Chessington to Cheam
A smaller than usual but select group of Middle Way Walkers met to walk from Chessington South to Cheam. In the morning our path took us through open fields, Castle Hill Nature Reserve and Ewell Court Park where we crossed a stream via an 18th century Packhorse
Bridge. We then followed the banks of the Hogsmill River having at one point to cross it via stepping stones, although no-one was unluckly enough to fall in despite the attentions of a lurking photographer. After a packed lunch in Bourne Hill Park we carried on through the Churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and eventually arriving in Nonsuch Palace. This was the site of the former village of Cuddlington which was razed to the ground by Henry VIII to make way for the Palace and its hunting grounds. The Palace itself is long gone. Charles II gave it to his mistress, Barbara Countess of Castlemaine who sold it off bit by bit to pay off her gambling debts. We finished our walk by visiting the Mansion House formal gardens with it’s spectacular rose pergola and amazing trees. This walk had a little bit of everything, open countryside, rivers, woods, nature reserves and a Palace.
Once again we were lucky with a beautiful day with plenty of sun and warmth for our Middle Way Bayford Circular walk. We walked through the peaceful woodland of Highfield Wood and Hoddesdon Park Wood enjoying the incredible tranquillity offered to us and we were met by very few others, We did, admittedly, encounter a great deal of mud and puddles which were not unexpected due to the rather heavy rain over the weekend. We only had one gentle fall in the mud, thankfully with no injuries. We stopped for our picnic with logs a plenty for sitting and then continued through the woods until
we passed the rather hard to miss dinosaurs of Paradise Wildlife Park. We enjoyed their frightening calls and movements before continuing on through Bencroft Wood and into Broxbourne Wood. We walked a small section of the sculpture path, although one amongst us decided to wander along the rest of the path while the rest of us patiently waited. We were all reunited, continued through and alongside the Wood before returning to the station after yet another lovely walk with lively conversation.
The Wandle Trail
On a beautiful early Autumn day a sizeable group of Middle Way Walkers made their way to south-west London to explore the rich heritage of the River Wandle, in its industrial heyday regarded as the hardest working river in London. On our route upstream we saw
ample evidence of this, in the form of numerous weirs, mill stones and wheels. The importance of this remarkably fast-flowing river was brought home to us when we stopped at Merton Abbey Mills, the history of which is, of course, associated with William Morris and later Liberty & Co. Continuing our walk along the trail we soon entered Morden Hall Park, where the river runs more peacefully and is crossed in various places by a series of picturesque bridges.
After a lunch stop we made our way to a green corridor along the river, Ravensbury Park, and further on to Watermeads Nature Reserve (apparently one of the National Trust’s earliest acquisitions) where one of us was fortunate enough to spot a heron on the river bank with a fish that it had just caught. Further on we saw another one, but it did not seem particularly interested in entertaining us … Our green spaces were now running out, and after skirting Mitcham
Common, we entered Hackbridge, the home of the zero carbon development BEDZED – even the church opposite has been fitted with solar panels. The walk ended at Hackbridge Station but not before an examination of the sale items at Toni’s Bridal shop. Enough said!
Lea Valley 7 : Harlington to Leagrave
Rather than negotiate an urban stretch in the Luton area, we approached the source of the Lea in Leagrave from the north so that we could enjoy the Bedfordshire countryside before reaching our destination. We began our walk from Harlington, which judging by the number of blue plaques has a rich history, and as we walked
through the churchyard of the 14th century parish church (St Mary the Virgin) we struck up a conversation with an elderly resident who was keen to talk. Once she was informed that we were a walking group from north London, the floodgates opened as she reminisced about her life in Highbury over fifty years ago and London smog … alas, we had to move on. It all felt a little autumnal as the fields has been harvested, although there was enough compensatory greenery
in the clover planted to fix nitrogen, and hedgerows with blackberries still ripening. We followed the paths round a succession fields which were punctuated by direction signs including one for the strangely named Sharpenhoe Clappers , fingerposts of the walking routes we were following (the Icknield Way, for one) … and an abandoned piece of agricultural machinery whose shapes
fired the imagination (can you see the horse?). Just as we were thinking that we were on an easy stroll through the countryside we came to a long rather muddy flight of steps of the National Trust’s Moleskin and Markham Hills. At Sundon we stopped for lunch, before turning south towards Leagrave via Bramlingham Park. Then through Marsh Farm housing estate – with an underpass featuring murals
of stars of popular music. Then the final stretch – a pleasant woodland walk ending at a bridge and platform overlooking the River Lea at its source. A short walk along the path beside the river (be warned, the water-cress is not suitable for human consumption) led us to a busy road and Leagrave Station. Another challenge completed!
