A Saturday stroll goes large – Jubilee Greenway 1.

It all started with a bit of a Saturday stroll and by the time the light was fading on an early January afternoon it had metamorphosed into a new project. As with so many of my little excursions it was unplanned but that is the way I like to do things. Let me tell you about it.

As always, apologies to my regular readers (thank you all again) but just a quick word of background is on order for those coming upon my rambles for the first time. Following a period of hospitalisation in August and September 2019, the doctors had told me to take plenty of exercise and walking is my preferred way of doing that. Now that I was more or less “whole” again, I had got back into it but nothing too strenuous as I was nothing like back to the fitness levels of even a couple of years before.

I had already spent two days wandering the Wandle river, which you can read about here.  another couple of days going from Epping to Ongar on the Essex Way which begins here and a few decent walks round Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed on a recent trip to Northumberland.

I had not decided upon a new project as I have walked most of the major designated paths in and around London and was still trying to decide on what might come next. Secret / hidden rivers are a possibility but on this Saturday morning in early January 2020 I just fancied a walk, as much for the sheer love of it as for the undoubted health benefits.

I absolutely love canals and everything associated with them and have been lucky enough to have had several holidays “on the cut” as canal people refer to it and also a few turns at crewing for mates on their boats.  Two dear friends of mine actually make their living with working boats on the canal system.

When I started this site I had a vast amount of old projects saved from previous sites I contributed to and I have barely scratched the surface of transferring them here. One I have managed to do is a long weekend spent with friends on a narrowboat travelling on the Hebble and Calder navigation. You can read all about it here if you like.

With this passion for all things inland waterways, I am extremely lucky to have a canal about fifteen minutes walk from my home in the form of the Regent’s Canal which runs from Limehouse Basin on the River Thames to little Venice in Paddington. It then becomes the Grand Union Canal which continues all the way to Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. This was one of the main arteries of the transportation system that was in place before, and made redundant by, the coming of the railways.

I walked the Regents / Grand Union many years back from the Thames as far as Milton Keynes but it was so long ago that I wasn’t doing it particularly with an eye for travel writing although some features of note made it to my pages on the wonderful and now sadly demised Virtual Tourist website. Some of the descriptions in this and subsequent posts may be cut and pastes from those pages, suitably edited and updated if necessary, but I will indicate if that is the case. I might even use the occasional old image to show how things have changed.

image001
Look out for “ghost signs” in London.

I took the direct route from my home to the basin and even before I had started my “walk proper” I passed a couple of things of interest which I’d like to share with you just to show how much the East End is changing and how some things still cling on. The first image is definitely one that is just about clinging on if only in appearance and not in function. This is one of many “ghost signs” which you can see all over London but most people don’t notice because they never look up. Mobile (cell) ‘phones have only made this phenomenon worse with people staring down at them and walking into you. They don’t know what they are missing.

Had you lived in England 100 years ago, you may well have been eating Daren bread which was baked using flour from the Daren mills in Kent. I won’t go into it too much but there is a fascinating article here although I warn you that it may put you off bread for life! As a local’s tip and the first aside of the post, it is still possible to get excellent bread and pastry products not 500 yards from here in a place you will never find if you don’t know it. All you need to do is get to Rinkoff’s Bakery (use the link) which is over 100 years old and was founded by a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant which is so typical of this part of London.

Enough of the perils of 19th century sandwiches and let’s move on to a couple of sights that sadden me greatly although I have seen them both before. The building without the scaffolding was once the Mercer’s Arms and I drank in there once or twice. It was fine but not one of my regular haunts and is now a block of flats (apartments). The other one, which has suffered the same fate, was the Royal Navy in Salmon Lane although the scaffolding does not denote a conversion taking place as it has been residential for years now.  Just to give you an idea of how many pubs have closed in the East End, the excellent Lost pubs website, which I contribute to, lists nine in this one road alone. Salmon Lane isn’t that long and I have not even included the one that closed down in the 1940’s! It really depresses me.

With a slightly heavy heart I arrived at Limehouse Basin and, like the pub scene in my area, this place has changed out of all recognition since I moved to London in 1988.  My first home in the capital was about 15 minutes walk from here and it has been demolished now as well! The Basin had actually changed slightly since I was last here which surprised me a bit as I had not realised how long it had been since I walked the canal.

At this point I shall reproduce my old Virtual Tourist tip verbatim. I think it dates to about 2006 or thereabouts.

“You may have read my other tip on walking the towpath of the Regents Canal, and if you walk to the end of it you will come to the delightful Limehouse Basin. Now a somewhat swanky (and expensive) mooring for pleasure craft, and surrounded by luxury homes, it nevertheless has an interesting history.

A couple of things stand out. Firstly, the basin was innovative in 1852 in it’s use of a hydraulic system to revolutionise how cargo was removed from boats. The tower that the hydraulic equipment was in still stands although is only open on very limited occasions. Contact British Waterways for further details. Secondly, the railway arches which stand to the North of the basin (see photo) and now carry the Docklands Light Railway are the second oldest urban railway viaduct in the world. They were built in 1840 for the now long defunct London and Blackwall Railway. It was used until 1962, then lay neglected until brought back to life by the opening of the DLR. A triumph of recycling, I would say.

Should you feel a little peckish or thirsty, multi-award winning chef, Gordon Ramsay has his Narrow pub / restaurant called The Narrow just beside the basin on Narrow Street”

Ah, that takes me back. Whilst the history has not changed, one thing at least has. I mentioned British Waterways, properly the British Waterways Board, which ran the canal system at that time. It was a statutory body but was replaced in 2012 by the Canal and River Trust, a charitable NGO. They shall feature again here a bit later on.

I am not sure if the footbridge you see was built last time I was there nor the inlaid sign beside it which indicates the Jubilee Greenway which will also feature heavily later. It is a 60 kilometre circular path beginning and ending at Buckingham Palace which was cobbled together to commemorate Her Majesty’s 60th anniversary as Monarch and also the London Olympics the same year in 2012. I have included an old 2006 image I took when I was out playing with my then new and now ludicrously outdated Konica Minolta camera. It has changed a bit since then. 

Dead centre in one of the images you can see St. Anne’s Church, Limehouse which was built to the design of Nicholas Hawksmoor who I have recently researched whilst writing about a military barracks in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Berwick is almost exactly 350 miles North of here and even more distant in terms of appearance and just about everything else. I am not going to repeat everything here but you may wish to look at this entry as Hawksmoor really is a fascinating character and, if you like a good conspiracy theory, you’ll love that entry.

I wandered round the entire Basin and, for sake of completeness, went right down to the river. where I took the images above. The one on the left looks out onto the Thames and the building on the right of it is the Gordon Ramsay restaurant I mentioned above which is still trading despite his having had to close a few over the years. I have never been there and don’t intend to go. I don’t do posh. Still, he probably has not been in it for years either!

It is fascinating to think that 200 years ago ships were unloading here with goods from the British Empire and beyond being transported all over the country and, in the other direction, British products were exported all over the globe. In the days before rail, this really was the major means of commercial transport.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1812 for the construction of a canal to link the Paddington Canal with the Thames and a company was formed with the famous architect John Nash as Director. He was responsible for Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch amongst other things. At that time he was in the process of constructing Regent’s Park and wanted the canal to run through it although it ended up running round it. Both canal and park were named for the Prince Regent who was later to become King George IV.

There were all manner of problems during construction including, slightly improbably, fights between “navvies” building the canal and gardeners employed by a local landowner. That must have been worth seeing. Incidentally, if you are wondering where the British slang word “navvy” comes from, it is a contraction of navigational engineer or navigator i.e. a man (often Irish) who dug canals. I’ll not go into all the details of what happened but if you are interested then the wonderful Canal Museum, which I highly recommend, has a fascinating website here.The section from Paddington to Camden opened in 1816 and it was finally driven through to the basin you see in 1820 so exactly 200 years ago. There are any amount of celebratory events planned and I intend to attend a few if I can, I’ll report back here. Let’s go now for a stroll along this fine bicentennial waterway.

image014
No pubs but a lovely footbridge.

If you are planning to walk the Regents, and I thoroughly recommend you do, it is a touch over eight and a half miles long and has 13 locks. You have already seen Locks 13 at the river and 12 at the North end of the Basin and you will realise that, as usual, I am doing everything back to front. I have an awful habit of doing that. The lock you see above, with the flashy new footbridge adjacent, is Salmon Lane, Lock #11 on the road of the closed pubs I had walked along earlier.

image016
Do you know what it is?

Passing under the London, Tilbury and Southend railway bridge, I was faced with this chimney which stands rather forlornly by itself. I am sure I was once told what it had originally been part of or used for but if my life depended on it I cannot remember now. I suspect it was associated with a canalside activity rather than the canal itself and was probably part of an industrial building that stood here. My guess, albeit an educated one based on my knowledge of the area, is that the green space here is probably a bombsite from the Blitz and the chimney is all that remains of the former site.

image017

Passing under Ben Jonson Road I walked past this fairly unremarkable looking building, obviously another old industrial remnant from another age. I happened to know that it is in fact a museum, specifically the Ragged School Museum and that the building had started life as warehouses for canal trade. In 1877 Thomas Barnardo, he of Barnardo’s Homes fame, opened a “ragged” school here to provide free education for the very ragged children of this most deprived of urban areas. The Museum is primarily aimed at children and groups of them come to experience what Victorian schooling was like. I actually remember the Museum opening back in 1990 which caused quite a stir locally.

I almost ignored the next item I saw which looked like either the poorly built nest of some monstrous bird or the aftermath of a particularly lazy council gardener but it was neither although if not for the sign I would have been none the wiser. This is nothing less than a bug hotel constructed, if that is the right word, by someone called Si who is a member of the Lower Regent’s Coalition which I had never heard of, despite being a local. I was to pass one of their groups out on a litter pick a little further on and I thought it was great what they were doing. I am seriously thinking of volunteering myself.

On a bit further and we come to lock #10 – Johnson’s Lock. I should warn you that I had by this point decided to photograph all the locks I saw, so you have been warned. Johnson’s Lock is unusual in that it still has it’s horse ramps which were used for animal rescue when the poor old horses pulling the working boats fell in the canal as they occasionally did.

Next we come to Mile End Road bridge which is totally unremarkable as you can see. The only reason I took this image was that I was already thinking about writing up this piece and I wanted to mention that if I had gone left on the road here I could have walked home in 15 minutes, that is how close I live to the canal. Don’t worry, we are not going to my place yet.

Actually, I am possibly being a bit unkind to the poor old bridge. Mile End Road is the A11, one of the major roads leading from the centre of London like the spokes of a wheel. If you followed this spoke far enough you would end up in Norwich, but it might take you a while.  It is a very busy road and considering the bridge dates to 1818 I think it is doing very well.

From the towpath here I saw the rather sad sight of another old pub gone, in this case the New Globe which was so called to differentiate it from the nearby Old Globe which itself is now a betting shop. In the six weeks between taking the image and writing this piece I see that there is renovation going on and it is apparently going to be a hotel / pizza parlour / karaoke bar.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

image025
Not a bad sight for the heart of the East End.

Walking along past Mile End Park, I couldn’t resist the image above. I’ll bet there were not too many swans here when the Regents was a fully functioning, filthy waterway.

I did warn you that you were going to get most of the locks and here is #8, Old Ford. Not far beyond that I came to the first of a common sight on the Regents and every other canal in England.

image028
I nearly lived on one of these once.

House prices in London are ludicrous and many people simply cannot afford them. A marginally cheaper and infinitely cooler option is to live on the water although narrowboats do not come cheap and mooring costs in London are also pretty steep. The vessels range from tiny 35 footers barely afloat to double width 70+ foot barges converted into floating palaces and where my flat (apartment) would fit in the living room! I was going to do this some years ago but decided to buy a more solid residence instead.

image029
Rightly or wrongly, I love these monsters.

