Recent outings and activities...
River Roding Walk – Ilford to the Thames
This wasn't really an Epping Forest Outdoor Group walk - although I am a member ...
The walk was undertaken during the late winter part of the 2nd English Covid 'lockdown'. I have put that in quotation marks because there maybe (are) various takes on what a lockdown means, a huge number of misunderstandings and lack of knowledge of what rules apply during one, and - I reckon - something like a 50% take up of those rules by the local population anyway.
But I have put the walk onto the website perhaps as an encouragement for others to follow it - either in permitted company or alone, although for some of it I would not suggest the latter.
Part 1 - Little Ilford to Barking
We didn’t intend to walk to the Roding, let alone along it – the intention was to look at the churchyard of St. Mary’s, the 12th Century church in Little Ilford. This was on 24th February 2021
From our meeting place in Forest Gate, beneath the Barking to Gospel Oak Overground service railway bridge, and close to the Liverpool Street to Shenfield and beyond main line, we walked along Hampton Road – a pleasant enough road of large Victorian houses, part of the Woodgrange Estate of roads named after castles, palaces and houses associated with royalty. The estate, of large double-fronted houses - some with side-attached servant's accomodation - was built between 1877 and 1892, convenient for Forest Gate station on the Eastern Counties Railway line.(1)
At the corner of Hampton Road, at its junction with the old road to Ilford and Romford eastwards and Stratford and London westwards, is the impressive flint-faced edifice of All Saints Anglican Parish Church, built in about 1880, but sadly no longer ‘fit-for-purpose’. Presumably that means it is too big – and possibly too cold – for a very small congregation these days.
still on the Barking-Gospel Oak line, once the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway. This short railway line – 13 miles long with 12 stations, according to Wikipedia – has been through a lot of changes of use through its history. Once carrying hundreds of day-trippers to the coast at places like Southend on Sea, evidenced by the extremely long and now partially disused platforms, there have been periods of stagnation where the line was hardly used, periods when fare-evasion was a major problem, and now, when there are manned stations, and a four-trains-per-hour service of up-to-date, walk-through, air-conditioned and computer-friendly trains. But the station itself is boring. Nothing much to commend it except that it is functional. An old-time signal box that once stood just beyond the Barking-bound platform has been removed, and I can’t find the photo that I took of it when it was there. Just beyond Woodgrange Park station, Salisbury Road leaves the originally Roman road between London and Romford at an acute angle which differs from the more usual N-S or E-W layouts. The houses down its SW side back onto the railway, evidencing that they were built subsequent to the opening of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway's Forest Gate to Barking link of 1854.We negotiated the people and traffic of the Romford Road, passing Woodgrange Park Station –
the construction of which was begun in 1975 and which was opened in 2006, according to Wikimapia. Lord Murugan, by the way, is one of the two sons of Parvathi and Shiva.Church Road, off High Street North, Manor Park, is a fairly typical-for-these-parts road of mostly late Victorian terraced houses, with some street-corner shops and a few rows of shops. There is still a factory building some way down the road – once a laundry, I believe, now Church Road Studios. A little further on is a much newer and very impressive building, although actually in Browning Road. This is the London Sri Murugan Hindu Temple,
And then a short distance further down Church Road, is the church of St Mary the Virgin. This church is a little gem, a Grade 1 listed building, with part of it dating back to the 12th Century. It is a country-style church in a sub-urban landscape. It was locked, not unsurprisingly, but I have been inside in the past. There is a chapel dedicated to the Lethieullier family of Aldersbrook, and a round window, one of the panes of stained-glass depicting a heron which refers probably to the Heron family of Wanstead.(2) The churchyard was colourful, with lots of crocus, daffodils, bumble bees, all adding to the spring-like feel of the late February day.
down Church Road, still heading eastwards, as the road dropped towards the River Roding. The busy A406 North Circular Road becomes visible – and audible – here, but Little Ilford Park is a welcome green area fronting that. The park is a fairly typical council community open area with planted trees, lots of daffodils, a children’s play area… Certainly pleasant enough, for relaxation, exercise and recreation.After enjoying St Mary’s, we continued distinctly
Exiting the park from a gate on its southern boundary, we emerged into Dore Avenue. I don’t know these streets, so suggested that we at least walk towards the A406 where there is another entrance to the park. Here, the road bears sharp right into Reynolds Avenue, and between the road and the North Circular – which at this point is elevated – there is green space and allotments, so we investigated further. Where Reynolds Avenue ends, the road again bears sharp right and becomes Millais Avenue, with houses only on its north side, facing across to Barrington Playing Fields. I had hoped for public access to these but the playing fields appear disused, with locked gates, otherwise we could have continued directly southwards.
