Recent outings and activities...

EFOG takes a banana to Aldersbrook Wood

Aldersbrook Wood has been a neglected small area of woodland adjacent to Wanstead Park, and acting as green barrier between it and a 1970's housing estate. (see here for more information)

It seemed to have been forgotten by its owners, the London Borough of Redbridge, and although much used by birds and animals - including a pack of foxes that seem to live in it, it was either mostly unappreciated or even abused by local people. The abuse mostly takes the form of the depositing of casual litter, fly-tipping or garden clearance throw-outs.

I managed to get the attention of L.B.Redbridge partly by the psychological ploy of giving the wood its name - it is very much part of the Aldersbrook area so Aldersbrook Wood seemed quite appropriate and quite nice sounding. An Internet search for "aldersbrook wood" now even brings up one or two references in addition to my own! So - together with the Borough's Conservation Ranger Francis Castro - we marked out the wood for a practical work day on April 12th.

This was to take place with LB Redbridge staff and anybody who wished to attend. It was a bit unfortunate that I was allocated an important hospital appointment on the very day, so it was a bit of rush for me to get there, and because of the nature of the treatment was inhibited from getting stuck in.

However, when I arrived I found that there were three Redbridge staff, two people from Leytonstone that do conservation work with other groups, one member of the Wren Conservation Group who lives very near the wood, and Sue and Jim and Ann and Duncan from EFOG. From work we have done at Copped Hall, Chigwell Riding Trust and Snaresbrook in particular, it can be assumed that EFOG's contribution to the work was substantial. It was a warm day, but the wood offered some shade, and banana breaks notwithstanding, a quite incredible amount of rubbish was cleared between 11am and about 2.30pm. This included most of the component parts of a motorcycle, a boat's paddle, various bits of electronic equipment and countless drink cans. (well - they could've been counted, but there wasn't much point)

I assumed that probably it wouldn't be noticed by many that anything had happened, but at least got an e-mail from somebody who knew that it did saying they couldn't find any rubbish there anymore. We did do a bit of vegetation clearance along the main path through the wood, but because of the time of year thought it prudent not to do too much of that because of disturbance to wildlife at this time of year. It is hope that another work day will take place much later in the year when some bramble can be cleared, and glades and paths opened up.

Aldersbrook Wood is almost contiguous with "my" pet project, which was the old Redbridge Southern Sewage Works site - which became part of Epping Forest. The wood is tiny even if compared to that, but it's so important that green spaces such as this are retained and cared for, so they can act as a barrier to development, a public amenity and a place for wildlife to live. Thanks to those members of EFOG who helped towards achieving this.


Paul Ferris, 20th April 2011

Viewing the Bulwark - a walk from Stratford to Greenwich - Saturday 19th March 2011

It was Saturday 19th and It was arranged that we would meet at Stratford at 10am - just seven of us, perhaps because the walk had only been announced on Thursday evening.

I went along for the walk rather than for the thrill of seeing one of Britain's naval defences on a visit to Greenwich or the suggested noodle-lunch afterwards. I was quite happy to be led on the walk, too – as I couldn't envisage a realistic route that wouldn't duplicate ones I'd been on – either with the Group or personally – recently. But fings bein wot they are, Jim suggested that at least initially I take the lead.

 On the Meridian at the GreenwayOn the Meridian at the GreenwayOur first problem was crossing the road; a complicated mess of bulwarks against pedestrian access to pavements was a hint of things to come. The one-way road system negotiated, we left the main road and accessed a more pedestrian aspect of the walk by means of the way we'd taken when we did Jim's walk from Stratford to the South Bank some weeks ago. My idea was to soon pick up the Greenway for a short distance, then to walk along the Channelsea Creek by way of the Long Wall to Three Mills. We posed for a picture as we crossed the Greenwich Meridian on the Greenway, then walked down off it to the Channelsea. The mud, tyres and trolleys in the creek were rapidly becoming covered by the tide – a particularly high one I supposed because of the impending Equinox. A short way along towards the Long Wall – thankfully a short way – we found our way blocked by a security fence. This is fairly normal around Stratford these days – although quite unpredictable – but whatever, we had to turn back and retrace our route until we re-reached the high-road to London. We weren't long on that, because we were able to walk alongside the channel that runs directly to Three Mills.