Leamouth and beyond
The first of the Leamouth walks took place in relatively good weather considering the summer’s incessant gloom and rain. This was a walk with a difference, an exploration of East London’s industrial heritage rather than a walk in the countryside. The aim of the walk was to follow the River Lea to its confluence with the Thames.
We began our walk at Hackney Station, and quickly moved away from this rapidly changing area to the Lee Navigation (here known as the Hackney Cut), passing on the way Old Ford Lock before moving on to the Greenway. It quickly became apparent that this area, before the building of the Olympic Park known as Stratford Marshes, supported a complex network of waterways known as the Bow Back Rivers. The Greenway, a pedestrian and cycle path than runs from Hackney Wick to Beckton is built on the Northern Outfall Sewer, most of it designed by Joseph Bazalgette after an outbreak of cholera in 1853 and the “Great Stink” of 1858. We passed and admired Abbey Mills Pumping Station and the terrace of houses built to
house its workers, before leaving the Greenway and taking a secluded path by the edge of the Channelsea River to Three Mills Island, the buildings of
which which never fail to impress. The route led us to Bow Locks (after which the River Lea is known as Bow Creek, where we crossed the river to visit another fine example of Victorian engineering, the finely detailed Bromley-by-Bow gasometers, and an adjacent delightful green space featuring memorials to workers of the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company. Hunger dictated a lunch stop at the picnic tables (river view included) at Cody Dock, not before we stopped to examine in some detail a sculpture by British artist Abigail Fallis consisting of 22 shopping trolleys in the shape of a double helix. It was unfortunate at this point in the work that we had to leave the river, and take a detour along streets, with views of mountains of scrap metal, before we were able to the enjoy the relative tranquillity of the Bow Creek Ecology Park, notwithstanding the fact that Dockland Light Railway trains bisect it. We stayed by the river bank as far as we could through new London City Island development before we reached the confluence of the Lea and the Thames, Trinity Buoy Wharf. So much to see here, interesting sculptures, Container City and London’s only lighthouse.
The latter part of the walk took us ffrom the East India Dock Basin along the Thames (as far as we were able) to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. On the way we walked through the oldest street in the area, Coldharbour, with a splendid former Dockmaster’s House and a public house where Lord Nelson entertained Lady Hamilton.
We passed one of the most prominent examples of British post-modernist architecture, architect John Outram’s Grade II* listed Isle of Dogs pumping
station, before eventually arrived at Island Gardens for a magnificent view over the World Heritage that is Greenwich.
Epping Forest circular
Middle Way walkers returned to Epping Forest blinking into full sunshine after what had seemed weeks of grey skies and downpours. The meeting place, Chingford Station, boasts a splendid mosaiced roundel, and a reminder of the age of steam trains and perhaps a Brief Encounter?
Effortlessly led by Alex (with an impressive clipboard), we walked to the Epping Forest visitor centre and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge before turning right into the forest, and immediately stumbled upon something one would normally only find on a walk in late autumn or winter – mud! It seemed very odd to be negotiating pools of water in high Summer, but we managed without any unfortunate incidents to spoil the day.
It was a wonderful walk in the woodland, the silence pierced on occasions by the sound of speeding cars and motor cycles on the busy roads that bisect the forest, although those with no sense of direction and lack of map-reading skills would surely have become hopelessly lost. Striking, though, was the lack of wildlife to be seen, although perhaps the sight of a impressively large heron on Connaught Water provided some compensation.
