Recent outings and activities...
Sweet Cookies, gin-an-tonic, a warm walk and chilli meal at Three Mills.
An extra May event was added to EFOG’s programme by Eleanor, suggesting a visit to the House Mill at Bromley-by-Bow on 12th May to see the Sweet Cookies, an Essex-based female close harmony group.
Jinan and I met at Stratford to walk from there to the Three Mills complex, on a lovely, sunny late Sunday afternoon. Stratford, of course – since the Olympics – has changed and is changing considerably, so the first part of our walk was along the busy Stratford High Street, heading towards the Bow Flyover and en-canyoned somewhat by the high apartment and office buildings. More or less the only pre-Olympic building that is obvious is the Builders Arms pub, on the corner of Lett Road.
However, there is some openness still where the Greenway meets the High Street. The Greenway is the promenade pedestrian and cycle path designed by Bazalgette to top his Northern Outfall Sewer bank, and one can walk or cycle that some 3 miles to Beckton. Shortly beyond the Greenway we left the High Street for the relative quiet of a footpath alongside the Three Mills Wall River. On the west side – in the Sugar House Lane area, more apartments and other-use buildings are being constructed, but on the side we were walking there are just the back gardens of the older terraced houses of Stratford.
Soon, the open area of Three Mills Green is reached, with residential narrowboat moorings in the arm of the river. In the late afternoon light the views through to the Canary Wharf complex were not unattractive, while closer we observed a coot nesting in a convenient motor-vehicle tyre and a black cat being admonished and chased off by a carrion crow. Indeed, we could see its nest in one of the London plane trees further on.
We arrived at the venue a bit early, so we continued our walk through the historic Three Mills Conservation area and between the Lea Navigation and the river itself. We passed under the Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness and the Upminster Underground Lines bridges, and went just as far as Twelvetrees Crescent bridge to view Bow Locks and from where we could have continued walking to Limehouse Basin and the Thames via the Limehouse Cut, or to Cody Dock and the Thames via the main River Lea.
However, our plan had been to go to the House Mill for the event, and so we returned the relatively short distance to Three Mills to see the Sweet Cookies, and the House Mill Volunteers.
We arrived as the doors opened at 5.30. The House Mill Volunteers might just sound like a part-time military unit from the Naploleonic Wars, but in fact it refers in this case to those people who manage to keep the wonderful House Mill open to the public on occasions, and even help host events such as this. So we were met very soon by Eleanor – whose idea it was to suggest this – and who is one of those who volunteer here, and our other group-member Marilyn, who is another. They, together with others, had prepared for the evening so that there was a bar available, and hot and cold snacks on the menu.
The Sweet Cookies are a female close harmony group, and were accompanied by a male electric piano player. They entertained us with a wide range of music – from folk and show songs to jazz and modern pop. And very entertaining they were too, leading to a very pleasant couple of hours. As well as Jinan and myself – and of course Eleanor and Marilyn – a couple of other EFOG members joined us: Marian and Karen, together with Karen’s husband.
After the music evening, Jinan and I walked back along the riverside to Stratford High Street, and hence made our ways home.
As well as providing a really nice evening of entertainment for us, the event was also valuable in contributing to the ongoing Restoration Project that is is taking place at the House Mill. The event was free, but contributions afterwards and the sales of food and drink would all help towards this. The goal is to restore the heritage water wheels of what is the largest surviving tide mill in the world to working condition. Once complete, the wheels – powered by the tide – could provide enough energy to power the House Mill, with capacity to provide a regular income from the excess electricity generated. This, of course, is all without the emission of CO2 – which just might contribute something to saving our planet.
As an extra thought, a couple of our members during the evening mentioned that they were unable to participate in any of the group’s walks at weekends, and we thought that maybe we should try to organise something for weekdays. Another walk around the Bow Back Rivers, down the Lea Navigation and river via Three Mills and Cody Dock to the Thames just might be an idea to facilitate this?
Paul Ferris, 14th May 2019
After the glorious Easter weekend weather it was a shame that the following Saturday (29th April) started cold, windy and wet as we drove to RHS Wisley. The rain had stopped by the time we arrived and we were surprised to see so many cars in the car park, considering the weather.