Three MillsThree MillsThe day was glorious, sunny and warm for March, and the Three Mills complex looked great in the light. I remember it when it didn't look so great, but was still a remarkable area. But then it didn't get the visitors, and in some ways I preferred that to the “busy-ness” that it experiences now – walkers, cyclists, tourists, boaters, anglers, historians, film-stars.

I was still trying to work out a route, and considered one through Bromley and Poplar on a route that I've been planning, but thought that this would then spoil that, so relented to keeping to the Limehouse Cut – precisely the route we'd done before. Going across the lock at Bow, I could see that on the long-inaccessible east bank of the Lea, the “Fat Path” that will lead directly to the Thames is laid out, complete with seats. That'll be a route - when it's opened!

Limekiln DockLimekiln DockAt the Limehouse end of the Cut, I knew of a good café. It's right on the corner of the Burdett Road and Commercial Road, and used to be a bank. Good value, good selection of east London fare, and clean, too. After tea/coffee (and cake for Fred) we crossed towards Westferry Station and had a look at Limekiln Dock (again - for some). The tide by now was well in, and small waves were breaking on the shore, a nice sea-sidey sound. Along the Thames walk the sea-side feel was accentuated by the sea-salt smell that I haven't got for a while now. A few people in the riverside apartments were sitting on their balconies in the sun, or even getting chairs out onto their communal lawns.

HMS Bulwark at GreenwichHMS Bulwark at GreenwichWe didn't quite take the same historic-reference route that Susan B.'s Limehouse to Greenwich walk had done, but tried to stick more closely to the riverside. But this is harder-than-ought on the Thames Path, because in a number of instances we were blocked either by locked gates, inappropriate walls or development. Bearing in mind our objective was to reach a warship by the name of Bulwark, we encountered a few of these on route before we did so. Nevertheless, as we rounded the curve of the river, HMS Bulwark came into view, moored nearer the Greenwich bank. She is a large craft – 18,500 tonnes and with a length of 176m – and is classified as a 'Landing Platform Dock Ship', with the ability to launch helicopters, landing craft, tanks and hovercraft.

Unlike last time when we walked to Greenwich, this time we were able to walk through the foot-tunnel. Greenwich was crowded as usual, but we made our way directly to the noodle-bar and although it was busy, we got a table immediately. I'm not over-fond of Chinese-style food, but readily admit that the choice, service efficiency, cost and quality of the meals are admirable.

Our walk was about 5.5 miles, and we returned by way of the DLR to Stratford.

Paul Ferris, 20th March 2011

West-ward Ho! - a visit to North Devon - 18th-21st February 2011

This year’s spring away weekend, organized as usual by the inimitable Ken, was to Ilfracombe, Devon.  About half the group travelled by car, the rest went down by train, taking in the sights of Paddington station en route, travelling via Exeter and Barnstaple to the Dilkhusa Grand, fairly close to the front.  Actually we missed the bus stop and went into the central bus station – a fortuitous move, since it took us past Dolly’s Café!  Named after the owner’s late dog Dolly, the café provided us with much needed tea and lunch sustenance, together with vouchers for future visits – if only they knew….

North DevonIlfracombe in the mistWith some time left in the afternoon, a few hardy souls walked off the meal by climbing The Lookout, a section of the cliff that ran down to the back of town.  We discovered in passing the house of Henry Williamson, author of 'Tarka the Otter'.  While the book may be less well known these days, a 180 mile long trail which includes the area of Barnstaple, Braunton and Ilfracombe is called the Tarka Trail, after the otter in the book.  We took a look at the harbour, checked out some gone-off dead fish in baskets, and then retired to the hotel for dinner and to plan the next day’s events.

