Ilford to Redbridge, and Wanstead Park's bluebells.
I met the rest of Trevor’s attendees for his walk from Ilford towards Redbridge, on Bank Holiday Monday 3 May 2021, at Sainsbury’s in Ilford.
There were nine of us, so I offered to lead a sub-group consisting of Ann, Fozie and Madeleine, whilst Trevor went ahead with Eileen, Chris, Ian and Louise. This was so as to be in line with the six-maximum requirement for meetings outside during the 2020/21 Covid crisis.
We were supposed to keep in view of the other group, but we quickly lost sight of Trevor’s when we stopped to look at the Roding and the Alders Brook at Ilford Bridge, then deviated to look at the Alders Brook from Lugg Approach*. We saw them again when they’d stopped to look at the brook just by the Great Eastern and Liverpool Street to Shenfield railway lines. I wonder if they noticed the magnificent Chusan Palm growing alongside the nastiest bit of the walk - Romford Road in Little Ilford? They would certainy have noticed the colourful graffiti adorning the walls approaching the railway underpass.
It gets a bit vegetative from this point onwards, so there were a few occasions where we discussed flowers, and then saw the other group briefly when they had either stopped to look at the Roding or stopped to wait for us to come into view. Maybe a bit of both? We discussed Sandpipers and Chiffchaffs with some cycling birders, then proceeded into Epping Forest, by way of the old sewage works site. I don’t know – because we didn’t see the others for a while – but we took the mysterious riverside-bank walk, while maybe the others followed the parallel Roding Valley Way surfaced track, to then cross the river to the Redbridge bank.
Walking northwards still, we paused to talk about the panorama across the river along the ornamental canal and up The Glade, to where Wanstead House would once have commanded the view across the horizon. From the ‘official’ Roding Valley Way track, we descended to the now derelict grassy area which had been Kearley and Tonge’s – once “The Greatest Grocers in the World” – sports fields. It was decided that a sandwich break was in order, and although we had seen the preceding group in the far distance – maybe waiting for us again – a phone call to Trevor suggested that they forge ahead whilst we make our own time.
Having finished our little break – seated on a grassy bank – we made our way to the Redbridge Roundabout, where various options presented themselves. Originally, the walk was going to continue from here eastwards to Valentines Park, but Trevor had said at the beginning that he was now going to include Wanstead Park and its bluebells instead. That was fine with me, because I had intended to leave the walk here anyway, and walk back home through Wanstead Park. It was probably convenient for Fozie, too, as she could easily get home from here. But Ann and Madeleine had not heard of the change of route, and had left their cars in inconvenient locations for a return from Wanstead Park. And, too, they hadn’t heard Trevor mention it at the beginning. Fozie waited for a bus, Madeleine decided that returning to Gant’s Hill might be a better option, but Ann wanted more of a walk and so decided to accompany me to the park, from which I assured her she could get back reasonably conveniently by bus.
Approaching Wanstead Park along Warren Road, we could see by the number of cars parked that the park would be ‘heaving’. And so it was. We walked quickly through the bluebell wood* – with me moaning about the numbers and disrespect some were showing to the flowers by trampling them – and caught up with the others at the kiosk, where tea and coffee and an outdoor bench were available. I had to apologise to Trevor for getting so far behind, and he suggested that he thought the rest of ‘my’ group may have chucked me into the river for pointing too many things out. And that I had lost 50% of my group – which must say something.
I bade them farewell (actually said ‘goodbye’ or some such), as their plan was to make their way to Ilford via the east end of Wanstead Park, and then by way of Valentines Park. At least that gave Ann company, and she didn’t need to pay for a bus back by herself.
Two minutes after we had parted, I watched a family of Great Crested Grebes on Heronry Pond. Dad was feeding one grebeling, and mum was trying to sleep whilst the other grebelets were trying to climb under her wings. It is a wonderful sight, and I am sorry that the others didn’t see that.
Thanks to Trevor for arranging the walk, and the others who came on it.
Paul Ferris 4th May 2021
* For more information about the walk from Ilford to Redbridge, click HERE
* For more about the Bluebells in Wanstead Park, click HERE
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?
– 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.Rather than begin any northwards walk along the Roding, we turned left
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
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
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/
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