A Walk by a Secret Brook and a Hidden Pond
It was a surprise to get the previous article - Mayes Brook and Parsloes Park - offered for publication on the Group’s website – especially under these somewhat locked-down circumstances. At least, still, somewhat. It was the first since the walk in the Felstead area, way back on 7th March. The website has been looking a bit stagnant, and maybe some of the group members are feeling a bit stagnant, but at least we know that members have got together at last, and got outdoors. There may have been other meetings – maybe a cycle ride or two – and we have at least had updates on some goings on (goings on!?) via emails, and maybe via Facebook, although I would not have seen the latter.
Some of those who went on last Sunday’s walk, led by Ann, also came on a walk led by myself on 15th July. The furthest I have been in the last few months is Wanstead or Plaistow, on foot because I haven’t used public transport during that time, and don’t have a car. But one easy place for me to go is the City of London Cemetery, and I do know it quite well. In fact, having a car wouldn’t be a bad idea in there, perhaps, as there is said to be over 7 miles of road.
So I invited just two people along, Ann and Cathy – as I wanted to ensure social distancing on the one hand and keeping an EFOG group together on the other – and was asked if Richard might come too. So that made four.
My planned route – and I did have one, in my head – was essentially to show part of the course of one of the least known streams or rivers in the whole of Greater London. Even Ann’s Mayes Brook and the River Effra are more well known, and do feature in guide books, and of course the bountifully endowed Beverley Brook is featured in novels. My brook is just about unknown even to the residents of the nice Edwardian housing estate which takes it name from the watercourse. The watercourse is the Alders Brook, and the housing estate is the Aldersbrook. It is almost certainly unknown to the majority of the residents of the cemetery, although it is possible that a few did know it in their past.
So the four of us met in the car park of the cemetery, outside its impressive main gates. This cemetery really should be cemetery eight of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ (Cemeteries, that is). However, they – apparently – are private cemeteries, and this one is owned by the Corporation of the City of London. The City's churchyards were somewhat overflowing with passed (past) residents in the mid 1800’s, so they bought up a farm estate (Aldersbrook Manor and Farm, no less), built a wonderful cemetery – dubbed as ‘The Cemetery in a Garden’ – and hence not only stopped the overflow, but had room to re-bury some of the City churches’ dead. Also, because of this land ownership, the City Corporation was able to add an extremely powerful voice in the campaign to ‘Save Epping Forest’, but that is – as is said – another story.
There aren’t many famous people buried in there – unlike, for example Highgate – and I suspect that one of the most visited graves (or at least memorials) is that of Bobby Moore. Other favourites are a couple of Jack the Ripper victims, whose resting places are marked by plaques on the ground. But it is the ‘garden’ aspect that I like – very different from nearby Wanstead Flats or Wanstead Park – maybe closer to the formality of Valentines Park, which is not really all that far away, but on the east side of the River Roding.
On its eastern edge the cemetery does slope down to the valley of the Roding, here being a wide flood plain on which Ilford Golf Course is built. So we – eventually – made our way to the top of this slope from which – if it weren’t for the willows in between – we could have seen as far as Ilford. On the outer edge of the railings of the cemetery there is a footpath which runs parallel to the fence, inexplicably known to the few remaining indigenous people hereabouts as ‘The Bridle Path’, which it isn’t. I suppose it may have been the Bridal Path, but can’t really see why it should be that, either. Beyond the path, and also coursing more or less parallel for some way, is the stream called the Alders Brook, which is a tributary of the Roding, meeting it just north of Ilford High Road bridge, near the A406 flyover, which indeed the river flows under.
However, our vantage point wasn’t really a vantage point, because of those trees and other sundry vegetation and allotments, so the others just had to trust me. We made our way into a dense cover of trees, mainly Grey Poplar and Yew, but with some Oaks and other things. This unused area of the cemetery is cleverly known and sign-posted as ‘The Birches’, but most of these are dead, and ‘The Poplars’ might be a better nomenclature. The Birches is the cemetery’s nature reserve, opened to the public in 2006 and on which day I led the first walk around. It’s likely that hardly anyone has gone in there since, but… The reason that The Birches is there at all is that all these trees and other vegetation are around a valley, and a damp one at that. Not really suitable for burials, and thus probably had been lying virtually untouched since the time of the Aldersbrook Estate (the original one – not the present Edwardian one), until the nature reserve path was constructed.
