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Recent outings and activities...

Rodings Rally Donation to St. Clare Hospice, Harlow.

Non-members of the Epping Forest Outdoor Group, or those new to the Rodings Rally, may like to read the following information.

St Clare Hospice 2016The Rodings Rally Charity donation handed to St. Clare Hospice

Last November (2015) we held the 59th annual Rodings Rally. The Rally is a type of orienteering contest which takes place once a year in Epping Forest. It starts on Saturday night at High Beach and finishes at 8 a.m. the following morning at High Beach village hall. The rally has two possible routes, one of approximately 10 miles and the other of approximately 5 miles. Competitors have to find tents concealed in the Forest within the 8 hour period.

In addition to the entry fee, competitors pay a 50p contribution towards a charity, which is decided upon at the Group's next AGM. This is made up to £200 by the Epping Forest Outdoor Group, and this year it has been given to the St. Clare Hospice in Harlow.

This year’s Rodings Rally – the 60th – will take place on Saturday 19th - Sunday 20th November. If you would like to enter, make sure that you do not leave your booking to the last minute as we can only take 100 teams and this year we are expecting a big demand.

 

Peter Gamble, 25th March 2016

Rainham Hall and a Riverside Walk

Duncan organised a visit on Sunday 13th March to Rainham Hall, in Essex.

Rainham Hall is a recently refurbished early 18th Century merchant's house, in the village of Rainham, on the banks of the Ingrebourne River and near to the Thames. It was built in 1729 by Captain John Harle, who – having moved down from South Shields – purchased Rainham Wharf, dredged the Ingrebourne to allow shipping from the Thames and established himself as a ship-owner and trader. The house – so I think we were told – has subsequently had 50 owners, so it couldn't have been very popular.

Rainham Hall exterior 20160313artIn 1949 it was acquired by the National Trust, but has only recently after the refurbishment been open to the public. It's Grade 11* listed, and certainly worth a visit. You can wander round freely, and are encouraged to open doors and cupboards, if they are unlocked. There are also nice grounds – quite formal, but with a quirky corner which has thoughtfully been arranged to give some homes to less obvious wildlife, such as beetles.

Rainham Hall 20160313 114238322artIt's probably worth mentioning that one of the historic outbuildings also acts as a cafeteria, and no surprise that most if not all of EFOG's visitors on the day partook in some form of refreshment, maybe twice.

There were actually quite a number of EFOG visitors - eighteen I think - most arriving by car but at least one sensibly taking the C2C train from West Ham, via Barking. Rainham station is at the limit of the Travelcard Zone, and Oyster Cards are valid, so it's an environmentally friendly way of getting there.

Rainham barges sign 20160313artAfter the aforementioned and inevitable food, 10 of the 18 set out to walk to Purfleet. The day was bright – at least by then because the early morning had been foggy – and when sheltered from a breeze even warm in the sunshine. From Rainham village, to reach the Thames one used to have to trek down Ferry Lane, with marshes to the left and industry to the right, and always with lorries passing. Now, after the C2C (ex LTSR) level crossing crossing, there is a combined foot/cycle path parallel to the road but with reeds rather than roads as an immediate accompaniment. Beyond the A13 flyover, the path turns away from Ferry Lane and into the marshes, and gradually even the A13 loses its impact. Now all the walker has for soundscapes are the gentle song of a dunnock, the trill of a wren or the shrill of a Cetti's Warbler. Oh – and the ding or “whoosh” of a bike.

It feels odd to me – partially brought up with a view across Essex marshes towards a distant river - that this what-should-be-a-similar-view is not. It is not for the reason that the hills ahead aren't in Kent; they are in riverside Essex. The hills are thousands and thousands of tons of dredgings from the Thames and waste from the Town. They are now being landscaped into what will become a park, and already gorse is growing on the slopes and skylarks were singing above them.

Rainham barges 20160313artWe reached the river at the concrete barges. This group of a dozen or so haphazardly arranged craft are abandoned in the mud of the foreshore, some with holes in their sides so that they won't float again. And float they once did (yeh – I know – concrete). These historic barges were built – it is said – to be floated across the Channel to be used in the Normandy Landings, forming what was known as the Mulberry Harbour. There is a debate as to whether this group ever were involved in that, but certainly others that are to be found scattered along the Thames were used in 1953 to try to plug some of the breaches in the sea-wall during the floods.

