Following the Ching.

Good Friday 18 April 2014 – River Ching, Chingford to Highams Park.

Last weekend El and I took a walk up to Highams Park, which is two train stops north of where she lives in Walthamstow. There is a lake (read large pond) in a small woodland extension of the much larger Epping Forest and as it was a nice day it was a good place to walk to, and around. Plus El got to show me where she used to live – in a house long knocked down to allow a part of the North Circular motorway to be built.

When we walked around the lake we saw a track heading off into the distance and decided that we should come back and have bit more of an explore – but armed with a bit of information as to where track was likely to go. Not that you can get too lost in this section of the forest – it is completely surrounded by suburban streets. I have been keen to explore a bit more of Epping Forest and had bought a map of the area a while back, so after a map referral we decided to catch a train to Chingford, head up to Connaught Water and follow the River Ching back down to Highams Park Lake. It was not a long walk, only a few kilometres, but in theory it should all be off road and maybe in the trees – it sounded pretty damn perfect to me.

We arrived in Chingford late morning and found Connaught Water fairly easily, it is only a km or so from the station which is on the southern edge of Epping Forest. It was a reasonably sunny day, but there was quite a cold wind blowing and out on the open areas of the forest park it was quite chilly – so we were looking forward to getting into some shelter from the trees, plus a forest walk really should have trees!


Connaught Water is called a lake but really it is just a large pond, but it has fishing and boating and at twenty five minutes from Liverpool St station on the train – it is pretty damn cool !


It also appears to be the source of the mighty River Ching, and this is the headwaters… It is hard to believe that when this flooded back in 2009 it actually caused damage!


The river flows from here down to the River Lea closer to Walthamstow, though we were only walking the forested section.

The first section of the path was well formed, though there is absolutely no signage at all at any stage and this was a bit frustrating, especially matched with a map last printed in 2010. Things had changed a bit since then.


The path is shared with walkers, runners, bikers and in some sections – horse riders, we saw a few of walkers, runners and riders on the way, though once we were out of the main section of the forest it was very quiet. The path was pretty dry, but you can see where it has been heavily cut up in winter by bikes, horses and loads of runners from the nearby Orion Harriers. Some parts look like they could be quite fun to ride on as well – unlike this open and smooth trail.


After crossing the main road north from Chingford we were off the clearly defined path and followed the river more closely.


The forest was really nice here, though we were really in a small section of parkland in the middle of suburban London it was beautifully quiet and there was an amazing amount of bird song to provide some background.


We crossed another road and the track followed the edge of a golf course for a kilometre or so, crossing the fairway at one stage, which was a bit disconcerting as it was not sign posted, we were not really paying attention and there were people were playing the hole. Fortunately they must be used to walkers as they waved us through without any aggravation.



We got a bit misplaced at the end of the golf course, but with a quick look at the phone we found the entrance to the top end of Highams Park, and a nice little area full of late spring blue bells.


Again the forest here was really nice, some lovely spring foliage on the trees and a nice windy and clean ‘river’ to follow.

P1030535At one point there was even a rope swing, though I am assuming you are not supposed to drop into the river from it !



After an hour and half of walking we popped out on to the ‘lake’ at Highams Park.


We could have continued on for another couple of kilometres of forest through to Hollow Pond** but finished the walk here and headed to the nearby supermarket (they had Picpoul de pinet wine on special) and then caught the bus home…

It was a really nice walk, and hopefully the start of a summer of Epping Forest walks.

** Hollow Ponds is the title of a new track by ex Blur and Gorrilaz vocalist Damon Albarn who was brought up in nearby Leytonstone. I like the song and it is cool that something as small and local as Hollow Pond gets name checked by a fairly big star.

Bury St Edmunds.

Saturday/Sunday 5/6 April 2014 – Bury St Edmunds.

On Thursday evening El and I were sitting around home chatting and quite randomly decided that we should go somewhere and stay the night on Saturday. We had a hurried look on the interweb mainly at train timetables and maps of places within a couple of hours from home – and were then horrified at how much train fairs were at the last minute…. We looked at York for instance, return for two people 400 pounds. This is just insane – what the hell is wrong with these people! Obviously with some pre-planning it would be cheaper, but we are not always pre-planning people. Anyway, we decided on Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. It had a cathedral, a market, a nice hotel and was cheap enough to travel to, cheap enough that we decided to go first class. I have never done first class on a train before – or any other form of transport for that matter. Where is my first class appropriate collar and tie you may ask ?this is a civil society after all !


