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.

Belvedere to Slade Green via Erith and Crayford Ness; 31 December 2014

Erith, London

On New Year’s Eve we went for a walk. With the weather dry and intermittently sunny, but rather cold, we decided to walk from Belvedere to Erith, and then round Crayford Ness and up Dartford Creek, finishing at Slade Green station.

We started by taking a 141 bus to London Bridge, and then a train to Belvedere (until 1965 in Kent, but since then part of the London Borough of Bexley). The suburban district takes its name from Belvedere House, an eighteenth-century mansion that stood on a hill near here overlooking the Thames (‘belvedere’ comes from Italian, meaning ‘beautiful view’).

From Belvedere station we headed north up Norman Road to Eastern Way (A2016) and the entrance to the oddly named Isis Reach industrial park, where a succession of large trucks was entering and leaving an ASDA distribution centre. We crossed the road and passed through a kissing gate into the Crossness Nature Reserve, a remnant of the extensive Erith Marshes, now largely built-up.

Crossing muddy fields, some with horses in them, we eventually reached the river, where we joined the Thames Path, eastwards towards Erith. This section of our walk, by the mainly industrial or semi-derelict riverside, was familiar from several previous trips, but on those occasions we had always found ourselves here at around dusk, so it made a change to see the same things as before, but in bright sunshine.

River Thames, Erith, London
Above: Thames foreshore near Erith

After a slight detour inland near Erith town centre, we returned to the riverside, with the footpath passing between salt marshes and pasture before skirting the Darent Industrial Park. This mass of scrapyards and other premises occupies part of the former Thames Ammunition Works (est. 1879).

Past Crayford Ness, we reached the mouth of Dartford Creek (River Darent) and the Darent Flood Barrier, where the path turned south and then south-west towards Slade Green. As we walked by the creek, the wet mud on the riverbank was shining in the fading light; I stopped to take some photographs, but I couldn’t capture the subtle beauty of the scene.

Having turned west, away from the creek, we passed Howbury Moat, a site dating back to c.900 CE and at one time owned by Bishop Odo, a relative and close associate of William the Conqueror. The surviving medieval walls inside the water-filled moat originally enclosed a succession of manor houses, the last of which, a seventeenth-century building, seems to have been demolished in the 1930s.

After stopping briefly to catch a glimpse of the moat, which was in an adjacent field but some distance from the footpath, we resumed our progress and soon reached Slade Green station, where we caught a train back to London Bridge.

Norwood Junction to Mitcham; 13 December 2014

Hackbridge, London

On Saturday, 13 December I went for a walk. The weather was sunny, clear, and not too cold, and there was hardly any wind.

I decided to take the Overground to Norwood Junction and walk south-west to Wandle Park in Croydon; from there, I’d pick up the Wandle Trail and get as far along it as I could before it got dark.

At Norwood Junction, as on an earlier visit on 2 March 2014, I walked up Station Road to buy a sandwich at the branch of the Co-op by the South Norwood Clock Tower. But I was surprised to find that the store had closed down. Instead I turned into the High Street and bought a tuna baguette from a branch of Gregg’s.

Retracing my steps, I was reminded that, shortly after my previous visit, I’d read about a crime that was committed here on 15 March 2014: Thirty-seven-year-old Michael Hunt aka ‘Irish Mick’ was beaten nearly to death and died the same day in hospital; later, in October 2014, Arry Green and Fiona Nalty – both in their twenties, and acquaintances of Hunt – were found guilty of his murder. On her Bebo profile, Fiona Nalty once posted that she was ‘down for whatever … im up for a larf jus dont piss me off.’

As I passed the vacant former supermarket, I glanced down the alleyway where, having beaten their victim unconscious, the murderers stripped him naked and dumped him into a wheelie bin.

Continuing along Station Road, I passed quite a few Crystal Palace fans, who were emerging from the station and making their way to Selhurst Park for the match against Stoke that afternoon. Leaving them behind, I turned right at Cargreen Road and soon reached South Norwood Recreation Ground, and beyond it Tennison Road. Here, Arthur Conan Doyle lived at No. 12 from 1891 to 1894.