As luck would have it we had a Plan B, as Plan A for Saturday went somewhat askew when the bus towards Woolacombe (Plan A) left on time, before we were all gathered.  Nil desperandum!  Up to the High Road, stopping off in one of Devon’s excellent pastry shops for lunch supplies, then on the bus eastwards towards Combe Martin (Plan B).  The signs told us that the walk back was a mere 5 miles, no problem at all for us hardy walkers, but the day was grey and misty and the paths ... well, the coastal path was quite sticky with a very clay-like mud and this combined with quite a few upward slopes soon proved decidedly more challenging.  By the time we hit Watermouth Bay, everyone was wearing mud gaiters!  The path went down into the harbour and luckily the tide was out, as we had to cross the mud flats.  The Harbour Master then very obligingly informed us that a fallen tree had been cut down and was blocking the path ahead.  No problem, we cried, and off we went.  Except that the fallen tree blocked a set of stairs, halfway up….  Duncan, adventurous as ever, and much bigger than most of us, scaled around it using the banisters, and we then took it in turns to pass bags round and over and clamber through the railings and up the other side, except for Annick, who erred on the side of caution and went over the tree, somewhat more difficult than it sounds.  From then on the path was clear of obstruction, unless you count lots more mud, but it did go up.  A lot.

Stopping for lunchStopping for a snackStill, what goes up must come down, and after having to nearly form a human chain to climb one extra slippy section, we hit the downhill stretch at Hele, (not pronounced Hell – we wondered…) where refreshments were partaken at a pub garden in return for the use of the picnic benches – the publican wisely not letting us muddy creatures indoors.  The pasties made another appearance, as did some interesting local cider – well earned!  After lunch we continued along Hele Bay and up once again to the cliff tops, where the views of the coast were quite spectacular in places – lots of private bays and inlets, the odd sheep or several, some kittiwakes nesting and flapping about on a cliff face and a special view of Ilfracombe harbour in the mist.  Its amazing how the speed improves when you see the destination and in not too much time at all we were in Ilfracombe and heading for Dolly’s Café for a reviving afternoon cuppa and toasted teacakes, dirty trousers disguised with backpacks and such so as not to put off the other customers.

By Sunday, the weather was much improved but there was a travel snag, no buses on Sunday.  Chairman Jim made some swift arrangements and a cab ferried us to Woolacombe in shifts, with much giggling going on in the back.  You know who you are!

Woolacombe Bay has to be seen to be believed – a huge stretch of sandy beach, seen from a long way up the hill, with a stunning head of surf – enough to bring some wet-suited braves out with their boards.  Just like Hawaii but with West Country accents!  Had the day been warmer there might have been some difficulty extracting people from the beach, but we had a job to do.  The first stop en route was at the top of the cliff; a memorial to the American Troops killed having practiced at Woolacombe for the D-Day landing, and a photo op for Chairman Jim!  Within a short distance was Barricane Beach, one of the finest shell beaches in the British Isles, and again we got diverted slightly until group leader Ken cracked the whip.

North Devon coastNorth Devon coastlineOff we went across a sheep field and at this point the group split, some electing to go up and over the cliffs, others following the path strictly and going round.  Poor Annick once again had severe problems with the path and the edges, but was helped by various group members and a passing walker who happened to be going the same way.  We met back up at Morte Point and followed the path around and up and down to the Bull Point Lighthouse, wonderfully white against the cliffs and perched on its promontory.  A short distance further on and in the face of some biting winds, we stopped at Pensport Rock Cove for lunch - more pasties – and a few trips behind bushes or rocks!

Unfortunately straight after eating there was a fairly stiff climb up the cliffs again and in the face of increasingly stiff breezes.  Like all good paths, this one went down again, into a valley where the small village of Lee nestled, but any refreshment facilities were sadly closed so the encouragement of tea was not to be had.  Upwards and onwards (again) - though along a road this time so slightly easier going - and across a field to within sight of Ilfracombe.  This was a bit deceptive – seeing something from a high point disguises all the ups and downs you have to go through to get there.  The last major high point also had two splendid traps – a wind so stiff that some of the lighter people in the group were in severe danger of being blown off their feet – where was that big wind block Duncan when we needed him?  Not sooner had we managed to haul ourselves through the gate into a more sheltered field, mainly by hanging onto the hedge and pulling, than the last surprise was sprung.  The way down into Ilfracombe was by way of a series of switchbacks with sneaky dead-ends that took far longer than we had hoped.  The path came out behind Ilfracombe’s unusually designed theatre, well placed though, for – Dolly’s Café!

In spite of the day’s travails o’er cliffs and through high winds, Annick was not put off by that evening’s entertainment and she proved a dab hand at the snooker table after dinner that night.