However, my walking companion recognised the place. There was a gate leading to an industrial site, partially nestled under the arches of the A406. ‘We used to come here to buy mushrooms.’ she said. And there was a board announcing the mushroom-growing company, plus other company signs and the usual ‘Private Property' and 'Security Cameras’ signage.
Between the security fence of the site and that of the allotments we had passed was a dirt track – not too muddy, not too overgrown and not too strewn with rubbish that I wasn’t inclined to see where it led. Inevitably we passed beneath the North Circular Road, heading eastwards and thus towards the River Roding, which here separates Little Ilford from the bigger Ilford across the river. And as we came out from the arches, the track continued to lead up a slight slope, and to the somewhat rank vegetation of the river embankment itself. We were in that bit of ‘no-man’s land’ which you can just glimpse from the passenger seat of a car heading south – the bit between the road and the river.
The track to our left headed northwards, and I reasoned that if it were possible to follow it for any distance at all – that is, if it weren’t too overgrown – we should end up at the Ilford bridge. But it also continued to the right, and southwards, so we went that way, into the unknown. To our left, the river bank swept down to a reed-edged Roding, to our right and above us, the noise of the A406. If we could ignore the latter – and the path was followable for any distance – we could enjoy the river, and maybe get out onto a road at Barking, saving us a longish walk back the way we had come.
On the Ilford bank, almost opposite where we had reached the river, would have been the site of Uphall Camp, an Iron Age hillfort. Archaeological reserach has shown this site to have been used by man from the Mesolithic Period, through the Iron Age, possibly the Roman, the medieval and post-medieval periods. Now, modern housing development has obliterated the site, and 20th Century dwellings continue the sequence. Not far from here too, in a brick-pit, the skull of a woolly mammoth was found in 1824. A reconstruction of this is on display at Ilford Library.
As we followed the path it became evident that it wasn’t used much, but it was used. There had evidently been a lot of ‘tidying-up’ done – indicated by not too much long-term litter – and also there were recently-planted trees; they still had protective sheaths around their stems. So someone was taking care of this place, and trying to make it useable and friendly. I called it ‘no-man’s-land’, but that patently isn’t really the case. It would have at least been under the jurisdiction of the River Authority and/or Newham or Redbridge Council (it is right on the border), but I doubted any of those authorities had planted the trees.
We were approaching the bridge carrying the Barking-Gospel Oak and the C2C and Underground lines into Barking, and because of the height of the bridge the pathway needed to drop down towards the mud-banks of the river. The Roding is tidal at this point, and indeed at high tides even further north, beyond Ilford Bridge, so the mud down there is potentially deep. And there was also a tent under the railway bridge – just above the high-water mark. There are lots of these ‘camps’ around, in out-of-the-way places, shelters to homeless people. Passing by that was of some concern, but we had come this far…
Whether there was anyone at home, we didn’t enquire to find out, and we passed the encampment, and right underneath the bridge, safe from the mud, by a well-laid boardwalk. I had to duck somewhat as there isn’t much clearance available, but this was a solid construction distinctly put in place to aid pedestrian navigation along the riverside. Coming out the other side of the bridge, though, and regaining the original flood-bank level, we found ourselves on the wrong side of a concrete flood barrier. It was the wrong side because the track continued beyond, but the wall acted as barrier to readily access it. A few simple steps up, and down the other side, would have helped a lot, but we found that we could sit on the wall, swing our ageing legs over and get to the other side. Which is the point at which I turned my ankle slightly. Relatively small obstacles such as these can be a severe hindrance in older age!
Having got back on track, we were still close to the river, but the road was now further away, and the bank on that side dropped well down into some thickets of vegetation. hawthorn trees, brambles and other stuff, but again it looked as though some work had been done there, as if someone had made their way in, creating at least temporary pathways and clearing rubbish.
