30 October, 2006


I went to Personchester for the Regional Board Conference of the Co-operative Group. The conference was good, I wish I could say the same about the town. Firstly, Manchester is difficult to get to. Virgin trains are around 50% first class therefore second gets very crowded. Often the guards declassify the trains, which is fine if you can't find a seat but if you have a seat in second there's no point giving it up.

When you get to Manchester, the damp climate is also a drawback, and the city centre is in need of considerable regeneration to clean up the former grim industrial buildings. Manchester suffers from low wages and high prices: the price of beer (a good index) being the same as London.

The gay scene always disappoints. The village is now almost totally hetero with only company bar being men only. Council promoted kiss of death.

One picture shows what Manchester is,

the other shows the places where it is preferable to be.

10 October, 2006

London Loop completed. Harold wood to Coldharbour Point.

This was a rather dull walk, and like the Capital Ring, the loop saves the worst until the last. The walk did have its moments, not least the glass of wine I had at the end.

The first point of interest came at Stratford Station where I was complimented on my camera by a young man who had been working all night with a shovel as a pavior. He was telling me how much he had earned with Islington Council, and this was very impressive. Then a very drunk Irishman called Coleman approached (this is 10 o’clock in the morning) who told me he had drunk a bottle of teachers whisky. He insisted I take his photo. He was alternately Irish, English and Jewish and very loud. He and the pavior were turning cartwheels on the station, I suspect the staff thought to leave well alone. The conversation covered drink, narcotics and their effects on the body and mind, pay rates in the building trade and routemaster busses. Coleman got off the train at Forest Gate and I was left with the pavior who was very pleasant and left at Ilford.

From the train I also saw a coal tax post on the side of the railway.

After this excitement Harold Wood was an anticlimax. I bought a Sunday Times (for the free DVD - mona lisa – a good film in spite of Michael Caine being in it) and my lunch. I had to throw the Sunday Times away later as it was too bulky to carry, and I didn’t enjoy my lunch either. Most of the walking at Harold Wood was through suburban streets but Harold Wood Park was quite nice with trees of different colours adding variety to the landscape and a few footballers playing in a Sunday league. Leaving the park into a community forest I then came to a road and walked along into Upminster, past a few delapidated farms one with an old granary on mushroom posts.
At the end of a suburban road there was a woodlanded way leading up past a school and into more suburban streets. Then there were some donkeys in a field and a parade of shops. Following another suburban street I saw the Upminster Windmill and walked along to a sports centre and park beside the Ingrebourne. I carried on through the Ingrebourne valley (dull dull dull) past St Georges Hospital which looked nice, and saw another couple who were doing the loop. Engaging them in conversation this was their second outing on the loop having come from Chigwell.

More deadly dull suburbia and busy road followed. Not sure why the road was so busy as it only went to Rainham but never mind. I did get to Rainham with its lovely and near complete Norman church and its beautiful 17th Century hall. The peace memorial was in the form of a clock. Now had the loop ended at Rainham (after all, it is a loop not a ring) I think everybody would be happy, but it has to go on. The Channel tunnel rail link goes past Rainham so I had to negotiate a large bridge over this and some very unpleasant industrial areas on Rainham Marshes. However the path soon comes to the Thames, and I walked along to the barrier at Coldharbour Point, then took myself back again to a seat where I raised a third of a bottle of wine in toast to the achievement. But like the Ring, I’ll never do the final section again.


01 October, 2006

Chigwell to Harold Wood – Stages 20 and 21 of the London Loop. Muddy Sunday

This walk began with church bells ringing in my ear and ended with a welcome store. In between, I saw some spectacular storms and got soaked to the skin.

Chigwell, if you ignore the modern parts, is a pretty village with an attractive church and inn group, one of the few inn pictures Arthur Mee uses and it hasn’t changed a lot, except that the pargeting has come off and it is now black and white with a chef and brewer sign. There is also a school in mellow brick.

One of the morning services had just ended at the church so I went in and had a look round, with permission from the friendly rector. The church was obviously extended in the 19th Century with a new nave and chancel, the old nave and chancel serving as a side chapel. The old nave had a wonderful collection of funeral hatchments and the tower was supported on old oak beams with bells hung for full circle ringing. There was beautiful glass and banners with texts, including “be still and know that I am G*d”. I missed the monument to George Shillibeer, who brought 'busses to London in the nineteenth century but I saw the old brass to Archbishop Samuel Harsnett Primate of England, who had been vicar of Chigwell. He died in 1631 having been denounced for popery after having denounced an aspect of Calvinism. However he was a married man and had also written a book on how to expose those who pretended to be casting out evil spirits.