The weekend was rounded off before we had to get on the train back to London by our bus ride to Barnstaple and exploring that ancient town’s various delights – an excellent museum, the various old markets, tea rooms and of course the souvenir Devon Clotted Cream – much harder to walk off back home!

For more pictures taken during the trip click here

Sue Ullersperger, March 2011

Dropping In on a Clanger - a visit to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 12th February 2011

As part of EFOG’s recent ‘themed walks’ around London’ series, on Saturday 12 February the group visited the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, or the Church Bell Foundry as it says above the door, the oldest manufacturing company in Britain.  Founded in 1570 during the reign of Elizabeth 1, the company has been in continuous business ever since then and is in the Guiness Book if Records for doing so.  Throughout World War II the Foundry was at work, not making bells though – it went into production for the war ministry and survived the bomb that destroyed the nearby St Mary’s church, the white chapel that gave the area its name.  The Foundry buildings that we visited were originally a coaching inn called the Artichoke, hence the slightly odd arrangement of the rooms.  The Foundry moved in from the north side of the Whitechapel Road after the acquisition of the buildings by Thomas Lester in the early 1700s.  As our guide for the day, Works Manager Rob pointed out that it is quite likely that the business is even older as a link was established to Master Founder Robert Chamberlain who operated in Aldgate, just down the road, in 1420.  Beat that!

The entrance to the foundryThe entrance to the foundryThe tour started, without any of us noticing until it was pointed out, that surrounding the entrance we had all just passed through was a cross section pattern of Big Ben, the largest and probably the most famous Bell cast by the Foundry.  The museum had numerous photos of other famous bells that the company has both produced and hung – they do all of the process from start to finish, wherever the bell is to finish up.  Our resident American and current Chair, Jim Carroll was particularly interested in the change ringing peal of bells provided to the National Cathedral in Washington DC, and of course, the Liberty Bell, that famous symbol of American Independence.  The Liberty Bell, like Big Ben, is famous for being cracked. It was, however, delivered in good order and the crack was acquired when it was first struck.  After some amateur messing about, the Americans recast the bell and it subsequently acquired another crack.   In 1976, the Bicentennial of the USA, a group called the Procrastinators Society of America mounted a mock protest outside the Foundry, complaining their country had been sold a lemon (how daft were they – it was obviously a bell, not a piece of fruit) and requesting a replacement.  The Foundry said they would be happy to replace the bell – if it came in its original packaging!

Enough of the history though.  So  - how do they do it?  Moving through the courtyard, we were able to view a number of bells, some newly cast and others now unusable due to various forms of damage.  All the bells, no matter what their size, are made of bronze, a combination of copper and tin, which is very brittle and cracks can be made which seriously affect the tone of the bell.  Instead of the nice, sharp, ding, the sound becomes more of a dull thud.

Cope and Core - bell mouldsCore and Cope - bell mouldsAs we moved through into the casting room, the whole process becomes clearer.   First you make a mould.  Bell moulds are made with loam, a combination of sand, clay, goat hair and horse manure – inspiring to come up with the joke ‘What noise does a bell make?  Dung!’  The Foundry has a large supply of the goat hair – ten years worth that they are still working their way through.  Whether the bald goats have recovered in the meantime is another story.  This mixture is used to make bricks, which are piled to make the approximate size of the bell then the fun begins.  Dobs of loam are thrown at the bell shape, then the excess scraped off and thrown again.  The reason for this, we were told, is to get the air out – air bubbles being a no-no.  So there are days when the workers can be found happily flinging the loam, scrapping and flinging….  Until they have an outline.  All bells have a ‘pattern’, a half bell shape with a spike in the middle around which the core of the bell is formed.  The spike can be spun around to scrape off any excess loam and a perfect outline of the inside of the bell is thus moulded.  The pattern is then inverted into what is essentially a giant upside-down bucket and the inside of the bucket is loamed, using the pattern to scrape off the excess again, to form the Cope.  Both the cope and the core are fired in a huge, low oven, and the results are then checked.  Tina, spotting a cope decided to try this out for herself – it is not a clean business!  Any imperfections are covered in graphite to ensure a pristine pour, then the core is inverted into the cope, to form an invisible bell – it is the gap between the two into which the molten bronze is poured.  Moulds for the small hand bells are done in the same way, except the core is of sand, much like a sand castle.  Our guide told us that sometimes it goes perfectly and other times not – with the smaller bells especially a whole mornings work could turn out to be deemed unsuitable by the ‘magic ears’ of the tuners, so it’s a case of melt it all down and start again.  None of the materials used are wasted – all the loam can be recycled, as can the bronze.

