Dagenham Heathway to Romford; 27 September 2014

Yesterday I went for a walk. Leaving a little later than planned, and on my way round to Harringay Green Lanes station, I passed the ‘Harringay Block Party’, which was in progress on Portland Gardens but didn’t seem to be particularly well attended. A terrible blues band were playing (the kind of stuff I hate and played for years as a drummer in various bands). I got up onto the platform at the station and of course the band could still be heard loud and clear, but a train came almost immediately. So, on to Barking, where I switched to the District line and got off at Dagenham Heathway.

I’d noticed on the map that, north of Dagenham Dock station, there are some significant areas of open space, e.g. the Beam Valley Country Park, that stretch north up towards Romford, and beyond to Epping Forest. However, my walk was rather frustrating as I got lost several times, found some footpaths non-existent or closed, and the weather was mostly grey (although warm and somewhat humid).

After exiting from Dagenham Heathway station, I started by exploring the Gores Brook, which comes down from the north and empties into the Thames near Horseshoe Corner, Dagenham. I was particularly interested in a section in the vicinity of Dagenham Dock station, where the brook was shown on the OS map as passing through a built-up area but with a public footpath running alongside it. Unfortunately, there was no sign of this footpath and seemingly no way of following the Gores Brook any further south. Instead I turned my attention to the Beam Valley Country Park.

Trying to gain entry to the Beam Valley Country Park was a frustrating experience. The map appeared to indicate that you could enter it at its southern end, at Beam Bridge on New Road, Dagenham. Instead I found locked gates (but inside I could see the frame of an old information board, indicating there had once been public access). I then thought I might find an entry point if I walked north along Lower Mardyke Avenue, which is just to the east of the Beam Bridge, but I really should have researched this more before setting out. I’d assumed that the area of open space at the end of Lower Mardyke Avenue was part of the Beam Valley Park. But, looking more closely at the map now, it is clear it is something separate, in fact what appears to be an old landfill site.

I found a recreation ground just north of Frederick Road (east of Lower Mardyke Ave.), and in the north-eastern corner there was a public footpath waymarker and a gap in the fence, so I headed north. But it turned out to be a massive area of earth rising to higher ground (seemed like landfill that is being prepared for building), with a brook and swampy ground at the eastern edges, and houses beyond. I wasn’t optimistic but I continued on, trying unsuccessfully to cross swampy ground in the north-eastern corner, where I thought there might be an exit. I had to backtrack and head west, skirting the northern edge of this huge landfill area. To my relief I finally found a place where, after crossing rough, somewhat overgrown ground, I could squeeze out onto Dagenham Road (just west of the houses on Thorogood Way).

So, I never got to see the Beam Valley Country Park. I can’t say I’m in a hurry to go back.

Almost immediately I spotted a public footpath sign on the other side of the main road, which I hoped would take me into the open land to the north. I walked down the path and it very soon emerged into a weird area with junkyards and a row of late-nineteenth-century houses, but all on a dirt track. Just as I walked through, a car set off, raising clouds of dust, which I was not pleased about. However, I soon found the open space beyond and headed north towards Bretons (marked as an antiquity on the OS map). It turned out to be an eighteenth-century mansion house (although it seems this replaced a house built in 1501, and the earliest house on the site was recorded in 1160). It is now run by the council as some kind of activity centre.

Intending to take a short rest and have a drink of water, I sat down on a bench by a dirt/pebble path not far from the house, but almost immediately spotted to the south, in the distance, two Traveller pony-traps heading my way at high speed. Fearing clouds of dust if they passed me on the dirt path, I hurriedly got up and continued north.

Beyond Bretons I had to deal with the District line, which crosses the open land roughly east to west. There is a footbridge marked on the map but I couldn’t find a way to get to it, although I could see it in the distance. Instead I backtracked and emerged onto Rainham Road, passing under the railway line that way.

Just to the north, I found a path heading west back into what was now Eastbrookend Country Park. My intention was to keep going north and maybe get as far as Rush Green Road, but it was becoming very overcast and prematurely dark (at about 17:30). I got as far as a car park on The Chase (just south of White Hart Lake) but then took a wrong turn down a public footpath signposted as leading to Rainham Road. By now I had given up the idea of getting to Rush Green Road but thought this path might lead to an exit point up near Roneo Corner (junction of Rush Green Rd. and Upper Rainham Rd.). Instead it turned out to head due east. By the time I passed Hooks Hall Farm and confirmed where I was on the map, I’d had enough. I was feeling tired and somewhat dispirited, plus I knew the light wouldn’t last much longer, so I decided to call a halt at the main road.

On Upper Rainham Road, I spotted a bus stop, from where I took the 252 towards Romford town centre. I was in need of refreshment and was pleased to see a Wetherspoon’s in central Romford, so got off the bus there. It was pleasantly uncrowded (maybe because the odd central strip has this Wetherspoon’s, a Lloyd’s Bar just a few doors down, plus a Yates’s Wine Lodge and several other bars and pubs nearby) and I secured a booth. I had something called Ryestone Cowboy (‘rye ale’; 5% strength), which was very nice.

After my drink, I took the no. 5 bus to Barking, and then the Overground home.

So, a bit frustrating. I didn’t see anything much of interest and the weather, although dry and warm, was somewhat depressing. It’s funny how outer east London seems different to outer west London. The rows of semis are much the same, and there are country parks and small rivers, but overall it seems meaner and more miserable somehow.