Enfield Lock to Waltham Cross via Gunpowder Park, Cornmill Stream, and Waltham Abbey; 4 January 2015

Waltham Abbey, Essex

On Sunday, 4 January 2015, we went for a walk. The weather was dry, but dull and overcast. We planned to walk from Enfield Lock station to Epping, but exceptionally muddy conditions slowed us down and we were forced to turn back to Waltham Abbey and finally Waltham Cross.

We began by taking a 41 bus to Tottenham Hale station and from there a train to Enfield Lock. Exiting the station, we headed south down Bradley Road, then turned east along the footpath by Turkey Brook to the River Lea and Enfield Lock itself. Having passed the semi-derelict shell of Rifles (formerly the Royal Small Arms Tavern), we crossed a footbridge leading into Enfield Island Village, a recent housing development built on the site of the Royal Small Arms Factory, which closed in 1988.

After briefly following a tarmac path north under a line of electricity pylons, we turned east again between houses, crossed the River Lee Flood Relief Channel, and reached the entrance to Gunpowder Park. The latter was until the 1980s part of a military research facility (Quinton Hill Farm) but has now been redeveloped into a pleasant tract of rough grassland with some artificial-looking hillocks – perhaps traces of the former use of the land for testing explosives.

At the north-eastern corner of Gunpowder Park we emerged on to Sewardstone Road and walked a short distance north to a roundabout, where we intended to turn east along Dowding Way (A121), the most direct route to a footbridge over the M25; however, the road – apparently built fairly recently following the closure of Quinton Hill – had no pedestrian footway and the traffic seemed to be racing along rather too fast for our liking. Cautiously, we made a detour instead up the northern continuation of Sewardstone Road and approached the footbridge via Lodge Lane.

On the other side of the motorway, we passed through an area of suburban housing, part of the town of Waltham Abbey, and eventually reached a footpath by Cobbins Brook, a tributary of the Lea. According to Wikipedia (but not mentioned, as far as I can see, in any historical source published online), a ‘local legend’ has it that Queen Boudica used hemlock gathered from the banks of the brook to poison herself following her army’s defeat by the Romans at the Battle of Watling Street in c.60–61 CE. It’s the kind of story I like, but the current view is that the battle took place far away from here – in the Midlands – so it seems rather implausible.

At Honey Lane, we had to leave the brook and continue our progress via the oddly named Stonyshotts. This suburban street is not shown on an Ordnance Survey map of c.1893–1913, at which time the locality, with the exception of Honey Lane, was still fields. Although there seem to be many different interpretations of the meaning of shott in British place names, one is that it comes from the Old English sceot, meaning a steep slope (in this case, perhaps, a stony slope) and it occurs to me that the road, which does wind noticeably downhill to the brook, then uphill again, might be named after one of the fields it was built on. It doesn’t sound like a name concocted in the mid twentieth century, which is when the houses on the street appear to date from..

After skirting the grounds of a school and making our way through more residential streets, we reached Upshire Road. Here, we turned up Pick Hill and, where this bent sharply to the right, took a footpath leading north-west.. After a short distance, we encountered Cobbins Brook for the third time, crossing it via a footbridge to enter a boggy field.

At this point, our progress uphill towards Dallance Farm became painfully slow. There was so much mud that getting anywhere near Epping before dark was clearly impossible. Instead, having finally arrived at the farm, we elected to turn west towards the Crooked Mile (B194) and follow the Cornmill Stream into Waltham Abbey.

At first, the footpath west from Galleyhill Road took us uphill across relatively dry fields, but when we joined Claygate Lane and began to descend towards the Lea, the track – much used by people on horseback – became a quagmire. We were relieved to reach the Crooked Mile at dusk, but much worse was to come.

Rejecting the dark, dangerously twisting road in favour of a path leading into the Lea Valley Park, we found our way to the Cornmill Stream, an artificial channel branching off from the Lea and thought to have been constructed in the eleventh century to provide water for the mills owned by Waltham Abbey.

The path by the stream was easy to follow, despite the lack of light, but it was atrociously muddy. With great difficulty we slithered and stumbled our way in almost total darkness the final half mile or so to the abbey, passing the (reputed) grave of Harold Godwinson before emerging on to Highbridge Street, from where we walked by road to Waltham Cross bus station and took a 217 back to Turnpike Lane.

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Purfleet to South Ockendon; 15 November 2014

South Ockendon, Essex [3]

Last Saturday we went for a walk. The weather was somewhat cold and damp-feeling, but there was almost no wind, and the sun came out towards the end of the day.

We decided to walk from Purfleet, Essex, to South Ockendon, following the line of the Mardyke for much of the way. It was a route we’d not walked before despite having visited this area a number of times in the past.

We began by taking the Overground from Harringay Green Lanes to Barking, then a train to Purfleet.