A cracked bell, but too nice to melt downA cracked bell, but too nice to melt downPam at the woodworking roomPam at the woodworking roomTuning really is done by ear.  Although there are instruments to measure the resonance, the sound of the bell  - the fore note and the actual note - are achieved by polishing away the inside of the bell bit by bit, stopping to check the sound, polishing, checking and so on until the right note can be struck.  Finished bells can then be taken to the shed where they are fitted with the braces that fix them to the pulley system.  Back in the day, bells were made with loops on the top for this purpose as the machinery to drill through bronze and put bolts in did not exist.  Bells are fitted with wooden ‘wheels’, the mechanism that allows them to swing in the tower and prevents the ropes from tangling.  The wheels are made on the top floor in the woodworking room, a space for short people as the door-frame is only 5ft 8 inches high.  This room also has small commemorative plaques to the workers from the Bell Foundry who have died in the last two hundred years or so – remarkably few people as the same people seem to work at the Foundry their entire careers.

Below the woodworking room is the polishing and fitting room for all of the hand bells produced.  Rows of lathes and other exotic tools for polishing the bells line the benches along the walls.  Hand bells are polished to mirror finish and fitted with premium leather handles and muffled clappers – the very tiny ones have clappers made of rubber as anything else would be too large.  We were told that if you had a mind to put the bells one at a time as your purse allowed to make up a full set, they would still be a perfect set even if it took you years to get them all – they are made to a standard that doesn’t change.

Feeling quite inspired we all trotted into the gift shop for a souvenir.  It’s not often that you put yourself in the position of someone from four hundred years ago, see what they were doing and know that it is still being done the exact same way.  Bells are made here for the whole world.  So, next time we here Big Ben on the 10 o’clock news or the church bells on Sundays, well all be quite a bit wiser!

Sue Ullersperger, February 2011

For more photographs, click here

A walk from Chinatown to the outer reaches of the Home Galaxy, 6th February 2011

After the Copped Hall evening-walk-and supper the night before, 7am Sunday was bit of a hardship for me, but at least it wasn't as dark.

It was also a bit of a numbers game, because tickets had been booked for a show at Greenwich, and some were walking there (almost) from Westferry near the Isle of Dogs, and some were meeting us at the show-house.

The initial some were 13, and essentially by means of two separate DLR trains we arrived at Westferry (originally known as Chinatown) to depart therefrom on Susan B.'s Sunday Walk. Therefrom isn't a word and is thus underlined in red on my word processor, but I don't care. Limekiln DockLimekiln Dock - old warehouses, new homes and efogersIt was a breezy walk, too – enhanced by the proximity to the Thames; indeed, the River was a major player in this walk. One of our first details of note was a reproduction gate in a purposeless wall beyond which was dock that served the lime house from which the area took its name. You can't actually use the gate – it's a bit like a film set where the camera crew just go round the edge of the scenery whilst the actors go through the door; in this case, we were the film crew. Still – it all looks quite quaint, with the remains of warehouses alongside the dock and mud in it.

Holding onto our hats, (some of us had hats) we walked along the Thames Path until. Inevitably - as is the way with the Thames Path - we were detoured inland, in this case towards number One Canada Square (Canary Wharf Tower - 770ft), which enabled us to look at some traffic lights. If I'd been driving I wouldn't have known what to do; apparently they're some sort of sculptured tourist attraction. Walking away from the river here, though – depending on your take on these things – is something of an experience. The range of architecture and building styles (if these can be separated?) is quite astounding. From the Canary Wharf area developments based on New York through to Victorian terraced housing – and pubs, fire-stations and chapels – these intermingle and change from street to street and view to view. Particularly outstanding, perhaps, was the lovely Italianate chapel, once a Presbyterian Church, now a social centre and café. The last aspect of present usage encouraged a few of our number to grab a hot drink.