What you see above represents another one of those places / structures that I cannot ever seem to take enough images of. Other examples are Ramsgate Harbour and bridges anywhere as I have mentioned before. These old disused gasometers are in Corbridge Crescent and I simply love them. I have images of them in every conceivable light and weather and will undoubtedly take many more in future. I think they are unbelievably photogenic although you may have a different view. You may well think they are an eyesore and should be torn down to make room for something useful.  Land in this part of town is extremely valuable and these undoubtedly have a huge footprint whilst they do, well nothing really.

Just past the gasometers I came to the wonderfully named Cat and Mutton Bridge and I walked up from the towpath to the bottom of Broadway Market where I took the two images you see above from the same spot and which say so much about the modern East End, not much of it good!

The image on the left is of the lower end of Broadway Market, which used to be a proper market in what was a fairly rough and ready part of the capital called London Fields. It is in the London Borough of Hackney and I have some dear friends who live five minutes walk away, proper East Enders. There was a proper butchers here. The butchers now is a “Master Butcher and Cookshop” specialising in organic meat and it turns into a restaurant at night. What is that all about?

Another staple of the East end was the pie and mash shop and Cooke’s here was legendary. It closed less than two weeks before this image was taken on Xmas Eve 2019 after 120 years in the same family on this site (back to 1826 on another site). Tragic. What were once real shops for real people are now eco-friendly this, vegan that, ethical the other and overpriced everything. Hackney has become hipster central and it hacks me right off.

The right hand image is about the only authentic business left in the Market although technically it is just outside it in Goldsmith’s Row. It is the Perseverance pub and remains fairly much as it always was although the hipsters are starting to infiltrate in search of the next “authentic East End experience”. It is the only pub in the whole area I would drink in now. I mentioned the Cat and Mutton Bridge which is named for the Cat and Mutton pub just down the road. It may be the other way round, nobody is really sure but the pub used to be OK a few years ago. I wouldn’t thank you for it now with it’s premium lagers, Disney quiz nights (for adults?) and £6 cheese toasties. Sod that. It is described online as a “traditional gastropub” which, as oxymorons go, is surely up there with “honest politician” or “truthful lawyer”. Right, I’ll get off my soapbox.

After a pint and a watch of the rugby in the “Percy” as it is known locally, I took to the towpath again and soon came to Lock #7, Acton’s Lock. Who Mr. Acton may have been I have no idea but I can tell you about the adjacent moorings which are called Talavera Moorings and named after a battle of that name in the Peninsualar Wars which was fought in 1809. Presumably the event was still fresh in the memory when the canal was being constructed less than a decade later.

In the moorings I saw a narrowboat and I simply had to take an image. You may already know that Silmarillion is a book by J.R.R. Tolkein but that is not the reason I took it. The book also gave rise to the name of possibly my favourite band ever who started off using the name but later shortened it to Marillion to avoid copyright hassles. That was then an earworm of various old Marillion tracks which stayed with me the rest of the day.

By now I was in Haggerston and once again I had to wonder at how things have changed. The Haggerston and Kingsland estates were some of the roughest places in the East End in the 1980’s when I came to London and that is certainly saying something. You really needed to know what you were about to even go there. Now, it is much changed with many South East Asian immigrants, especially Vietnamese and a lot of small tech businesses as well. Another locals tip here for visitors. If you want the best Vietnamese food in London, this is the place to be.

I won’t bore you with Lock #6, Sturt’s because it is pretty ugly so we shall pass on, by way of a lovely boat underway to what you see in the right hand image. Where’s the towpath gone? Good question. What you are looking at is the Eastern portal of the Islington Tunnel, all 960 yards (880 metres) of it which bores under the higher ground round the Angel.

I have already mentioned that the working boats were initially horse drawn so how did they get through here with no towpath? Well, it took a bit of legwork. Literally. Men would lie on top of the cargo or the roof of the cabin and literally propel the craft through by pushing with their legs. Remember that these are 70 foot long boats loaded with literally tons of cargo so how they did it I really do not know.

The legmen were soon replaced and in 1826 a steam tug took over the hauling. I have navigated a 68 foot narrowboat through the Blisworth Tunnel in Northamptonshire which is admittedly three times as long but when we emerged my eyes were streaming from the diesel fumes in there. 19th century canal tunnels are not well ventilated and so what conditions must have been like with a coal powered tug belching out fumes I can only imagine. It must have been awful but it remained that way for over a century until a diesel engine was installed in the 1930’s.

Naturally, if you are walking the towpath you have to go “overground” at this point and I’ll tell you the official route as it is not that well signed. To make matters worse, there are at least three different types of sign in use as you can see but it is not too difficult.
Follow the way you were going along Duncan Street until you come to the busy main road which is Upper Street, then turn left. Walk along the same pavement towards the Angel Tube station and cross at the pedestrian crossing just before it. Go up the main road opposite (Liverpool Road) and turn first left into Chapel Market. There may even be a market here as it still functions and is a proper one unlike it’s Broadway counterpart. Follow that all the way to the end and you are at Penton Street. Cross over and turn right. The second road on the left is Maygood Street which peters out into a path through a housing estate. I have included an image to help you. This will bring you out onto Muriel Street where the Western portal is.

image042

I was lucky enough to catch a vessel coming out of the tunnel and the eagle-eyed amongst you will see that it is the same one I had photographed earlier. I am not sure who was following who. It demonstrates a point about how relaxing being on a canal boat is. The speed limit on all English canals is 4 m.p.h. which happens to be exactly the speed I normally walk at, so you are literally living at walking pace instead of rushing about at Mach Two which seems to be the 21st century way. No wonder people love it.
By now it was about 1530 and I was figuring on probably diving off the towpath at King’s Cross which would give me an easy tube ride home but there were still a few little goodies to see.

The two images above show just how inventively used the canal now is. The vessels are self-explanatory and moored not too far from each other. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have your home and business here all in one place in these lovely surroundings? I think it would be bliss.

The light was starting to go quickly and I decided that Camley Street would do me as I know my way round there for reasons I shall explain in the next entry but before I got there I discovered that I didn’t know the area quite as well as I thought. In my defence, it has been a long time since I was there. What I remembered as another old gasworks and ancillary industrial buildings has been transformed out of all recognition with the block of flats, office block, shopping centre and park you can see above. It is quite spectacular. Friends of mine used to live on their boat in St. Pancras Basin across the canal here and it certainly did not look like this back then.

I did take a couple more images on my way to the Tube station but they are not great due to the light and I retook much better ones the next day when I returned to do a bit more. I’ll show you them then.

image065

Before I go, I have one last thing to do. In the last entry I promised you that a vegetable fell in love with me and I would tell you about it in this post so here goes. Amongst all my other medical woes, I was awaiting a cardiology consultation at this time which was pretty pointless as I had known about the condition for over 30 years and had been told then, and more recently in hospital, that it is nothing to worry about but my G.P (doctor) insisted on sending me. One evening, as I was preparing dinner, I happened upon this and I took it to be a good sign. I didn’t have the heart (get it?) to eat it and am now trying to grow it on my windowsill!  Sorry about the quality, but you get the idea.

Speaking of the next day as I was, in that entry I carry on with my new project, go too far as usual, hang out with some Mods and get to the end of the Regents Canal so stay tuned and spread the word.

The only Way is Essex – the slightly easier way.

I do hope you have come to this page by way of the previous entry where I walked the first section of the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar, or rather I didn’t exactly walk it. I had set out to do so, become completely lost before I had walked 50 yards, trespassed on private land and a railway line and nearly got killed on an unlit busy A road. There you are, you don’t need to read it now but I do hope you do if you haven’t already as it is an object lesson in how not to undertake a hike. This entry is not exactly textbook rambling but it is a whole lot better than the previous effort.

Following a bit of a medical hiccup in the autumn I had been told to take plenty of exercise which for me consists of walking, a favourite pastime. In years past I had completed both the London Loop and Capital Ring as well as the section of the Thames Path around London and beyond and I was on the lookout for new paths to walk. I had recently spent a couple of days on the Wandle Trail which you can read about here and then attempted to make a start on the Essex Way with the near fatal results outlined above. I decided to have another go, mostly just to prove to myself that I hadn’t lost it completely and could still master a section of a way-marked long-distance path graded as easy.

I made another reasonably early start and this time round there were three things in my favour which had been against me before. Firstly the weather, which had been abysmal on the last attempt and which was much improved, cold but clear and bright which boded well for both photography and decent light towards the end of the day.  Secondly, I had actually managed to get some sleep the previous night and was not punch-drunk from insomnia leading to some terrible decision making. Thirdly, and undoubtedly most importantly, I had actually looked beforehand and found out where the Way actually started and roughly what route it followed.

The two images above demonstrate my flying start. You can see the commemorative but totally useless sign indicating the start of the Way which I had inexplicably managed to miss before and also the footbridge over the tracks which I had equally inexplicably failed to cross. I should have done really as that is where the Way goes.

image003
Six minutes walk from the Tube.

After the briefest of walks through a residential area and past a school I found myself right in the country. I took the image above, not for any particular feature of interest but to demonstrate the fact that it had taken me exactly six minutes to walk from the Tube / Metro / subway system of one of the busiest capital cities in the world to this. As another little piece of trivia, if I had not left the station and crossed to the other platform then I could have undertaken the longest Tube journey possible without changing which is from here to West Ruislip, a journey of 34 miles, give or take. Obviously that would have been even longer when the line continued to Ongar which was precisely what I intended to do.

image004
That’s what I was looking for.

Right from the off, I found the waymarks that I had been searching in vain for before, although the way-marking was not of a uniform standard throughout the walk as you shall see shortly. In light of this I shall give brief instructions where you might go wrong if you decide to walk the path yourself but I shall not go overboard on it as this is not primarily a walking guide. There is an excellent, detailed set of instructions here. When you cross the first of the fields you will come to Stewards Green Road where you need to turn left and left again, almost back on yourself. The waymark for the second turn is hard to spot and I initially missed it so look carefully.

Having discovered where I should be going, I found myself on a pleasant but fairly muddy path which wasn’t a major problem as I had the new walking boots on and was trying to field test them – literally. The mud was to be a constant feature all day. I am no geologist but my layman’s take on the soil around here is that it is very thick and very sticky when when!

I soon emerged into Coopersale Street which is even smaller than nearby Coopersale Common which I had traversed on my previous excursion. I did pause to take an image of the old-fashioned roadsign you can see which features such quaint place names so common in Britain. They almost begged an old fashioned folk song so get your finger in your ear and try this to tune of your choosing.  “Forty Shades of Green” works well but don’t try it with “Fifty Shades of Grey” or anything might happen!
“As I roved out from Toot Hill,
For Fiddlershamlet bound,
To catch the morning stagecoach
For dear old Harlow Town…………………….”
OK, so my future doesn’t lie in traditional folk lyrics but you get the idea.

The barn is quite typical of an old style once common in the Eastern parts of England and I think it looks fantastic. Of course, every “Olde English” hamlet requires a village pub and there it was, in the form of the Theydon Oak which looked very inviting but was thankfully shut or the whole expedition could have ground to a halt there and then.

From the mental map I was vaguely carrying around with me I knew I was due a left fairly soon and there it was, a public footpath. Brilliant. Brilliant but wrong. I strode off along it and soon enough came to my old nemesis, the M11 but this time there was a bridge over it. This must be the right path as there are not that many bridges over the motorway, they cost a lot of money to build. I have included a couple of images to show exactly how busy it is.

As I was crossing I saw a large and obviously expensive SUV coming towards me so I gave the occupants a cheery wave and wondered at the slightly puzzled look the lady passenger gave me. This looked like a road and I wanted a footpath so I took the only obvious one on the right. After a while this just ended so I went back to the small road and carried on. No more climbing into farmer’s fields for me, thank you very much.

image013
A flat costs how much?

