Recent outings and activities...
Another walk in the south of Epping Forest
On Thursday 17th September, Jinan, Lynne, Phil, Marian and Jenefer joined me for a repeat of the walk which some other EFOG members did on 6th September.
We started promptly at mid day, and I chose a slightly different route at the beginning. This took us on to Manor Park Flats – part of Wanstead Flats otherwise known as ‘The Triangle’. This enabled a long-distance view westwards, right across to the Highgate Hills, 8 miles away. It was difficult to make out the group of walkers near Highgate looking back towards the Flats.
As well, I was able to point out the roof of the early 19th Century manor house from which the area ‘Manor Park’ gets its name. Prior to that, what small community there was (before the coming of the railway, really) was called Little Ilford. On the Flats here is the recent site of one of the temporary mortuaries, set up for the Coronavirus (C19) epidemic. Now this has been dismantled, the ground has been tilled and seeded with wildflowers in the hope of producing a meadow.
We passed through the remains of a circle of tree on the Triangle, once surrounding Newham’s Cold War Command Centre. It remains buried underground, but we saw a pile of concrete blocks, evidently remains of the more above-ground part of the structure, disturbed in the recent usage. I was also able to point out the most southerly tree in Epping Forest – quite a fun fact, I thought, and a surprise to some as they hadn’t realised Wanstead Flats is an integral part of the Forest.
This part of the Flats was for a long time the assembly point for cattle drives from distant parts of the country, assembling here for the London markets. The cattle that to some extent continued this tradition ceased to roam from further up in the Forest to cause enjoyment, consternation and wonder to locals and visitors, in 1996. This was after the mid 1990s BSE ("Mad Cow Disease") and later Foot and Mouth meant that no more cattle were released.
Leaving the Forest at Rabbits Road bridge (there was once a warren here), we walked the half kilometre length of footpath which separates the cemetery from the railway. It is quite narrow, and not the sort of place you would want to meet a herd of bullocks wishing to go in the opposite direction to yourself. Which is exactly what happened to me years ago. I told the little group the tale (tall or broad as it may seem), and assured them that I did manage to persuade the 50-odd head to turn back so that I could get home.
The Aldersbrook, to which the path gradually descends, was totally dry. I have never seen that before. It is certainly nothing to do with global warming, I am sure! A young lady was cropping wild plants, and gradually tidying up what can – or could – be a lovely area, whilst some young men were lurking in the nearby undergrowth. I have no reason to believe there was any connection between those two activities, just people – like ourselves – doing their own thing.
Reaching the Roding, the encampment and shrine mentioned by Trevor in his write-up of the previous walk (see here) was still present, although changes had been made. I have mentioned this to the Conservators of Epping Forest by means of their email contact, but have not even received an acknowledgement. Our little group did have a discussion about the rights and wrongs of this – as I put it ‘personalisation’ of the Forest – but whatever they may be I feel deeply about this, as it really is one of my favourite local places and its ambience is – for me – spoilt. I shan’t be going there again.
We were back in Epping Forest, but as I explained, a somewhat unique part of the Forest as it used to be a sewage works. But that’s another and longer story. (see here if you want it)
Leaving ‘The Old Sewage Works’, or Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, as Epping Forest will have it, we entered another unique part of the Forest – Wanstead Park. Most of you will know now that this was the grounds of a great house, and has different bye-laws to the rest of Epping Forest. We walked anti-clockwise around the largest lake, the Ornamental Water, but it isn’t very ornamental at the moment, as so much of it has dried up and even vegetated over. Again, this has nothing to do with global warming.
Chalet Wood – now increasingly known as 'the bluebell wood' – looked a bit messy, as the deterrent logs, set to indicate pathways, have either rotted or been moved, and that often to build ‘wigwam’ style shelters. This seems to be a very popular sport or exercise, perhaps some form of woodcraft, but the logs were put there to protect the bluebells and allow them to increase. It’s an example of differing requirements in a busy park. Unfortunately – like so much that man is doing to our environment either deliberately or unintentionally – the environment suffers for it. And ultimately, so will man himself – if we aren’t already. (cough, wheeze, lack of sense of smell, etc.)
Before pausing for half an hour or so in the sunshine at Wanstead Park’s nice little refreshment kiosk, we were lucky to catch sight of Quinny, Nina and Naru. These are three English Longhorn cows, brought only that day to the park from further up in the Forest as a trial to see how they get on. If successful, we may once again have cattle in the south of Epping Forest! These are not the (sort of Frisian) bullocks that used to roam freely, mentioned earlier, and they are G.P.S. constrained to only keep to certain areas of Wanstead Park, but so many people around here are so excited to have cattle back, or to see cattle here. That might have been shown by the enthusiasm of herds of – not cows – children running towards them! They are not petting animals, and local people and visitors will need to understand that if the cattle are to enjoy being here, and for the trial to be successful, then the cows’ needs will have to be respected.
