Epping Forest circular
This was one of those walks where the possibilities of getting lost were exceedingly high, given the number of unmarked paths and bridleways shooting off in all directions, and we were so grateful that our walk leader, Jane, had worked so assiduously in advance to plot an eight mile through the woodland and lakes of Epping Forest.
On a glorious early Autumn day we welcomed three new walkers at Chingford Station, re-acquainted ourself with Romeo, our canine companion, and made our way on a broad open path below the Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge and into the forest, along sun-dappled tracks until we emerged at High Beach, for a fine view over the surrounding area.
One of the features of Epping Forest are the number of lakes and ponds created by gravel extraction. We stopped for a while at Wake Valley Pond near the busy Epping New Road, and stopped for lunch by Strawberry Hill Pond, the colour of the water of which was a strangely unattractive sandy brown.
We were now on the homeward stretch, featuring a circuit round the beautiful Connaught Water, created as an ornamental lake in the 1880s. Back in the forest we followed the path to the 16th century Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. One or two visited this wonderful space while others either stopped for a drink at the adjacent pub or made their way back to Chingford for the journey home to North London.
The Grand Union Canal, Horsenden Park and the four mounds of Northala Fields
Luckily the torrential rain of the previous day didn’t return and 18 happy walkers met at Alperton station, greeted by nice weather and no travel woes. We welcomed Richard, new to our walking group, and set off optimistically to enjoy the Grand Union Canal. It seemed we had just begun walking when we were met with a “closed path” sign – a sign which had not been there in any previous visit – and we were forced to take a detour enjoying the streets and sights of Perivale rather than the anticipated water fowl. Not to worry, the road returning us to the canal was aptly named “Horsenden” and it led us right back to the canal, directly to the bridge to cross to reach Horsenden Park. We walked up the hill to get the views (at 85 metres high) of west London, including planes landing at Heathrow, Harrow on the Hill, and Wembley Stadium.
After admiring the views, we descended and meandered through the park until returning once again to the canal.Now we would be able to catch sight of the wonderful cormorants, swans, moor hens, and possibly an owl while we enjoyed the canal walk for an hour or so. We did see some lovely boats moored and on the water and a new walking bridge that has magically appeared very recently. After following the curve of the canal and soon reaching The Black Horse, we were once again met with a “tow path closed” sign and were forced to abandon the peace of the canal walk and
enter the streets of Greenford. We enjoyed the urban walk of window peaking, garden envy, people watching and generally looking at a place we don’t normally see. We once again reached the canal just in time to cross over and head to Northala Fields, after traversing Marnham Fields, a meadow of wild flowers and sunflowers.
Before having our picnic lunches in the warm sun and taking in sights of people enjoying the park, a brief history of Northala Fields was given. Northala Fields was a park created for the locals and four mounds were created to help against noise and sight pollution, using the rubble from the old Wembley Station and White City shopping centre and used recycled timber, plastic and soil throughout the park. It took four years to build and opened in 2008. We all appreciated the children running, laughing and entertaining us with acrobatics and the families enjoying their time together.
After a leisurely lunch we ascended the highest of the mounds at 72 feet/22 metres.We took in views of London, including Horsenden Park, central London, Canary Wharf, St Mary’s Church, the new Wembley Stadium, the Post Office Tower and more. Then a group decided to enjoy the ambiance at the bottom of the mounds while the rest of us climbed the remaining three mounds so we could all proudly proclaim we “bagged four Munros!”. We circled the park admiring the fishing lakes and boating lake (with no boats) before heading out of the park and to Northolt Station for our return home. While not the walk that was planned (best laid plans and all that!) it was a lovely walk with happy walkers enjoying fresh air, sights and friendly patter.
Richmond to Putney (Thames Path) … and a few bridges along the way
This walk started in Richmond under cloudy, weeping skies and transport difficulties and ended in beautiful sunshine by Putney Bridge.
