk it yourselves, and I really do recommend it. The road is busy outside the Royal Oak so be careful where you cross then walk a few yards to the left and you’ll see some houses on your right. Yes, that is the path in the image between the bush and the garage wall. Don’t panic, it is only like this for a short way and then you emerge into countryside again but beware the signage, I got completely lost over the next couple of fields (I had only had two pints, honestly) but managed to extricate myself by means of a not very rural walk along a fairly main road.
Fortuitously, I managed to extricate myself pretty close to the Bear pub in Noak Hill. It was a pleasant enough place albeit one of those chains that seem to be more about food than merely being a pub. If you want to know more about it, here’s the website.
Apparently it is now renamed the Deer’s Rest although any poor deer pausing for a bit of respite would probably have been slaughtered on sight by the medieval monarchs who used to do their hunting hereabouts! It is part of the Marston’s brewery group so at least the beer should be OK.
Onward, ever onward although now through much more residential areas. In a park I spotted this quirky little sculpture. I would suggest that the figure on the left is King Henry VIII commemorating the area’s long association with that monarch as I have discussed earlier.
The figure on the right appears to be a Second World War RAF man as there were several bases round here during that conflict. Who the figure in the centre represents, I have no idea.
I was striding out quite quickly now as my plan was to get to Harold Wood before stopping. I knew there was a train station there which would get me home pretty quickly and also it represented the end of Section 22 (Section 14 if you are using the guidebook) which meant I had done two sections that day and it provided a sensible break point.
All was going well until I got to within a couple of hundred yards of the station and then what did I see? You’ve guessed it, the King Harold pub. Well, if you have been reading previous portions of this little wander you will know my rules. If it’s open, I have to go in so in I duly went.
What an excellent pub. Clean and tidy with a few interesting knick-knacks on the wall. As I could literally see the train station from the front door of the pub and it was still early I had no worries about getting home.
The surroundings were pleasant and I took a very cosy chair at the quiet end of the bar to read up my guidebook for the next day’s walk. I suspect that the King Harold had undergone a relatively recent makeover as the interior is now that very typical pub / restaurant identikit look but perfectly comfortable.
They did have a few unusual little things about the walls which I had a look at including the sign you can see in one of the images. That made me smile a bit as I was 53 when I visited and decided that I was not going to grow up. Come on, I was walking what was effectively a 152 mile pub crawl.
There I was, happily having my pint (or four) and I was in Harold Wood, so Harold who? Back to British monarchs again but this one predating our earlier encountered Tudors by about half a millennium. The name, like nearby Harold Hill, refers to King Harold Godwinson who had hunting grounds in the area. If you have not heard of Harold (or Harald as he was properly known) Godwinson, he was the King defeated by William the Conqueror (aka William the Bastard) at the Battle of Hastings, allegedly from an arrow through the eye although historians now discount this version of his death. Contrary to the generally accepted wisdom about that battle being between the English and the French, it was basically a fight for land between three not so far descended Vikings. The concept of France was still centuries away and I’ll tell you all about that and the battle another time!
I had visited the site of that battle, which was not actually in Hastings but in the nearby area of Senlac which is now called Battle, some years previously and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll get round to writing it up here some day.
Armed with my very precise train timetable knowledge gleaned from my new mates in the pub it was a very simple and uneventful journey home after another great day’s walking.
In the next post we’ll have a wander through some decent parks, encounter Count Dracula (not literally), visit some pubs (obviously) and get round to the mighty River Thames so stay tuned and spread the word.