Up ahead I could see a very fine building which was obviously where the road led to and I carried on, taking the image you can see. I got to a fairly imposing electronically controlled gate and looked around for the footpath. There wasn’t one. Right. Not wanting to heap mistake upon mistake as I had stupidly done the last time, I took stock and decided I had better bite the bullet and go back to the last place I definitely know I was right, which is what I did and it was all the way back to the last pub. On the way, the same large SUV passed me again with both of us going the other way and the lady in the vehicle had upgraded her appraisal of me from slightly puzzled to downright suspicious. In truth, I don’t blame her as I know I do look a bit rough and certainly incongruous in this setting. I was half expecting the police to turn up at any moment.

Before we regain the lost path, let me tell you about the big house which is called Gaynes Park Mansions. It is now a wedding venue and eye-wateringly expensive residential accommodation. A flat there sold for £776K in 2015 and has risen an incredible 42.5% in five years with a current (February 2020) estimate of £2.3 to £2.8 million! No wonder the locals were looking strangely at me.

For that kind of money you would expect a bit of history and you would not be short changed. There are records of a manorial dwelling here back to the 14th century and the will of Earl William Fitz-William in 1534 bequeaths 50 shillings to build a road between here and Chigwell. There have been various structures here over the years and this incarnation is Victorian as the Gothic style suggests although there are apparently a few features of the earlier 1770 mansion still evident, or at least they were before the recent redevelopment. I couldn’t possibly comment as I didn’t get within a hundred yards of it. There is an interesting article here about what it looked like before it was done up.

Back at the pub, it was time to start again and here is another quick navigational tip so you do not make the same mistake I did. You should take the first path on the left past the pub car-park, literally twenty or thirty yards on. It is hard to see and you almost double back on yourself.

Another short field walk brought me back to Gernon Bushes where things had gone so badly awry before although I did not know I was back there again at the time. All those Essex woods look the same to me! Hindsight is undoubtedly 20/20 vision, which is a fitting thing to write in the year 2020 with tomorrow being 20/02/2020 or 02/20/2020 if you follow the American system. Either way, it is pleasing on the eye. I allowed myself my first sit down of the day on the thoughtfully provided bench which is on a bit of a rise and affords pleasant views.


As I was stumbling about finding an as yet unidentified (by me) archaeological structure and trespassing on some poor farmer’s land the previous time, I had been only a few hundred yards from the Way but had I not got lost I would have missed North Weald.  I am surprised the Way does not visit it and there are certainly enough existing public rights of way to make it feasible. It has plenty of interest with the old airfield and the heritage railway but the LDP (Long-Distance Path) avoids it completely. A net loss for the rambler who actually uses a map but a net gain for me. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

 

Once again my unplanned diversion had cost me time but it didn’t bother me. I was having a good walk, out of London in the fresh air, testing my new boots which were muddy by this stage but not letting in, and thoroughly enjoying myself.

The path crosses the M11 yet again and by now I was getting a little fed up of this damn road but that is the price of progress I suppose. Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman, used to ply his trade in the woods hereabouts and I wonder what he would make of this “highway”. I’d love to see him try to stop a 40 foot articulated lorry whilst on horseback and brandishing a pair of muzzle-loading pistols. Good luck with that one, Dick.

image017

Once over the motorway, Gernon Bushes becomes Birching Coppice and then Mount Wood and in all of them there are numerous paths and anything but numerous waymarks. I just kept going the way I was going and eventually, probably more by good luck than good judgement, I emerged into the charmingly named Toot Hill as featured in my recently and hastily penned folk song opening verse above. It was now gone 1400 and I thought I had earned a pint which was not going to be a problem as I has spied the Green Man and Courtyard pub a few yards off.

I did the proper thing and took off my muddy boots outside to enter what was a lovely old-fashioned pub which had obviously been relatively recently done up and was wearing it’s Xmas finery as befitted the month. It was equally obviously a bit upmarket and definitely in the gastropub category as the menu and the group of “ladies who lunch” in the front room attested but my scruffy looks and unshod lower extremities did not have me shown the door. On the contrary, I was engaged in friendly conversation by the two delightful ladies behind the bar. Whilst Epping is still comparatively urban, Toot Hill, despite only being a few miles distant, has a much more country feel and I am sure they are used to people who have been out for a trudge over the fields.

image027
I’ll get my guitar.

After my pint I left to get back on the path and on the way I spotted the charming sign for the local Folk Club. I briefly toyed with the idea of bringing the guitar along for a bit of a session but it is just completely impractical as there is no way I could get home. A pleasant thought, though.

I regained the path where I soon encountered a man with his small and excitable dog. The canine was of, shall we say, very mixed pedigree and like so many of his ilk was adorable although he did have to be dissuaded from jumping up on me with his muddy paws. This time round I had taken the precaution of tucking my jeans in my socks to keep some of the mud off and it was working pretty well. Fido could easily have ruined the whole plan.

We wandered on and chatted of this and that in a very sociable fashion and I wondered again, as I often do, about the difference between urban and city life. I know it is something of a generalisation but, had I tried to strike up a similar conversation near where I live, the other person would undoubtedly have been on the defensive and thinking I was either insane, begging, or about to attack and rob them and not without justification. It is sad really.

You may be wondering at the lack of images in this latter section of the day’s walk but, if you have read my recent entries you will know that I was using a new Samsung compact camera which has the most appalling battery life and I wanted to save some of it for a little treat I knew was coming up.

I left the gent and his best friend at a road where he had parked his car and he gave me instructions how to get to the hamlet of Greensted and the treat I mentioned.  What I wanted to see was the Church of St. Andrew which is the oldest wooden church in the world and possibly the oldest wooden building in Europe still standing. Worth a look, surely.

I came to a road junction, knowing from my new friend’s instructions that I needed to turn right but I didn’t and, no, I haven’t gone crazy again. I saw a woman all dressed up for a walk emerging from a gate and, with my ramblers head on, stopped to have a chat. She indicated a route on a path the way she had come which would take me to the church. Looking at a map now, the road was marginally shorter than the path but the path was undoubtedly better. Also, it actually put me back on the designated path which I had somehow got detached from whilst walking with one man and his dog.

image030
Isn’t it wonderful?

It wasn’t too far until I could see the church ahead and whilst it is not particularly impressive in terms of size I knew it was something special. The fact that it is Grade I listed proves this. I have spoken of listings often before and this is a “big boy’s historical building”. The definition of Grade I listed buildings is very simple, they are “buildings of exceptional interest” and Greensted Church certainly is. Let me tell you about it.

Parts of the structure you see today was long thought to date back to 845 but in 1995 more advanced dendrochronological (I love that word) techniques moved it to a period 1063 to 1108. If it is the former, it pre-dates the invasion of England in 1066 by William the Bastard and his Norsemen defeating the English King Harold Godwinson (very English surname!) and his Norsemen to take over the country. You may have heard the story as William the Conqueror, 1066 and all that but it wasn’t quite so simple. I have spoken of it before here and won’t go into it all again but the facts are worth looking at if you like that sort of thing.

Other archaeological evidence suggests either previous structures or at least a place of worship here possibly dating back as far as the 4th century which is indeed the very dawn of Christianity in the British Isles. I now give fair warning that as unerringly as I had strayed off the Essex Way we are now going to stray into my pet subjects of “everything is connected” and “every day is a schoolday”. You have been warned!

I learned today whilst researching this that the body of King Edmund, later St. Edmund the Martyr, rested here in 1013. Edmund had been King of Anglia in the late 9th century when the Vikings invaded and he was either killed in battle or, according to legend, martyred by them for refusing to renounce Christ. His martyrdom (if it ever happened) was particularly gruesome involving being beaten, shot with arrows and beheaded. The Vikings were nothing if not thorough.

As a further aside to an aside, I am composing this in a busy pub in Ramsgate and literally two minutes ago, as I was typing, a comment drifted over from a group at the next table which I quote exactly, “That William the Conqueror has a lot to answer for, hasn’t he”? I swear I am not making this up, why would I? It just gives me more typing to do. Strange things keep happening to me but back to Edmund.

Whatever his fate, the King was buried at what is now known as Bury St. Edmunds. Go figure, as the Americans might say. In the years following his death, a cult grew up around him to the extent that he became England’s first patron saint. The present patron saint, the Turkish St. George, was introduced at the time of Edward III who was effectively a Frenchman. At least Edmund was English while George never even visited the country.

Fearing further Viking depradations in 1010, Edmund’s remains were disinterred and taken to London for safe keeping and it was on the return journey three years later that Greensted features in the story.

That was the schoolday bit now here is the everything is connected bit. Regular readers will know that I knock out a few chords on my guitar and warble a bit and possibly the largest crowd I ever played to was in Islington in 2009 on the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It seems to be a piece about martyrs here. I played on the same stage as Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson and Billy Bragg which was a huge thrill as they are all heroes of mine. I shall tell you, briefly I promise, about the men of Tolpuddle.

In 1834, agricultural workers in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle formed a trade union which was by then legal. This was prompted by the advent of new technology which had meant cuts in pay and life was very hard. Obviously, the “powers that be” didn’t like the way the wind was blowing and the “Martyrs” were prosecuted, not for forming a union but for taking an oath of secrecy which was an illegal act. Six of the leaders were sentenced to seven years transportation to the then penal colony of Australia despite huge public outcry and a large march in London which was what the gig I played was commemorating. The March was 100,000 strong and departed from Copenhagen Fields, which was where we played all those years later, to Parliament.

The public pressure on Government eventually paid off and the Martyrs were returned early to England in 1837 where they were granted tenancies in and around Greensted. One of the Martyrs married the daughter of another in this very Church and the record of the marriage remains intact. That is the potted version of the Martyrs and the inevitable asides and so back to the Church.

The Church authorities are obviously used to the mud in the area and the occasional booted rambler like myself dropping in and so they have very kindly provided plastic overshoes of the type favoured by forensic crime scene types which saves the bother of removing your boots. I did check first if the building was open because so many churches are not as I have mentioned. I was overjoyed to find that the wooden door gave way nicely.

Again I will let the images do most of the talking here but I will quote the first line of a prayer written by the vicar on the excellent Church website which is, “Lord, as I sit in this ancient church I can feel that it is a special place”. I am not at all religious but I would not disagree. I could not leave without buying one of the wide variety of jams, preserves, chutnies etc. on offer. I chose one that involved ale as I thought it would go well with cheese. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll update here when I do.

The light was still good but I knew there was not much of it left so I put my best foot forward and headed for Ongar – again! I knew it wasn’t far and the walk was unremarkable except for the muck. The Essex countryside had saved the worst for last and it was awful. When I got back onto the paved surface in Ongar I spent a good amount of time trying to wipe it off on the grass at the side of the road with limited success. I didn’t fancy going into a pub with them on and was even a little concerned lest the bus driver turn me away but he didn’t and I got back to Essex and home in good order.

That then was the first portion of the Essex Way done more or less the way it was intended and I looked at the next sections of it but I don’t think I’ll bother. Most of the interesting things I had discovered were stumbled upon when I was not even on the path and the walking, whilst not unpleasant, was not overly inspiring. I can think of other places within a similar radius of my home that offer better possibilities. Added to this, public transport options become very limited further on for long stretches so I’ll probably give it a miss.

In the next entry I go for a leisurely stroll near my home and end up embarking on another walking project, plus a vegetable falls in love with me so stay tuned and spread the word.

The only Way is Essex – the hard way.

Hello again and welcome back or a fresh welcome to you if you have not read any of my pages before.

In the last couple of entries I walked the Wandle Trail which follows the course of the river of that name in South London from Wandsworth, where it empties into the Thames, to one of it’s two sources at the rather picturesque Carshalton Ponds. It is a distance of about nine or ten miles (depending on which website you read) and had taken me two days which doesn’t sound like much and indeed it isn’t compared to the distances I did in my youth. Without wishing to bore my regular readers, the brief story is that I had been hospitalised in the latter part of 2019 and the medicos had told me to take plenty of exercise.

