River Roding Walk – Ilford to the Thames
Part 4 - Little Ilford to big Ilford
The Roding Valley Way – for this is what this route should eventually become part of – is a designated pedestrian/cycle route which starts near Buckhurst Hill Station and is well-signposted and mostly level and surfaced track all the way south to the Romford Road, between Manor Park and Ilford.
When it emerges from a short tunnel beneath the Liverpool Street to Shenfield main line railway it more or less deposits the happy walkers and cyclists at a busy main road. It is still signposted, along the pavement, across a pedestrian crossing, and between some fairly low tower blocks just west of Ilford Hill. It is predominantly streets thereafter, and the Roding is more away than a way.
Some years ago, with the proposals for big changes at Ilford station in preparation for the Crossrail project, I did suggest that at least for the final stretch on the north side of the Romford Road – where the route hits that road – it should be possible to put a little of the Crossrail project finances into carrying the route along the Alders Brook, as far as Ilford Bridge. (see here) Fairly obviously – and incredibly foreseeably – that sort of suggestion by such as I would not be undertaken. Although it would not have taken much.
When we found and began the section from Little Ilford (part of Manor Park, in the London Borough of Newham) by accident and unintention, we had the opportunity – at the beginning – to turn left or right along the riverside bank. We had chosen right, because the path looked slightly more defined and used, whereas the left-hand path – if it went any distance at all – would have led to the Ilford bridge, on the Romford Road, over the Roding. This stretch, now that we had seen the work being undertaken by the River Roding Trust(1), was really waiting for us to explore. John Rogers had done it, being shown the way from the Ilford Bridge by a Trust member, but had omitted on his video to show how they accessed the path from the bridge. It shows them walking along the side of the busy slip road that carries vehicles onto the A406, then cuts to the footpath itself.(2) I was a bit dubious of this. I guessed how it could be done, but would have hated to try and cross the slip road traffic. So we decided to find out how by taking the left path from what we had began to call the mushroom farm.
As we entered the pathway at the east end of Millais Avenue we immediately saw that a litter and rubbish collection had taken place, particularly underneath the A406. Trees with protective surrounds had been planted on the north side of the river-bank path, and looked to be growing healthily. Blackthorn was in full flower between the road and the Roding, and cherry was blossoming, too. Almost immediately we were pursued by a Peacock butterfly, but it was more interested in the blossom than us. Then a Small White butterfly was investigated by a Brimstone, and more Peacocks were seen as we progressed along the river path. There wasn’t too much rubbish, evidence that the recent tidy-up had been well done. And presumably, recently.
Below, the Roding was flowing quite swiftly Thames-ward; at a high tide it could appear that it was flowing backwards if the tide backs up, but at the moment it was low. As with much of the route that we had followed previously, Phragmites reed and mud lined the lower banks. Up on the footpath bank, though, the grassy bits were scattered with Lesser Celandine, speedwells were showing their eyes to to the sun, and so much white blossom from Blackthorn and Cherry trees.
Across the river, newer homes looked out onto the river, across to us and out to the A406. That must be an inspiring outlook. There was plenty of bird-sounds close to us – the chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, etc. of Chiffchaffs, the long call and trill of Wrens, occasionally the beautiful song of Blackbirds, the sudden explosion of Cetti’s Warblers. And other things. And all of this helping to tune out, depending on one’s concentration, the continuous roar of the North Circular Road, with people in vehicles during this lockdown not travelling too far from their homes and only with good reason.
It surprised me and concerned me how close we were to the road; in some stretches only a verge with a crash barrier separated us from the vehicles, but there was also the remains of a roadside fence along some stretches which acted as a psychological and a noise barrier. If this route ever does become part of the Roding Valley Way, that fence needs to be replaced, and preferably higher.
We began to see more rubbish. A lot of this would have derived from stuff chucked from passing cars, some was probably the remains of homeless-peoples’ camp-sites. The number of beer bottles may be a testament to that. But masses of this litter had been collected, put into plastic bags and huge canvas bags for lorry-lifting away. An immense effort, no-doubt, by volunteers from the River Roding Trust. We are such a mucky country; across the river, houses with gardens that back onto the river often had piles of litter that had been thrown over the garden fence. At the ends of some of the streets that reach the river, fly-tips onto the river bank had taken place. This really is a place of contrasts: there are the wildflowers, planted trees, the litter and the fly-tips, there are the butterflies and the birdsong, the vehicles and the road-noise. There are people that throw the litter down, and others that pick it up. There is the clear-flowing river, and the tyres chucked in it.
There was a stretch amongst the cherry-trees where immense amounts of litter of all sorts, from refrigerators through plastic bottles to children’s toys, had been collected against the A406 fence, ready for collection. Here there was a slight quandary whether to take a semi-cleared path created and continuing at the level we had been on, or a fairly defined and clearer path that looked as though it dropped down into the river. We chose the former, and probably wrongly. That patch requires a bit more work. There are sapling-trunks – lopped but ready to trip – and an uncomfortable angle for a long stretch. That was the hardest part of the walk, and the most unpleasant, but if we’d taken the other, it seems it would have simply joined up with our choice, as we saw later.
Just past this stretch, the river had meandered away eastwards towards Natal Road, in Ilford. Between us and the river was a large expanse of flood-plain, with reed, lots of Yellow Flag Iris, and potentially a wonderful wildlife area. Tucked in at the edge of the river defence bank and the flood-plain were occasional squat rectangular buildings. I don’t know what these were – possibly war-time defence structures?
We were by now level with the south-bound access slip-road from Ilford onto the North Circular, and getting close to discovering how one accesses this riverside path from Romford Road. Then, we on a stretch of roadside mown grass, right by the access road. There was no way I was going to cross that slip road and walk down, with cars by our sides and no pavement, to the Romford Road. This was the bit that John Rogers omitted to show. It was like being on the edge of a motorway. I was really beginning to worry now that we would have to retrace our route all the way back to the mushroom farm.
But, as the off slip-road began to rise above us on our left, and the Roding began to hem us in on our right, we discovered that there was a narrow path, and the Ilford Bridge was in view. I have often seen this stretch from the bridge, but from the pavement side of the railings. The closer we got to the railings, the higher they looked. Although anyone with a bit of youth and/or fitness could have hopped over, I wasn’t so sure. And then – someone had thoughtfully unscrewed a bolt allowing a section to swing open, and we were able to duck underneath. We were on the pavement of the Romford Road, just on the Manor Park side of the Ilford Bridge.
(1) River Roding Trust: https://riverrodingtrust.org.uk
(2) John Rogers - Lost World of the River Roding - Ilford to Barking: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjfUFQwVkgc