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.

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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.

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.

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.

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).

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.