Well, not quite untouched, because I led our little group downhill through the wilderness and indeed beyond the official ‘public’ access to the reserve, to show them a hidden pond. This had been deliberately constructed under the auspices of a founding member of the Wren Conservation Group sometime in the 70’s, I think, as a wildlife habitat. For much of the year the pond remains almost un-see-able, unless one knows where to look, but we looked, and I explained that this was the first visible aspect of the Alders Brook. On the east side there is a conduit which allows the brook to flow under the cemetery fence and the Bridle Path, to emerge just marginally more visibly before flowing around the back of the Aldersbrook Allotments, passing some Alder trees (there might be a clue there), and hence to the Roding. At the west end of the pond is a concrete conduit from which the stream flows as from some concrete goddess' womb, which I intended to explain later.
Exiting from The Birches, perhaps to the relief of some because of its density and mosquitoes, we scaled the really high ground of the cemetery. This area was once used as a tip for unwanted materials generated in such a place – like flower wrappers and broken plant pots and vegetative material. Within the last few years the tip has been both filled in and raised up, to create more burial space. In the middle of this large, more or less grass-covered,mound is the access to a manhole which gives access to the Alders Brook, some 6 metres or so below, I believe. The water runs underground now, to emerge at the conduit in The Birches, but originating at a mysterious source still somewhere roughly to the west.
So we made our way off the mound, roughly to the west. I deviated slightly, because I wanted to show the others what I consider to be one of the finest and oddest memorials in the cemetery – a kerbed grave with a huge upright headstone and carvings of a 'long dog' (a greyhound or lurcher), a hare, a cockerel and a jaunting car. The only inscription on the whole thing is one word: ‘Amos’. (apart from the maker’s inscription, of course). On the reverse of the upright, though, are three poems, which tend to relate to illegal hunting practices and the mystery of the hare.
Nearby is the viewing terrace above the catacombs and columbarium. The catacombs obviously are feline in nature and the columbarium pigeon. The terrace looks out over a wide valley towards the more modern of the cemetery's two crematoria, and the catacombs form an arc-shaped end to the valley. This is where once a large pond had been formed by damming the brook, as a feature to Aldersbrook Manor. You can still see a row of manhole covers which could give access to the brook, which of course now flows underneath all of this.
Passing the North and South Chapels of the crematoria, we followed a by-now very shallow and slightly uphill valley, now used as a road, to the back gates of the Cemetery Superintendent’s house, near the main entrance. The course of the brook is by now almost indistinguishable, as the source is nearby.
At the gates, having had a fairly long walk around, and all feeling tired not just because of that, perhaps, but also because it was unusual for some of us to meet people these days. Also, I had done a lot of talking and the others had been doing a lot of enforced listening, so we said our goodbyes.
It was only after Ann had got into her car that I remembered that I hadn’t pointed out the all-important point of the whole expedition: the actual source of the brook. At least Cathy and Richard got to see it - it is the overflow from Alexandra Lake, on Wanstead Flats, by Aldersbrook Road. At one time, I assume, that would have been a boggy area from which the stream flowed naturally down the aforementioned shallow natural valley. The lake was dug and constructed in about 1906 as a job-creation scheme for unemployed men, to alleviate the flooding problem on Aldersbrook Road. It would have been convenient to route the water underground at that time, but that may well have been done earlier, during the construction of the cemetery in the 1850's. Once underground - like many of London's 'lost' rivers - it is soon forgotten, and unless one is a sewage worker or naiad or something, all that might remain is a clue. Like Fleet Street, or Aldersbrook.
Paul Ferris, 28th July 2020
Mayes Brook and Parsloes Park Walk
A small group of us - Trevor, Cathy, Richard, Madeleine and myself - went on a 2 hour walk through Mayesbrook Park and Parsloes Park in Dagenham on Sunday 26th July. The walk had been postponed from Saturday due to rain. It nearly got called off again as there was a shower about an hour before we were due to meet.
Mayesbrook Park is set back from Longbridge Road in Dagenham next door to St Thomas More Catholic Church. You could easily miss the park if you didn't know it was there. I have been there several times and my favourite spot in the park is brook called Mayes Brook. It is very clear and you can see to the bottom unless it has been raining and it is running much faster and churns up the mud, etc. Who would have thought there could be such beauty in Dagenham? The brook feeds into one of the lakes in the park when there's been a lot of rain and it starts to overflow. There are areas called swales that have been dug in the ground to take up extra rainwater to prevent flooding. I believe it is an area of SSSI. The route of the brook was changed a few years ago to stop flooding in the local area and also to create a marshy area. There is a North Lake and a South Lake, the North Lake being the larger of the two and which has some tree covered islands in it on which the geese and ducks nest. Sadly at the moment quite a bit of the lakes have green algae growing on them which is probably due to visitors feeding the birds with bread etc.
