River Roding Walk – Ilford Northwards
Part 1 - Ilford to the Redbridge Roundabout
At the finish of the write-up of the walk that I entitled ‘ From Little Ilford to Big Ilford’ (Part 4 of 'Ilford to the Thames' – here), I left it (us) ‘...at the pavement of the Romford Road, just on the Manor Park side of the Ilford Bridge.’
In fact, on that day we walked further. On the north side of Ilford Bridge, if one knows where to look – and particularly at this time of year (March/April) – the confluence of the Alders Brook with the Roding can be seen, on the left-hand side. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to actually walk northwards by the Roding itself, but it can be re-accessed by a quite pleasant walk near the brook.
That is to say, it is quite pleasant once the Romford Road is out of the way.
What with the A406 North Circular more or less overhead, the A118 Romford Road alongside, this is not the nicest stretch of road, but it isn’t too far – walking towards Manor Park – before a small road (Lugg Approach), which leads to a big car dealer and the premises of the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (now there is a title!). You can’t go far up this approach, because otherwise you are met with security gates and probably security guards, too, but where that is at the point of happening you can, and we did, stand on a bridge from both sides of which you can view the narrow channel of the Alders Brook. This brook is a small tributary of the Roding (see here). Last time I looked it was very overgrown, and there were notices warning of Japanese Knotweed. The knotweed and the notices are now gone, and the bank-side has been recently cleared of rubbish and vegetation. The stream itself, though, needs a good clear-out.
Returning to the Romford Road, we passed the pedestrian crossing that the Roding Valley Way indicates, southwards, into the streets. How daft; back in 2015 I suggested that it should be possible for pedestrian and perhaps cyclists to have access to the banks of the Alders Brook, and remove the necessity to walk – as we were doing – along part of the busy Romford Road.
However, it is still necessary to breath in all those fumes and put up with all that noise, and the most saving aspect of the (relatively short) trek is that in the tiny front garden of one of the dwellings is a magnificent Chusan Palm.
Shortly, a paved way though the maisonettes here leads northwards towards the Great Eastern railway line, using part of Aldersbrook Lane. Aldersbrook Lane is a very historic route, once having been the main approach to Aldersbrook Manor. Its orientation – broadly NW – predates the much later usual N-S and E-W orientation of the streets off the Romford Road. Just beyond the junction with Daines Close a pedestrian way drops down to a foot-tunnel beneath the railway. There is a ‘Roding Valley Way’ sign here. The disturbance of the Romford Road was quickly forgotten as we emerged from the tunnel as there is a considerable area of un-built-upon land ahead. On the left – behind security railings but nevertheless quite visible – are the landscaped grounds of the huge City of London Cemetery (1), whilst on the right, just across the Alders Brook, is Ilford Golf Course. There is a track to the left, between the cemetery railings and the railway, which leads to Wanstead Flats, and ahead the Roding Valley Way forges between the brook and the cemetery towards Wanstead Park. This track – locally known as the Bridle Path – was until the surfacing and re-orienteering work took place for it to become the RVW, little known, except to locals, allotment holders, and probably tramps. Tramps seem to be a thing of the past (people of the past?) now, having been superseded by other groups - often taking to living in camps - in much the same way that red squirrels have been superseded by grey ones, perhaps.
This route, alongside the Alders Brook, is surprisingly rural and potentially pleasant in aspect – certainly compared to the south side of the railway. I do say potentially, because although great efforts are made by some to keep it nice, sometimes even greater efforts seem to be made by others to litter and fly-tip it. This seems to be an English disease, I suggest.
But it is a nice walk; the trees were beginning to green, some common wildlflowers – buttercups, dandelions, daisies, speedwells – were brightening up the place, and there was plenty of birdsong, too. The brook disappears from view behind some allotments part way along the route, and then briefly reappears at the far end of those allotments. And that appearance is actually the first that most people get of the brook, because it emerges from a conduit from within the cemetery to the left.
Just for a short way neither the Alders Brook nor the Roding was in view, but it is possible to scramble up a bank and see the Roding, with Ilford Golf Course stretching into the distance beyond. Here, even the A406 is distant, so the sounds are mostly natural ones. We sat on some logs, just off the track, and had a snack. We had seen, and saw, a few Peacock butterflies and a white or two, and then there was a Comma. My companion recognised the species, but was unaware of where its name came from. I explained that on the dark underwing there is a very small white mark – a comma. A long-distance sitting-down camera shot even allowed me enough resolution to show that without moving and disturbing the creature.
The Roding comes close to the path a short way beyond, and from here there is a good view of the meanders of the river, with – at the time – Mallard duck using the flow to move downstream. And then the Roding Valley Way enters Epping Forest; is this the only place it does so? The wide-open gates and falling-down railings of the old Redbridge Southern Sewage Works now form the boundary, with an Epping Forest sign with relevant rules and regulations guarding the entrance. The disused sewage works became part of the Forest in 1993, when that area of land was exchanged for some of the Forest that had been lost in road-building elsewhere. The City of London Corporation – owners of Epping Forest – thus call this area ‘The Exchange Lands’. To me it is still ‘The Old Sewage Works’. (see here)
Walking along the foot/cycle path that runs along the bank above the Roding, with clear views across the golf course towards residential Ilford, the variety of plants around us was a pleasure, especial as there was cherry and Blackthorn in flower. It is easy to follow the official ‘way’ onwards towards Wanstead Park, but I knew of a slightly less used alternative, closer to the river. This winds, mostly beneath trees, along the river bank before emerging onto the E-W cycle/footpath between Aldersbrook and Wanstead Park Road, in Ilford. This emergence just misses the signpost that indicates that Valentines Park is 10 minutes away. And fails to mention that if you walk it – rather than cycle – it is more like 30 minutes.