Directly ahead of us, the river had deviated eastwards slightly, leaving a large area of Phragmites reed – the common reed used for thatching, for example – and a wonderful habitat for breeding water-loving birds and cover and habitat for a host of other creatures. There would have been great areas of these reed beds by the Roding in the past, but gradual development, the building of flood-protection banks and the like, have eroded most of this, especially in such otherwise built-up areas as this. This relic is a wonderful habitat, and probably essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. And there – just to reverse-emphasise the point – the loud shout of a Cetti’s Warbler, a small reed-loving bird that has only been breeding in this country since 1972. Because of the reed-bed the path detours around it to the west, but afterwards regains the riverside. Ahead were some narrow-boats moored as a small community before another extensive area of reeds. And now the pathway was surfaced – even with lamp-posts – evidently more-readily reached from towards Beckton, and more maintained and used than much of what we had been walking.
Access to the narrow-boat moorings could be by way of a gate in the railings, with good board-walks alongside, and leading into, the reeds. To our right a trading-estate, and to the left more sounds of Cetti’s Warblers and beyond and across the river, some of the relatively newer buildings of a Barking housing estate.
There were even benches along this stretch, so the potential for an easy casual stroll from the south, rather than the somewhat uncomfortable route from the north. We reached a substantial blue-painted bridge across the river into Barking, and on our side was a notice-board, explaining that work was continuing to enhance and make accessible the riverside hereabouts, by the River Roding Trust.(3)
Just so that we could say we had walked to Barking, we crossed the bridge, then crossed back. The paved and lit riverside walkway continued south, and I realised that it would pass the Wickes store hereabouts, and then emerge onto the old London to Barking road. That would be for another time – we needed to get back.
Our options were to simply retrace our route, but we were close to roads, and indeed a signpost pointed ahead from the bridge, westwards to East Ham, so that way would do…
Paul Ferris 20th March 2021
A bit extra:
The walk was on 24th February. That evening I mentioned this track we had walked to a friend. On the 28th he referred me to a video just posted on YouTube by John Rogers, who seems to have walked the same route – albeit actually from Ilford rather than where we began – shortly after we did. It was strange seeing the introductory photo to his video showing almost exactly the same view, in the same weather and lighting conditions, as the one I had taken (above: The Roding. A view looking northwards)
Lost World of the River Roding - Ilford to Barking: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjfUFQwVkgc
(1) E7 Now & Then: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2013/06/the-woodgrange-estate-early-years.html
(2) St Mary’s, Little Ilford: www.wansteadwildlife.org.uk/index.php/en/other-locations66/st-marys-little-ilford
(3) River Roding Trust: https://riverrodingtrust.org.uk/
A walk in the Lee Valley
We collected at Fishers Green in the Lee Valley on 16th December for our last Wednesday walk of 2020. A fine day, but rain was forecast later on. We parked in the Lee Valley Farm car park which is free. All the other car parks are pay and display.
The route had been devised by Lee Valley and was called Artworks Route Three. The surface was metalled or hard paths all the way round apart from a couple of diversions. We passed the Glade Sculpture then the Bittern Information Point but the latter was closed. Further on we came to some wood carvings representing local wildlife. Through Nightingale Wood we then headed south alongside the railway line, past the Play Boulders – so good to see a sculpture that encourages children to play on it – and the two Stag Beetles fighting on a log to arrive at Windmill Lane. Through the Pindar car park with its toilets (the second set of toilets on this route, well done Lee Valley) and into the Natural Play area. These are wooden structures for children to play on and are supposed to represent the wind, which we managed to work out on some of the pieces.
Carrying on south we came to a Giant Chair sculpture which we couldn’t resist climbing. Only Brian managed to get up on it – photos on request from Kathy, Annick and Val – and you can see the unconquered chair in the attached photo. On to the Shrine Sculpture – a large cedar tree carved into imaginative shapes – and then past the disc golf area (we must try that, it looks fun) until we arrived at the White Water Centre. We entered hopefully, but the café is closed until 2021.