St. Paul's Presbyterian ChurchSt. Paul's Presbyterian Church - chapel - cafe - theatreWe regained the Thames soon after, to view the original timber balks that formed the slipway down which Brunel's ship “The Great Eastern” was launched. I find it strange that a ship was named after a railway company, and am somewhat dubious about the ship having been launched here – sideways or otherwise – because there is a road in the way. Still, to press on – adjacent to the launch site there is the remains of Burrell's Wharf, where the ship was built (I suppose this does add some credence to it). I don't mean remains in the sense of dereliction, because as is common here, new – and expensive – housing has been built and sometimes adapted from older building. The glory of the old here were the somewhat Italianate Gantry House and Mast House buildings and a magnificent octagonal chimney stack.

The sign says that the island's oldest building is the Ferry House Pub in Ferry Street, of 1722 - but there are a couple of mysteries here. Firstly, it doesn't look like something built in 1722 and secondly - even it it were - how comes the other claim that it served the likes of Samuel Pepys when he died in 1703? There is an odd time anomaly here, perhaps something to do with Greenwich being the other side of the river. Nearby is Johnson's Draw Dock which still gives valuable and easy access to the river itself. Some of us took advantage of this by having a paddle until a police launch arrived and Lynne frightened me by saying it was all my fault. The ferry boat of course no longer plies across to Greenwich, and instead a foot tunnel doesn't at present provide an alternative, so we resorted to a one-stop trip across on the DLR. The DLR, by the way, is a very heavily used toy train.

The Ferry House pub.The Ferry House pub: a mystery of timeGreenwich is south of the river, so by its very nature is weird. It is quite interesting, though, and still does everything it can to maintain its maritime heritage. It's exactly like the Isle of Dogs in that way, except that on the Isle of Dogs it's housing and docks and in Greenwich it is naval and shops. Greenwich is also uphill, whereas the Island doesn't have any (except at the mudchutes – and they are artificial). Oh – and they also do Time here, as well.

With the latter aspect of our journey probably completely out of mind for most of us - except for what time the show was - we proceeded uphill to the observatory complex, and didn't waste any time doing the usual east-west thing. We were also too early for the show, so we separated into three or more sub-groups for toilets, inside snacks and outside snacks. I chose the outside snack option, complete with starlings. These weren't part of the show but were doing a busking act: singing lustily to encourage the offerings of a sandwich or a cuppa.

At last the show-time came; we took our seats – preferably near the back as Susan advised - and lay back to enjoy the performance. I was awake through most of it, but that was probably because other members of the group were snoring - and I enjoyed it immensely. We were taken on a journey from Greenwich beyond one of the outer arms of a somewhat insignificant spiral galaxy to a point in space (and time?) where we could view not only our galaxy but quite a few others. On the way we were shown how “the ancients” had devised names for apparent clusters and groupings of stars that really have nothing to do with each other at all (except on a somewhat universal level). The ancients must have had either really very different eye-sights from me, or were vastly more artistic in their interpretations, because – apart from perhaps three exceptions – none of the things like bears, crabs, teapots and umbrellas looked anything like any of those things. Blimey – if a group of stars doesn't even look like an umbrella...!

Scaling the heights of the Isle of DogsScaling the heights of the Isle of DogsAnyway – mustn't knock it – nobody came out saying they didn't enjoy the show and it was nice and warm and comfortable and interesting. It wasn't nice and warm and comfortable outside, though. I forgot to mention – and won't play about with moving the paragraphs around – that we had by this time picked up a few more EFOG'ers who had met us at Greenwich, so our numbers had increased by four.

The numbers were not to last long, because people began disappearing into various watering-holes (or noodle-bars), or churches – and one even mysteriously disappeared on visit to a ticket-office! There were horses to be fed and homes to go to, so trains and people came and went, and numbers dropped and then picked up again at Stratford where reunions were made with the lost. Those were soon broken with the arrival of an Epping train, and I was left alone amongst the delayed crowds on Stratford Station until Louise and Ian turned up. The last I saw of Susan's Excellent Sunday EFOG Walk were two of our members heading for Ilford.


Paul Ferris, 6th February 2011