On the other side of Tennison Road, I found the entrance to Heavers Meadow, a sliver of open land wedged between the Selhurst railway depot and some allotments. The willow trees in the swampy meadow looked beautiful in the sunlight, so I stopped to take some photos.

Heavers Meadow, Norwood, London
Above: Heavers Meadow

Emerging onto Selhurst Road, I turned right and made my way to Whitehorse Road via Dagnall Park and Saxon Road. Then, anxious to get away from the heavy traffic, I turned off down Princess Road and walked along the south side of Queen’s Road Cemetery.

Through the cemetery railings I spotted a grave with a striking-looking angel figure, so I decided to take a look around, but during my short perambulation I didn’t notice what are perhaps the most notable graves: of Bridget Driscoll, who in 1896 became the first pedestrian in Britain to be killed by a motor car; and of the three victims of the unsolved Croydon Poisoning Mystery of 1928–9.

After leaving the cemetery, I continued into Croydon by road, eventually reaching Wandle Park, which although not the source of the River Wandle is nowadays the first place it can be seen above ground. Here, I stopped to eat my lunch.

Beyond Wandle Park the river disappears briefly underground again, so I made my way south and west via Vicarage Road, Waddon Road, and Mill Lane to Waddon Ponds, where, as I tried to take a photo, a number of geese gathered around. At first I couldn’t work out why these birds were so interested in me, but then I realized they had noticed the plastic bag I was carrying and were expecting me to bring out stale white bread for them to eat.

A little further on I picked up the well-defined Wandle Trail, and after some time reached Beddington Park, pausing there for a moment to admire the medieval church before heading north up London Road to Hackbridge Corner. Turning west down Hackbridge Road, I rejoined the riverside path just by the Hack Bridge, from which this district takes its name.

As I passed the dingy Corbet Close housing estate, a man walking nearby shouted, ‘Rat!’ and gestured to me with his hands to indicate the apparently enormous size of the rodent. He asked me if I’d seen it but sadly I hadn’t.

The light was now almost gone, and as flocks of parakeets flew noisily overhead I hurried north along the more or less deserted riverbank, meeting only one man travelling in the opposite direction on a bicycle; as we passed he warned me of mud up ahead, but, to be fair, I’ve seen a lot worse.

River Wandle, Mitcham, London

North of Middleton Road, and skirting Poulter Park, I began to hear faint shouting. At first I thought the noise must be coming from a playing field, but soon I realized the sounds – now recognizable as chanting – must be the crowd at the Tooting & Mitcham United FC ground, Imperial Fields.

On approaching the football ground, it became apparent that not only was a match in progress under the floodlights inside the KNK Stadium (Tooting & Mitcham v. Folkestone Invicta, won by the latter, 3–1), but some of the shouting was coming from an adjacent practice pitch. Here, another game was being played – perhaps involving the Tooting & Mitcham reserve team – and, just as I passed, a coach leapt from his seat by the touchline and bellowed, ‘Get organized! Get organized!’

Emerging finally onto Bishopsford Road, I turned right and walked uphill to a bus stop on London Road, where I caught a 280 to Tooting Broadway, eventually returning to Turnpike Lane by tube.

Chessington South to Epsom Downs; 6 December 2014

Ashtead Park, Surrey

On Saturday, 6 December we went for a walk. The weather was moderately cold, but bright and clear, and there was almost no wind.

We decided to walk from Chessington South in a roughly south-easterly direction and then take a train and/or buses back into South London from wherever we ended up. Because we started out rather late, we only made it as far as Epsom Racecourse.

We began by taking the tube from Manor House to Victoria, then a train to Chessington South. A short distance from the station, we picked up a footpath that took us uphill and east, by the side of a golf course, to Green Lane.

Turning south on the lane, we passed an outpost of early-twentieth-century suburban development – a string of houses with fanciful names such as Hybola, Windy Dene, and Sunny Field. These petered out after a while, and we continued through a narrow belt of woodland, stopping briefly at one point to observe a squirrel dragging a plastic bottle high into a tree.

At the junction with Chalky Lane, near Park Farm, the footpath turned south-east across fields and then skirted the northern perimeter of the former West Park mental hospital; however, as we advanced along the narrow path between two metal fences, the way ahead became waterlogged and impossibly muddy. Luckily, we were able to pass through a gap in the fence and instead use a road through the old hospital grounds, now partly redeveloped as housing.

