Recent outings and activities...
River Roding Walk – Ilford to the Thames
Part 3 - Beckton to the Barking Barrier
The third section of our walk began at the locked gate we had encountered – from the other side – at the end of our previous walk. It was still chained shut, however from this side it is quite an impressive structure – plenty of ironwork, probably representing something Thames Water-ish – but somewhat forbidding, even though the signage above proudly proclaims – below Thames Water’s familiar blue sign – ‘Beckton Creekside NATURE RESERVE’.
At least we knew, this time, that the actual nature reserve was some 10-15 minutes walk away, and not at all – at the moment, anyway – accessible from this gate, so we were able to walk along the service route at the back of the cinema to access the ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’. Here there was more blossom – lots of Blackthorn now, and the yellow flowers of willow – along the walkway, although the day wasn’t quite as sunny as on the last two walks. We quickly reached the nature reserve and went through the open gates. Bird-feeders had been recently topped up (with bird feed), and particularly Great Tits were making use of them. Further into the reserve, Sweet Violet was in abundance, and a small path led of from the main one, towards the Roding. Within the nature reserve so far, the river itself hadn’t been visible. The path is set back on the landward side from the river, with trees and a stretch of reed between it and the path. Also between the small path and the river, the fairly dense vegetation almost hid a significant amount of what appeared to be the remains of a building. I wondered at the time if this was the remains of a large house that once existed here, Creekside House, but I believe that was situated further downstream.
The small path eventually led to a small rise in the ground, on which was a picnic bench, with somewhat austere views towards the sewage treatment works, the Barking Barrier, the Thames and beyond, to Shooters Hill over in what had once been Kent. Backtracking to regain the main nature reserve path, we enjoyed the results of the considerable work that has been put in to make this an interesting place for humans, and certainly a valuable variety of habitats for plants, birds and other animals. Towards the south end of the reserve, where there is a gateway to and from the main track we’d been following, Barking Creek edges closer, but with a substantial reed-bed still separating the low land from the muddy creek.Here there was a subsidiary creek, entering into a reed-surrounded pool. On the east bank there were excellent views of the industries that line River Road, Barking – one of the untidiest and industrial roads hereabouts and perhaps anywhere. At one time, presumably, material would have been loaded and unloaded from ships or barges on the river, now they are accessed from the road. A crane was busy moving what looked like metal-waste from one heap to another. In the background an old-looking factory building still remains; in the foreground, though, on the bank of the pool just above the Phragmites reed, a very out-of-place-seeming ‘palm’ tree – actually a Cordyline, often called a New Zealand Cabbage Palm. A review that I read of this area by one visitor disdained that this was called a nature reserve, saying there was ‘no nature’! I suspect that this would be a wonderful place for Reed Buntings and other reed-loving birds, and I suspect that – as the reserve’s notice board had suggested – raptors would find plenty to prey upon here.
We exited the reserve onto the main path, now with a swift flowing channel of water running parallel within the works’ security fence. This is the final outflow channel of treated water, now pure enough to be discharged safely into the Thames. Somewhat disconcertingly, though, stretching along its length by the works, foam was dancing in a regular rhythm from outlets in the wall. This is – apparently – stuff that the works just hasn’t been able to deal with.
Beckton Sewage Treatment Works – by the side of which we had been walking since the cinema – is the largest such works in Europe. It was built in the 1860s as part of Bazalgette’s plan to remove sewage from London. This site, on the north bank of the Thames was designed to take sewage collected via the Northern Outfall Sewer and discharge it into the Thames. A similar plant and outfall sewer was built for the south of London, just across the Thames at Crossness. The site has been enlarged over its lifetime, and the raw sewage collected there is now treated before much cleaner water is allowed to flow into the river.
The Barking Barrier – which when first viewed from Barking as just an odd part of an odd landscape – was now a prominent, and probably the dominant feature. Through its supports we could see the Thames. The closer we got to the Roding’s confluence with the Thames. The more birds were to be seen in the creek and on the muddy banks: Sheld Duck were plentiful, some Teal, Redshank, and of course gulls. Across the Roding (or perhaps more properly now Barking Creek) a small area of open land indicated where there is a small park – just about the only respite from the chain of industrial sites that line that side of the river. This is Thames Barrier Park, just 7-hectares of open space with a single gated entrance, and back out the same way.