Down the towpath to Waltham Town Lock where we crossed the river, briefly looked at the Viking Ship – a not very impressive structure – and turned north for the homeward run along Waltons Walk. There are a couple of hides along here for the birdwatchers and a nice metal sculpture depicting a Banded Demoiselle. Through the car parks, a quick visit to the toilet and that was the end of the walk. Nearly three hours for nearly seven miles. As we drove home the rain started. Perfect!
Brian U., 16th December 2020
Chipping Ongar, a really old church and some mud
Wednesday 9th December was bright and dry, which was a relief as the previous night had been wet. We collected at Chipping Ongar near Sainsbury’s and set off across a field towards Greensted. The surface was slippery mud but we made good time to reach the famous wooden church at Greensted. Looking at the building you notice that there are a lot of bricks in this wooden church but let us not quibble. As a bonus in these Covid times the church was open so we had a look round, wearing covers for our muddy boots.
On we walked past open fields to reach Tudor Cottage. This has a connection to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, some of whom stayed there for a while on their return from forced labour in Australia. Turning up a track we soon encountered the effect of last night’s rain and had to skirt several deep puddles while trying to keep our footing on the slippery mud. On a tarmacked section we admired Blake Hall in the distance, gleaming white in the sunshine, before crossing the Epping-Ongar railway line. We covered a big loop and came back under the line. Then it was the home straight, following a line of excellent oak trees with the church spire at Ongar coming closer.
We splashed in some puddles to try and remove some of the mud before we entered our cars and agreed that was the messiest walk for some time. How Eileen and Ken got dirt up to their knees was a puzzle to all of us who merely had splashes of mud on our trousers.
Brian U. 9th December 2020
A post-lockdown Forest walk
On the first day of non-lockdown, 2nd December, six members of the outdoor group gathered at Jacks Hill car park in Epping Forest for a walk. The day was cold but bright with little wind, altogether a pleasant day.
We set off south down the Green Ride and turned off to navigate a steep descent, a scramble across a stream and a climb up to the Deer Sanctuary. This time the deer were far in the distance and as the rut was over, everything was peaceful. We crossed Coppice Row and climbed back up to our starting point. 2.5 miles done and about 4 to go but nobody backed out and so we went down the Green Ride again, this time carrying on south and puffing a bit as we climbed the surprisingly steep ascents. As Phil said, it isn’t a walk unless you work your lungs a bit.
Reaching Loughton Camp we turned right, crossed the Epping Road and made our way to High Beach. Val was all for going down to the biker’s café for bacon and sausage but the rest of us were set on High Beach with its toilets so Val gave in. It is very noticeable that since the pandemic started, the car park at High Beach is crammed full and so it was today. Nevertheless we were served quickly at the little green tea hut – what is it called? – in my case with tea, pasty and fruit cake for a very reasonable £4.80. The pasties at this hut are marvellous!
After an enjoyable rest and chat with some of the many cyclists there we set off again, this time north up the General’s and Verderer’s Rides. We saw the rifle butts and stopped for a moment at the Big View, then on to arrive at the very busy Woodredon Hill where motorists kindly stopped to let us cross, round the back of Wake Arms roundabout and on to cross the Epping Road near the Upshire turning. Across to the Green Ride and south to Jacks Hill where our cars waited. The distance turned out to be 7.5 miles. A nice walk in fine weather and we all agreed that it is so much nicer to talk face to face instead of via Zoom.
Brian U., 2nd December 2020
Another walk in the south of Epping Forest
On Thursday 17th September, Jinan, Lynne, Phil, Marian and Jenefer joined me for a repeat of the walk which some other EFOG members did on 6th September.
We started promptly at mid day, and I chose a slightly different route at the beginning. This took us on to Manor Park Flats – part of Wanstead Flats otherwise known as ‘The Triangle’. This enabled a long-distance view westwards, right across to the Highgate Hills, 8 miles away. It was difficult to make out the group of walkers near Highgate looking back towards the Flats.
As well, I was able to point out the roof of the early 19th Century manor house from which the area ‘Manor Park’ gets its name. Prior to that, what small community there was (before the coming of the railway, really) was called Little Ilford. On the Flats here is the recent site of one of the temporary mortuaries, set up for the Coronavirus (C19) epidemic. Now this has been dismantled, the ground has been tilled and seeded with wildflowers in the hope of producing a meadow.