Beyond Christ Church Road, we entered the woodland of Epsom Common, where some of the paths were well trodden by horses, leading to further struggles with mud. At length, we crossed a railway line and shortly after emerged onto Dorking Road.

Epsom Common, Surrey
Above: Epsom Common

A little further on, we found the entrance to Ashtead Park and continued south through the landscaped grounds; however, at Rookery Hill we were forced to make a long and rather tedious detour around Park Lane, as the area containing the eighteenth-century mansion is inaccessible to the public. Since 1924, this has been the home of the City of London Freemen’s School. Of the people mentioned on Wikipedia as being former pupils of this public school, the two names that jumped out were Simon Cowell and Joe Strummer.

At the eastern end of Park Lane, we took footpaths along Greenslade Avenue and Chalk Pit Road, then descended in the fading light to Langley Bottom. At this point, lack of time and light meant we had no alternative but to change direction and head north to Epsom, so we climbed uphill, crossing various gallops, and finally reached the racecourse and Epsom Downs not long after sunset.

Emerging onto Tattenham Corner Road, we were still a mile or so away from the centre of Epsom, but we spotted a bus stop just by the huge racecourse grandstand. The fare for our short trip on the local 480 bus was a rather steep £2 each, but the blow was softened somewhat by the windfall of a pound coin we found on the empty seat in front of us.

From the traffic-choked town centre, we took a 470 London bus to Colliers Wood, and then the tube to Turnpike Lane.

Crews Hill to Waltham Cross; 29 November 2014

Rammey Marsh, Waltham Cross, London/Hertfordshire border

On Saturday, 29 November, I went for a walk. Although the weather was rather cold, it was pleasantly sunny and there was very little wind.

Making a late start, I decided to take a train from Harringay station, north to Crews Hill. My plan was to walk south-east, then pick up a path alongside Turkey Brook and follow it east, all the way to the River Lea.

Quite a few people alighted from the train at Crews Hill, but they all turned left after leaving the station, perhaps heading for the various garden centres that lie just to the east. I went in the opposite direction – right, up Cattlegate Road – then turned off down a footpath leading south-west across Crews Hill Golf Course.

Here, on 21 July 1964, during a thunderstorm, the twenty-seven-year-old Tottenham and Scotland footballer John White took shelter from the rain under a tree but was killed by lightning. Later that year, on 11 November, a crowd of 29,375 turned out at White Hart Lane to see Spurs play a Scotland XI in a testimonial game for White’s family.

Near the southern edge of the golf course, in a wooded area known as King’s Oak Plain, I stopped by a pond, where a bench by the algae-infested water seemed like a good spot for me to eat the sandwich I’d bought earlier in Tesco on Green Lanes. Although it was very nearly December, I could still just about feel the warmth of the midday sun on my neck.

Clay Hill, Enfield, London

Continuing on after my lunch, I traversed the railway tracks via a pedestrian crossing and shortly after emerged onto a lane leading to the hamlet of Clay Hill. Just by a Victorian church, I turned south and quickly reached the Turkey Brook. This tributary of the Lea takes its name from the hamlet of Turkey Street further to the east. (First recorded as Tokestreete in 1441, apparently named after someone called Toke or Tokey, this had become Tuckey Street by 1615, and by 1805 Turkey Street.)

The path by the meandering brook took me through Hilly Fields Park and past the Rose and Crown public house (reputedly associated with Guy Fawkes), then between Whitewebbs Park and the Forty Hall estate.

At the Great Cambridge Road, I crossed the highway by a footbridge and then skirted the grounds of Enfield Crematorium, before reaching Turkey Street – no longer a hamlet but an urban street in a much-enlarged Enfield.

Still following the line of the brook, I walked through Albany Park, where there was rather a lot of gang-related graffiti on walls and also on a footbridge crossing a railway line. I was intrigued by some of the graffiti, which along with frequent mentions of EN3, the local postcode, featured some derogatory references to the DA9 postcode. This is nowhere near here and is in fact on the other side of the Thames at Greenhithe, near Dartford.