Due to a bad back and various other factors, the most telling of which is advancing old age, a lot of forms of strenuous physical activity are out and so I decided to do a lot of walking which I love and had done regularly anyway. I was on the hunt for other delineated paths to tackle and found the Essex Way, an 81 mile way-marked long-distance footpath which runs from Epping on the outskirts of London to Harwich on the coast.

The Essex Way appealed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the start point is at Epping Tube station which is only about a 45 minute journey “door to door” from my home with no changes.  Secondly, Epping is tied up with some public transport history, which I have an interest in. I was planning for my first day’s walking to go as far as Ongar which is linked to the same transportation history. Let me tell you about it.

I had always had it in my head that the Tube system was a 19th century innovation and to a certain extent this is true. I still travel quite often through tunnels that were cut in the latter half of that century and equally often in conditions that you might think were designed as a torture from a much earlier era. I knew there were fairly recent lines like the Jubilee which I remember opening but I had always sub-consciously taken the Central to be one of the older ones. The Central Line, incidentally, is the red one on the iconic Tube map, if you are not familiar with the network. Technically, I suppose it is 19th century as it was constructed then although it was not opened to the public until the first year of the 20th century, with a line from Shepherd’s Bush in the West to Bank in the heart of the City of London.

It was not until 1911 that it was extended a mere half mile to connect with Liverpool Street train station and further expansion to the West took place in the 1930’s. At this time work was underway to extend East all the way to Ongar, well outside the London boundary in the County of Essex, but the Second World War put paid to that. Many of the unopened new stations served as air raid shelters against German bombing during the Blitz.

it was in one of these unopened stations at Bethnal Green that the single greatest loss of civilian life during the War occurred.  A woman with a baby in the crowd entering the station tripped and the resulting pile-up of humanity on the stairs resulted in the loss of 173 lives with many more injured.  Bethnal Green is a mere ten minutes walk from my home and I regularly go down those same steps, pausing to glance at the memorial to those who perished.

Another three mile section of the unopened line between Wanstead and Gant’s Hill was converted into a munitions factory which I think was quite ingenious.

The line to the East was not as difficult as it might have been as much of it merely entailed the electrification of an existing mainline route and only five of the 16 stations on the new line had to be constructed from scratch. With the War finally over, the new Eastern section was eventually opened all the way to Ongar between 1946 and 1949.
From the outset, the line beyond Epping was something of an oddity as it was single line with a passing place at North Weald which meant it was only possible to operate a service every 40 minutes. This probably was not too much of a problem as it also passed Blake Hall Station which, at one point, averaged a mere six passengers per day. The only reason it was built at all was that the “Lord of the Manor” insisted on it as part of his agreement to allow the railway to be built over his land at all. Strange but true.

In the latter part of the 20th century it made little sense to keep the extremity of the line open and the section beyond Epping was closed in 1994 amidst huge public outcry. I even remember a guy singing a song that he had composed about it in a folk club I was associated with then. Sadly the Club, like the Tube Line, is long gone. The silver lining in this particular cloud is that the track stations and all the ancillaries have been taken over by the Epping Ongar heritage railway which I shall be coming extremely “up close and personal” with in a few paragraphs.

image001
Go walking in this? You must be mad.

The whole day was an exercise in lunacy from the outset as I had been up most of the night due to insomnia and the weather was pretty awful with no improvement indicated in the forecast. I took the image above at my start point at the unearthly hour of 0750 which gives you an idea of what it was like. I got out to Epping quite comfortably as I was going against the flow of commuters heading into the city to start a day’s work. I really didn’t envy them in the trains we passed, crammed in together in conditions that would have put the Black Hole of Calcutta to shame.

What prompted this lunacy? I was annoyed by my inability to sleep, I hadn’t been out for a couple of days and I was, quite frankly, getting a bit sick of the sight of the four walls of my living room. As a little further impetus, I had bought a new pair of hiking boots to replace the venerable old Line7 pair that had sadly passed away in Luxembourg back in 2017 and, although I had worn them to the pub and on an urban wander or two, I had not really tested them. I thought a walk in the countryside in late November might test them a bit. I was right!

There is an old Army saying which informs us that “prior preparation and planning prevents piss-ups and poor performances” which, apart from being a lovely piece of alliteration, is also very true.  It ranks up there with the phrase so beloved of PT Instructors that “pain is only another sensation”.  Try mentally processing that one when you are on or beyond the point of total exhaustion. I obviously wasn’t mentally processing anything very well as I completely failed to prepare and then compounded the felony by making a series of extremely poor decisions as you shall see.

My planning had consisted of looking at an extremely large scale map, fixing Epping and Ongar in my head, knowing there was a marked path between the two as well as an occasionally used heritage railway and that was it. How difficult could it be? I’ll tell you now.

I came out of the station and totally failed to see the sign informing me that this was the start of the Essex Way and that it had been put there in 1993 on the 21st anniversary of it’s opening. Even if I had seen it I would not have been much better off as there were no directions given. Within 30 yards of the station door I was on the wrong track and was not to be on the right one all day. I should have gone over the footbridge to the other side of the station but I just wandered up the access road following the direction of the now only partially used track. Straight ahead was a residential development which didn’t appear to lead anywhere so I turned left towards the village thinking that a right turn there would be leading me towards Ongar (correct) and also that I was bound to hit the path sooner or later (completely incorrect).

image006
Check out the clock.

I had been to Epping before and knew it to be a pleasant and fairly affluent village but I had never really explored it properly. I hadn’t gone too far when I spied the impressive St. John the Baptist Church. It would have been hard to miss it with it’s slightly unusual clock tower where the clock is not on one or more faces of the tower itself but rather extends over the High Street in the manner of, say, an old bank or department store. The original Parish Church stands on another site but there has been a place of worship on this site since at least 1397. It is now the main church of three which are grouped in one joint ministry.

The Church was designed to mimic late 14th century architecture which was a common practice in the late Victorian period when it was constructed. It is to the design of G.F. Bodley who died before the tower was consecrated in 1909. He did, however, live to see the main building dedicated in 1891. Bodley had studied under George Gilbert Scott who I am a great fan of and who I have mentioned in previous entries. I know I will do so again as I know what the next project here is!

I took my external image and went to the door more in hope than expectation as I know that nearly all churches are closed up in the modern age which is very sad but sensible. To my great delight, not only was the door open but there were lights on and when I removed my headgear and entered I saw two ladies bustling about with a tea trolly. I started up the aisle and was met by not one but two clerics who must have wondered what I was doing there at nine o’clock on a dreary November Monday morning.  I briefly explained my quest (nice vaguely religious allusion there, I thought) and was bade welcome with a hearty handshake and told I was free to explore at my leisure and take as many images as I wanted. Having greeted me in such a friendly way, the two gentlemen of the cloth hurried off to wherever it was they were going to. I nodded a greeting to the tea ladies and set about having a look round.

The Church is typical of the period and style but there are a few of features of note which no doubt contribute to it’s Grade II listing. I liked both the pulpit and font which Historic England describe thus. “The polygonal wooden pulpit, of wine-glass type, dates from 1889 but was rebuilt in 1914: its figures stand under richly traceried canopies. The font has an octagonal bowl with shields in recesses and stands on a base surrounded by Frosterley-type marble shafts”.

The organ was very impressive and there were some very fine stained glass windows, mainly the work of Burlison and Grylls and C.E. Kempe. I do like stained glass. There were also a couple of war memorials which I pictured for inclusion on the War Memorials Online site I contribute to. I hope the collage above gives some idea.

image030

Exiting the Church and walking past a few market stalls setting up I went from being a bit lost to becoming fairly hopelessly lost. I have no idea what compelled me to do it but I ducked down a side alley and tried to use my mobile (cell) ‘phone to find out where the path was but that proved to be way above my pay grade so I just kept on walking. I found myself passing through a tidy residential estate in what I thought might be vaguely the right direction until I found myself on a fairly busy road which had left the housing estates behind and was going through Epping Forest. There was a sign for Ongar so I just kept on going.

I knew that in my direction of travel the railway / disused train line was to my right and so when I saw a “street” sign saying “The Woodyard” and the remains of very old wooden footpath sign I reckoned that was worth a go. I walked a little way down and saw an notice board telling me that the wooded area to my left was called Wintry Wood and never was a place better named as this was that morning. It looked very wintry indeed and not a little soggy underfoot so I went on down the lane to be stopped in my tracks by the gates of, you’ve guessed it, a woodyard. There were saws screeching and the very pleasant aroma of freshly cut lumber but there was clearly no way through. Nothing else for it but to risk the wood and see what my new footwear was capable of.  These boots were made for walkin’ as Nancy Sinatra once famously sang although I doubt she envisaged a soggy Epping Forest in winter.

image033
A very aptly named location.

I began on what looked like a path which very soon wasn’t and although I could clearly hear the traffic hurtling by no more than one hundred yards away I was trudging through leaves and mud, trying constantly to disentangle my clothing from brambles and branches. Strangely, given all that I have described, I was completely happy and took to singing audibly. My chosen song was almost inevitably “The Battle of Epping Forest”, a great favourite of mine by the band Genesis from the album “Selling England by the Pound” which was part of the soundtrack of my very prog-rock influenced teenage years.

It is a Peter Gabriel composition based on a supposedly true story of two East End gangs settling a turf war by means of a gang fight in the Forest. It is nearly 12 minutes long and has about a hundred verses, OK not literally, so there is no way I can remember all the words. What scant fauna may have been about were treated to a mere precis which definitely included Harold Demure from Art Literature nipping up his tree!  Please look up the lyrics for yourself to stop me going on any further.

After my own battle with Epping Forest, I came to a dead end and so had to return to the road for a bit more. If you had been here 450,000 years ago, you would have had more than a few brambles and a bit of mud to worry about as you would have been buried under ice. This was the Southern edge of the Anglian Ice Sheet which covered most of Britain and apparently defines the geology here although I didn’t notice it. There is also a brick pit in the wood which fell into disuse about the time the church was being built but I didn’t see that either. I was too busy looking where I was going.

image034

I walked as far as a junction where I turned right to try and find this elusive railway and found myself entering Coopersale Common, no more than a hamlet really, and bingo, my instincts were proved correct. I passed under a bridge which was obviously the missing railway and so it was now just a matter of following it, or so I thought.

I walked along a quiet residential road which was marked as a cul-de-sac and soon found a footpath leading off it which I took. Although I did not know it at the time, I had entered Gernon Bushes nature reserve, which understandably looked very much like Wintry Wood.

After a short way I came upon a strange circular feature whilst trying to photograph a fallen tree (of which there were plenty) and so I went to investigate. The feature was circular and obviously not a natural phenomenon as it was too regular and my immediate thought was that it was some sort of prehistoric structure like a round fort which I have seen plenty of. Almost immediately, I discounted that idea as it was clearly too small, perhaps 20 feet across. I still don’t know what it was but I remain convinced that it was a human construction and this idea seems less far-fetched to me now as it did at the time.

My research whilst writing this piece has thrown up the information that there were prehistoric settlements hereabouts in the form of Loughton Camp and Ambresbury Bank that form part of a chain which marked the often violently disputed boundary between the lands of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni. Queen Boudicca, whose name you may have heard misrepresented as Boadicea, of the Iceni tribe from further North in present day Norfolk, was roaming about here in the early years of the Common Era and giving the Romans quite a headache.

The fairly well defined path I was on began a gradual but still obvious turn to the right which meant I was soon heading back the way I had come and I really didn’t want that. It was at that point that my decision making became completely unhinged. To my left there was a pasture with beasts grazing and a farmhouse just visible in the distance.  In a former life I learned how to get over fences without damaging them and this is what I did. Wrong, stupid and criminal but I did it. I really was not thinking straight at all.