The Barking Barrier is an immense structure – the barrier is 38 metres wide and the concrete towers 40 metres high. It was designed as part of the Thames Flood Protection programme – developed after the disastrous floods of 1953 – and, together with a similar structure at the mouth of the River Darent, is designed to be lowered at times of particularly high tides to protect the low-lying land, just before the Thames Barrier is put into operation. The barrier is managed by The Environment Agency, and their peculiarly child-like logo adorns the side of the tower.
We had reached the Thames. A continuous metre-or-so high concrete wall helps protect against high tides, and provides a convenient leaning-table to take in the views and to observe the birds. The tide was out when we arrived – a large area of mud was exposed below the wall, with the stream of the Roding and the noisy and fast rush of cleansed water from the treatment works causing white-water waves. Hundreds of birds – ducks, cormorants, gulls – were making use of the feeding possibilities in all of this disturbance, and on the expanse of mud, too – with waders patrolling and probing up and down, on and into the mud.
river wall, between it and the Beckton Desalination Plant. This plant turns brackish Thames water into drinking water, and transfers it by means of an 8Km long pipe to the Waterworks Corner roundabout, and part of its route is across Wanstead Flats. Shortly, an enormous pair of security gates could easily have barred our way, but these were wide open. There were certainly ‘Private Property’-style notices around, and security cameras – but none of the notices indicated directly that pedestrians were allowed no further. So further we went. Two long gated piers – the Northern Outfall Jetty – jutted out across the mud, but beyond the second were two relatively new wooden benches, facing towards the river. It was between these piers that the original raw outflow of sewage would have entered the Thames, the reason perhaps of the extensive mud banks. By now it had begun to rain, with a cold rain, blowing from the north, behind us, but we made use of a bench to have a quick snack. So, here is a small warning about this walk – from the Alfreds Way bridge carrying the A13 over the Roding, apart from maybe at the cinema complex, there is absolutely no shelter from the elements.The track continued westwards along the
Our return journey, into the rain, would shortly have to begin, but before that the pathway was still open. The views along this stretch are limited to the side of the high sea wall, or of the water treatment works. And the view is somewhat dominated by four huge concrete cylinders – shown on the map (1) as ‘Activated Sludge Plant’, which themselves are enlivened at the human level by colourful and remarkably fine graffiti. Some of this was so three-dimensional in its effect that it was hard to realise that you were looking at just the curving face of a huge tank.
A final inclined slope which again provided a view over the self-defence wall also led to the expected locked gate. Beyond this was a tangle of vegetation – not necessarily hiding some highly secure property to which access would never be granted – but just, it seemed, an unnecessary obstacle to allow the 500m or so access to a public road and bus stops at Armada Way.
That was it then. We turned around and walked back the way we had come, only this time shortening the return hike a slightly by missing out the nature reserve paths.
Just before we reached the A13 pedestrian underpass, we noticed a small circular brick building, topped with a cupola, on the Barking bank and tucked in just below the flyover. A map search later marked this as ‘Tunnel’, with a line drawn across the river to more-or-less the spot we had observed it from. That would seem to indicate a pedestrian tunnel of some sort, rather than a service tunnel, but apart from that, I have no idea what this is or was.
It wasn’t clear to me how as pedestrians we would be able to get up to Alfreds Way, to cross the bridge. It seems often the case that signposts for pedestrians are somewhat misleading or lacking. The indicator nearby that pointed to ‘Riverside Walkway’ and ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’ are cases in point. The riverside walkway seems to be away from the river and towards a locked gate, and I still don’t know what the Northern Lagoon is, although I believe it may refer to an area of water - which is not very visible from the walkway - inside the treatment works. Maybe 'Barking Barrier Walkway' or 'Lower Roding Walkway' might be more indicative. There aren’t yet Roding Valley Way signposts, or the blue ones indicating destinations on combined pedestrian/cycle routes. The latter usually show a time as well as a destination – e.g. ‘Ilford 10 mins’ - but when I have followed that one, it takes me about 30 mins. I suspect that they are primarily intended for cyclists benefit rather than pedestrians.