We arrived back at the City of London Cemetery gates, from where we had started, at something like 4pm, having covered something like 4.5 miles.
Paul Ferris. 20th September 2020.
Visit to Rainham Marshes
Birds, frogs, bees, teasels, Javelin train HS1, lizards…….. but no coffee!!
On Saturday 12 September myself, Cathy, Richard, Madeleine, Phil and Trev spent a few sunny hours wandering around the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes in Purfleet, armed with lunch, drinks and facemasks!.
Although this is an RSPB reserve, as well as birds we saw a lot of other animals and insects which made it an interesting visit. We saw at least 5 greenish brown lizards basking in the sun all in different places. I counted 12 different birds with a query as to whether we saw a Peregrine or not. We heard and saw Marsh frogs, which were very well hidden in the weed in the waterways. There were also a few damselflies flying above waterways and around us, with the occasional common white butterfly fluttering over the hedgerows.
You would think in an RSPB reserve you would only see birds but apart from the other wildlife we saw various forms of transport, with the railway line for Eurostar, C2C and the Javelin train HS1 running very near to the reserve. It is quite bizarre in that you can look in one direction and see this wonderful wildlife area with reedbeds, waterways, trees, various foliage and then turn around in the other direction and you see huge electric pylons that buzz above you, not to mention the remains of the firing ranges left over from when the area was used by the military.
We had a very relaxed time wandering around to see what we could find. Even though much of the reserve was overgrown and some areas still not open to the public, we had a good time. After months of being left without staff or volunteers to carry out conservation work the reeds and foliage had taken over.
The visitor centre and café at the reserve is not open yet so we were not able to have a coffee at the beginning of the walk or a well earned afternoon cuppa and cake at the end! When seeking out the toilets we had to be careful as we walked around the outside of the visitor centre as there was a bees nest just above our heads with very active bees flying around!. It was well worth the visit on such a lovely day.
Ann W. 13th September 2020
A walk along the Alders Brook, the River Roding and Wanstead Park
On a sunny Sunday 6th September, four of us (Paul, Cathy, Richard & Trevor) met at 12.30 outside the City of London Cemetery for a 4.5 mile walk, led by Paul.
We started off alongside the cemetery towards Rabbits Road, then followed a footpath known as The Bridle Path which ran between the Cemetery and the railway line. Paul related how years ago, when walking home from work down this path, he’d been confronted with a herd of cattle ambling single file the other way. After a bit of a stand-off, he’d persuaded the cattle into turning round on the narrow path and retreating back to Wanstead Flats. Luckily today there were no such incidents.
We carried on down the path, wending our way down towards the Alders Brook. We then followed the brook upstream till we met up with the River Roding. The Alders Brook doesn’t flow into the Roding at this point, but there is a watergate which operates when the brook is too full.
As we followed the Roding through what used to be a sewage works, and is now part of Epping Forest, we came across what appeared to be a small encampment with possibly a shrine. Someone was trying to personalise and even restrict what ought to be a communal recreation area.
Paul explained how sewage works, and other areas with very limited public access, have in the past attracted a variety of birds, and that the Roding acts as a migratory route for some species. We were lucky enough to see a Grey Wagtail and a Little Grebe.
We carried on into Wanstead Park and turned right to go round the largest of the lakes, the Ornamental Water. The water level was very low due to lack of rainfall and even water being diverted for use elsewhere. We saw a couple of Grey Herons, one in exactly the same place as Cathy and I had seen it just a few days before, though it did turn its head so we knew it was real. We went past the Grotto and followed the lake round before cutting through what in springtime would be a bluebell wood to the café for a welcome cuppa before the short walk back to the start.
Richard, 9th September 2020
Eastbrookend Country Park and The Chase Local Nature Reserve
Last Sunday, the 2nd August, Cathy, Richard, Trevor, Madeleine and myself revisited Eastbrookend Country Park and decided to discover a little bit more of the area next to it called The Chase Local Nature Reserve. We crossed over the car park by the Discovery Centre (RM7 0SS) to walk up The Chase, which by the map should lead to the reserve but as we could see water and a lake to our left hand side we decided to do a bit of an investigate and found there were two lakes surrounded by trees. This area was popular with the local fishermen who reminded me of the military in their green camouflage outfits. They seemed to take it very seriously, having set up their fishing tents, etc.
