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/