A bridge carries the Roding Valley Way over the Roding to the Ilford bank, and ahead is the route to Valentines Park, but ours was to the left and continuing alongside the river. There was a nice new sign on the bridge, explaining that beyond was the Roding Valley Park (2) – a green corridor... following the River Roding and Roding Valley Way cycle route. This is great – except once again we get ‘cycle route’, with no mention of it also being a pedestrian route. Second class citizens?
Anyway we crossed the bridge, and walked left – along the cycle route. Are we allowed? There was a football game going on on the recreation field here – a legal one this time, as the restrictions on such had recently been removed. The nicely-surfaced route rises from sports-field level to river-bank level, so that the river comes into view, looking across to Wanstead Park. There is a particularly nice vista into the park a short way along, looking along the ornamental Canal and up The Glade to where, in times past – and maybe up until 1826 – the magnificent view of the great Wanstead House would have crossed the skyline. Now the view is of a line of trees separating the Park from Wanstead Golf Course, and what is left of the house there is a big hole in the ground where the basements would have been.
Immediately behind us was a small wood, with on its southern side at least, a muddy ditch. This is Whiskers Island – actually a part of Wanstead Park, even though on the east bank of the Roding. Beyond this, on the landward side away from the river, a dense area of bramble separates from the noisily encroaching North Circular road, and a bit further along are some relatively new allotments.
At the northern end of the allotments, the pedestrian/cycle route dog-legs right towards the road, then sharp left alongside it. We decided to stick to the river as closely as possible so dropped down into a large area of what had been the Kearly and Tonge playing fields, leased from London Borough of Redbridge. Now it is just a large grassland area, with some remnant goal posts and some desire-line paths used by dog-walkers amongst others. The aforementioned bramble patch, allotments, and this, are all part of the Roding flood plain – as are the earlier recreation grounds and the whole of Ilford Golf Course. The Roding here is actually a man-made channel, replacing the original course which now forms part of Wanstead Park’s Ornamental Waters. As such, when the Roding is in flood, it can flood parts of the park, even the golf course, but not always this ex-sports area, as the flood bank is quite high. Rivers need flood plains to help ease the flow, and this would make an ideal area to allow it to do so, if the riverside barriers were lowered somewhat and final, higher, barriers set back nearer to the A406, the area could be allowed to flood in a controlled way, with the creation of scrapes – shallow lakes – for water-birds to feed in. This sort of approach can help facilitate wildlife and help prevent flooding of people’s homes.
We walked close to the river – even close to two Little Egrets at the waterside – as far as the back gardens of the houses in Royston Gardens, then walked behind those – at a respectable distance – to a convenient hole torn in the original high sports-field fence, to emerge close to the Redbridge roundabout where there is a foot-tunnel to the Roding beyond. For another time perhaps?
Rather than begin any northwards walk along the Roding, we turned left – passing the foot-tunnel (and bicycle tunnel?) beneath the roundabout system – and walked up to what had been the red bridge that gave the area and the London Borough its name, That bridge, which had existed since possibly the 18th century, was replaced in 1922 by the present one carrying the A12 from Colchester into Wanstead and towards London. On the east bank of the river is Redbridge Pumping Station, a pleasant red-brick building of perhaps the 1920s. Water is pumped from a deep well for household purposes, but this is supplemented these days by water pumped in from quite nearby, from below what was the old Redbridge Southern Sewage Works (3). The view of the river flowing towards the Thames from the bridge is pleasant, but the ambience is spoilt by the noise from the A12. It is sad that no public footpath (or at least a permissive path) exists along the west bank of the Roding to allow access to Wanstead Park from the Redbridge area hereabouts. The park is only a few hundred metres away, but part of Wanstead Golf Course is between where we were and what would have been a nice walk back home to Wanstead Flats - through Wanstead Park. But - of course - the golf course is private property and it wouldn't do to have people walking along the edge of it, even though there could be an easy, lower-level path, separated by a hedge perhaps, to near the old pump house in the NE corner of Wanstead Park. Our walk back was nice enough though, along Redbridge Lane West, between the golf course and allotments, past Wanstead High School and along Warren Road and then through the park.
This walk between Ilford Bridge and Redbridge isn’t very far – just over 2 miles, but can be enhanced by enjoying the vast amount of wildlife that is present along the Alders Brook, the Roding, through the old Sewage Works and along the east bank of the Roding.
Paul Ferris 8th April 2021
(1) The City of London Cemetery: www.wansteadwildlife.org.uk/index.php/en/city-of-london-cemetery71
(2) Roding Valley Park: https://visionrcl.org.uk/centre/roding-valley-park/
(3) Redbridge Southern Sewage Works: https://www.wansteadwildlife.org.uk/index.php/en/sewage-works-site