Lea Valley Walk 6 : Harpenden to Luton Parkway
Leaving the station at Harpenden Station we followed residential streets, until we reached our last ending point at the gate to Batford Springs Nature Reserve. As we turned into the reserve we immediately had the River Lea to our right and horses grazing beyond in an open field. Those who looked up also saw some red kites flying. As we continued along the river we came upon some
stepping stones which some of us lightly and deftly stepped upon to cross the river, while others took the long way around. We were met by a brook, a number of weirs and adults and children paddling and playing in the shallow water. After leaving the reserve, we walked through a field and soon reached the shady portion of the path along a disused railway path with distant views of the River Lea to our right, trees all around and, for a lucky few, some lovely goldfinches. After passing a pub with a sign supposedly inspired by Laughing Cow Cheese we soon reached our slight detour to East Hyde. We sat in the grounds of a beautiful distinctive Greek Orthodox Church enjoying our lunches and warm temperatures. After relaxing, we once again returned to our peaceful path, soiled only by the sewage works plant, but it was only a slight disturbance. The path then ran gently uphill until we caught a quick view of Luton Hoo in the wooded distance. At the top of the hill we enjoyed the great silhouettes of Eric Morecambe, Capability Brown, who landscaped Luton Hoo and a scout. After enjoying the views and a refreshing cold drink, we returned to our path and quickly found ourselves at Luton Parkway Station for our way home.
Margate to Ramsgate
This coastal walk, on a mercifully sunny day after so much unsettled weather, was full of surprises, including the recent appearance of a David Attenborough mural, with its message about the perils of plastic waste, imaginatively painted beach huts, and an 18th century castle.
Resisting the temptation to sample the delights of Dreamland, we began our walk round the bay past the Turner Contemporary. Passing the listed relics of Cliftonville (the baths, the lido and an Art Deco lift shaft), we followed a series of bays on the Viking Coastal Trail, each offering splendid views of chalk cliffs and beaches.
We stopped for lunch on the beach at Joss Bay, observed by a number of expectant but ultimately disappointed herring gulls. Little did we know that their colleagues were to exact swift revenge when we reached Broadstairs : ice-creams were bought but before they could be enjoyed they were swooped upon and consumed … behaviour you would surely expect at Brighton or Whitley Bay, but genteel Broadstairs? Shocked, we resumed our walk into Ramsgate, up a high street with more empty shop premises than occupied ones to the station where a platform notice warned passengers that seagulls have been known to take passengers’ food. We do love to be beside the seaside!
Lea Valley Walk 5 : Hatfield to Harpenden
The problem with the Hatfield to Harpenden section is the distance from the stations to the start and end of the walk. At Hatfield there is a walk by the side of a very busy road, and to reach the station at Harpenden there is a considerable walk through residential streets of this dormitory town. But the attractiveness of the walk compensated for this in no small way … and in contrast to the previous section (Hertford to Hatfield), we were able to follow the river more closely.
Blessed with splendid sunshine after a period of dull and rainy weather, it was not long before we entered Stanborough Park. The park’s lakes are its most appealing features, and must be very fertile considering the numbers of expectant anglers that we passed en-route (has anyone seen an angler actually catch anything?) and the sheer numbers of ducklings and goslings (one family of ten!) by the visitor centre.
On then to the village of Lemsford, where we stopped to admire the Mill, under which the river rushes.
Veterans of these walks will have passed through many a golf course, but few are as attractive as the one on the Brocket Hall Estate. A feature of this estate (very much private!) is a large picturesque lake fed by the river, complete with an 18th century Grade II* listed bridge, unfortunately damaged in 2018 after an altercation with a golf buggy. How we respect our heritage!
After a short rest in the shade we continued our walk along the valley to Wheathampstead, where the river flows under the road that runs through the village, 29 miles to the Thames, and 13 miles to the source of the river at Leagrave. We walked up through the village through the churchyard of St Helen’s Church (featuring, surely, the most splendid of Hertfordshire spires).