A reasonable £13.05 admission and we then queued for ages at the inadequate Coffee Shop by the entrance area. The coffee was poor as well as the service. Going into the gardens, we noticed that a lot of money is being spent, with a large extension being due for completion shortly after our visit. We headed up through the Cottage Garden and the Exotic Garden, passing by a nice moulding of a female swimmer as we walked on to Battleston Hill, where among the glorious planting was a wooden dinosaur sited next to a Brazilian Giant Rhubarb, otherwise known as “dinosaur food”. A picnic lunch was taken on the Trials Field, but it was a shame that a notice there warned that plants should not be stolen. On to the Herb and Fruit Gardens, then down to Bowles’ Corner, a little celebration in plants of his work. Up to the new-looking Glasshouse, which was most impressive, with a temperate section, complete with a waterfall, and a very hot section, so hot that some members felt quite uncomfortable. There were some impressive plants in the Glasshouse, including one - a great spear lily - that had flowered for the first time in 18 years!
A drink break in the pleasant Glasshouse café and we went for a walk through the Pinetum, following the River Wey. We stopped in the bird hide but only Blue and Great Tits could be seen. We then walked back to the main area and our cars. Would we go back again? Yes, we were there more than five hours, covering nearly four miles, and still missed things. The car park looked busy but the place is so large that we were often the only people in sight. And of course, the garden will change with the seasons. A lovely day.
Brian U., 28th April 2019
Thames Chase - a bat talk and a stroll
The Sun rose, as it has been doing for a very long time – and thus not unexpectedly – helping to modify a day which, because of the time of year and atmospheric conditions, was almost bound to be a warm one. And it already was, when Trevor, Fred and myself met Ann at Goodmayes station on Saturday 20th April, for a relatively short journey to the Thames Chase Forest Visitor Centre, near Upminster.
Well, it is a relatively short journey if, as we were, one is travelling in a car, but it would have felt a considerably longer one if one had not a car and was required to visit by public transport. There is probably a slightly closer bus-stop, but even then it would have been a long foot-haul up Pikes Lane to the visitor centre. That might well be my one reservation for a future no-car visit, because the centre really is a nice place to be Since my long-time-ago visit only once before, in addition to the farmhouse and lovely barn that were present then, a new visitor centre has been added, providing educational facilities, toilets, a good-value-for money cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, things to buy and, separately, even bicycles for hire.
Ann had arranged our visit primarily to attend a talk on bats by Ella, a member of the Essex Bat Group, which gave us a good introduction to bats as creatures, their life-styles and the work done by the bat group in trying to provide for these little animals, such as erecting bat-boxes, helping bats that have been injured, and encouraging a public interest in the creatures. We had close up looks at two of Ella’s Pipistelles, which she had provided with a home as they could not fly.
Following the talk, we retired to the cafe for lunch, after which we set off on a walk around a small part of the Thames Chase near to the visitor centre. Thames Chase is a community forest comprising some 40 square miles located in 47 sites in London and Essex. Ann volunteers in the visitor centre, and has led EFOG on a couple of walks around other parts of the area in the past.
This walk followed part of that designated as Walk 1 in the series of leaflets obtainable at the visitor centre. It was a warm and sunny day, and we were content to stroll along well made paths, looking at some of the information boards on the way, and casually observing and listening to the birds, butterflies and other creatures and plants that we passed, or passed us. There are a number of constructions on the route that we followed, probably intended primarily for children, but quite accessible to adults too, if they are so inclined or fit enough. The first was a somewhat tent-like building, made of wood and with climbing-holds and foot-rests in convenient places on the outside to allow access to circular holes which provided entry into the interior. Trevor and Lynne made some use of these whilst the rest of us sat in the sunshine.
A very slight diversion off the main track led us to a woodland seating area, wooden blocks and logs variously and simply shaped to provide seating before a slightly more elaborate, almost throne-like seat. This was presumably for the story-teller to sit in, so we had a go at that and the group was treated to that wonderful story of the rabbit fu-fu (or fufu, or whatever), which some of the EFOG group may have heard before. After all, it was around Easter-time, so rabbits are in season. (see my seasonal poem below)
Another construction later on in our stroll is named “The Trusty Oak”, which although sounding a biy like a pub is actually a tower-like structure, wooden of course, and vaguely massively oak-shaped, which again provided climbing possibilities for our little group. Last of these buildings was the “Discovery Hut”, with walkways and wooden plaques showing various leaves and common birds that may be found in the area. Educational, and fun, too.