Thankfully the beasts were at the far side of the large field and were not inquisitive enough to come over to check me out so I kept to the fence line and kept on going. There was, however, one substantial obstacle in my way in the form of the M11 motorway which was manically busy.  I knew that trying to cross it would be further illegality not to mention an arguably suicidal act so that was not an option. What I was hoping for was some sort of farm track under it as I have seen before where old rights of way were preserved when motorways were built.

Right in the corner of the field there was a way under the motorway all right, it was the railway which had curved round to go under. I was now really in the proverbial rock and a hard place situation. I could die horribly on the main road from London to Cambridge or I could commit further trespass and stray onto a railway line which is not the smartest of moves. Yes, there was another option of heading back via the farm which had to be linked to a road but that risked a potentially interesting conversation with the farmer complete with shotgun and / or his dogs. Hmm.

image037
What was I doing here?

I chose the railway, primarily because I was fairly sure it was no longer electrified and I was almost certain it would not be in use on a day like this. My fence-friendly traversing skills were not even required as there was a Fergy sized hole in it. Honestly. It was just Fergy sized and no more and there was further snagging of my ordinary street jacket before I managed to scramble down the bank and onto the tracks. Despite being 99% certain there was no power in the lines I made damn sure not to step on anything metal, just in case, and headed off in the direction of North Weald.  I kept my eyes and ears well tuned as well. 99% certainty, in this case that there would be no traffic, is not much consolation when you are run down by 50 tons of locomotive.

On the way, I saw the rather sad but strangely photogenic sight you see above and hoped that it was not an omen. I thought I would make best speed but it was surprisingly difficult as my normal stride was too long to step on every sleeper and not quite long enough to go for every other one. I toddled along in a most ungainly manner until I could see a station in the distance with plenty of old rolling stock sitting about. Great, that must be North Weald and I would obviously be able to regain a road there.

Nothing was ever going to be simple that day and as I approached the station I could see that there was a gang of workmen going about their business close by the track. There was no way I was going to turn back and I thought I might be able to front it if they were just contractors and not members of the heritage railway.  I strode purposefully on and not one of them even looked at me.  It was as if it was the most normal thing in the world to see a guy wandering up the middle of a railway track from the depths of the Essex countryside.


Having got past them, I really chanced my luck. Undoubtedly I should have hightailed it out as fast as I could but it was a disused Tube / railway station with lost of interesting things to look at so it seemed rude not to. Apparently this was the highest point of the Tube network once upon a time at an Alpine 340 feet above sea level. With my fetish for knowledge I looked it up and I can tell you that that distinction is now held by Amersham station which is a Himalayan 480 feet above. You may need oxygen! I’ll let the images speak for themselves but if you have nothing else to do with your time you may want to try to find the spelling mistake on the air raid notice.

image048
What a beauty.

Having taken my fill of images I walked out of the station forecourt, went down to the main road and turned right in the approximate direction the line had been going. By now it was nearly 1300 and when I spied the wonderful Kings Head there was only ever going to be one outcome and in I went. It had been quite a trying morning one way and another and I thought I needed a pint, albeit one of my silly and only marginally alcoholic concoctions.

The pub was formerly called the George IV and parts of it date back 450 years although the majority of what you can see was contructed in the mid 17th century from old ship’s timbers. Who said recycling was a modern concept? I took a seat near the very welcome blazing log fire and tried to imagine a very much more recent period in history than the construction of the pub. I was thinking of the Second World War.

North Weald is probably most famous for it’s airfield, which still exists and functions as such, and which was hugely important during World War Two, particularly in the Battle of Britain. It has a history dating right back to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and therby pre-dating the RAF by two years. It was always a fighter base as opposed to housing bombers and initially hosted Hurricanes and Blenheim night-fighters.

image050

Later on, American Eagle squadrons and two Norwegian squadrons flying Spitfires. Although I didn’t know about the Allied pilots at the time, I was thinking about RAF men, many of them ridiculously young to be doing what they were asked to do, sitting and standing around the roaring fire, smoking and drinking and not knowing if they would be alive that time tomorrow for another drink. I’ll swear I could almost hear them.

I could have happily spent more time in this fine old pub but it had become a matter of “Ongar or bust”, it was personal now after the morning’s performance. I was going to finish this if it killed me and, little did I know it then but it damn nearly did.

image052

I had decided to give up on ever finding the Essex Way and the concept of me suddenly and miraculously mastering my mobile ‘phone was equally remote and so I resolved to stick to the roads. Surely that could not be too difficult, especially after I saw a road sign for Ongar and so off I set at a brisk pace. All went well at first and I paused only briefly to take a couple of images. I should have stuck to my plan.

image055
The road to nowhere.

After a while I took a right down an unpaved road which I was sure would lead me back to some sort of path except that it didn’t. It led me into a field and I ploughed on although the farmer hadn’t bothered. The field was still in grass but the recent heavy rain made it pretty boggy underfoot. The gate to the field had indicated a right of way although there was no footpath marked anywhere and so I walked until I came to some outbuildings blocked by a gate and a fairly unequivocal “Private Property – No Trespassing” sign.  Not there then as I faced the possibility of irate farmers with twelve bores and slavering hounds again. I followed the hedge line round and I could see dwellings tantalisingly close but with absolutely no way to get to them With no obvious exit it was all the way back up the hill the way I came and back to the road again. I reckon that little excursion had cost me about thirty minutes.

image054
What is it? Answers on a postcard please.

Whilst it had been a total waste in terms of progress, it had produced an interesting if somewhat ugly point of interest which you can see above. I was desperately trying to work out what it was as there were a few of them in the field, and I thought that it must be something to do with the airfield. My initial surmise was that they were tethering posts for barrage balloons to defend the airfield but surely that was a double edged sword as they would endanger your own aircraft as well. Having poked around a bit online, the best guess I can come up with is that they were indeed anchor points but for radio antennae rather than balloons.

Presumably due to the relative elevation of North Weald, it was deemed a good position for radio masts and the Marconi company had been operating here since 1920. From what I can discover, the masts were indeed a problem for the pilots. As always, please get in touch if I am completely wide of the mark.

image056
Not even halfway yet.

A short distance along the road I came to the old milepost you can see and I had not even gone half way. Three miles by road and I had probably done five with all my meandering. Still, I was good to go for a bit of a push along a signposted road and I know I can do four miles an hour if I stride out. It was now about 1400, the light was due to go at 1559 in good conditions but these were not good conditions. It had barely been properly light all day and it certainly was not going to get any better. The road was only marginally less busy than the M11 had been earlier, at least it seemed that way but at least I was allowed to be on this road and this pavement and then the pavement stopped.

OK, keep facing the traffic and the pavement will start up again. It didn’t. I spent what seemed like an eternity jumping in and out of the hedge trying to avoid cars and lorries, it was terrifying. My images tell me that it was not an eternity but just about an hour dead. I thought I was dead several times, never mind the time. I have done some fairly stressful things in my time and that is right up there with them. I didn’t want to deviate along a side road as that was going to be no better in terms of width although undoubtedly in terms of traffic but I didn’t know where any of them led. Keep plugging on. I really had lost all reason by this stage and it was just all senses on full to get to Ongar in one piece.

image057
At long last.

Eventually I saw a sign which told me that I had arrived in Ongar and that it was twinned with Cerizay in France. That’s nice for them but it still didn’t look much like a village to me but at least there was a verge to walk on which was a relief.

I took a couple of images of a rather sorry-looking bridge which I now know spans the equally sorry-looking Cripsey Brook and in my discombobulated state my brain started raging at the fact that there probably had not been a centenary ceremony in 2013. Undoubtedly, grand structures like Tower Bridge or the Forth Rail Bridge either had or will have celebrations on significant birthdays so why not the Cripsey Brook Bridge? What was going on? I was mentally rehearsing arguments urging egalitarianism for the bridges of the UK. I really had lost it a bit by this stage.

After a bit more walking it became apparent that there was indeed a settlement here and it had not been completely abandoned after Boudica died. I had finally made it to Ongar without the slightest recourse to the Essex Way. I am sure I have been happier to see habitation in my life but I really cannot remember when. After what I had been through, it was a joy to walk along the High Street and even I could not miss the station which I took a few snaps of. It looked great, as North Weald had, and I am more determined than ever now to have a trip on the heritage railway. It will be a damn sight easier than the route I had taken.

By now there was only one thing for it and that was a pint. I didn’t just want one, I really needed one. I looked at the Cock Tavern, looked at myself and decided against. I had made a bit of an effort to get the worst of the mud off my boots and the foliage off my jacket but the bottom of my jeans were a bit muddy and I reckoned I would find somewhere a little more appropriate. I passed the Kings Head for much the same reasons and then did a bit of a double take when I saw the shop you can see in the image. The Brick Lane Bagel Co., what was all that about?

image063
The (nothing to do with) Brick Lane Bagel shop.

Brick Lane is a road running from Whitechapel Road up to Bethnal Green Road, not far from where I live. It is in the heart of what was a traditionally very Jewish area although it is now virtually 100% Bangladeshi with numerous curry houses. Undeoubtedly the most famous remnant of the Jewish era is the Beigel Bake which has been there for over 100 years and never closes. It is very good but not actually the best beigel place on the lane which is Everings. Take it from a local!

I could not for the life of me understand why they had expanded to such a random place as Ongar but it appears they haven’t. A quick look at Companies House records shows the business is registered in Ongar with the other named person living in Hornchurch. It is a very dubious, although presumably legal, appropriation of the concept of the Brick Lane outlet but don’t be fooled. I have no idea how good it is but the staff were good enough sports to give me a wave after they saw my taking the image.

I really needed a pint, not a bagel and my salvation came in the form of the Royal Oak which looked more my sort of place. When I went in, it was my sort of place. I have a nose for these things. I got my pint of cider spritzer and immediately had to set about resisting the attempts of a complete maniac who plonked himself right beside me when there were loads of seats available in the small “snug” I was in. The main bar had been pretty full and I had deliberately chosen it as I wanted to just relax quietly for a while before heading home.

His opening conversational gambit was, “They don’t like me in there, they say I’m a nuisance” and I knew I was not going to have too much peace. I didn’t tell him to go away in so many words but my lack of response, general appearance and probably pretty deranged stare seemed to do the trick because he did so anyway.

With my pint finished, I walked back up High Street to the bus stop to wait for the bus back to Epping and on the way I was looking out the window as we drove along the road I had walked and wondered all over again how I was not dead. At least the day’s exertions and excitement had the desired effect and I slept like a baby that night.

Incidentally, if you are wondering about the title of this entry, it is a bit of play on one of those appalling “reality” TV shows that we are subjected to here in the UK called “The only way is Essex”. As far as I can see the only reality is that they are all populaced by self-promoting wannabees getting famous for being famous and having no other visible talent. I loathe them and never watch them but I was thinking lately that some TV crew should have filmed “Fergy’s way is not the Essex Way”, it could have been a lot of fun.

By my own fairly lunatic standards, this had been an eventful day and the next entry is a lot less frantic. In it I manage to find the Essex Way at last, I manage to get to Ongar (again) with only a few detours and I visit the oldest wooden church in the world so stay tuned and spread the word.

Wandering the Wandle 2.

If you are reading this having read my previous post then I thank you and promise this one is a bit better. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly a riveting read but I was working with some pretty average source material. If you are reading this without having read the previous entry and wonder what exactly I am on about I shall explain.

My previous post was about my first day on the Wandle Trail in South London which is supposedly a signed path following the River Wandle.  What that walk had actually entailed was a day of trudging through industrial and residential areas with very little of interest to see. If the path was waymarked at all, which it frequently wasn’t, the signs had no sense of cohesion and many of them featured a URL address which leads to a potentially dangerous Chinese (?) website. The weather had been pretty abysmal and it really had not been a great day out.