The forecast promised us a cloudy but rain free day on the Saturday and showers on Sunday, which suited us fine. We left mid morning from Liverpool St for Ipswich, where we had a connecting train, and though we left on time for some unknown reason we were late arriving so ended up with an extra thirty minutes in Ipswich station, surprisingly it was not that exciting, and the coffee was crap as well.


We arrived in Bury St Edmunds and on the walk from the station to the hotel we passed a record fair, that just had to be visited later in the afternoon… We walked though the nicer parts of the market town and with a little bit of g-mapping found our hotel easily enough.

The Georgian era hotel looks really nice from the front and Charles Dickens stayed there in the 1800’s and is mentioned in his book The Pickwick Papers, slightly less cerebrally Angelina Jolie stayed there while filming Tomb Raider. Sadly I can report that while I have seen Tomb Raider I have not read The Pickwick Papers.

Once checked in we decided to go for a walk around the old part of the market town, have some lunch and check out the record fair. The Angle Hotel is on Angel Hill and over the road from St Edmundsbury Cathedral. I gleaned the following from a Suffolk guide book “Throughout the middle ages Angel Hill served as the site for the Bury Fair, attended by traders and entertainers from all over Europe. Today it still attracts visitors from abroad and home, but mostly serves as a car park.” I just found that hilarious…. And here it is – the site of the famous Bury Fair, and the front of our hotel.


Our first stop was the cathedral over the road, though I am a little confused about what bits are from what era, the original abbey was started in 1065, though the actual cathedral part was not fully completed until 2010… I do like cathedrals, but not so much the modern ones and I was a little disappointed. It was nice, but not “wow, how did they do this x hundreds of years ago nice”. The organist was having a wee jam session while we there and it was very loud – and not my cup of tea musically.



I am a huge sucker for high vaulted roofs!


The older parts of the abbey were round the back in the gardens and we decided to get lunch first and check them out later. We walked up through the market, a mix of traditional farmers markets – prices half that of London, and the same old plastic crap that is for sale in every market on every continent. The shops were fairly bland as well, the usual suspect high street retailers and the only boutique type places catered for a different market to us. The record fair was a bit of a disappointment as well, only a couple of people selling stuff, there was an LP copy of NZ’s Straightjacket Fits ‘Hail’ album and I was tempted, but did not buy it in the end.


I can report that lunch was good, the highlight of the trip to be honest!

We had a table reserved in the hotel restaurant and reviews had been pretty good, so we had high expectations. It was however, like the rest of day and was slightly disappointing. The menu was reasonable, the food was OK, it looked good and was prepared well – it just didn’t set the taste buds on fire. At dessert they got El’s cheese board wrong and the waiter said the port he served me was the cognac I asked for,  when I said it was port he almost argued with me, it was even in a port glass!  They were both sorted out, but not what we expected for the price.

There was quite a cool little underground bar in the hotel, we went down for a drink and by the time we managed to get our drinks all the seats were taken so we ended up heading back to our room to watch Match of the Day on TV – I will admit that was likely anyway.

The hotel was grossly overpriced for what it was, and our room was pretty shabby compared to places we have stayed in that have been a lot cheaper, but positives I can say about the room was even though the place was pretty busy it was dead quiet, and the bed very comfortable, a mega-sleep was had.

After another bout of rubbish service and an average breakfast we were going to walk around the abbey gardens before heading home. However the rain put paid to those plans so I nipped out to take a couple of photos of the abbey – including rain drops, before grabbed a break in the showers and nipped to the station.




We were lucky to get first class tickets on the way back as the train had a stop in Cambridge on the way back and what seemed like 10,000 people got on the train. It is the weekend of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the Thames in London and there were a lot of fans travelling.

I am glad we went to Bury St Edmunds, it was nice to go away, and walk and hang out together – but we won’t be rushing back, even though I would have liked to explore the abbey gardens a bit more, just in case I missed something.

