River Roding Walk – Ilford to the Thames

Part 2 - Barking to Beckton

We began the second part of our walk on 9th March 2021, from Barking Station, necessitating a walk through the town centre if we were to continue the walk from where we had finished the first section.(Part 1 - here)

Barking was busy – it was a market day – so we didn’t stop to take in the sights. These didn’t appear to be the most aesthetic, anyway. But above the often untidy shop fronts – as is often the case – some nice-enough buildings could be appreciated.

roding curfew tower 210309 0347artCurfew Tower, Barking Abbey grounds

Crossing Broadway from the pedestrian area to the old abbey precincts, there was time to look at things. The Curfew Tower is prominent – the last remaining gateway to Barking Abbey. Of the abbey, only foundations and stretches of wall remain in any degree. The abbey was 7th century Saxon in origin, and was one of the largest and wealthiest nunneries in the country. The tower is a Grade-11* listed building, and the church of St. Margaret nearby is Grade-1 listed.

roding beehive 210309 0348artThe Co-op beehive emblemLooking at those and the grounds briefly – we were supposed to be on a walk along the Roding, after all – we left the abbey grounds and walked north along North Street – a continuation of Broadway. Barking seems to be involved in loads of redevelopment, so picking out an older building amongst what seems to be a bit of a mess on the east side of the road, we could see a beehive symbol carved into the masonry. This is the emblem of the Co-operative Society, and can still be seen on old Co-op buildings from time to time.

A small open space adjacent to our pavement caught our attention, and a notice board informed that this was once the burial grounds of the Quaker (Friends) Meeting House across the road. No headstones exist in the grounds now, but Elizabeth Fry was buried there. Her headstone has been removed and now resides in the Society of Friends’ Meeting House grounds at Bush Wood.

roding gurdwara 210309 0350artSikh Gurdwara - once a Friend's Meeting HouseThe Barking Meeting House is now a Sikh place of worship – the Gurdwara Singh Sabha London East. Behind the original frontage, a lovely complex of Sikh-style building exist. A nice change of use, in my opinion, and as well, what used to be known as the Northern Relief Road, adjacent, is now Gurdwara Way.

We made our way via the less-than-interesting Cowbridge Lane to the blue bridge where we had finished on our first section. The same heron was still standing on its mud bank.

roding barking bridge 210309 0356artLooking south, towards Barking Road bridgeCrossing to the west bank, we began our walk southwards along the riverside path, soon needing to cross the Barking Road where it crosses from Newham into Barking and Dagenham by way of a bridge built in 1904 (geograph.org.uk). The riverside path continues between the river and a superstore car-park, but at the far end of that was a gated wooden fence stating quite clearly ‘No Access’. Most annoyingly, we could see the pathway emerging from the construction site the other end – but we were unable to use it. This sort of thing annoys me. Pedestrians are so often expected to just come up to a locked gate or barrier where there should be a pathway, but with no information beforehand that will happen, and no ‘Diversion’ signs as would be required for motorists. So, we had to back-track – across the car park – find our way out of the motorised area, up against A406 slip and access road, along the pavement, around the construction site, and back to the riverside path for the sake of 100m or less of closed pedestrian route.

 roding donot remove 210309 0358art'Do not remove this wall!'There is a narrow bridge crossing the Roding here into Barking. A nice warning notice is affixed to the brickwork protecting pedestrians and vehicles from falling into the water. The notice states “FLOOD DEFENCE WALL - DO NOT REMOVE”. Which makes so much sense. This single lane bridge passes the side of Barking Mill. This building is another survivor, although actually this was the granary, which is all that survives of the mill complex. Barking and Dagenham Historical Society(1) suggests that the building probably dates from the 1860s. The building stands by Town Quay/Mill Pool, on the east bank of which is a riverside promenade with benches. Landward, St Mary’s Church stands within the abbey grounds and presents a nice view across pleasant enough parkland. On the Newham side there is more development, which – I hope – will incorporate a riverside path.

The riverside access is only for a 100m or so, though, because what should be a pedestrian path is behind locked gates. Again. Thus it was necessary to walk along the somewhat claustrophobic Abbey Road. However, references to Barking’s maritime history and the importance of the River Roding are at least are beginning to be represented. There is a somewhat odd sculpture here, which has incorporated into it the bow of a small boat, and the very end of a bench. Some way down Abbey Road there is an open area to the right, which is accessible to pedestrians. Here – amongst the new developments of what is known as the Ice House Quarter – some older riverside buildings remain and have been re-used.

The ice house referred to relates to ‘one of a number built in the mid-19th century by the Hewett family in order to store the ice necessary to preserve the catches harvested by the Short Blue Fleet.’ (2). The Short Blue Fleet – as we discovered when as we were walking back from the third stretch of this series of walks – was a fleet of eventually 50 fishing smacks, owned by the Hewett family, originally operating from Barking. The ice house no longer survives, the last remnant of it having been demolished by 1980. Two Victorian buildings that have been repurposed are a granary and a malthouse.

We accessed the riverside again from a set of steps at the south end of the open square amongst these buildings, where a wide promenade looks across to a boating community – Dutch-style barges, and houseboats. On the Barking side, the remains of a boat sinking into the mud provides a habitat for water-loving plants, and a perch and nesting place for water birds.

roding barking barrage 210309 0373artThe view towards Barking Barrage, from Cuckold’s Haven Nature ReserveFurther down the promenade is the Barking Barrage. This is apparently what is known as a ‘Half Tide Barrage’, impounding water above the barrier (that is, to the north) to maintain a level of water sufficient to allow some permanent navigation for boats at least as far as the Town Quay. It is a ‘half tide barrage’ because at times of high tide water from the Thames would flow northwards over it. So, to the north of the barrage is the Roding, and south it is more commonly called Barking Creek. At low tides there is a noisy weir allowing the Roding to continue on to the Thames, and at higher tides lock gates may be used to enable vessels to pass to and from the Roding.