Later I tried searching Google to see if there was anything online that would explain this apparent enmity, but all I could find was a news story about a big drugs case in 2013 involving gang members who lived in far-flung places including Greenhithe, Enfield, Chingford, Ilford, Crouch End, Gallion’s Reach (Beckton), Poplar, and High Wycombe, so the graffiti I saw remains a mystery.

At Enfield Lock, I noted that Rifles, a boarded-up pub – originally the Royal Small Arms Tavern – seen on a previous walk on 10 September 2011, seemed to have vanished. It turns out the derelict building was severely damaged by fire on 1 May 2012.

I considered finishing my walk not far from here, slightly to the east at Enfield Island Village, from where I could have taken a 121 bus back to Turnpike Lane, but since there was still just about an hour of daylight remaining, I decided to press on, north to Waltham Cross.

After a while, I took a detour through Rammey Marsh, partly because it seemed more appealing than the somewhat monotonous towpath, and also because I had hopes of finding a more direct route into Waltham Cross. But the M25 – running east to west – presented a barrier, and I was worried that continuing further west into the marsh might lead only to a dead end, so I reverted back to the towpath, crossed the motorway via an underpass, and then took a slight short cut through the Holdbrook industrial estate.

Having reached Station Road at around dusk, I trudged the final mile west along the busy road to Waltham Cross bus station, where I picked up a 217 back to Turnpike Lane.

Riddlesdown to Merstham, Surrey; 22 November 2014

Pilgrims Way, Tollsworth Manor, Surrey

On Saturday, 22 November I went for a walk. The weather forecast was bad, with rain expected almost everywhere, but I decided to risk it and walk from Riddlesdown, in the London Borough of Croydon, to Merstham, Surrey.

I began by taking the tube from Manor House to Victoria, then a train to Riddlesdown. Outside the station, I followed a footpath south alongside the railway tracks, then approached the entrance to Riddlesdown Common via Mitchley Avenue.

Riddlesdown was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1883; thus, it escaped the suburban building development that swallowed up much of the nearby countryside in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

In the long grass not far beyond the entrance, I spotted some metal railings enclosing what I thought at first was a monument. It turned out to be an old Ordnance Survey triangulation point, with a height inscribed on it – 449.24 feet.

However, I failed to notice on my map that there was an Earthwork nearby. This is mentioned on older maps by name – Newedich or Widedich. Although reduced in size, having been partly covered by the houses built at the northern edge of Riddlesdown, some of the earthwork – thought to be Celtic in origin and agricultural in purpose – still survives, but I didn’t see any mounds as I walked by; I’ll have to look for them the next time I’m there.

After following the higher part of the ridge for a short distance, I descended gradually downhill and south-east towards the Godstone Road. It began to drizzle, and the rain then continued more or less throughout the day, much to my annoyance.

At the road, I turned south-west up Old Barn Lane, crossed a footbridge over the railway line, and continued up New Barn Lane. Then, after climbing a series of steps up the steep hillside, I followed a footpath across Kenley Common, another area of open land owned by the City of London Corporation.

With the rain becoming harder, I skirted Kenley Aerodrome, which was established in 1917 and played an important role in the Battle of Britain in WWII. I was interested to read – on one of a number of information boards dotted around – that, in 1919, Winston Churchill, War minister at the time, flew from here to France to attend the Paris Peace Conference.

On the west side of the aerodrome I saw several preserved WWII ‘blast pens’ – designed to protect aircraft from the effects of bombs exploding nearby – and in one of them was a war memorial. I’d have liked to have taken a proper look at it, but a number of children were using the concrete-paved area to race around on their bicycles, so I decided not to bother.

Continuing on, I took a footpath across Coulsdon Common, past The Fox public house (est. c.1720), and eventually turned south through Piles Wood.

Beyond Piles Wood I stopped very briefly to admire the church at Chaldon (see history here), but it was still raining and the light had started to fade, so I hurried on, crossing muddy fields near Court Farm to reach the woodland of Alderstead Heath.

Near the attractive, partly timber-framed, partly stone Tollsworth Manor, I was struck by the rather desolate, upland nature of my surroundings – now over 600 feet above sea level. The empty fields were shrouded in mist, and although I could hear the hissing of traffic – from the M23 and M25, just to the south and at the foot of the ridge ­– it added to the atmosphere in a way.