A coastal walk, Leigh-on-Sea to Southend.

Friday March 28 2014 – Leigh-on-Sea to Southend-on-Sea.

When I was out walking Hampstead Heath on Monday with Steve we came up with a loose plan to head out to the coast on Friday if the weather remained agreeable; which it did. We decided to head to Leigh-on-Sea on the Essex south coast and the mouth of the River Thames. It is only forty or so minutes from London’s Fenchurch St Station, so dead easy to get to.

Leigh-on-Sea is an old fishing village that has become a wee bit gentrified, but still retains some of its working past, so thee was a bit of photographic grittiness mixed with some nice pubs to try for lunch. Who can ask for more than that.

We left London mid-morning, it had been a foggy start to the day, and by the time we arrived the local fog had cleared but the horizon stayed foggy for most of the rest of the day. The railway line cuts the town in half so we ended up staying on the seaward side of the tracks and in the end decided we would walk the 5km or so up to Southend-on-Sea and stop to take pictures on the way.

For a large part of the walk the seaward side is quite narrow, basically a walking path running next to the edge of the sea, with a few small wharves along the way. As you would expect for a fishing and shell-fishing village there was a lot of small boats along the way.

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There was also a small strip of sheds selling seafood, though only one was open on the day. I wonder if the numerous closed sheds open in the summer months – as I suspect this is a very busy walking area. I certainly hope so.IMG 8705

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There is also a bit of history around small ship building in this area as well.

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At the end of the town there are a couple of quite nice looking pubs and cafes, though it was sort of lunch time we carried on walking.

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There was also a couple of places selling locally caught seafood as well as ‘Thia’ fish cakes – not quite sure what they are!

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Just outside of town I was really surprised to come across this nice little beach just outside of Leigh-on-Sea. It was completely not what I was expecting to see. I will admit that my ignorance of this area was pretty profound, I had heard stories of this part of the coast being a bit sad and run down, laughable as a place to holiday – but how wrong I was. OK, it is not Cornwall or Devon, but the beaches looked nice, there was some decent greenery and for a beach under an hour from central London this section of coast is really nice. I stood completely corrected!

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I really liked these beach swimming pools; the tide here does go out a very long way. I liked the hard angles and the shapes and they way they contrasted to the natural surroundings. I also liked the fact that the distant shore of the other side of the Thames estuary is smothered by the fog.

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The old minesweeper, HMS Wilton is now the home of the Essex Yacht Club, but is famous for being the first plastic and fibreglass warship made back in the early 1970’s. It was retired from duty in 1994 and became the yacht club in the early noughties.

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The walk past Chalkwell and Westcliff to Southend took us a couple of hours as we stopped a few times to take photos, I was very fascinated by all the man-made structures poking into the sea and took quite a few pictures as we went.

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I also really like this ever-so seaside British building – the pavilion, not something we have so much of in New Zealand, but everywhere along the coast of England that I have visited.

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Soon we came in sight of the Southend pier, at 2.14 kms, it is the world’s longest pleasure pier. I guess if it had not been so foggy we would have spotted the pier from miles away ! The pier is that long as the tide goes out for over a mile on this section of coast. They must have been really really keen to build the pier here !

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I had a fish and chip lunch in one of the small fish and chip shops open near the pier head and then we caught a small train out to the end of the pier, my knee was really starting hurt – it has been plaguing me for a while and I didn’t fancy another couple of miles of walking. I was glad we did as there was nothing open at the end of the pier, plus it was quite brisk out there, so we did not stay for long.

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Once off the pier we walked up the steps to the top of the cliff for a look back over the pier and the closed fairground.

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We then caught a train back to London. We were going to stop for a pint at Leigh-on-Sea but decided to head back into town and have an end of the day beer there instead.

It was another really good day out, I learned to not always trust what people say about a place as I kinda liked Southend-on-Sea and the other local towns – though I would not go there on a sunny mid-summers weekend – I suspect it would be madness ! I am keen to walk the other way from Southend out to Shrewburyness, so I will definitely visit again.

Next time I will have to try the famous Rossi ice cream as well.