I did a fair bit of moaning about all this in that post so you might well wonder why I chose to continue from my finishing point of the previous day and I was frankly wondering much the same as I caught the Tube back to Morden for another go at it.  I can only ascribe it to my sheer bloody-mindedness and perhaps a vague notion that things can only get better as D-ream once famously sang. I only just found out that they are from my home country of Northern Ireland. They featured Professor Brian Cox, the well-known physicist and broadcaster on keyboards in their touring band. Perhaps most famously, their signature song mentioned above was hijacked as the anthem for the “New” Labour Party who proved the song’s premise to be totally wrong. I was rather hoping my day would turn out better.

I had found it a little odd that I was so negative in the last entry as I am generally pretty upbeat about places I visit and this was unusual. In the entry prior to that I had wondered whether I was perhaps naive for gushing so much about everything I had experienced on a recent trip to Northumberland. This appears somewhat contradictory and I did think about it before I posted the last entry but I do believe in writing totally honestly or else I just don’t see the point.

image001
I’m back again.

Unlike the previous day, the London transport system had not messed me about and I arrived good time for a decent day of walking before the light went at about 1600. I thought I might be able to finish the Trail today depending on what I found to distract me on the way but it was not an imperative. I certainly wasn’t going to kill myself slogging along further or faster than I wanted as that was not the purpose and, although I had been happy with the distance covered the day before, I was still a bit unsure about what my current daily range was

I glanced across the road from the Tube station and noted that Ganley’s pub, where I had enjoyed a pint the previous evening, was not yet open so that was one temptation removed. There is only so much temptation I can resist in the one day.

I went back into Morden Hall Park and turned right to regain the Wandle Trail. I had checked on a map that morning and knew where to go. If I had been trying to follow the river itself I might have had a spot of bother as it splits off in various directions in the park, some terminating in dead ends and which I suspect had been channelled artificially as decorative features.

image006
Morden Hall.

After a couple of hundred yards I was treated to the sight of Morden Hall itself for which the park was obviously named. I already knew that it is now used as a wedding and function facility so that at least saved me the bother of walking up to it but I did admire it from a distance, it is rather impressive. I took a couple of images of the weir and the little bridge with the Hall in the background which I hope give you an idea.


Morden Hall was built between 1759 and 1765 in the park which had originally been owned by Westminster Abbey. It had been sold in 1533 to two gentlemen called Duckett and Whitworth and almost immediately sold on the the Garth family.  The particular Garth who eventually sold the house was the fifth generation of the family, all called Richard. Very imaginative. It was sold in 1867 to a man called Hatfeild who was a tobacco merchant and this shall become relevant in a moment. It was he who laid out the gardens as they are now.
During World War One the Hall was loaned to the London Hospital for the convalescence of injured servicemen. This is of interest to me as the London (now the Royal London and part of the Barts NHS group – is nothing sacred?) is close to where I live and where I am still attending regularly for my seemingly endless consultations. After a period as a Salvation Army refuge for women and children it eventually passed to the National Trust who currently administer it.  More of them in a moment.

image009
Look, I found another one!

Not far beyond the Hall I found a waterwheel which, if you have read the previous entry, you will know is the logo for the Wandle Trail. I suspect this is more of a historical reference as this was only the second such piece of equipment I had seen and I was at least half way along the route.


This wheel was not used for milling flour, as was common in the 19th century, nor was it used for manufacturing material as the one at Merton Abbey had been but I mentioned Mr. Hatfeild, the tobacco merchant earlier and the building here was a snuff mill. The second image shows some of the quern stones associated with the milling.

Younger readers may not know what snuff is as it has fallen completely out of fashion in the 21st century.  It is finely ground dried tobacco leaves in a powder form which you then sniff, or “snort” in modern drugs parlance, to give you nicotine “hit”. Yes, I know it sounds odd and before you ask, yes, I have taken it.

I once played for, and helped to organise, a social rugby side who played end of season charity games. We had a tradition of taking snuff and drinking vintage port which sounds quite sociable but we used to do it BEFORE the match. It used to get messy as we would meet in the pub we represented and have a few pints beforehand. Come the first scrum, ruck or maul most of us were half drunk and still sneezing. Half-time was more vintage port, more snuff and a cigarette for those of us who indulged. Fun times indeed but hardly geared to high performance athletic activity.

The snuff mill here was one of two operated by Taddy & Co., of which Hatfeild was a part owner and there is another connection with the East End of London here. The milled tobacco was taken to the company factory in the Minories, which again is easy walking distance from my home and where I was to have a Christmas meal with some Virtual Tourist friends a few weeks later. Everything goes round in circles. At the height of production the mill here was turning out 6000lbs. of snuff a month which is a considerable amount.

Following a strike in 1922 in the Minories factory the company closed down and the mill became a workshop for the estate with the wheel still producing the power. This mill was opened as a classroom and education centre concentrating on the lives of the mill workers which must be fascinating.

Now that I have more or less stopped smoking I might see if I can find a box of snuff somewhere, just for old times sake.

The walking here was very pleasant with the noise of the nearby A297 no more than a murmur and the weather wasn’t too bad. It was cold and flat calm as the images of the water show but there was no sign of rain which I was grateful for. After the previous day it was positively bucolic despite being in a busy London suburb.

image026
Another attempt at creativity.

Morden Hall Park more or less peters out and I found myself in Ravensbury Park although I had no idea of that at the time, there was nothing to tell me. I had crossed a road to get there so I guessed I was in a different open space. This Park is apparently part of the part of the Upper Wandle River Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, whatever the Hell that is. I am completely baffled by the number of official designations for open land and this is yet another new one on me as I research this piece.

Just to put you out of your misery, the official definition states that “A site of metropolitan importance is a site of importance for nature conservation within London at a London-wide level. They contain examples of London’s habitats, may have rare species, or have significance in built-up areas”, whatever that load of jargon might mean. I do hope you are a little the wiser now because I’m not.

Whatever it’s designation, it is a pleasant enough open space although I didn’t spot any of the rare species mentioned. Come to think of it, I didn’t spot much in the way of common or garden species either. Well, it was November, I suppose. This Park was once part of a large industrial area in the grounds of Ravensbury Hall and had it’s own water driven power source, in this case used for calico production. The Park today is much smaller than the original grounds as much of the land was sold off in the early 20th century for residential development.

Yet again I tried my hand at a bit of creative photography as you can see above.  Amongst the traditional russets of autumn there were plenty of these snow-white leaves which I found rather attractive.

Another road crossed and another park entered, this time Watermeads Nature Reserve which is also administered by the National Trust. This is hardly surprising as it was gifted to them in 1913 by a committee set up by Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of that worthy organisation. I shall take a moment here to tell you about that remarkable lady who, to my shame, I had never heard of until walking this Trail.

Octavia was born in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in 1838 into a large and relatively affluent society who were home-schooled by her Mother who had initially been Governess for her Father’s children from a previous marriage.  Things were soon to change, though, as her Father’s business went bankrupt and he declined into mental illness. At age 13 the young Octavia was sent to a “guild for distressed gentlewomen” where she learned glass painting. By the age of 14, she was not only in charge of the guild but working in her spare time for the art critic, artist and social reformer John Ruskin.

Octavia became very aware of the appalling conditions of the poor children she encountered in her work and developed very strong ideas about assistance for the worse off in society through self-help. She thought that unsupervised and untargetted philanthropy was a terrible thing. By 1865 Ruskin had inherited a large sum and some of that went to purchase three six room cottages in Marylebone which were in a pretty rough state of repair. He put Octavia in charge of the project and of a subsequent group of another five houses nearby which they leased the next year. Through his contacts Ruskin knew that money men would be prepared to invest in such schemes if they were guaranteed a 5% annual return on their investments.

The homes were made habitable and rented to the less well off and her methods became a template for social housing. Rents were collected weekly, always by women who, in addition to their revenue gathering duties also ensured the premises were kept in good order and looked to the welfare of the tenants. For the early part of the Victorian era this was a most forward-looking way doing things and it worked so well that by 1874 she was in charge of 15 schemes with 3,000 tenants.

It seems an ideal situation whereby the investors saw a reasonable and steady return on their investment, the tenants had living conditions vastly superior to the awful slums most of them were used to and Hill, Ruskin et al had something to ease their acute social consciences. It is a model that continues, more or less unchanged, to this day.

Hill believed that, apart from sanitary living conditions, people’s well-being was a holistic matter and they also needed recreational space, fresh air, leisure activities and so on. It seems that her enthusiasm, not to mention sheer energy, were almost boundless. Amongst her accomplishments she set up the first independent Army Cadet Force Unit in Southwark which was so popular it’s numbers had to be capped. She also laid the foundations for the modern social work system by having her lady rent collectors look after the welfare of her tenants.  So good was she at what she did that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners asked her to take over their slum properties in South London which were very lawless and deprived. She quickly turned them into model communities.

What Octavia Hill will undoubtedly be best remembered for is her championing of public open spaces, all part of her holistic approach to well-being and thinking that was well ahead of it’s time. It was her who actually coined the term “green belt” and, whilst she saved open spaces all over the country, Londoners (myself included) have a couple of things to particularly thank her for. Along with others, she saved Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath from residential development and it is difficult to think of London today without them as open spaces. Apart from anything else, Hampstead Heath affords some of the best views of London without hiring a helicopter!

Her relentless campaigning, managing and lobbying took it’s inevitable toll in 1877 and she had a breakdown which necessitated her delegating some of her workload, something she had been loath to do previously.  She still managed to do enough to set up the National Trust in 1894, along with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter. The rest, as they say, is history. Octavia Hill died on 1912 of cancer and is buried in Kent alongside her sister who predeceased her.

On the subject of urban open spaces I shall leave the last word to this remarkable lady herself. In 1883 she wrote, “I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”. In 2020 I write “I think she did rather well and I thank her”.

According to the information board at the Reserve entrance there is an inscribed sandstone seat here dedicated to Octavia Hill’s sister Miranda who was a teacher hereabouts although I was damned if I could find it. What I did find beside the path was a large sports ground which was apparently the training ground for Chelsea F.C. from 1966 – 1976 so the likes of Peter Bonetti, Dave Webb, John Hollins and “Chopper” Harris would all have been training here when they won the F.A. Cup in 1970. I actually remember that game.

Out of the Watermeads and a bit more walking to come to another open space of note albeit considerably more modest in size that the previous ones.

This is Hackbridge Community Garden, the brainchild of Brazilian artist Claudio Funari who moved to London from his native Brazil in 2016 to be nearer his son. He started by clearing rubbish from the Wandle and as if that wasn’t a noble enough thing to be doing at the age of 68, he took into creating seats and pieces of art out of all the waste he collected. He then used these to trick out a garden he created on a piece of waste land with the results you see.

Obviously November was not the best time to see a garden but it was getting geared up for Xmas with the reindeer which I believe are constructed from recycled fencing. Muito bem, Senhor.

At this point I should explain at this point that there are not going to be a lot of images for the next portion of the walk and I’ll explain why.

For many years I used a succession of Canon Ixus compact digital cameras and was very happy with them. I never leave home without the camera in my pocket and this inevitably leads to dust getting inside them which spoils the images and so I recently changed to a Samsung WB36F which I got at a very good price in a sale. The Samsung is probably a better camera in terms of features but it appears to either have a design fault or else I have been unlucky enough to get a duff battery as it lasts no time at all. With the Canon I could have snapped away all day without having to change batteries but the Samsung only takes maybe 40 images tops before the battery goes. I now have to carry a battery pack with me which fairly well negates the advantages of a compact. Not only that but it takes forever to recharge, it is a bit of a pain. I was therefore wandering along with the damn thing charging in my jacket pocket instead of taking images to bore you good people with.

image032

I passed by the charmingly named Wilderness Island, another Nature Reserve, but I didn’t bother to explore it as by this time I was getting the idea in my head that it was quite possible I could finish the walk off that day. It is at this point that the river divides to go to it’s two different sources. I didn’t make a conscious decision as to which one to follow, I just kept going the way I was already walking and this turned out to be the Carshalton “arm” as it would be called on a canal.