Rainham sea wall 20160313artThe group got a bit split-up from then on, with a leading group walking on and a trailing group looking at things. There was also an intermediate group but I never found out what they were doing. As integral components of the trailing group, we looked at a few things and listened to a few things. Looking included skylarks, teal, oystercatchers, froghoppers, springtails, ants and spiders. Listening included skylarks and oystercatchers, maybe the “ping” of a springtail – and the waves on the shore.

Rounding Coldharbour Point, the reasoning of its name became more obvious, because we caught a nippy wind that took away a little bit from the previous mostly warm sunshine. Not much, though, and by the time we reached the RSPB reserve's cafeteria near Purfleet, I was certainly warm enough – not quite enough for an ice-cream, but thankful for a cuppa and a cake.

The extra 3/4 mile to Purfleet station was completed in good enough time – even including an abortive stretch of riverside path that didn't have an exit (damn the developers) – that we were all able to purchase our respective single-stop journey tickets back to Rainham station. This, by the way, was with the grateful assistance of a member of the station-staff who fed all our relevant coinage and noteage into the machine in time for everybody to catch the train.

Paul Ferris, 14th March 2016

From Crystal Palace to Balham – the Green Way

Eight of us braved the elements on the 28th February (the weather decided not to be too bad – just teasing spits of rain now and then) to walk to Balham – otherwise known as the 'Gateway To The South'. This was the ninth in the series following the Green London Way, and is as far south as these walks go – we checked the compass - before heading west. As we left Crystal Palace, we had time to admire the Sphinxes, the views from the high terraces and to reflect on the Vicar's Oak junction of boundaries.

Streatham St Joseph 160228artMosaics in St.Joseph De La Salle CollegeOn our way to Gipsy Hill we walked through 'Dulwich Wood', a brave little nature reserve created after bombs in World War Two demolished some of the houses there. It wasn't looking at its best this time of the year but it was easy to see what a treasure it is to local residents now. A short detour took us to a house where the Vicar's Wife – otherwise known as Annie Besant - once lived. A plain place for such an amazing lady. After jettisoning the vicar, she became one of those wonderful Victorian philanthropists, with a particular concern for women and children. She supported the striking Bryant & May Match Girls (pun intended), founded a socialist paper – and then moved to India where she eventually became President of the Indian National Congress.

At Gipsy Hill (no prizes for guessing why it was so called) we heard the story of one of their Queens, Margaret Finch, who died aged 108 and had to be burried in a square coffin. To find out why, ask one of the people on the walk. Bet they remember the tale!

Perhaps our most extensive view (and there were several along the route) was from the summit of the hill in Norwood Park. We could even see Epping Forest (just) but it was a bit breezy there so we took advantage of some seats lower down to have a quick(ish) food and comfort break before heading to Streatham.

A plaque in the grounds of The Mansion, just before Streatham Common, recognised the contributions of Stenton Covington in helping ensure that future generations (like us) would still have green spaces to walk through in London despite the avaricious ambitions of developers. Fortunately, he was not the only person – God bless those commoners at that time who burnt gorse and tore down fences, even when sent to prison for doing so.

Streatham Mansion 160228artIn the grounds of the Mansion, near StreathamBefore we left the common we went round The Rookery where we saw one of the three Streatham Common Wells famed for their healing waters in the 17th and 18th centuries. This one was particularly good for 'diseases of the eye and the expulsion of worms' ..... so now you know where to go. There was a handy café as we left the park – not much choice of food but pleasant – to help us refuel etc before the last leg of the walk.

On leaving the common Fred and some of the others accosted some very strange looking men in skin-tight black clothes with VERY big swords (I lie not). I fled (with Val) to find the path I hadn't been able to find the week before …... fortunately we all survived the encounter – and I found Hill Path. This way down into Streatham (and Russell's Path) was one of those quirky routes I would call alleyways on these walks. Dave confirmed what the book said – that there were some impressive houses beyond the high fences. I was more interested in the fact that I was walking in the steps of Lord John Russell, the Whig Cabinet Minister who drafted the 1832 Reform Bill.

Our last leg was across Tooting Bec Common. Here we heard the story of a dastardly local man, a Mr WJ Thompson, who convinced the other locals that he would definitely not enclose the land, if they didn't oppose his purchase. Of course, he did – but, after having his fences torn down several times and having had an injunction taken out to stop him – he agreed to sell the land to the Metropolitan Board Of Works – making a very nice profit of £14,000 – in 1870. Sound familiar?

