Thames Chase - a bat talk and a stroll
The Sun rose, as it has been doing for a very long time – and thus not unexpectedly – helping to modify a day which, because of the time of year and atmospheric conditions, was almost bound to be a warm one. And it already was, when Trevor, Fred and myself met Ann at Goodmayes station on Saturday 20th April, for a relatively short journey to the Thames Chase Forest Visitor Centre, near Upminster.
Well, it is a relatively short journey if, as we were, one is travelling in a car, but it would have felt a considerably longer one if one had not a car and was required to visit by public transport. There is probably a slightly closer bus-stop, but even then it would have been a long foot-haul up Pikes Lane to the visitor centre. That might well be my one reservation for a future no-car visit, because the centre really is a nice place to be Since my long-time-ago visit only once before, in addition to the farmhouse and lovely barn that were present then, a new visitor centre has been added, providing educational facilities, toilets, a good-value-for money cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, things to buy and, separately, even bicycles for hire.
Ann had arranged our visit primarily to attend a talk on bats by Ella, a member of the Essex Bat Group, which gave us a good introduction to bats as creatures, their life-styles and the work done by the bat group in trying to provide for these little animals, such as erecting bat-boxes, helping bats that have been injured, and encouraging a public interest in the creatures. We had close up looks at two of Ella’s Pipistelles, which she had provided with a home as they could not fly.
Following the talk, we retired to the cafe for lunch, after which we set off on a walk around a small part of the Thames Chase near to the visitor centre. Thames Chase is a community forest comprising some 40 square miles located in 47 sites in London and Essex. Ann volunteers in the visitor centre, and has led EFOG on a couple of walks around other parts of the area in the past.
This walk followed part of that designated as Walk 1 in the series of leaflets obtainable at the visitor centre. It was a warm and sunny day, and we were content to stroll along well made paths, looking at some of the information boards on the way, and casually observing and listening to the birds, butterflies and other creatures and plants that we passed, or passed us. There are a number of constructions on the route that we followed, probably intended primarily for children, but quite accessible to adults too, if they are so inclined or fit enough. The first was a somewhat tent-like building, made of wood and with climbing-holds and foot-rests in convenient places on the outside to allow access to circular holes which provided entry into the interior. Trevor and Lynne made some use of these whilst the rest of us sat in the sunshine.
A very slight diversion off the main track led us to a woodland seating area, wooden blocks and logs variously and simply shaped to provide seating before a slightly more elaborate, almost throne-like seat. This was presumably for the story-teller to sit in, so we had a go at that and the group was treated to that wonderful story of the rabbit fu-fu (or fufu, or whatever), which some of the EFOG group may have heard before. After all, it was around Easter-time, so rabbits are in season. (see my seasonal poem below)
Another construction later on in our stroll is named “The Trusty Oak”, which although sounding a biy like a pub is actually a tower-like structure, wooden of course, and vaguely massively oak-shaped, which again provided climbing possibilities for our little group. Last of these buildings was the “Discovery Hut”, with walkways and wooden plaques showing various leaves and common birds that may be found in the area. Educational, and fun, too.
We made our way back to the Forest Centre cafeteria for tea, coffee, ice cream and the like before leaving after a very pleasant day.
Thank you Ann, and Lynne, Trevor and Fred, for a nice day out.
Paul Ferris, 24th April 2019
Eat a bunny...
People say “Aaaah!”,
but I think it’s funny.
And they taste nice.
We met at the car park in Thaxted on a cold but bright Saturday 13th April. The car park is not only free but has a public loo! Well done, the local council. Thaxted itself is a pleasant looking town, some elderly buildings still surviving.
Heading east, we left Thaxted and were soon in Walnut Tree Meadow. I must confess I didn’t spot a walnut tree. Turning south we headed for Bardfield End Green, past a pretty farm pond and a genuine Victorian post box, now no longer used. Bardfield End Green has a cricket pitch and we arrived soon after the ground had been prepared for the coming season. It looked very well cared for. South again through open fields towards Plummer Wood. This is a small wood which looks slightly neglected, in other words little or no human involvement and nature just gets on with life. It must be an insect and bird heaven. It was noticeable that the planes at Stansted were not flying overhead, although they had been a constant accompanying noise when the route was recce’d during the week. Perhaps Stansted changes its routes at the weekend.
On to Richmond’s Green and Sibley’s Green. There are big warning notices about disease control at Sibley’s Green but we could see no active steps being taken to control disease. Heading west we crossed the B184 and walked to the Farmhouse Inn at Monk Street where a pleasant meal and drink was consumed. The final leg now, following the River Chelmer north to Thaxted. Sheep were grazing in one of the fields we walked through and one lamb in particular ignored its mother’s bleats until we were very close. The windmill and church loomed up ahead as we approached but when we reached them the windmill was closed. We walked down a narrow lane past former almshouses to the church and then took a while to look inside it, once described by John Betjeman as one of the finest churches in England. Inevitably, there was an appeal for restoration money, £2m this time and we donated our small bit. It is a fine church with a very high spire. I think it was a spire. There was an lively discussion about the difference between a spire and a steeple. Then it was back to the car park and off home.