We made our way back to the Forest Centre cafeteria for tea, coffee, ice cream and the like before leaving after a very pleasant day.
Thank you Ann, and Lynne, Trevor and Fred, for a nice day out.
Paul Ferris, 24th April 2019
Eat a bunny...
People say “Aaaah!”,
but I think it’s funny.
And they taste nice.
We met at the car park in Thaxted on a cold but bright Saturday 13th April. The car park is not only free but has a public loo! Well done, the local council. Thaxted itself is a pleasant looking town, some elderly buildings still surviving.
Heading east, we left Thaxted and were soon in Walnut Tree Meadow. I must confess I didn’t spot a walnut tree. Turning south we headed for Bardfield End Green, past a pretty farm pond and a genuine Victorian post box, now no longer used. Bardfield End Green has a cricket pitch and we arrived soon after the ground had been prepared for the coming season. It looked very well cared for. South again through open fields towards Plummer Wood. This is a small wood which looks slightly neglected, in other words little or no human involvement and nature just gets on with life. It must be an insect and bird heaven. It was noticeable that the planes at Stansted were not flying overhead, although they had been a constant accompanying noise when the route was recce’d during the week. Perhaps Stansted changes its routes at the weekend.
On to Richmond’s Green and Sibley’s Green. There are big warning notices about disease control at Sibley’s Green but we could see no active steps being taken to control disease. Heading west we crossed the B184 and walked to the Farmhouse Inn at Monk Street where a pleasant meal and drink was consumed. The final leg now, following the River Chelmer north to Thaxted. Sheep were grazing in one of the fields we walked through and one lamb in particular ignored its mother’s bleats until we were very close. The windmill and church loomed up ahead as we approached but when we reached them the windmill was closed. We walked down a narrow lane past former almshouses to the church and then took a while to look inside it, once described by John Betjeman as one of the finest churches in England. Inevitably, there was an appeal for restoration money, £2m this time and we donated our small bit. It is a fine church with a very high spire. I think it was a spire. There was an lively discussion about the difference between a spire and a steeple. Then it was back to the car park and off home.
Brian U. 13th April 2019
Sawbridgeworth and the Stort
It was a bright Sunday 17th March when we met at Sawbridgeworth station for Trevor’s walk. The sun shone and the wind, though brisk, was pleasant.
Off we went along the towpath by the River Stort. Quite a few houseboats were by the river’s edge although nobody could be seen. The towpath was muddy but that was insignificant as the weather changed dramatically. At one moment we would have our hats off, jackets half undone and the next minute we would be cowering from a hailstorm. It is true that in England you can have all four seasons in one hour. We did! When the weather was good we were able to look around and see signs of spring everywhere, from buds on trees to already flowering forsythia. We saw a small creature swim across the river but it was too swift for us to identify and it hid in the river bank.
Inevitably on a seven mile walk a comfort break was required but squatting amongst brambles is not the way. No names but the shrieks could be heard for a hundred yards.
We had our packed lunches at Thorley Church, in their well maintained churchyard. It even had a table and chairs for us plus, big bonus, the church hall was open so we could use their loo. Eileen brought out a cake that was left over from her church do the previous evening and we all voted it a very good cake, as did the robin that kept us company.
On with the walk, through a former WW11 airfield. We stopped for a moment which allowed me to take a photo of us standing in sunshine with a black cloud looming behind. That black cloud was to come over us later. We struggled to find the path about here as the land seemed to be owned by a paintball firm. Eventually we made our way through and then, as we crossed an open field with no shelter, that black cloud hit us. Horizontal hailstones! All of us now had wet trousers but wet only on the right side where the hail lashed us.
We passed a building which housed, according to a sign outside, members belonging to the NFBA. Never heard of it? The clue was in the other organisation listed, the Herts and Essex Cricket Academy. Batsman could be heard facing up to fast bowling in readiness for the new season. I never knew there was a National Fast Bowling Academy.
Getting tired now, we elected to go straight back to Sawbridgeworth station with a plan to stop in a pub if we found one. Alas, there was no pub open on late Sunday afternoon in March on our route and, unrefreshed, we dragged our weary bodies back to the station to make our way home.
Brian U., 17th March 2019
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