On the trial walk I took the long way round to Balham High Road because the ground across looked muddy – this time I decided to attempt a crossing (it looked better) – it soon got muddy - and muddier ….. oops. I still thought the walk was worth it though - thanks to all my EFOG companions. Next step April 10th. From Wandsworth to Wimbledon.

Pam, 4th March 2016

Photos by Fred

A walk in the Eildons

During EFOG's break in the Scottish Borders, staying at the Waverley Castle Hotel near Melrose, whilst the rest of the group went on an organised tour Ken and I – together with friends Jenny and Garry – left the hotel to walk towards the Eildon Hills.

These hills form a prominent backdrop to the south of the small town of Melrose on the River Tweed. They consist of three peaks, and are distinctive enough for the Romans to have named their fort at the base of the hills “Trimontium”.

Leaving the hotel we crossed the road and entered the village of Darnick. It is a pretty enough little place, at first reminding me somewhat of some inland Devon villages, with twisting streets and oddly-placed houses. However, there are some nice detached villas on the road towards Melrose itself, and presumably quite costly ones – especially since the new railway line to Edinburgh will have made commuting a practical consideration. Really, Darnick is part of Melrose, and probably will lose something of its own identity as the town expands. It's a shame that we missed seeing Darnick's oldest building: Darnick Tower, which was built around 1425. This looks to be a bit like one of the border area's Peel towers, which were fortified dwellings somewhat necessary in a region which was somewhat lawless!

Melrose Abbey 20160226Melrose AbbeyThe area doesn't seem very lawless now, in fact it is quiet and the people we met were friendly, which is always a good thing if you are English and in a foreign country. Ken would probably have been OK anyway, as his origins are from this very part of Scotland. Melrose is a nicely situated town, lying in the Tweed valley with pleasant hills nearby – and considering it was February and bright and sunny, apparently an admirable climate. We walked into Melrose proper along a main street with a nice selection of shops, eating places and a pub or two, then turned right towards the Eildons to look at Melrose railway station. This is not the railway station that serves as the junction of the new railway, but a remaining vestige of the old Waverley line route through the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh. It is a Grade A listed building, so ranks very highly.

Returning to the market square – which I noted was not square, but more triangular – we continued down towards the Tweed to view Melrose Abbey, which not surprisingly is also a Grade A listed building. Our path took us alongside the Abbey, then closer to the river as far as the village of Newstead which – according to an information board – is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Scotland. Crossing under the Melrose bypass and the disused Waverly railway line, we began to make our way slightly uphill towards the Eildons, through gentle sheep-farming country.

Melrose Thomas 20160224Thomas of Erceldoune meets the Fairy QueenOne of the reasons we hadn't headed directly for the hills from Melrose is that I wanted to see the Rhymers Stone. Having read an account by another walker of his being unable to find it, I did not put a lot of effort into searching. As we emerged onto the now defunct old main road – barriered to through-traffic – it was lucky that Jenny looked to the left as we turned right, and spotted a distant road-side artefact. As she pointed it out I knew that it would be the stone, as it appeared to have a nice new tree planted alongside. I suspect that the original one where Thomas the Rhymer met the Fairy Queen back in the 13th century would not have survived. We made our way back to the commemorative stone, and just failed to see the bridge that Thomas had predicted would one day cross the Tweed and be visible from this point.

Nearby was a notice board which gave a fuller story of that chance encounter, and the outcome, with a rather nice pre-Raphaelite-style painting or photograph of the Fairy Queen seducing Thomas from her milk-white steed (or was it a dapple-grey?) by means of flowing hair, pursed lips and a somewhat busy bust-line.

To the hills. Along the road a short way, then along and up and down a farm track, then up a stony path which is possibly a stream at times, and onto the hillside. Already the view looking back was becoming more expansive, and as the route became steeper the predicted bridge came into view. It is not a difficult climb onto the Eildon Hills, but is somewhat strenuous, and underfoot the track is lined with heather and thus gullied in places. There are lots of chance steps, made casually by human feet trying to find the best purchase, but also some slippery slopes and ruts where I found getting a grip or leverage a bit of a problem. I was glad of Jenny's hand on my back a few times as my less-than-muscles and worn-out joints were threatening a downhill trend.