We crossed the barrage by way of the pedestrian footpath atop it, and so were now back on the west bank, with a surfaced and lit foot and cycle path continuing southwards. But here is a significant creek, mud banked and reed-lined, jutting into the land towards the A406 – the curiously-named Hand Trough Creek. The tide was low, and Teal ducks were feeding at the creek edges. The skyscape was beginning to open up now, with the beginnings of something like a maritime feel to the surroundings, but also the combined traffic noise of the A406 nearby and the A13 more distant. This path finishes at the west end of the creek at Fleet Road, but after a short length of pavement a gate gives access and then ascends to 3 or 4 metres on what may have been a landfill site.

roding hand trough 210309 0372artHand Trough CreekThis is Cuckold’s Haven Nature Reserve, owned by the London Borough of Newham. It is a mix of scrub and rough grassland, with small trees and – in the early spring – low plants were just beginning to flower: speedwells, daisies, Whitlow Grass, Shepherd’s Purse. There is an open area, with benches, looking upstream towards the barrage and Barking, and the Roding – now Barking Creek had widened significantly with a great area of reed separating the gravelled track from the river. Ahead was the roar of the A13, with a low bridge carrying the road across the river. In fact it looked so low that we wondered whether there was actually a path beneath it, especially as the path looked less-used the further we walked towards the bridge. But there was, with plenty of headroom, and we emerged from the other side onto a now-dirt path, with the Beckton Cinema complex and car park to our right. Just beyond the cinema – behind it, in fact – a gravelled path met our track, and a finger-post announced that if we were to follow that westwards we would be heading for the Riverside Walkway, which didn’t seem to make a lot of sense as it pointed away from the river. The other direction – the way we were heading – stated ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’.

roding signpost 210317 0436artRiverside Walkway - and Northern Lagoon WalkwayI had no idea what the ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway' was – or indeed even what the Northern Lagoon was. The last time – certainly some few years ago – that I had walked southwards from here towards the Thames, my way had soon been blocked by the security fence of the Beckton Water Treatment Works. Now there was a distinct track, evidently designed for use by walkers and cyclists, but wide enough for vehicles. The security fence had been moved away from the river’s edge to accommodate this. Lining the route were blossoming trees – Cherry, Blackthorn, Willows. As a foil to the roar of the A13, Blackbirds, Wren, Goldfinch – even Linnets – were in evidence. In the distance the guillotine-like structure of the Barking flood relief barrier could be seen – our eventual destination, by the Thames.

I was hesitant to walk too far towards the river, as – however far the way was open – I was unsure whether we would actually be able to ‘get out’ at the far end. We would need to get home somehow, and it would be a long way back if there was no exit from the route, except back the way we had come. Deciding just to walk as far as the next bend, we did so, and found ourselves at the entrance to Thames Water’s ‘Beckton Creekside Nature Reserve’, the track bearing slightly of to the right by its perimeter. The notice-board map indicated a series of pathways, connecting back to the main route further south, so there was an incentive to go on.

roding nature reserve 210317 0441artBeckton Creekside Nature ReserveAs we looked at the information board, a vehicle came towards us from within the reserve. This was the warden, Danny Regan, with whom we chatted about the area, and whether we could get to the Thames and out the other end. Yes – the walkway went all the way to the Thames, but no – we wouldn’t be able to get out the other end. There was a gate that had been locked for some time, we were told. So our decision was made for us. We would leave the nature reserve and the Thames for another time, retrace our route just as far as the cinema complex, and find transport home.

There was one additional aspect to the return trip worthy of mention, particularly for intending pedestrians. As may be seen from the photograph of the signpost, above, there is also a notice board. This has a map, showing the walkways that are signed. It does show that the ‘Northern Lagoon Walkway’ does reach the Barking Barrier, by the Thames. It includes paths through Beckton Creekside Nature Reserve as an alternative way there. The ‘Riverside Walkway’ finger, though – as has been stated – weirdly points away from the Roding, first south and then westwards, parallel to the Thames, but a considerable distance from it. It runs between the fences of the water treatment works, and the back of the cinema complex. According to the map, it goes at least as far as Jenkins Lane, where there is a convenient bus stop.

So that’s the way we took, all the way along the back of the cinema, fenced off from its service road. At Jenkins Lane, within view of a bus stop, we were stopped – by a locked gate, which should have enabled us access to the pavement. Admittedly, it was then that we recalled that the nature reserve warden had said that he had to lock a gate to stop fly-tipping. I hadn’t paid that much attention, as at that time we hadn’t quite known what gate he was referring to, and that – then – wasn’t where we were heading. It seemed a long trek back to the signpost and access to the cinema complex car park to a place where - if travel restrictions allowed - it would be possible to catch a bus…

Paul Ferris 26 March 2021

This walk was on 9th March 2021

 

(1) Barking and Dagenham Historical Society : http://www.barkinghistory.co.uk/

(2) Archaeology Data Service : https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/

River Roding Trust : https://riverrodingtrust.org.uk/

ukconstructionmedia.co.uk/sectors/thames-water-creating-cleaner-healthier-river-thames/

 

Part 1 - Little Ilford to Barking       Part 2 - Barking to Beckton       Part 3 - Beckton to the Thames       Part 4 - Little Ilford to big Ilford