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.

Brookmans Park to Potters Bar via Water End, North Mymms, and Ridge; 8 November 2014

On Saturday we went for a walk. The weather was mostly grey and overcast, and rather windy. Although heavy rain had been forecast only from around 5:00 pm onwards (and it duly arrived, in style), there was quite a bit of drizzle earlier in the day as well.

We caught a train from Harringay station, north, to Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire, and walked to Potters Bar, the next station to the south. Our circuitous route took in the hamlets of Water End and North Mymms, and the village of Ridge.

Exiting from Brookmans Park station, we headed south-west on a footpath through fields, turning due west alongside an unnamed stream that joined the larger Mimmshall Brook. At Water End – so-called because the Mimmshall Brook disappears just north of here into several ‘swallow holes’ – we crossed the A1 (M) motorway and soon reached the church at North Mymms, where we stopped for lunch.

It began to rain as we sat in the churchyard and I cursed the weather forecasters who had predicted it would stay dry until after sunset. But, mercifully, the rain stopped temporarily and we continued south through North Mymms Park. The scenery was pleasantly rolling and wooded, but there was no glimpse to be had of the park’s large Jacobean house, North Mymms Place, which since 1992 has been owned by Glaxo and operated by the pharmaceutical and healthcare giant as a corporate training centre.

Emerging from North Mymms Park onto Blackhorse Lane, we headed west to St. Albans Road and a crossing under the M25. Just beyond the motorway, we took a footpath south and quickly reached a gate where a badly written and punctuated sign warned of elderly and infirm animals on the loose.

Here, at the RSPCA’s Southridge Centre, a variety of animals rescued by the charity are kept and cared for, pending being rehomed. As we crossed a succession of muddy paddocks, we saw several women putting dogs through their paces, with horses looking on.

Catherine Bourne, nr. South Mimms, Herts.
Above: Ford crossing Catherine Bourne

Further south, we got slightly lost, and also had to contend with a brook – the Catherine Bourne – which our footpath crossed by means of a ford. Luckily, we were able to find a detour leading to a footbridge across the water, and we continued past Deeves Hall to the churchyard at Ridge. As we sat down on a bench for a short break and an Eat Natural bar, the rain began again, but this time in earnest.

Ridge, Herts.
Above: St. Margaret’s Church, Ridge

From Ridge, we trudged east towards Potters Bar, passing the Old Guinea pub and a preserved WWII pillbox. As we were walking along Crossoaks Lane, we spotted a rather poorly looking rabbit huddled at the kerbside. It seemed reluctant to move, but we eventually succeeded in encouraging it to relocate itself across the lane into the relative safety of a hedge and the woods beyond.

Having crossed the M25 and A1 (M) again, in the process passing through parts of South Mimms, we had trouble finding our way in the near-dark to the Mimmshall Brook and Bridgefoot Lane. We had walked this part of the route before, but have got lost on both occasions for some reason.

With the rain now bucketing down relentlessly, we finally hit the outskirts of Potters Bar, continuing to the railway station and a train home to Harringay.

Beddington Lane to Hackbridge; 4 November 2014

On Tuesday afternoon, on the way to visiting my mother in Streatham, I went for a short walk. I didn’t exactly plan out where I was going but had an idea it would include Norbury Park and Pollards Hill, which are not far from Streatham. In the end, I went somewhere completely different – Beddington Farm, near Mitcham.

With cool but fine weather forecast, I set out shortly after midday, intending to take the Overground from Harringay to Clapham Junction, via Willesden Junction, then continue by rail to Norbury. (It might seem like an odd route to take, but I have done the bus journey through Kennington and Brixton so many times in the past that I now try to avoid it, preferring something less familiar.)

At Clapham Junction, with no sign of a train to Norbury any time soon, I decided on the spur of the moment to board a fast train to East Croydon. From there I took a Wimbledon-bound tram and alighted at Beddington Lane with the intention of approaching Pollards Hill via Mitcham Common.

I’ve never been to Pollards Hill before but have seen it as a destination on the front of buses, as well as noting that the OS map has Earthworks in gothic type (meaning an antiquity) over the suburban street layout on the summit.

Exiting Beddington Lane tram stop, I made the mistake of not looking at the map (in this case a London A–Z) properly and took the wrong path from the outset. I should have been looking for a path north towards Mitcham Common, but instead headed down one going west alongside the tram tracks.

After a while, I noticed the tracks were gone; there was now a golf course on the right-hand side, and I realized I had made a mistake. But I no longer particularly cared – the path through a narrow belt of woodland, with the golf course on one side and the metal ‘trident paling’ fence of the Beddington Farmlands sewage-treatment/landfill site on the other, was intriguing enough for me to decide to follow it just to see where it went. (Pollards Hill will have to wait for another day.)

Reaching a railway line running north to south, at right angles to the path, I had to make a choice between crossing a footbridge over the railway and continuing west into a landfill area, or swinging south on my current path as it began to skirt the rail tracks.

There was something about the path to the south that was appealing. It seemed to head off into the middle of nowhere and I liked how isolated and remote it felt. I hadn’t seen a single person since getting off the tram despite walking maybe half a mile.

As I walked south, the rail tracks were not far off on my right, while to the left, behind a wire fence, I was increasingly aware of the mysterious Beddington Farm site and the distant views of tall buildings in Croydon to the east.

