Upminster Bridge to Shenfield; 25 October 2014

Emerson Park, Havering, London

On Saturday, we went for our first walk since returning from a week-long trip to the Brecon Beacons. Since the weather was dry and relatively mild for late October, and it was the last day before the end of summer time, we were particularly eager to get out.

Our plan was to walk from Upminster Bridge to Shenfield, Essex, so we started by taking the Overground to Barking, and then switched to the District line. Along the way we saw quite a few West Ham fans heading for Upton Park and a big game with Manchester City; the ‘Hammers’, riding unusually high so far this season, would win, 2–1.

Exiting Upminster Bridge station, we crossed the road and quickly found the turn-off to take us north to the open land by the Ingrebourne River. This first section of our walk followed the London Loop, but we soon turned west past Emerson Park Academy, then north along Wingletye Lane, before heading north-east down another footpath which eventually emerged onto the Southend Arterial Road.

After traversing, with some difficulty, the busy dual carriageway (and its central reservation), we entered Mount Pleasant country park, crossed the Ingrebourne, and continued east to Great Tomkyns. I had hoped to catch sight of the house there, which is marked as an antiquity on the OS map, but it was nowhere to be seen, apparently shrouded by trees. A pity, as subsequent Googling revealed it is a very old half-timbered house of some size.

Still walking east, the next point of interest was an Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar on a hill near Howards Farm. This unnamed hill is marked on the map as having an elevation of 74 metres (242 feet) above sea level. That’s nothing compared to the various peaks we scaled in the Brecon Beacons, but visiting ‘trig points’ has become a minor obsession of mine, so I was disappointed when we were unable to locate the pillar.

It turns out, having looked it up subsequently on trigpointing.uk, that the pillar is not on the public footpath but in an adjacent field. (We suspected this was the case at the time but could see no sign of it when we peeked over the hedge.)

Descending the hill, we had some trouble finding our way across the M25, as some of the footpaths in the woodland adjacent to the motorway didn’t quite seem to correspond to what was shown on the map, but we finally found the footbridge, crossed it, and headed for Hole Farm.

In this vicinity, the views southward from the high ground to the distant Thames were quite expansive, and various landmarks could be seen, such as the Dartford Bridge, structures at Tilbury Docks, and the tops of the chimneys of Tilbury Power Station.

Great Warley, Essex
Above: Buildings east of Hole Farm

Beyond Hole Farm, we continued east, eventually reaching the woodland of the Warley Gap, where we had to dodge several mountain bikers descending at rather high speed the hill we were climbing. There were actually signs here warning motorcyclists to be considerate towards other path users – not too surprising as south Essex tends to be prime territory for youths careering around on ‘mini-motos’. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any.

Emerging from the Warley Gap, we saw a huge c.1970s Ford Motor Company building, and nearby the Grade II Listed (but ugly) 19th-century Essex Regiment Chapel, a reminder of a big army presence here before the erection of the Ford building.

Here we also saw a Trampoline & Activity Centre and, a little further on, at a tennis club near Scrub Hill, teenage girls practising cheerleading routines in the late afternoon sun.

With the light beginning to fade, we debated whether or not to cut short our walk and head for Brentwood station, but we decided we had just about enough time to reach Shenfield by nightfall, and we pressed on towards Thorndon Park.

As we entered the huge country park, cars were streaming out, their occupants having spent the afternoon at yet another activity centre. About a mile or so further on, we got a good view of the imposing Thorndon Hall, built c.1770 for the Petre family but now converted to luxury apartments.

Exiting from Thorndon Park, we hurriedly took Middle Road through Ingrave. The sun was setting impressively as, by now rather tired, we trudged north through deserted fields, then well-to-do suburban streets, to Shenfield, where we took a train to Stratford, switching there to the Overground home.

Ingrave, nr. Shenfield, Essex

West Drayton to Wraysbury; 5 October 2014

Colnbrook, Berks

Yesterday we went for a walk. Following persistent rain for much of Saturday, the weather on Sunday was dry, sunny, and pleasantly milder than forecast, with only very light winds. We took the Tube from Manor House to Paddington, via King’s Cross. Chelsea was playing Arsenal that afternoon, and we spotted a number of ‘Blues’ fans heading for Stamford Bridge.

At Paddington, we took a train to West Drayton, intending to walk west, then south, to Magna Carta Island, on the Thames, near Runnymede. But time (and light) ran out and we only got as far as Wraysbury.

Exiting from West Drayton station, we quickly found the Grand Union Canal and walked north-west along the towpath, stopping after about five minutes to sit on a bench and eat our sandwiches in the sun. Sadly, the avocado and herb wraps we bought at Pret a Manger at Paddington were not up to their usual standard.

After our lunch, we continued along the towpath but had to dodge numerous cyclists – quite an inconvenience given the narrowness of the path.

Crossing a footbridge near Packet Boat Marina, we turned sharply west and followed the Slough Arm of the canal. Then, not far from the M25, we were unable to pick up a path marked on the OS map as running off to the south by a junkyard or rubbish dump. There were signposts still in place indicating where the path had been, but it appeared to have fallen into disuse or been closed. We concluded this was because a nearby footbridge, also shown on the map, had been removed.

Forced to backtrack, we turned south on an evidently new stretch of path (not shown on the OS map) called the Colne Valley Walk. At some point this joined up with the disused path and we were able to resume our intended route, across the railway line and through Thorney Farm (now a golf course).

Following the Colne Brook, we passed underneath the M25 and headed north then west to Old Slade Farm, then south across a bridge over the M4. Continuing south, we reached Colnbrook, where we saw a pub – the Ostrich Inn – advertising itself as the third oldest in England.

Beyond Colnbrook, the path south to Horton passed underneath or near several of the flightpaths out of Heathrow, and loud aircraft noise became particularly noticeable in and south of Horton.

There are lots of small lakes, ponds, and streams in this vicinity, in addition to a number of huge artificial reservoirs, and the path from Horton to Wraysbury passed through woods between several of these lakes. It was quite pleasant in the fading light, albeit spoiled by jets thundering overhead about once a minute.

By the time we reached Douglas Lane, Wraysbury, it was obvious that, with little daylight left, we’d not be able to make it to Magna Carta Island before dark.

Instead we headed for Wraysbury station, but just missed a train and had to wait an hour for the next one. When it arrived, the guard announced that ‘an intoxicated gentleman’ was ‘threatening suicidal behaviour’ at Ashford station, and that we would be delayed until the situation was resolved. After about twenty minutes, a further announcement came that the man had been ‘apprehended’, and we were able to continue, arriving at Waterloo about seventeen minutes later than scheduled.

Tired, and rather hungry, we picked up a 68 bus to Euston, where we took full advantage of the all-you-can-eat £6.95 buffet at Chutney’s on Drummond Street.