After walking through a series of healthy looking green wheat fields (perhaps, in previous times, destined for the Shredded Wheat factory in Welwyn Garden City), we reached Crabtree, the curiously named suburb of Harpenden, which appears to have an obsession with the Marquis of Granby (a pub, with an old Watney Combe Reid brewery plaque, and surrounding roads named after him, and a really quite unattractive church. We shall resume our acquaintance with this area when we return for the final section of the Lea Valley walk.
Gordon Hill circular
Our second outing of the Gordon Hill circular came a week earlier than planned due to the hot weather and bright sunshine. We were due to walk a long and very open section of the Lea Valley, but decided to bring our Gordon Hill walk forward and take advantage of the shorter and much shadier walk. After leaving the station we took a quick walk around the cemetery to enjoy the lovely pine trees and peace and quiet. We then crossed to Hilly Fields Park and walked through to Whitewebbs Wood. The wooded paths were much appreciated, especially on our second walk, and many walkers were introduced to a wood they had never before seen!
How we forget what beauty we have on our doorstep! We enjoyed the lovely Whitewebbs Lake for our lunch, enjoying the shade, cool breezes and baby Coots, ducklings and goslings. We continued through woods and paths to reach Forty Hall, but not before encountering some very annoying mud that a few walkers found a bit distressing. We all made it safe and sound with no falls, though, so we soon forgot the mud.
We enjoyed our second lake at Forty Hall, wandered around the gorgeous garden, and headed back to Gordon Hill Station. En route we lusted after the vineyard grapes and saw some very plump pigs! A happy and cool group returned to the station for the journey home.
Lea Valley Path #4 : Hertford to Hatfield
At last we were able to get back to walking the Lea Valley path, and for once the sun was shining on us. We set off through the historic market town of Hertford, crossing through the Castle Grounds where we had our first sighting of the River Lea swollen by the River Mimram. We would not see the river again until we got to the end of our walk. Turning left at the Black Horse pub and walking up Wallfield Alley, we emerged opposite a path taking us down to the
Cole Green Way. This is a 6 mile bridleway running between Hertford and Welwyn Garden City, along the former railway line which was built in 1858. The last train to use this route was in 1966 and the path was opened as a nature trail in 1976. Our lunch spot was at the former Cole Green Station, where the platform is still in evidence and there were picnic tables for us to use. Carrying on along the path we passed through a tunnel under the A414, where several graffiti artists were at work: the smell of the spray paint made us swiftly move on. The path soon came to an end and we entered a residential area passing the newish Queen Elizabeth 11 Hospital, the architecture of which caused some discussion. After a 10 minute walk beside the busy A414 we came to Mill Green and our last sighting of the River Lea.
We took some time out to enjoy the gardens of the Mill Green Museum which is home to a working mill before making our way to Hatfield Station.
Pymme’s Brook Trail
At last! The Middle Way Walkers first official walk of 2021, following the Pymme’s Brook Trail from Monken Hadley Common) to Broomfield Park near Palmers Green.
The Group met at High Barnet station and were soon tackling a steep hill climbing up to the village of Monken Hadley – lots to see here, Georgian houses, almshouses and, of course, the church, through whose grounds we passed to Monken Hadley Common (mercifully dry after the winter rains).
Our first stop was the rather chilly Beech Hill (aka Jack’s) Lake from which flows the Pymme’s Brook. The trail is well-marked and apart from a section of road walking in East Barnet, follows a number of linked parks and green spaces from East Barnet. We stopped for lunch and some tea (thank you, Gill!) at the cafe at Oak Hill Park, although none of our party opted to sample the Polish menu on offer.
From Oak Hill Park, we followed the brook to Brunswick Park (The Waterfall Walk), Arnos Park and finally Broomfield Park (where the revelation to a couple of walkers that their rucksack straps incorporated hitherto under-discovered whistles caused much amusement). Here the walk ended to take the bus home, although a couple of walkers decided to take the train from Palmers Green station and to admire the newly installed mosaics on the northbound platform.
It was really nice to be able to walk as a group again and to reconnect with our fellow walkers.