Melrose eildon 20160224A view from the Eildon HillsWe reached the summit of the north hilltop, on which during the Bronze Age was a hill fort but now there is just a cairn. The views are extensive in most directions, with Teviotdale and the Cheviots to the south and south-east, and the Lammermuir Hills to the north. To the north-west, looking across Melrose and beyond Galashiels, are the Moorfoot Hills. We were lucky that – although cold – the weather was clear and sunny.

Descending into the saddle between the north hilltop and the middle hilltop, Jenny and Garry decided that they'd like to reach the summits of the other two hills, whilst Ken and I made our way down. As I'd supposed, in some ways going down was harder that going up, particularly as the way was very slippery. The path was actually less steep and less rugged than the one we'd ascended, but the red earth had just defrosted and so had a combination of icy patches, slidey patches and clingey patches – mostly all at the same time. There were also some wet patches, too. There may have been one dry patch. Coming off the hillside proper, an easy between-the-fields lane led us to a long series of steps which descended into Melrose, where Ken and I searched for a refreshment place. They are not hard to find, but we were concerned about our accompanying mud, and eventually plumped for a small music store/scone and tea shop near the old station. It was a relief to sit down – and even more of a relief to have sat down with having fallen down.

After tea-and-scones we made our way back along pavements (ie the easy way) to the hotel. I was somewhat surprised to find later that we had walked a little over 6 miles, which included 1300 feet of an Eildon hilltop.

Paul Ferris, 29th February 2016

Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve – More than Just a Visit

How many times in your life do you get to see landscape in the making? Andy May, the Conservation Manager for Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT), was our guide when EFOG toured the latest development at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, near Colchester. Here, a new addition of land has more than doubled its original size. 28 EFOG members and friends visited the reserve on Sunday 21st February, on an outing organised by Duncan.

Fingringhoe Visitor Centre artThe Group assembling at the visitor's centreAndy did a marvellous job, helping us visualise how what was formerly sea-edged and threatened farm-land is being changed into a wonderful area of coastal wetland. Over the years, much of the the original marshlands had been lost due to drainage for farming and other purposes. The EWT project will not only restore this, but will also create wildlife habitats which are even more diverse than they were before – and much more accessible – for people to see, appreciate, learn about and enjoy.

Fingringhoe Anns Reeds artNear Ann's ReedsThey are working with their farmer “neighbours” and others, such as the Environment Agency and even the great North Sea itself; experimenting sometimes as well as drawing on expertise from many quarters. The result is that mudflats, salt-marshes, bird-islands, pools and beautiful reed beds are being 'grown' and created. It felt as though this was happening even as we walked around. Partnership has been crucial to the projects success.

It hasn't all been easy – or without controversy. Risks needed to be taken. Voles had to be removed to safer places during the transformation. The ones 'sent to' Sawbridge on the Rover Stort seem to have settled into their new home quite well. It is hoped other local voles will move back into the area as things settle down. Otters have already been seen on the new stretch of the reserve. What about the adders, the slow worms and lizards? Signs are that they too will thrive as their new world develops.

Fingringhoe Sea wall artWalking out along the sea wall towards the breachPerhaps above all, in terms of global warming, will the sea be better 'tamed' by a wetland barrier such as this rather than a traditional sea wall? Will this kind of defence against land erosion not only be more effective but also support more ecological diversity?

As we walked across the current muddy 'building site', looking at the gradually growing islands in the pools, already admiring the beauty of the lagoons-to-be, it seemed possible. When we saw the wild power of the sea rushing through a breach in the original sea-defence wall, there was no denying how difficult and complex working with the environment can be. I thought of of some of the places seen on recent Green London Way walks were this seems to have happened – and hoped it would be the same here.

Fingringhoe Breach artThe tide retreating through the breachTop of the list for me though, and I suspect for many of the 28 people on the visit, including some 'old' EFOG friends, was the chance to see Ann's Reeds, dedicated to the memory of our lovely long-term member and former Chair, Ann Lowther. How easy it was to understand why she and Duncan had come to treasure this place.

It was good to see that birds are increasingly finding their way here, especially in the reed beds. Cleverly designed and sited hides will give visitors ways of seeing how they fare in the new 'venues'. Walking routes are being extended and planned carefully to minimise disturbance, but also to give visitors opportunities to enjoy some magnificent views across and up the estuary. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to go again, to see what happens next. Thanks for organising this, Duncan. It was so much more than just a visit to a place of interest.

Pam, 26th February 2016

Photos by Peter G.