The church appeared bright and lively with its kindly rector. There were also other old houses in the Village and the Archbishop Harsnett school with venetian windows and mellow brick. The old cottages and shops were straight out of Dickens (who called Chigwell the finest place in the world – it isn’t though). The old inn could play host to Mr Pickwick. I left the village over the fields (remember this is London Transport Zone 6) with the bells of Chigwell church ringing in my ears. I crossed fields and more fields and found the first of the mud. This slowed my progress as my boots became encrusted with mud and the rain started to come down. However this gentle rain was but a rehearsal for the rest of the day and I strode on through the shower. I came into Chigwell Row passing a pony club show jumping field by the little yellow brick United Reformed Church with its dignified manse at the back and graveyard. Chigwell Row overlooks the Hainault forest and that’s all you can say about it really. The Hainault forest isn’t much of a forest but there is an informative visitor’s centre with fish tank, and a beacon. There are some beautiful open spaces for a sunny day out in the country. There’s also a rare breeds farm, however breeds only become rare for a reason, which could be poor eating quality. Although these places were not defended by the Corporation, like Epping Forrest and the south London commons, the LCC seems to have done a good job. We’ll meet the LCC a lot on this walk.

Here is the LCC Coat of arms.

After the Hainalt forest the walk led me through a golf course. At least this wasn’t muddy and the path was well waymarked although being Sunday afternoon there were many golfers about.
I soon left the golf course to cross fields with a view of the towers of Romford. There were many more muddy tracks here. I soon went up the hill to view the light glinting off the top of Canary Wharf Tower like some far off emerald city. The Havering country park began as a large mansion, like most of them did but this was demolished in the depressed years of the 1930s and converted, more or less, into a people’s garden city. People were able to buy plots, sometimes for as little as £5, and would be able to erect bungalows on these plots in the days before planning permission. Usually the bungalows, if the owners had enough money to build them, were little more than huts, but these were part of a fairly strong back to the land and hutment movement in the aftermath of the first world war. Of course the gas, water and electricity companies could not be persuaded to lay on utilities and the plots were often many miles from transport facilities. Peacehaven - perhaps the saddest monument to the 1918 peace - was built in this way, with some of the plots given away in a News of the World competition. Eventually hutment inhabitants, where they never got good title to the land and where there were no utilities, had to be dealt with and the LCC bought the land in the 1950s and turned it into a country park free of development. There are some giant (comparitively small) redwood trees in the park which will grow larger in time.

The next village was Havering Atte Bower, where our kings and queens have walked. The village stocks and whipping post are preserved on the village green but there is no trace of the former royal palace or even the original village church the current one being 19th century. This village is where Joan of Navarre, queen to Henry IV lived. The queen was accused of the heresy of witchcraft, but was never brought to trial, even in those days when witchcraft was a dread reality. Historians believe that money was the motivation, and when needs were not so pressing they released joan and what remained of her money to live out her days at Havering Atte Bower.

Leaving the village I walked through some more muddy fields keeping in view a round tower known as The tea caddy. I suspect it was a clock for the workers in the fields. I came to some ornate metal gateposts which grace the entrance to Pyrgo Park, with its chapel visible later on the path. It was here that the storm finally broke, when I was on a ridge too! I have seen this quantity of rain very few times in my life and the lightning flashes and thunder made me think of Beethoven (the composer not the dog) but I wished I had a dog with me. I got soaked to the skin. It was so wet I could not take a picture of or even properly see the building that looked like Castle Drogo, but perhaps more modern. Eventually I came to Paternoster Lane after slipping several times. This road was more like a river but at the end was the Castle Drogo like house I admired from the ridge. It was very modern. The road led me down to The Bear, a sizzling inn. By now I was thoroughly soaked and ready for a sizzling platter, preferably applied to my backside to dry my clothes. But I made do with a pint and bag of crisps and a blast under the warm air dryer in the Gents. Setting out from the pub I walked down Tees Avenue in the LCC out of county estate, starting to resemble the River Tees, to walk in the little dell where flows Carter’s brook which becomes Paine’s Brook and then the River Ingrebourne. Understandably this was white water rapids after the storms, and although it poured down on the rest of the walk I didn’t notice a thing with the pint inside me. Thank heaven for alcohol, the cup that really does cheer!
Continuing along the proto Ingrebourne (our rivers have Saxon names) I came to the central park of Gidea Park, fine examples of 1950s LCC housing very different for Mr and Mrs Citizen, the first tenants, and their four children from the three attic rooms where the six of them had been crammed together. The neatly designed cottages in traditional style round a village green, with old people’s dwellings at the corners, and new shops being opened by both the private trade and the London Co√∂perative Society led to these dwellings becoming highly desirable and sought after. Mr and Mrs Citizen now had room to grow, blossom and, protected by their democratic landlord from arbitrary eviction, they flourished. Is it any surprise then, that in the property owning democracy they sought to purchase their houses and did so when given a chance? And as a bonus Mr and Mrs Citizen were given a discount that made the purchase easy. The tenants cannot be blamed for buying their houses. The Government can be blamed for not allowing the council to use receipts from house sales to build replacement dwellings.
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The last open space on the section of the loop was a small grassed area with what looked like a world war two bunker in it. After this there were some boring suburban streets (not LCC alas) but at the end of it all was a former London Coöperative Society shop refurbished to Welcome Format and welcome it was too. I caught the train home from Harold Wood station that had the original name over the door РLondon North Eastern Railway.
A muddy, soaking but still impressive day. I want to do this walk in fine weather as I expect it would be most rewarding.