We followed the path around, passing by some Egyptian geese on a tree stump. Further round we reached the River Rom, surrounded by trees and plants and lots of insects! The insects had a lovely feast on Cathy, Madeleine and Richard! I seemed to have escaped with no bites at all even though they started to land on me. We carried on following the river as it meandered around and eventually came out to a small lane, which if you turned left will take you down to Dagenham Road or by turming right, further into the park. We crossed over the lane into The Chase Local Nature Reserve, having been given information by a dog walker with an impressively long beard and powerful looking dog! We crossed over into the nature reserve and came across lots of mounds of horse manure and we were alerted by another dog walker that the horses were running around in the field and to be careful.
We followed a path through the grounds, passing trees, and eventually came across a bird reserve that was fenced off and not open to the public. Shame, as there looked to be a few birds in the distance worth looking at. As a birdwatcher I’m ashamed to say I had not got my binoculars with me and was not able to see what the birds were. Who would know that there were such interesting places tucked away in the depths of Dagenham? Eventually we did see some horses which had hoods over their heads covering their eyes, being led by a lady and taken to a private paddock. Not sure why the horses had their eyes covered but didn’t like to ask. (Probably to protect them from the biting insects. Ed.)
Eventually we came back to Easterbrookend Park, where we sat on some wooden posts for a rest and a chat. There were a circle of these posts, evenly spaced around the mound of soil that we were on top of. Again, not really sure what these were for but it enabled us to socially distance. Maybe they were there from the previous pandemic who knows! It was a pleasant afternoon’s walk.
Ann W. 6th August 2020
A Walk by a Secret Brook and a Hidden Pond
It was a surprise to get the previous article - Mayes Brook and Parsloes Park - offered for publication on the Group’s website – especially under these somewhat locked-down circumstances. At least, still, somewhat. It was the first since the walk in the Felstead area, way back on 7th March. The website has been looking a bit stagnant, and maybe some of the group members are feeling a bit stagnant, but at least we know that members have got together at last, and got outdoors. There may have been other meetings – maybe a cycle ride or two – and we have at least had updates on some goings on (goings on!?) via emails, and maybe via Facebook, although I would not have seen the latter.
Some of those who went on last Sunday’s walk, led by Ann, also came on a walk led by myself on 15th July. The furthest I have been in the last few months is Wanstead or Plaistow, on foot because I haven’t used public transport during that time, and don’t have a car. But one easy place for me to go is the City of London Cemetery, and I do know it quite well. In fact, having a car wouldn’t be a bad idea in there, perhaps, as there is said to be over 7 miles of road.
So I invited just two people along, Ann and Cathy – as I wanted to ensure social distancing on the one hand and keeping an EFOG group together on the other – and was asked if Richard might come too. So that made four.
My planned route – and I did have one, in my head – was essentially to show part of the course of one of the least known streams or rivers in the whole of Greater London. Even Ann’s Mayes Brook and the River Effra are more well known, and do feature in guide books, and of course the bountifully endowed Beverley Brook is featured in novels. My brook is just about unknown even to the residents of the nice Edwardian housing estate which takes it name from the watercourse. The watercourse is the Alders Brook, and the housing estate is the Aldersbrook. It is almost certainly unknown to the majority of the residents of the cemetery, although it is possible that a few did know it in their past.
So the four of us met in the car park of the cemetery, outside its impressive main gates. This cemetery really should be cemetery eight of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ (Cemeteries, that is). However, they – apparently – are private cemeteries, and this one is owned by the Corporation of the City of London. The City's churchyards were somewhat overflowing with passed (past) residents in the mid 1800’s, so they bought up a farm estate (Aldersbrook Manor and Farm, no less), built a wonderful cemetery – dubbed as ‘The Cemetery in a Garden’ – and hence not only stopped the overflow, but had room to re-bury some of the City churches’ dead. Also, because of this land ownership, the City Corporation was able to add an extremely powerful voice in the campaign to ‘Save Epping Forest’, but that is – as is said – another story.
There aren’t many famous people buried in there – unlike, for example Highgate – and I suspect that one of the most visited graves (or at least memorials) is that of Bobby Moore. Other favourites are a couple of Jack the Ripper victims, whose resting places are marked by plaques on the ground. But it is the ‘garden’ aspect that I like – very different from nearby Wanstead Flats or Wanstead Park – maybe closer to the formality of Valentines Park, which is not really all that far away, but on the east side of the River Roding.
On its eastern edge the cemetery does slope down to the valley of the Roding, here being a wide flood plain on which Ilford Golf Course is built. So we – eventually – made our way to the top of this slope from which – if it weren’t for the willows in between – we could have seen as far as Ilford. On the outer edge of the railings of the cemetery there is a footpath which runs parallel to the fence, inexplicably known to the few remaining indigenous people hereabouts as ‘The Bridle Path’, which it isn’t. I suppose it may have been the Bridal Path, but can’t really see why it should be that, either. Beyond the path, and also coursing more or less parallel for some way, is the stream called the Alders Brook, which is a tributary of the Roding, meeting it just north of Ilford High Road bridge, near the A406 flyover, which indeed the river flows under.
