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.