I stopped to take a few photos, and would have liked to linger some more, but it was getting quite dark, so at Pilgrims’ Lane I gingerly descended a rather steep, very muddy path south-west down the hill and then crossed the M23 via a pedestrian tunnel.

Still heading for Merstham, I walked west part way along Rockshaw Road, before turning south again down a footpath leading to a footbridge over the M25.

From there it was a short distance to the centre of Merstham, where I caught a 405 bus to central Croydon. After stopping for a drink at the Wetherspoon’s on George Street, I continued my journey home by taking the Overground from West Croydon to Dalston Junction, and finally the 67 back to St. Ann’s Road, Harringay.

Watford Junction to Borehamwood (Elstree Studios); 16 November 2014

Patchetts Green, Herts

The Sunday before last, we went for a walk. The clear conditions of the previous evening were replaced by relentless grey skies and a high likelihood of rain, although the BBC weather forecast suggested – inaccurately as it turned out – that we might remain dry if we headed north of London.

In light of the forecast, we decided to go to Watford and walk from there in an easterly direction. We had vague ideas of ending up at Potters Bar, but this was unrealistic given the available daylight, and in the event we only made it as far as Borehamwood.

We began by taking a 29 bus from Harringay to Warren Street, and then a rather crowded train from Euston to Watford Junction.

From the station, we headed east towards the River Colne, but instead of following the path alongside it, north towards St. Albans, as we had done on a previous occasion, we crossed the river by the bridge on Link Road.

After walking a short way south on Park Avenue, we turned off down Park Close and then took a footpath going north-east. Almost immediately, we noticed a small nature reserve, on the site of former allotments, and, seeing a bench, decided to stop for lunch.

After eating our sandwiches, we crossed part of Bushey Hall Golf Course and, at its northern edge, turned east alongside a small unnamed brook. At Bushey Mill Lane we had to continue south-east by road until we reached the Jewish cemetery on Little Bushey Lane, where, among others, the entertainers Alma Coogan, Joe Loss, and Frankie Vaughan are buried.

The graves in the cemetery were tightly packed together on stony ground, with an almost uniform style of headstone and inscription, and I’d have liked to have taken some photos, but it began to rain and I was fearful of getting water on my camera, so we continued on. After descending steep steps at the far edge of the cemetery, we crossed in quick succession an unnamed brook (possibly the same one we’d seen earlier by the golf course), Elton Way (A41), and the M1.

Beyond Patchetts Equestrian Centre we got slightly lost, but we eventually found our way by road to a footpath beginning just by the entrance to the Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna Temple on Hilfield Lane. The former Piggott’s Manor estate (originally Picot’s, after Thomas Picot, who owned it in the twelfth century) was purchased by ex-Beatle George Harrison in 1973 on behalf of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It is now said to be the biggest Hare Krishna site in the UK.

Our footpath from the road initially took us across rough ground between a forbidding-looking electricity transfer station and the ‘trident paling’ perimeter fence of the Hare Krishna property. Eventually the path reached a wider expanse of open fields, then emerged onto Aldenham Road. Turning south-east along the road, we soon passed Aldenham School (founded 1597), which in 1968 was used by Lindsay Anderson for some of the interior scenes in the film if….

At Ward’s Lane, we resumed a more easterly course, our walk finally taking on a less suburban, more genuinely rural aspect. However, the mud underfoot, combined with the constant drizzle, was becoming seriously wearisome by the time we crossed Watling Street.

Into the bargain, the light was beginning to fade, so when we reached Organ Hall Farm, on the northern fringes of Borehamwood, we accepted that the latter, rather than Potters Bar, would have to be our finishing point for the day.

After a long and dreary approach in the rain along Theobald Street, we finally reached the equally dreary centre of Borehamwood, where people and cars were streaming out of assorted shopping centres and superstores. At a bus stop near a huge branch of McDonald’s, and opposite Elstree Film Studios, we caught a 107 to New Barnet, and then a 184 to Turnpike Lane, where we repaired in relief to the Toll Gate.