So – how to get onto the bridge? I guessed that there just might be stairs leading up to it from Jenkins Lane, so going back into the Cuckolds Haven Nature Reserve we took the first well-used path on our left, which indeed did give egress to Jenkins Lane. That is to say, there was a gate. As the path cut a bank from the higher land, we saw that the bank had a host of wildflowers, some just beginning flower. The highlight here was Oxlip. We crossed Jenkins Lane at the entrance to a Travelodge, and nearby was the hoped-for flight of steps. Alfreds Way, heading eastwards on the pavement across the bridge, was awful. There was rain from the sky, spray from the incessant vehicles within feet of us, and just the fleeting observation that – amongst all the carbon-monoxide, diesel fumes, dust, litter, grime and oil, some plants were flowering between the pavement and the bridge railings. One of these – Danish Scurvygrass – seems to like this habitat. Really, it should be happier by the coast, but lorries from the coastal ports have transported it along the roadside, and perhaps the road-salt distribution in winter makes it feel at home.
It was with a great sense of relief that we took the pedestrian/cycle slip-path from the end of the bridge, leading us back to the river. It looks as though a riverside pathway is possible back under Alfreds Way on this east bank, and is probably used by dog-walkers as well as unmentionables. But it isn’t paved, and wasn’t the way we wished to go this time. Heading upstream, though – and towards Barking town centre – a paved route was distinctly in our favour. It runs directly parallel to the river, with views across to the waterside vegetation, and the water birds, such as Teal, that we had walked near to on our second leg. Passing Hand Trough Creek, with the Barking Barrage in sight and sound, the track opens up into a promenade beneath brightly-painted apartments. Shortly, we were back at the Barking Barrage, with its control-building which allows boats to pass up and downstream when the tide permits.
Down past the apartment building of Abbey Road, across Abbey Green and past St Margaret’s Church, through the Curfew Tower and across Broadway/North Street to the pedestrian area. One final aspect of Barking’s maritime history caught our attention. This was prompted by a metal boat jutting from a building at the corner of the oddly-named Short Blue Place, with a metal fish hanging on a line beneath. Conveniently, underneath the Short Blue Place road-name, were two information boards explaining what this was about. The model was that of a fishing smack of the type used by Barking’s fishing fleet. The Short Blue Fleet was a fleet of eventually 50 smacks, owned by the Hewett family, originally operating from Barking. The ‘Short Blue’ was from the name given to the fleet on account of the flag that flew on its vessels.
Standing back from the buildings, and looking above the somewhat boring modern shop front, the house could be seen to have been once a quite substantial dwelling for – presumably – the owner of one of the largest fishing fleets in the country at the time. As the Thames had grown more polluted – a reference back to the sewage treatment works that had accompanied almost all of the day’s walk – the fleet had moved out to Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, and Barking as a maritime port went rapidly into decline.
We had completed our originally unintentional walk from home (by Wanstead Flats) to the Thames. We did this in three sections, as we were stopping and looking at things – and finding a route – and we did have to get back, too. It would be quite feasible for a good walker to do the whole lot that I have described in one go, particularly if using public transport to get back. It is a shame that the final locked gate exists, because a bus from there to the DLR or Barking Station, for example, would make things a lot easier. But the important thing is that the route now exists, and at last the slightly incomplete Roding Valley Way is just about fully functional.
Paul Ferris 27th March 2021
This walk was done on 17th March 2021
(There was a final stretch – we never actually walked the bit from our starting place near the mushroom farm, to Ilford. So we completed that stretch HERE.)
River Roding Walk – Ilford to the Thames
Part 2 - Barking to Beckton
We began the second part of our walk on 9th March 2021, from Barking Station, necessitating a walk through the town centre if we were to continue the walk from where we had finished the first section.(Part 1 - here)
Barking was busy – it was a market day – so we didn’t stop to take in the sights. These didn’t appear to be the most aesthetic, anyway. But above the often untidy shop fronts – as is often the case – some nice-enough buildings could be appreciated.
Crossing Broadway from the pedestrian area to the old abbey precincts, there was time to look at things. The Curfew Tower is prominent – the last remaining gateway to Barking Abbey. Of the abbey, only foundations and stretches of wall remain in any degree. The abbey was 7th century Saxon in origin, and was one of the largest and wealthiest nunneries in the country. The tower is a Grade-11* listed building, and the church of St. Margaret nearby is Grade-1 listed.
Looking at those and the grounds briefly – we were supposed to be on a walk along the Roding, after all – we left the abbey grounds and walked north along North Street – a continuation of Broadway. Barking seems to be involved in loads of redevelopment, so picking out an older building amongst what seems to be a bit of a mess on the east side of the road, we could see a beehive symbol carved into the masonry. This is the emblem of the Co-operative Society, and can still be seen on old Co-op buildings from time to time.