The camera was still not fully charged but it had recovered itself enough to capture the attempt at another of my arty shots and even some of the local fauna in the form of the cute little chap you can see. Actually, I was quite pleased with that one as the buggers never stay still enough to get a decent shot.

Before I realised it I was approaching Carshalton Ponds which I knew was journey’s end and the vista at that end was the complete antithesis of that at the beginning. Click back to my last entry to see what I mean if you have not already read it. This was a scene that would not have been out of place in any rural village in the land which is indeed what Carshalton was until about 150 years ago with the coming of the railway and the building of a station in 1868.

This seems to be a good time to tell you about the history of Carshalton, as I seem to tell you about everywhere else I visit!

Archaeological excavations in the area prove habitation back s far as Neolithic times and, even before the invasion of the UK by the Normans in 1066, there were five manors here, owned by freemen who were not to remain free for long. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Aultone which was owned by a knight called de Manville, obviously a Norman, and it brought in an annual revenue of fifteen pounds and ten shillings.. Interestingly in light of my walk and the watermill motif constant throughout that, there was a watermill here even then and the water probably contributed to the name as “aul” means well or spring and “ton” is a farm. The origin of the “car” element is unclear.

By the end of the 19th century the mills had multiplied with calico production important locally and the village continued to grow steadily but not dramatically until the 1890’s when the local estate was sold for housing. With the railway in place this led to the phenomenon of the commuter and the beginnings of suburbia which was taking place all around the fringes of the capital.

Another local speciality was lavender which was grown in abundance locally and gave Carshalton the title of “the lavender capital of the world”. Although there are still some lavender fields and and annual Lavender Fair in late July, the large scale production stopped some years ago due to a rat infestation of all things. Lavender is still grown on local allotments by a not for profit organisation.  It must smell absolutely lovely here at that time of year.

image040
A fine old church.

The rather fine church you can see is All Saints and actually pre-dates the Norman occupation although it has been much altered over the years, most notably in 1891. Sadly, it was not open when I visited.

As well as the calico previously mentioned, the mills of the Wandle also had a more sinister purpose and there was a gunpowder mill on the river here in the late 17th century. Paper, log-wood, leather and seed oil were also produced using water power.  It must have been an industrious place and I have read of the Wandle being referred to as “the hardest working river in London”.

The ponds should really have signalled journey’s end for me and would have been had I not spotted not one but two things that piqued my interest. First was the very impressive war memorial which has a beautiful situation overlooking the pond and which I obviously took images of for inclusion in the War Memorials Online site.

image049
Honeywood Musem.

The second was a sign for the Honeywood Museum which turned out to be the beautiful building you see above. I was not at all certain if it would be open given the day, time of year and location but, to my delight it was and I was in there like a shot.

I was bade welcome by a very charming lady and gentleman and invited to look around at my leisure. Not only that but when I enquired I was informed that photography was not only permitted but positively encouraged and would I be so kind as to post any images on social media? I really didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t use it but I did mention that my walk was to do with my blog and they would go there. Again, I didn’t have the heart to tell them exactly what the traffic figures were for the site!

The house is on the site of a 17th dwelling called Wandle Cottage and although little of this now remains you can still see the odd bit of the old flint and chalk structure. It may seem like a strange place to build a home, sited as it is over a watercourse which feeds the pond but this may be explained by the vogue then for “cold baths” which were a popular medical treatment. I suppose it was preferable to the blood-letting and leeches which were also prevalent in medical procedures of the day. Basically, patients were dropped through a trapdoor in the floor into the stream and then fished out again. I think I’ll give that one a miss especially on a day like that was.

The house was bought in 1883 by a man called John Kirk who was involved in the embryonic photography industry and from which he eventually made quite a sum of money. He put a lot of this wealth into renovating and extending the building, leaving the rather grand structure we have today. It was taken over in the 1980’s by a charitable group and opened as a heritage centre.

image051
Have you heard what Gladstone said last week?

While there are exhibits dealing with all periods of the history of Carshalton and the house itself, for me the great attraction of the place was in the way much of it is preserved as it was in Edwardian times. Absolutely my favourite room was the billiard room, adjacent to the front desk which is a joy. It is as if the gentlemen had merely stepped outside for a moment nd I spent a while sitting imagining myself in full Edwardian garb, cigar and brandy in hand, discussing Gladstone’s policies whilst my friends played billiards.

Dragging myself back to the 21st century I went to explore the rest of Honeywood which is very interesting and includes exhibits dedicated to the Second World War when the building was used for the training of Air Raid Wardens. I was surprised to learn that there had been 78 civilian fatalities in Carshalton during the war as I couldn’t imagine what the bombing targets would have been. It is not near enough central London or the docks on the Thames to have been “collateral damage” as so much of the East End was.
There must have been a threat as there was an air raid shelter large enough for 1,000 people was discovered in 2012 in Carshalton Park where it had lain forgotten about for decades. A little research reveals that Carshalton was hit by several V1 terror weapons which were wildly inaccurate and this may account for the apparently large number of casualties.

image050

I even had another attempt at the artistic side of photography with the image above of the Ponds through a mullioned window which I quite liked.
That then was the end of my “Wandering the Wandle” as I have dubbed it in the title and, had I but known it, I was less than two hundred yards from the Hope pub which hd indirectly started the whole little project. Had I known then a celebratory pint would have been in order but in my ignorance I headed off looking for a bus stop in a direction I had seen buses going.

I found a stop at which there was a large group of schoolgirls who I believe were from the nearby St. Philomena’s School. They were being, well, teenage girls and there was plenty of noise and jumping about and I was thinking the bus journey might be interesting. I am of an age where I like to moan! I moan about lots of things and noisy, ignorant teenagers is one of them. I was somewhat surprised therefore when I was checking the timetable and a very polite young lady from the group asked if she could assist. Credit where it is due. I told her I was fine but it didn’t half make me feel old. The poor girl had obviously been brought up to help the elderly and, at her age, I suppose that is what I was.

image057
Another one gone.

I mused on this all the way back to Croydon where I walked to the Overground station by way of another “lost” pub.

So that was my experience of the Wandle Trail and thankfully this day was much better than the previous one so normal service is resumed in my writing about being happy about things I saw and did. Who knows, after this outing I might even return and follow the other part of the river up to Croydon.  I’m not sure if I should risk my luck though!

The upper part of the Wandle Trail is fine for a day out walking if you happen to be down that way but overall I wouldn’t make a point of doing the whole route as I did, it really is not worth it. If I do decide to risk the other portion you will obviously be the first to know.

In the next entry I go for another walk, get totally lost and end up doing something that was not only a bit stupid but also illegal so stay tuned and spread the word.

Wandering the Wandle 1.

Hello again and welcome back to my rambles, both physical and literary.

I hope you have enjoyed the posts about my trip to Northumberland. If you haven’t seen them and would like to then please click back a few pages or search on Northumberland, Newcastle or Berwick at the top of the page or alternatively you can begin here. I am such an obliging chap, I’ll do the legwork for you.

I had returned to London on the 6th of November 2019 for a Doctor’s appointment and to collect a repeat prescription which is going to be a recurring theme for me as I shall be on certain medication for the rest of my life. This is not a major problem although it was a bit of a nuisance then as I would have loved to have stayed in the North of England because I was really enjoying myself there despite some atrocious weather.

This post will be dealing with the first part of a two day walk I undertook a fortnight after my return but first a brief look at what happened in the interim period. I should point out that I am not going to make the blog an everyday account of the minutiae of my fairly mundane existence when I am at home. This is one of my many pet peeves about antisocial media as I am quite sure you do not want to hear about me doing the laundry, going to the shop, having a shower or whatever.  Some people seem to think is absolutely essential reading for the world as they post it all on multiple platforms, complete with images.  I am not so vain as to think that anyone is in the slightest bit interested but I’m going to share a couple of quick snippets with you as they have a vague bearing on the main thrust of this post.

image005
Goodbye and good riddance.

I apologise to any aichmophobics but this picture represented a bit of a milestone for me. When I saw the Doctor on my return home, he confirmed what the thrombosis nurse had told me in Canterbury some time previously.  Thankfully, I could stop self-injecting with the anti-coagulant I had been prescribed which was a blessing as it is no fun sticking one of those in your abdomen every day. I felt like a well-used pin cushion by the end of the two and a half months course. I mention this because it was tied in to my general recovery and I was feeling pretty good.

I had managed a few reasonable walks when I had been up North and wanted to keep up that regime as it is about the only exercise I get these days. With my dodgy back road running and the gym are non-starters and I have nowhere to keep a bicycle so walking is a good option. I suppose I should go swimming but it is probably best I do not scare the populace with the sight of me in a pair of swimming trunks!

I have mentioned frequently how much I love just wandering aimlessly when I am visiting towns and cities but I also like walking a set route with a goal, which is normally just to get from point A to point B via a designated path. We are very well served with these in London and I have already completed the London Loop and Capital Ring as well as the Thames Path right up into Oxfordshire and the Regents / Grand Union canal path from Limehouse Basin on the Thames near where I live as far as Milton Keynes. I must finish it up to Birmingham one of these days.  The upshot of all this is that I was looking for a new route to walk and inspiration came via my beard! Let me explain.

I am a member of the wonderful British Beard Club and the name is a bit of clue really. We are a bunch of complete eccentrics whose only connection is that we all like a bit of “face furniture”. We don’t have chapters or branches but rather we have thatches and I belong to the London thatch which is called Capital Beards.

Lest you think we are not inclusive as it is generally only men who grow beards, that is far from the truth. We have honorary lady members, clean shaven members who are thinking about growing beards and we have even had competitions for youngsters at Xmas meetings for the best false beard. I believe some of the lady members also entered that one. On a serious note, we also raise a decent amount of money every year for the Prostate Cancer UK charity.

You may well be wondering by now what on Earth has all this got to do with my walking so I’ll tell you. We meet monthly in different pubs, always serving real ale and good food although you certainly don’t have to be a drinker to enjoy it and I still attend even with my new alcohol regime. The November meet was in the excellent Hope pub in Carshalton which is a fine example of a pub that was threatened with closure and you probably know my views on that subject. The locals got together and bought the place, put in a manager, and it is now run as a community venture which is very successful. Have a look at the “about us” section on the linked website for the full story.
I turned up and had a great afternoon and I have included an image here for the benefit of people who tell me that my beard is too long. I am a mere boy compared to some of the lads, as the image proves.

Carshalton is a long way from where I live and I do not know the area at all so I had a quick look at an online map to get my directions from the station and I happened to see a footpath indicated called the Wandle Trail. I though that this might fit my walking bill nicely and did a bit of research into it which led to me eventually walking it as you shall see.

The Wandle is one of the tributaries of the Thames and is still fairly much visible. This is in contrast to the so-called “secret” rivers of London like the Fleet (from where the name Fleet Street comes), the Effra, the Tyburn etc. which were all culverted as the capital developed. Bizarrely, the Effra now has a walk dedicated to it whereby you follow the river at street level and never even see the water flowing beneath your feet. That is just bizarre enough to appeal to me and has already been added to the “to do” list.

Having done a bare minimum of research into the Wandle I knew that the Trail started at a place called Smugglers Way in Wandsworth and finished in Carshalton. That was really all I needed to know as I like to discover as I go along rather than research everything in advance.  Unlike rural walks where you may be dependent on very infrequent buses or trains, transport home was never going to be a problem and I knew the river was open, so how hard could it be to just follow it? Besides, getting lost is half the fun.