However, our vantage point wasn’t really a vantage point, because of those trees and other sundry vegetation and allotments, so the others just had to trust me. We made our way into a dense cover of trees, mainly Grey Poplar and Yew, but with some Oaks and other things. This unused area of the cemetery is cleverly known and sign-posted as ‘The Birches’, but most of these are dead, and ‘The Poplars’ might be a better nomenclature. The Birches is the cemetery’s nature reserve, opened to the public in 2006 and on which day I led the first walk around. It’s likely that hardly anyone has gone in there since, but… The reason that The Birches is there at all is that all these trees and other vegetation are around a valley, and a damp one at that. Not really suitable for burials, and thus probably had been lying virtually untouched since the time of the Aldersbrook Estate (the original one – not the present Edwardian one), until the nature reserve path was constructed.
Well, not quite untouched, because I led our little group downhill through the wilderness and indeed beyond the official ‘public’ access to the reserve, to show them a hidden pond. This had been deliberately constructed under the auspices of a founding member of the Wren Conservation Group sometime in the 70’s, I think, as a wildlife habitat. For much of the year the pond remains almost un-see-able, unless one knows where to look, but we looked, and I explained that this was the first visible aspect of the Alders Brook. On the east side there is a conduit which allows the brook to flow under the cemetery fence and the Bridle Path, to emerge just marginally more visibly before flowing around the back of the Aldersbrook Allotments, passing some Alder trees (there might be a clue there), and hence to the Roding. At the west end of the pond is a concrete conduit from which the stream flows as from some concrete goddess' womb, which I intended to explain later.
Exiting from The Birches, perhaps to the relief of some because of its density and mosquitoes, we scaled the really high ground of the cemetery. This area was once used as a tip for unwanted materials generated in such a place – like flower wrappers and broken plant pots and vegetative material. Within the last few years the tip has been both filled in and raised up, to create more burial space. In the middle of this large, more or less grass-covered,mound is the access to a manhole which gives access to the Alders Brook, some 6 metres or so below, I believe. The water runs underground now, to emerge at the conduit in The Birches, but originating at a mysterious source still somewhere roughly to the west.
So we made our way off the mound, roughly to the west. I deviated slightly, because I wanted to show the others what I consider to be one of the finest and oddest memorials in the cemetery – a kerbed grave with a huge upright headstone and carvings of a 'long dog' (a greyhound or lurcher), a hare, a cockerel and a jaunting car. The only inscription on the whole thing is one word: ‘Amos’. (apart from the maker’s inscription, of course). On the reverse of the upright, though, are three poems, which tend to relate to illegal hunting practices and the mystery of the hare.
Nearby is the viewing terrace above the catacombs and columbarium. The catacombs obviously are feline in nature and the columbarium pigeon. The terrace looks out over a wide valley towards the more modern of the cemetery's two crematoria, and the catacombs form an arc-shaped end to the valley. This is where once a large pond had been formed by damming the brook, as a feature to Aldersbrook Manor. You can still see a row of manhole covers which could give access to the brook, which of course now flows underneath all of this.
Passing the North and South Chapels of the crematoria, we followed a by-now very shallow and slightly uphill valley, now used as a road, to the back gates of the Cemetery Superintendent’s house, near the main entrance. The course of the brook is by now almost indistinguishable, as the source is nearby.
At the gates, having had a fairly long walk around, and all feeling tired not just because of that, perhaps, but also because it was unusual for some of us to meet people these days. Also, I had done a lot of talking and the others had been doing a lot of enforced listening, so we said our goodbyes.
It was only after Ann had got into her car that I remembered that I hadn’t pointed out the all-important point of the whole expedition: the actual source of the brook. At least Cathy and Richard got to see it - it is the overflow from Alexandra Lake, on Wanstead Flats, by Aldersbrook Road. At one time, I assume, that would have been a boggy area from which the stream flowed naturally down the aforementioned shallow natural valley. The lake was dug and constructed in about 1906 as a job-creation scheme for unemployed men, to alleviate the flooding problem on Aldersbrook Road. It would have been convenient to route the water underground at that time, but that may well have been done earlier, during the construction of the cemetery in the 1850's. Once underground - like many of London's 'lost' rivers - it is soon forgotten, and unless one is a sewage worker or naiad or something, all that might remain is a clue. Like Fleet Street, or Aldersbrook.
Paul Ferris, 28th July 2020
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