A small open space adjacent to our pavement caught our attention, and a notice board informed that this was once the burial grounds of the Quaker (Friends) Meeting House across the road. No headstones exist in the grounds now, but Elizabeth Fry was buried there. Her headstone has been removed and now resides in the Society of Friends’ Meeting House grounds at Bush Wood.
and as well, what used to be known as the Northern Relief Road, adjacent, is now Gurdwara Way.The Barking Meeting House is now a Sikh place of worship – the Gurdwara Singh Sabha London East. Behind the original frontage, a lovely complex of Sikh-style building exist. A nice change of use, in my opinion,
We made our way via the less-than-interesting Cowbridge Lane to the blue bridge where we had finished on our first section. The same heron was still standing on its mud bank.
Crossing to the west bank, we began our walk southwards along the riverside path, soon needing to cross the Barking Road where it crosses from Newham into Barking and Dagenham by way of a bridge built in 1904 (geograph.org.uk). The riverside path continues between the river and a superstore car-park, but at the far end of that was a gated wooden fence stating quite clearly ‘No Access’. Most annoyingly, we could see the pathway emerging from the construction site the other end – but we were unable to use it. This sort of thing annoys me. Pedestrians are so often expected to just come up to a locked gate or barrier where there should be a pathway, but with no information beforehand that will happen, and no ‘Diversion’ signs as would be required for motorists. So, we had to back-track – across the car park – find our way out of the motorised area, up against A406 slip and access road, along the pavement, around the construction site, and back to the riverside path for the sake of 100m or less of closed pedestrian route.
There is a narrow bridge crossing the Roding here into Barking. A nice warning notice is affixed to the brickwork protecting pedestrians and vehicles from falling into the water. The notice states “FLOOD DEFENCE WALL - DO NOT REMOVE”. Which makes so much sense. This single lane bridge passes the side of Barking Mill. This building is another survivor, although actually this was the granary, which is all that survives of the mill complex. Barking and Dagenham Historical Society(1) suggests that the building probably dates from the 1860s. The building stands by Town Quay/Mill Pool, on the east bank of which is a riverside promenade with benches. Landward, St Mary’s Church stands within the abbey grounds and presents a nice view across pleasant enough parkland. On the Newham side there is more development, which – I hope – will incorporate a riverside path.
The riverside access is only for a 100m or so, though, because what should be a pedestrian path is behind locked gates. Again. Thus it was necessary to walk along the somewhat claustrophobic Abbey Road. However, references to Barking’s maritime history and the importance of the River Roding are at least are beginning to be represented. There is a somewhat odd sculpture here, which has incorporated into it the bow of a small boat, and the very end of a bench. Some way down Abbey Road there is an open area to the right, which is accessible to pedestrians. Here – amongst the new developments of what is known as the Ice House Quarter – some older riverside buildings remain and have been re-used.
The ice house referred to relates to ‘one of a number built in the mid-19th century by the Hewett family in order to store the ice necessary to preserve the catches harvested by the Short Blue Fleet.’ (2). The Short Blue Fleet – as we discovered when as we were walking back from the third stretch of this series of walks – was a fleet of eventually 50 fishing smacks, owned by the Hewett family, originally operating from Barking. The ice house no longer survives, the last remnant of it having been demolished by 1980. Two Victorian buildings that have been repurposed are a granary and a malthouse.
We accessed the riverside again from a set of steps at the south end of the open square amongst these buildings, where a wide promenade looks across to a boating community – Dutch-style barges, and houseboats. On the Barking side, the remains of a boat sinking into the mud provides a habitat for water-loving plants, and a perch and nesting place for water birds.
age’, impounding water above the barrier (that is, to the north) to maintain a level of water sufficient to allow some permanent navigation for boats at least as far as the Town Quay. It is a ‘half tide barrage’ because at times of high tide water from the Thames would flow northwards over it. So, to the north of the barrage is the Roding, and south it is more commonly called Barking Creek. At low tides there is a noisy weir allowing the Roding to continue on to the Thames, and at higher tides lock gates may be used to enable vessels to pass to and from the Roding.Further down the promenade is the Barking Barrage. This is apparently what is known as a ‘Half Tide Barr
We crossed the barrage by way of the pedestrian footpath atop it, and so were now back on the west bank, with a surfaced and lit foot and cycle path continuing southwards. But here is a significant creek, mud banked and reed-lined, jutting into the land towards the A406 – the curiously-named Hand Trough Creek. The tide was low, and Teal ducks were feeding at the creek edges. The skyscape was beginning to open up now, with the beginnings of something like a maritime feel to the surroundings, but also the combined traffic noise of the A406 nearby and the A13 more distant. This path finishes at the west end of the creek at Fleet Road, but after a short length of pavement a gate gives access and then ascends to 3 or 4 metres on what may have been a landfill site.