The overnight news was not good. A track fire at Waterloo had taken out several platforms and delays were predicted. Then in the morning problems arose on the Overground via Gospel Oak. Not to worry, the District Line was in good order and with our WhatsApp group keeping everybody in touch, 13 of our party arrived in Richmond for our 10.30 start. In the meantime however the Northern Line had decided to have a minor meltdown, so those of our group relying on that line were still stuck somewhere in the system.
The group of 13 set off, confident that sooner or later our companions would catch us up and so it proved. Upon reaching the Thames we turned to walk downstream. After leaving the town promenade, we approached Richmond Lock, which was undergoing maintenance and therefore closed to pedestrians wishing to cross the river.
Fortunately our route lay ahead, so we continued downstream with the Old Deer Park to our right. We soon passed Isleworth on the other side of the river, although we were unable to see the town, our view being obscured by the island known as Isleworth Ait, and it was in this area that the rearguard from the Northern Line caught up with us at last. Our route continued to the north-east around the Isleworth meander, passing Syon House on the opposite bank and Kew Gardens on our side. After Kew Bridge, the river turned and we were now heading south-east towards Chiswick Bridge. After passing the National Archives, we soon reached the boathouse belonging to Putney Town Rowing Club, where we stopped for a refreshing lunch break enjoying the calm and peace of the River Thames.
Back on the path we enjoyed the sight and sound of scullers rowing along the river while enthusiastically being encouraged by a shouting coach from a nearby motorboat. The shouting occasionally confused us as we thought it was coming from our own group, but we soon caught on to who the true culprits were.
We next passed under Barnes Railway Bridge where the path curved around to reach the rather oddly named Leg of Mutton Nature Reserve. It piqued enough interest in a few walkers to consider a possible future visit.
Hammersmith Bridge came next along with competition for the above mentioned reserve – the larger and better known London Wetland Centre. While you can reach the wetlands from the path, much of the view is obscured by the beautiful trees and shrubbery. Across the river we soon saw Craven Cottage (home to Fulham Football Club), Bishops Park and Fulham Palace. We passed the famous boat houses and the starting point of the annual Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race. Putney Bridge loomed ahead, marking the end of a lovely riverside walk. After a refreshing, if somewhat warm, beverage, we all headed home in warm sun – a welcome contrast to the weather at the start of the day.
The inaugural Middle Way walk (a Richmond Park circular) was greeted with a beautiful and warm, partly cloudy day. Five new walkers and nine regular walkers met outside Richmond Station to start the walk toward the Thames. Upon reaching the river we turned left to walk along the Thames path, enjoying the boat houses, boats and people along the way. Before reaching Marble Hill, we turned away from the Thames to head through fields, paths and woodland and, after passing Ham Commons, we turned to enter the park through a rather elegant Park Gate. We headed gently uphill enjoying the lovely green park and occasional deer until we turned right to reach Isabella Plantation.
We took twenty minutes to explore the stunning plants, flowers, ponds, streams, ducklings, bridges, and secret gardens and we all felt we could have spent much more time taking in all the beauty. We exited reluctantly out of Broomhill Gate and vowed to return. (We wondered how the name came about and thought it might be the wife or Spanish mistress of the first plantation owner. I’m afraid the most likely explanation is that Isabella is a corruption of the word “isabel” which means dingy or greyish yellow – the colour of the soil in that part of Richmond Park.) After leaving the plantation, we continued downhill until we reached Robin Hood Gate where we ate our packed lunches while relaxing on logs. We then continued and once again climbed up a gentle hill to follow alongside woodland and between two pretty lakes.
When we reached Pembroke Lodge, the highest point in Richmond Park, we entered the grounds to a spectacular viewing spot looking out over London and beyond. (Someone thought we were looking at the North Downs in the distance.) We drank in the view and headed out of the grounds downhill until we reach Richmond Gate. We happily returned to the station, stopping first for refreshments and reflection on a delightful inaugural Middle Way walk.