We passed through the remains of a circle of tree on the Triangle, once surrounding Newham’s Cold War Command Centre. It remains buried underground, but we saw a pile of concrete blocks, evidently remains of the more above-ground part of the structure, disturbed in the recent usage. I was also able to point out the most southerly tree in Epping Forest – quite a fun fact, I thought, and a surprise to some as they hadn’t realised Wanstead Flats is an integral part of the Forest.
This part of the Flats was for a long time the assembly point for cattle drives from distant parts of the country, assembling here for the London markets. The cattle that to some extent continued this tradition ceased to roam from further up in the Forest to cause enjoyment, consternation and wonder to locals and visitors, in 1996. This was after the mid 1990s BSE ("Mad Cow Disease") and later Foot and Mouth meant that no more cattle were released.
Leaving the Forest at Rabbits Road bridge (there was once a warren here), we walked the half kilometre length of footpath which separates the cemetery from the railway. It is quite narrow, and not the sort of place you would want to meet a herd of bullocks wishing to go in the opposite direction to yourself. Which is exactly what happened to me years ago. I told the little group the tale (tall or broad as it may seem), and assured them that I did manage to persuade the 50-odd head to turn back so that I could get home.
The Aldersbrook, to which the path gradually descends, was totally dry. I have never seen that before. It is certainly nothing to do with global warming, I am sure! A young lady was cropping wild plants, and gradually tidying up what can – or could – be a lovely area, whilst some young men were lurking in the nearby undergrowth. I have no reason to believe there was any connection between those two activities, just people – like ourselves – doing their own thing.
Reaching the Roding, the encampment and shrine mentioned by Trevor in his write-up of the previous walk (see here) was still present, although changes had been made. I have mentioned this to the Conservators of Epping Forest by means of their email contact, but have not even received an acknowledgement. Our little group did have a discussion about the rights and wrongs of this – as I put it ‘personalisation’ of the Forest – but whatever they may be I feel deeply about this, as it really is one of my favourite local places and its ambience is – for me – spoilt. I shan’t be going there again.
We were back in Epping Forest, but as I explained, a somewhat unique part of the Forest as it used to be a sewage works. But that’s another and longer story. (see here if you want it)
Leaving ‘The Old Sewage Works’, or Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, as Epping Forest will have it, we entered another unique part of the Forest – Wanstead Park. Most of you will know now that this was the grounds of a great house, and has different bye-laws to the rest of Epping Forest. We walked anti-clockwise around the largest lake, the Ornamental Water, but it isn’t very ornamental at the moment, as so much of it has dried up and even vegetated over. Again, this has nothing to do with global warming.
Chalet Wood – now increasingly known as 'the bluebell wood' – looked a bit messy, as the deterrent logs, set to indicate pathways, have either rotted or been moved, and that often to build ‘wigwam’ style shelters. This seems to be a very popular sport or exercise, perhaps some form of woodcraft, but the logs were put there to protect the bluebells and allow them to increase. It’s an example of differing requirements in a busy park. Unfortunately – like so much that man is doing to our environment either deliberately or unintentionally – the environment suffers for it. And ultimately, so will man himself – if we aren’t already. (cough, wheeze, lack of sense of smell, etc.)
Before pausing for half an hour or so in the sunshine at Wanstead Park’s nice little refreshment kiosk, we were lucky to catch sight of Quinny, Nina and Naru. These are three English Longhorn cows, brought only that day to the park from further up in the Forest as a trial to see how they get on. If successful, we may once again have cattle in the south of Epping Forest! These are not the (sort of Frisian) bullocks that used to roam freely, mentioned earlier, and they are G.P.S. constrained to only keep to certain areas of Wanstead Park, but so many people around here are so excited to have cattle back, or to see cattle here. That might have been shown by the enthusiasm of herds of – not cows – children running towards them! They are not petting animals, and local people and visitors will need to understand that if the cattle are to enjoy being here, and for the trial to be successful, then the cows’ needs will have to be respected.
We arrived back at the City of London Cemetery gates, from where we had started, at something like 4pm, having covered something like 4.5 miles.
Paul Ferris. 20th September 2020.
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