ies, Whitlow Grass, Shepherd’s Purse. There is an open area, with benches, looking upstream towards the barrage and Barking, and the Roding – now Barking Creek had widened significantly with a great area of reed separating the gravelled track from the river. Ahead was the roar of the A13, with a low bridge carrying the road across the river. In fact it looked so low that we wondered whether there was actually a path beneath it, especially as the path looked less-used the further we walked towards the bridge. But there was, with plenty of headroom, and we emerged from the other side onto a now-dirt path, with the Beckton Cinema complex and car park to our right. Just beyond the cinema – behind it, in fact – a gravelled path met our track, and a finger-post announced that if we were to follow that westwards we would be heading for the Riverside Walkway, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense as it pointed away from the river. The other direction – the way we were heading – stated ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’.This is Cuckold’s Haven Nature Reserve, owned by the London Borough of Newham. It is a mix of scrub and rough grassland, with small trees and – in the early spring – low plants were just beginning to flower: speedwells, dais
I had no idea what the ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway' was – or indeed even what the Northern Lagoon was. The last time – certainly some few years ago – that I had walked southwards from here towards the Thames, my way had soon been blocked by the security fence of the Beckton Water Treatment Works. Now there was a distinct track, evidently designed for use by walkers and cyclists, but wide enough for vehicles. The security fence had been moved away from the river’s edge to accommodate this. Lining the route were blossoming trees – Cherry, Blackthorn, Willows. As a foil to the roar of the A13, Blackbirds, Wren, Goldfinch – even Linnets – were in evidence. In the distance the guillotine-like structure of the Barking flood relief barrier could be seen – our eventual destination, by the Thames.
I was hesitant to walk too far towards the river, as – however far the way was open – I was unsure whether we would actually be able to ‘get out’ at the far end. We would need to get home somehow, and it would be a long way back if there was no exit from the route, except back the way we had come. Deciding just to walk as far as the next bend, we did so, and found ourselves at the entrance to Thames Water’s ‘Beckton Creekside Nature Reserve’, the track bearing slightly of to the right by its perimeter. The notice-board map indicated a series of pathways, connecting back to the main route further south, so there was an incentive to go on.
As we looked at the information board, a vehicle came towards us from within the reserve. This was the warden, Danny Regan, with whom we chatted about the area, and whether we could get to the Thames and out the other end. Yes – the walkway went all the way to the Thames, but no – we wouldn’t be able to get out the other end. There was a gate that had been locked for some time, we were told. So our decision was made for us. We would leave the nature reserve and the Thames for another time, retrace our route just as far as the cinema complex, and find transport home.
There was one additional aspect to the return trip worthy of mention, particularly for intending pedestrians. As may be seen from the photograph of the signpost, above, there is also a notice board. This has a map, showing the walkways that are signed. It does show that the ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’ does reach the Barking Barrier, by the Thames. It includes paths through Beckton Creekside Nature Reserve as an alternative way there. The ‘Riverside Walkway’ finger, though – as has been stated – weirdly points away from the Roding, first south and then westwards, parallel to the Thames, but a considerable distance from it. It runs between the fences of the water treatment works, and the back of the cinema complex. According to the map, it goes at least as far as Jenkins Lane, where there is a convenient bus stop.
So that’s the way we took, all the way along the back of the cinema, fenced off from its service road. At Jenkins Lane, within view of a bus stop, we were stopped – by a locked gate, which should have enabled us access to the pavement. Admittedly, it was then that we recalled that the nature reserve warden had said that he had to lock a gate to stop fly-tipping. I hadn’t paid that much attention, as at that time we hadn’t quite known what gate he was referring to, and that – then – wasn’t where we were heading. It seemed a long trek back to the signpost and access to the cinema complex car park to a place where - if travel restrictions allowed - it would be possible to catch a bus…
Paul Ferris 26 March 2021
This walk was on 9th March 2021
(1) Barking and Dagenham Historical Society : http://www.barkinghistory.co.uk/
(2) Archaeology Data Service : https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/
River Roding Trust : https://riverrodingtrust.org.uk/
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
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