Beddington Farm, nr. Mitcham, London

After passing under electricity pylons, with the weather becoming greyer, I rounded a bend and, suddenly, before me, was a huge landfill area and some bodies of water. There were hundreds of birds, mainly gulls, on the artificial hill, and they all began to take off and circle the sky. As a small tracked vehicle engaged in tipping of some kind came slowly but noisily into view on the crest of the hill, it became apparent why the birds had all flown off.

Beddington Farm, London [2]

After a few minutes of watching the birds in flight, I continued on my way, but the weather soon began to deteriorate. By the time I emerged through a kissing gate into Beddington Park, it had begun to rain rather hard, so I decided to look for a bus stop.

At Hackbridge Corner, my best option to get me in the direction of Streatham seemed to be a 127 towards Tooting Broadway. After a long wait, one finally came along, but inevitably it was packed with schoolchildren. For some reason the roads all along the route were jammed, so it took a while to get to Mitcham Lane, where, with the rain still belting down, I switched to a 57 for the rest of the way to Streatham High Road.

Later, while Googling Beddington Farm, I found a website that has a lot of very interesting birdwatching information going back to the early twentieth century: http://beddingtonfarmlands.org.uk (see pages arranged in chronological order under ‘History’).

The website explains how various historical changes in the methods used to treat sewage, as well as other alterations in land use at Beddington, e.g. the removal of cattle and introduction of horses, have at times caused the numbers of some bird species to increase and others to decline. But the Beddington Farmlands Bird Group seems to think that the most recent changes, from the 1990s onwards, i.e. a reduction in traditional sewage treatment combined with a large increase in landfill, are responsible for a serious downward trend in the numbers of rarer bird species.

Even more worryingly, there is also a plan to build a large solid waste incinerator plant at Beddington, which opponents argue will have a negative impact on both human health and wildlife (see http://www.stoptheincinerator.co.uk).

West Ruislip to Bull’s Bridge; 1 November 2014

Yeading Brook, Ickenham, London

Yesterday we went for a walk. The weather, although not as warm as Friday, when the temperature reached seventy in London, remained pleasantly sunny and very mild for the time of year.

At one time or another I have visited most of the London Underground termini, but I had never been to West Ruislip before, so we planned to take the Central line to its western end, then walk south-east along the Yeading Brook and Grand Union Canal, finishing at Osterley Park. In the event we only got as far as Bull’s Bridge.

We began by taking the Overground from Harringay to Shepherd’s Bush. Exiting the railway station, we diverged from the crowds streaming into Westfield, crossed the road to the separate tube station, and from there continued our journey by Tube.

Other than suburban houses, there’s nothing much at West Ruislip, the older and more significant settlements in the area being Ruislip proper, to the north, and Ickenham, to the south, so we headed straight away down the main road to a turn-off at Austin’s Lane.

The Hillingdon Trail then took us south-east towards Ickenham Marsh nature reserve, where we first encountered the Yeading Brook. The path through fields by the brook was pleasant, although we soon began to hear the noise of the traffic on the A40, which the brook crosses via an underpass.

Skirting Northolt aerodrome, the occasional sounds of jets taxiing and taking off began to be replaced by the distant clatter of gunfire from the West London Shooting Grounds as we passed through the ancient woodlands of Gutteridge Wood (thought to be a corruption of Great Hedge Wood) and Ten Acres.

The going was still relatively pleasant, but I was getting fed up with the endless illustrated information boards provided by the London Wildlife Trust, which seems to be in charge of all the small nature reserves along or near the brook. I craved an out-of-the-way old church, earthwork, or similar point of interest, but there appeared to be nothing like that along our route, so my mood began to change for the worse.

By the time we reached Yeading Brook Meadows, where the brook flows though playing fields and expanses of featureless grassland edged by roads and suburban housing, I was becoming not only tired but bored, although I was briefly revived by the sight of a sign saying Middlesex Scrap Metals. (To be fair, Yeading Brook Meadows forms an important local nature reserve; I just didn’t enjoy trudging through it.)

Not far from Southall, the southbound Hillingdon Trail switches from the Yeading Brook to the adjacent Grand Union Canal. The brook continues to flow south, parallel to the canal, but parts of it seem from the map not to be publicly accessible, so we elected to play it safe and stick to the main footpath route.

Along the canal, the setting sun began to shine brightly, but the fact it was directly in our eyes as we walked, and there was hardly anything of photographic interest to be illuminated on the canal banks, meant it was just a further source of irritation.

Southall, London
Above: View from the Grand Union Canal towpath near Southall

Around sunset, we reached Bull’s Bridge Junction, where we decided to call it a day. Climbing up the multiple-switchback walkway from the towpath to The Parkway (A312), we spotted the Yeading Brook far below. Its hemmed-in banks were still wooded but strewn with hundreds of beer cans and other rubbish, as it appeared to pass beneath the canal through a tunnel or underpass, emerging beyond as the River Crane. The sight of the deserted brook from our high vantage point, at dusk, flowing through no man’s land, was an odd highlight of an otherwise dull walk.

Locating a bus stop by a large branch of Tesco (built on the site of a former canal depot), we boarded an H28, which took us by a rather circuitous route to Hounslow. There, we switched to the 237 to Shepherd’s Bush, and then the Overground back to Harringay Green Lanes.

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.