Brian U. 13th April 2019
Sawbridgeworth and the Stort
It was a bright Sunday 17th March when we met at Sawbridgeworth station for Trevor’s walk. The sun shone and the wind, though brisk, was pleasant.
Off we went along the towpath by the River Stort. Quite a few houseboats were by the river’s edge although nobody could be seen. The towpath was muddy but that was insignificant as the weather changed dramatically. At one moment we would have our hats off, jackets half undone and the next minute we would be cowering from a hailstorm. It is true that in England you can have all four seasons in one hour. We did! When the weather was good we were able to look around and see signs of spring everywhere, from buds on trees to already flowering forsythia. We saw a small creature swim across the river but it was too swift for us to identify and it hid in the river bank.
Inevitably on a seven mile walk a comfort break was required but squatting amongst brambles is not the way. No names but the shrieks could be heard for a hundred yards.
We had our packed lunches at Thorley Church, in their well maintained churchyard. It even had a table and chairs for us plus, big bonus, the church hall was open so we could use their loo. Eileen brought out a cake that was left over from her church do the previous evening and we all voted it a very good cake, as did the robin that kept us company.
On with the walk, through a former WW11 airfield. We stopped for a moment which allowed me to take a photo of us standing in sunshine with a black cloud looming behind. That black cloud was to come over us later. We struggled to find the path about here as the land seemed to be owned by a paintball firm. Eventually we made our way through and then, as we crossed an open field with no shelter, that black cloud hit us. Horizontal hailstones! All of us now had wet trousers but wet only on the right side where the hail lashed us.
We passed a building which housed, according to a sign outside, members belonging to the NFBA. Never heard of it? The clue was in the other organisation listed, the Herts and Essex Cricket Academy. Batsman could be heard facing up to fast bowling in readiness for the new season. I never knew there was a National Fast Bowling Academy.
Getting tired now, we elected to go straight back to Sawbridgeworth station with a plan to stop in a pub if we found one. Alas, there was no pub open on late Sunday afternoon in March on our route and, unrefreshed, we dragged our weary bodies back to the station to make our way home.
Brian U., 17th March 2019
Heybridge Basin Circular Walk
This was a circular walk of about seven miles, on a grey early March Saturday. We started at Heybridge Basin car park, then walked along the canal towards the sea lock, passing a fibreglass zoo in a garden. At the lock the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation has access to the Blackwater Estuary and, as usual when Maz and I come here, the tide was on its way out. Heybridge Basin has a picturesque waterfront with 18th and early 19th century houses and pubs, a nice café, and the canal with a large variety of boats, large and small.
After getting many of the sixteen EFOGers out of the café, we crossed the sea lock to walk along the seawall towards Maldon. On the left was the River Blackwater and marshes. On the right, flooded gravel pits that are now a nature reserve. Usually it is covered with birds, but this time they must have been visiting the mud flats that were rapidly being uncovered. As we rounded the seawall there was a good view of Maldon and its barges moored along the wharf.
Approaching Maldon’s outskirts there were mud banks on either side of us, before we had to pass through a light industrial estate to get to the main road. This is not the most pleasant part of Maldon but we needed to get to the River Chelmer, about half a mile up the road towards the town centre.
We crossed the Chelmer at Fullbridge to walk alongside the river towards Beeleigh Falls, and then the sun came out. This path was very muddy, but had pleasant views across the river. We went under the A414 bridge, and got away from the mud and riverside by walking uphill to a path - once a lane - that ran parallel to the river. Eventually we came across a patch of grass, and there were cries for a lunch stop.
This happened to be opposite Beeleigh Abbey, once a White Canons monastery until the dissolution by Henry VIII. In 1948 the Abbey was purchased by the Foyles bookshop family, and it is now a private residence.
Not far from here we crossed the bridge at Beeleigh Falls, an elaborate system of weirs controlling the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater where they meet the sea. We met up again with the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation to walk back to Heybridge Basin, and of course the café.
Peter G., 5th March 2019
EFOG members visit to the Houses of Parliament
February saw the visit to the Houses of Parliament as arranged by Dave.The involvement of Dave's M.P. had the effect of reducing the trip’s availability to just those living in the Ilford North Constituency but with the benefit of a guided tour, that saved us about £20 each.
I’m told there have been buildings on that site since the time of King Canute. At present, Parliament’s buildings are mostly covered externally due to extensive renovation works but internally - as you would expect - extremely attractive, as renovated by Pugin after a fire in 1834 caused by a tallow stick.
We joined a larger group with an informative guide and saw both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, prior to their occupation for the day’s business. Last year a newspaper reported that the Commons had changed it’s emblem from a black portcullis to I think a blue portcullis at a cost of £50,000 in consultant’s fees. It’s another world.
Phil T., 27th February 2019
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