Exiting the station, we headed east along London Road, turning north on Lockyer Road and picking up a footpath past the Royal Opera House’s High House Production Workshop. After crossing, in turn, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the Purfleet Bypass, we reached Armor Road, where we caught a glimpse of a large lake occupying the disused Bluelands chalk pit, overlooked, in the distance, by a Premier Inn hotel.

The fenced-off body of water, with sheer chalk sides surrounded by dense scrub and woodland, was interesting, but it was hard to get a good look at it. Palaeolithic flint tools have been found here (mentioned in this report), but it seems there is a plan, announced in 2011, to fill in the pit and build a hotel and commercial buildings on it.

After crossing Arterial Road, we headed into Watts’s Woods, emerging by electricity pylons into open land by the Mardyke. Here a footpath ran along the south side of the river, while to the north were flooded grasslands and more pylons.

Having spotted several horses grazing, we started taking photos, but a woman wearing wellington boots soon made her way across the muddy, partially waterlogged field and, from the other side of the river, asked us what we were doing.

She explained that grazing of horses by the Mardyke in the winter months is prohibited by the council, but the horses had managed to escape temporarily and were due to be rounded up again shortly. She seemed suspicious at first that we might be snooping for the council or the local newspaper, but we managed to convince her we were only taking photos because we liked the view.

Ship Lane, Mardyke Valley, Essex
Above: View west from Ship Lane

Mardyke Valley, Thurrock, Essex
Above: Underneath the M25 bridge

Continuing east, we crossed Ship Lane and, shortly afterwards, passed under the M25. There was quite a bit of flooding and at one point we were forced to make a detour up into Brannett’s Wood to avoid the water.

At Stifford Bridge, we emerged briefly onto a road, but then continued east along the Mardyke path until we reached a footbridge south of the Mardyke Valley Golf Course.

As we turned north, uphill and across the golf course, it began to rain rather hard, but it stopped after a while and the sun came out at last.

South Ockendon, Essex

The rest of the way across farmland to South Ockendon Hall was pleasant in the fading light, and we began to see mist rising atmospherically from the damp earth in the ploughed fields.

From South Ockendon Hall, it was a shortish walk west to the main road, and then on to Ockendon station, where we took a train back to Barking.

Barkingside station to Grange Hill station via Aldborough Hatch, Fairlop Waters, Hainault Forest, and Lambourne End; 9 November 2014

Barkingside, London

Last Sunday we went for a walk. The heavy rain of the night before had passed and it was clear and sunny throughout the day. We decided to walk from Barkingside station across Fairlop Plain, through Hainault Forest, and on to either Debden or Theydon Bois stations; but we set off too late and in the event had to turn back at Lambourne End, eventually finishing up at Grange Hill station.

We started by taking the Overground from Harringay Green Lanes to Leytonstone High Road, then walked up the road to Leytonstone tube station, where we boarded a Central line train to Barkingside.

Leaving the station, we headed east, back across the rail tracks and into flat open land which was presumably once a part of the Aldborough Hall estate. Along the way we passed farm buildings and what appeared to be an eighteenth-century chapel (now converted to residential use). When we reached the church at Aldborough Hatch, we stopped for lunch.

While we were eating our sandwiches, a smartly dressed, somewhat elderly woman came briskly along and tried to go into the church, but found it was locked. She mentioned to us that she had come specially to look at the Remembrance Sunday displays, having been told the church would be open all day for viewing. At that moment a man – presumably a churchwarden – appeared and offered to unlock the church for her, and off they went.

Aldborough Hatch, London
Above: The churchyard at Aldborough Hatch

The rather attractive building was clearly of nineteenth-century date but seemed to have more of a weathered, antiquated appearance than some Victorian churches. It turns out that Portland stone from the old Westminster Bridge (completed, not without some major hitches, in 1750; demolished c.1862) was used in its construction in 1862–3.

Resuming our walk, we headed north past Aldborough Hall riding school and around Fairlop Waters, then north-east across the extensive Hainault Recreation Grounds. Continuing through suburban streets, we reached Romford Road, where we entered the Hainault Forest country park.

Hainault, London
Above: Hainault Recreation Grounds

Along with Epping and Hatfield forests, Hainault was originally part of the huge Forest of Essex, which in the twelfth century covered a large proportion of the county. Now, Hainault Forest is just a fragment – in all, 804 acres of forest and grassland protected from development since 1906 – but it is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as being popular (rather too much so for my liking) with joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers.

At the north-eastern tip of what remains of Hainault Forest, in the vicinity of Crabtree Hill, we encountered very muddy conditions and our progress uphill towards the hamlet of Lambourne End became laborious. But, as we neared the settlement, there were extensive views behind us, south towards the Thames, the most obvious visible landmark being Littlebrook Power Station, near the Dartford Bridge.

By this time, however, it was just before sunset, and it was obvious we would not have time to reach either Debden or Theydon Bois by footpath in the dark, so we reluctantly turned back at Gallmans End and walked south-west along the road that skirts the forest, then through Chigwell Row, to Grange Hill station, where we picked up a Central line train back into London.

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