We walked around the right hand side of the South Lake as there are some very nice weeping willow trees at its edge, and we spotted a grey heron and a cormorant, which Cathy said looked rather like a periscope moving around in the water before it ducked down to catch fish. This part of the park is bordered by the C2C and District railway lines.
We left Mayesbrook Park at Lodge Avenue, crossed over the road and walk down Porters Avenue and entered Parsloes Park. This park was not as big, but had a small lake, a rose garden and several play areas for the children. We did a circular walk around the park - which covers quite a large area - and then returned to Mayesbrook Park and walked round the other side of that park, passing the sports centre, the velodrome which was used in 2012 Olympics, Dagenham Football Club and saw a cricket match going on just outside the cricket pavilion. We made a hasty retreat as there were very black clouds looming and chance of quite heavy rain! Trevor and I had both walked to the park and were keen to get home before the heavens opened! All in all it was a pleasant afternoon and so nice to get out and about again. Trevor checked on his smartphone for the distance we had covered and was surprised to find we had walked about 4.5 miles. Getting ourselves in training for when we can do our 6 or 7 miles or more walks with EFOG!
Ann W. 27th July 2020
Walk in Felsted Area
It was rather nice to wake up on Saturday 7th March to sunshine for a change, as the last few weeks have been rain, rain, rain.
So, 10 of us: Ann Walden (our walk leader for the day), Amina, Bernie, Cathy and Richard, Eileen, Lynne, Madeleine, Trevor and Val met up in the Wood Cottage Tea Rooms in Felsted and thus fortified with the necessary teas and coffees set off for an anticipated 6 to 6.5 mile walk.
Easier said than done, as due to the aforementioned rain the first couple of miles around and across open farmland were really wet and muddy and quite hard going.
The scenery however more than compensated the heavy muddy boots, and once we reached what is now known as The Flitch Way we were then walking along the bed of the old railway (long since closed) and continued passing what is left of Felsted Station, which was in the process of being converted to a private house. The new owners can't have been impressed as their efforts have been rewarded by persons unknown who had smashed almost every window.
We then continued and took a small detour to see Felstead Water Mill. The water was in full flow and quite impressive.
Back then to the Wood Cottage Tea Rooms, from where we began the walk, for a spot of lunch – for a small place the food was lovely and really well presented. (would recommend anyone to go to Felsted just for that experience).
A very pleasant day all round, thank you Ann for leading.
Val. 7th March 2020
Barnes Wetland Centre
Who would have thought that Sunday 1st March would have been such a sunny day after the week we had. Only Lynne joined us at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's Barnes Wetland Centre on a glorious, but cold, day.
We started our wandering on the West Route with a visit to the just-fed otters which were, as expected, very cute. This route takes you through the Wetlands of the World, showing a collection of about 40 species of birds which were bred and raised in captivity. This has helped save some of these birds from extinction. Because many of these birds were used to people they took no notice of you walking near them and it was great to see them really close.
On our way around the West Route we went into a couple of hides overlooking the main lake with many ducks, geese, and gulls to observe. At one we saw a small island with dozens of sunbathing cormorants on it and nine herons spread amongst them who would every now then have a short punch up and then settle back down again.
After lunch we took the South Route, which would be very colourful in the summer as there were many wild flower gardens, but were now just starting to show spring flowers. We worked our way around to the Peacock Tower which not only overlooks the main lake, but also the Grazing Marsh and Water Scrape.
Peter & Maz Gamble, 4th March 2020
Bethnal Green to Stratford walk
Seventeen members of the group met at Bethnal Green on the 1st February, and viewed some of the interesting highlights of the area before heading into Victoria Park and onto the Regent's Canal. Following the canal southwards, we made our way down to Limehouse Basin and then onto the Limehouse Cut, arriving at Three Mills before travelling onto The Greenway. We finished the walk through the daffodils edging the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park paths to the end of the walk in Stratford.
The walk was approximately 6 miles in all, with sunshine for most of the walk and the wind picking up at the tail end.
Sue. S., 1st February 2020
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