Depending on which website you consult the trail is anywhere between nine and 14 miles long and these figures are both from supposedly reputable organisations and this general confusion about the route was to continue into signage, websites and so on but more of that later. In fairness, some of the uncertainty may arise from the fact that the Wandle rises in two separate locations.  It is for that rason that I have not linked any websites for the Trail as they are so contradictory nd confusing, I’ll let you choose your own.

Whatever the length, I was thinking of a walk of about two or at most three days as it was the middle of winter and the light was going by about 1600. At that point I did not have my over 60’s travel card so starting after 0930 is much cheaper but would make for a short dy.  Also, I was still not sure how far I could manage in a day now but again this was no problem as it wasn’t a race and it would take as long as it took. Hammering myself on a forced march certainly was not the plan.

For some reason journeys of mine, of whatever type or duration, often seem to start off badly and this was to be no exception. I am particularly thinking here of my trip to Europe in 2017 which was planned as four days, ended up as three months and began with me on the boat train to Harwich without my passport! You can read all about that little exploit here.

On this occasion it was not my own stupidity but another of the endless failures of the London public transport system that was my potential downfall.

I was aiming for Wandsworth Town train station and had planned on the Overground to Clapham Junction and then a train the rest of the way. I managed a whole four stops, as far as Surrey Quays, before I had to get off the train again due to some problem or another. What then followed was a totally circuitous route which got me to Wandsworth at about midday so that wasn’t going to give me as much walking as I had planned on.

I found Smugglers Way and the river with no difficulty which was just as well as there was no signage that I could see either from the station / main road or indicating that this was the start / finish of the trail.

image007
My first glimpse of the river.

My first view of the Wandle on this fairly bleak day and with the tide out and the mud showing was underwhelming to say the least although I wasn’t expecting sylvan glades in this part of the world..

Almost immediately I passed under a railway bridge and was confronted by hoardings which masked a construction site that formed part of the massive Super Sewer project which is constructing a new sewer, mostly under the Thames, for a distance of over 15 miles from Acton in the West to Barking in the East.

Interestingly, the company responsible for the project trades under the name of Tideway but is properly called Bazalgette Trading Co. which is named for Joseph Bazalgette. He was the engineer who brought effective sewage to London in the mid 19th century and, in the process, gave us the Embankment and Chelsea Embankment on the North bank of the river.

As one of my many asides, the visionary engineer’s great-great-grandson was the man responsible for bringing the TV series Big Brother to the screen. I did once hear a comedian quip that whilst Bazalgette senior had been concerned with removing sh*t from London, his descendant was doing his best to bring it back. I’ll let you decide and now back to the Wandle.

I should tell you at this point that there are not going to be too many images and not as much text as usual (you may be relieved to know) as there is frankly not a great deal of interest to see or photograph en route.

image012
Sad to see it gone.

Emerging from the uninspiring back streets onto the very busy A3 I spied the outline of the famous Ram Brewery, which for centuries had been the site of beer production most notably Young’s Brewery which operated here from 1831 until 2006 although brewing is recorded on the site as far back as the 1550’s and possibly before even that.

When the brewery closed, along with it went the Brewery Tap aka the Ram Inn for which the brewery was initially named. In the UK, a “brewery tap” is the pub adjacent to a brewery serving the beer from it. This is very good if you are concerned with food miles and, yes, beer is food in my book. Happily, bucking a tragic national trend, the pub re-opened less than three months before I was there and retained the original name. Great news and it is definitely on my radar for next time I am down that way.

The reason I was on the A3 was that the river had disappeared into a culvert and I was following s best I could the route I thought it was taking. This was not helped by the complete lack of any signage.

image013
Where’s the trail gone?

At one point I went down a side street to try to rejoin it but that didn’t work as there were private modern developments up to the water and so I went back onto Garratt Lane and walked on and on past a massive shopping centre until another side road brought me back to my watery friend. So far, so much less than good. Still, I was having a walk and that was the main thing.

image017
Where were the first nine?

I carried in upstream and wondered when I would encounter my first indication that this was indeed a proper path and not just a random ramble (I love alliteration) that I was engaged on. Some time later, and after more looking at the back walls of various premises, I came upon the first waymark which you can see is number 10. Where the first nine had been is anyone’s guess and here is a warning – DO NOT USE THE WEBSITE SHOWN ON THE WAYMARK. I have and it leads to a site which I think is Chinese as I do not know what script it is. I cannot vouch for what it might do to your computer and this is indicative of what I meant about the complete lack of organisation on this route. It is a shambles.

image018
Good for them.

Whilst useful waymarking is at a complete premium, there is a series of completely idiotic signs mimicking the official blue plaques that are common all over the UK. Whilst they are of no use whatsoever, I did find them quite amusing and they raised a bit of a smile. I have no idea who Martin Gardener is and, unusually for me, I didn’t even research him.

By now the commercial centre had given way to housing estates which were eventually superseded by the King George Park on the opposite bank that provided a bit of greenery at least. That didn’t last long and I was soon back to trudging residential streets with not so much as a glimpse of the river and only instinct to try and guess which way it was going. At one point I walked past Earlsfield train station and I was half-tempted to go either home or at least somewhere else but I soldiered on.

I eventually regained the river again and at least saw a bit of wildlife, the lovely swans you can see. Sadly, the moment was somewhat spoiled by the other image I took from exactly the same spot.

There is little to report for a good way upstream until I found another of the waymarks with the potentially dangerous website and the totally redundant upstream / downstream indicators. It is not hard to work out which way the river is flowing and, if in doubt, adopt Mr. Gardener’s lolly stick approach which should tell you. I should add that I had seen no more than three intervening waymarks since number 10 but now it became laughable as there were three within a couple of hundred yards. I did not take an image of number 36, what was the point?

It was shortly after this that I spotted some more wildlife, an urban fox no more than a few feet way from me which I just about managed to snap as it disappeared into the scrub having scrambled to get my camera out of my pocket with my gloves on. The foxes in London are completely unafraid of humans and, whilst it was once common to only see them at night, they roam around quite happily in the daylight hours now.

image031
One for the football fans.

By now I had come to some less developed walking, accompanied by a completely new style of waymarking, albeit with the same mill wheel logo.

The direction to Plough Lane will be evocative to football (soccer) supporters of a certain age as it was for many years the home of Wimbledon Football Club who were controversially (and wrongly in my opinion and that of many others) relocated to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire in 2003. This move is a distance of over 50 miles and the team even changed their name to MK Dons.

Disgruntled fans formed a new club called AFC Wimbledon who, after initially holding trials on Wimbledon Common, are still “owned” by the supporters and rose from the minor leagues to get back in the Football League. They are currently in the process of building a new stadium on the site of the old dog track a few hundred yards from the original one which is now a housing development.

Ironically, on the day of writing this (09/02/2020) the two clubs occupy adjacent positions just above the relegation zone in League One, which is the third tier of professional football in England.

image042
I found one at last.

I mentioned that the logo for the Wandle Trail is a mill wheel and after safely negotiating the A24 I caught sight of my first one, the rather fine example you can see. It was part of the William Morris printworks which stood on this site and has now been re-developed into a crafts market complete with an art gallery, a theatre company, a pottery, a pub and various restaurants.

I am no expert on arts and crafts but the name of William Morris somehow rang a bell with me and it was only when I began researching him that it all fell into place.

Morris was born in Walthamstow, then in Essex and now in London, which is not too far from my home. A privileged young man, he studied at Oxford, trained as an architect and moved in artistic circles including the artist Rosetti. He was more interested in arts and crafts than architecture and formed the company of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a decorative arts firm which manufactured everything from textiles to wallpaper to fabrics and even stained glass. Remarkably, his designs are still in production today.

Apart from his artistic endeavours, Morris was a committed socialist despite his affluent background and very successful business career and he included socialist principles in his business. This was evident in the works here, which he leased in 1881 although there had been a calico printing works on the site since 1752. By 1884 there were 100 people employed there with some of the higher clerks involved in a profit sharing scheme although Morris’ socialist principles did not extend to the actual workers who were engaged on a piecework basis.

Morris was a true polymath, being known internationally as a poet, artist and illustrator amongst his many other accomplishments but like many of his class and artistic leanings, Morris was a drug addict. His “poison” of choice was chloral which I must admit I had never heard of before researching this. Apart from making him paranoid, it most likely contributed to his early death in October 1896 although the actual cause was TB. His body was taken to Oxford where he was buried in a family plot at Kelmscott.

The reason his name had rung that faint bell in my head was that his childhood home in Walthamstow has been taken over by Waltham Forest Council and is now the William Morris Gallery which showcases his work. It won the National Museum of the Year prize in 2013 and I had first learned of it through the wonderful Virtual Tourist. Like so many other places in London, it remains stubbornly unvisited on my “still to do after all these years” list where it is in good company along with the British Museum, would you believe?

The mill wheel was a bright spot in an otherwise dull day, in every sense of the word, but it was slightly annoying that I could not work out how I knew about Morris as I continued upstream. What I did manage to work out for myself was which way upstream was without the aid of a waymark!

I walked past the sign above which indicated places I had heard of and also Phipps Bridge which I had not. I am not sure if the bridge I took the image of is the bridge itself but I am glad I did not stray too far off my path as a quick look on the internet reveals that the nearby Phipps Bridge estate, a post-war development on the site of an old slum, has reverted to type.

It is described in a magazine article as “one of south London’s most notorious crime vortexes” with a local councillor calling it “out of control”. The local pub was closed after a shooting, there have been stabbings and a gang of 17 were sentenced for selling Class A (hard) drugs in the kiddies play area.  Charming.

The most recent incident of note her that I could find was that a tram derailed itself on this stretch of line in August 2019. Thankfully nobody was hurt and I am glad that the tram which happened to pass decided to behave itself and stick to the tracks. As for Phipps Bridge, I think I’ll give it a miss.

image048
Always a good sign.

A bit further on and I came to a National Trust sign which is always a good sign in my book and, yes, I wrote that on purpose. Again, a brief word for my non-UK readers. The National Trust is a charitable organisation dating back to 1895 and whose aims are environmental and heritage conservation. It’s properties include such national treasures as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Chartwell House (Churchill’s home) and Corfe and Lindisfarne Castles to name four of the thousands. Anywhere you see the famous oak leaves logo you’ll know you are in for a treat.

The treat in this case was Morden Hall Park,a former deer park covering about 125 acres and which is a welcome green oasis in the urban sprawl of South London. As well as the wildlife sanctuary and boardwalk, there are a couple of cafes and even a garden centre.
When I saw the boardwalk, I had to have a look and, although there was not much to be seen in the way of wildlife at this time of year, it was very pleasant and obviously a popular place for locals to take a stroll.

By now it was about 1500 and I didn’t have much light left so when I saw the sign for nearby Morden Tube station I thought it would make a sensible place to stop for the day. Besides, it was mid-afternoon and I had been walking for three hours non-stop so I thought I had earned a pint. Fortunately I didn’t have to search too far as I spotted Ganley’s Irish pub just across the road from the station but before that I popped into a charity shop where I managed to score not one but two books I wanted.

I don’t normally like Irish pubs outside the island of Ireland as they tend to be slightly Hollywood versions of what some set designer thinks an Irish pub looks like. Irish pubs in Ireland, apart from those in the extremely touristy areas, invariably do not look like Irish pubs in Berlin, Bogota or Bangkok. Ganleys was pretty over the top with all the usual parphernalia but at least the barman was a genuine Paddy and I really didn’t fancy trekking much further. I had my pint whilst having a quick look at my new literary purchases. After that, it was onto the Tube and a journey home which, remarkably, TfL managed to accomplish without delay or diversion.

It had most certainly not been the most enjoyable day out walking that I had ever had, but it had served it’s purpose and I had come through it unscathed apart from a couple of minor aches in my lower limbs and back but that was no problem

In the next entry, I polish off the Wandle Trail and it does get better with a gem of find right at the end so stay tuned and spread the word.