Silence and Noise – Along London’s North Circular

As the Spiral shifts direction from northwards to westwards on the 4th loop out, the walk sweeps from hush of forest to hum of motorway as we bump up alongside the A406 North Circular Road, at one of its busiest sections, a gorge cut through Enfield.

epping-forest

tepee-epping

Roads are often simillied as glistening rivers, flowing traffic, but here among the dirty blacktop paths and concrete props there are real rivers to bridge and accommodate: the Lee, the Navigation Lea, Pymmes Brook, the New River, each one squeezed into a culvert, each one abandoned, ignored, left to its own devices, just getting on with its business of flowing down to the Thames.

At the roundabout junctions, like Waterworks Corner and Crooked Billet, you can see that the road designers have made an effort at various times to accommodate vehicles (dense iron mass below), pedestrians are moons waxing in at set times of day, cyclists speed through the underpasses like comets while local cars and vans orbit like space dust. The noise here is palpable, thick, trenchant, insistent.

crooked-billet-2

 

crooked-billet1Yet beside this racket of rubber on tarmac and engine drone, just off to the side … silence. A narrow footpath, empty space, unused land, scrub and bullrushes, a few people playing at freedom with a bonfire and a bench, a fear of footpads, a muslim graveyard, a traveller’s campsite, a high-banked reservoir.

rushes-by-reservoir

We’re isolated, away from the herd, cut off from a police response, vulnerable. We notice natural things, slight pollution in the leaves, a squirrel, clouds. We notice man made things that are not quite straight: a recycling plant dubbed eco park, complete with massive incinerator tower, a timber merchant with a few stacks of pine, an unused scrubby road dubbed Lee Country Park, a sugar water bottler called Coca-Cola.

eco-park

coca-cola-front-door

Meeting place: just outside Snaresbrook underground station, Central line
Date & time: Sunday December 11th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is about 6 miles
End point: Silver Street station, Edmonton
Route Map: https://binged.it/2fq0hrC
Cost: No charge

spiral-edmonton

The London Spiral

 

Stage 15 – Flood Plain to Epping Forest

The east of London is a mystery to me. I don’t mean the East End which is about as east as the West End is west, I mean the reaches past that, on the far side of the muddy Lee, where if you want to go you’re best off not taking a car, or you’ll be stuck in a log jam for ages going nowhere. The Spiral has catherine-wheeled out another few miles beyond St Katherine’s Dock, and now fresh dots and splatters appear on the route.
victoria_docks_1872
Victoria Docks 1872

This stage begins where the last walk ended at the soaring elevation of the cable car across the Thames, which I recommend as a time-limited opportunity to see the city from a rare and economically unviable vantage. Make the most of the height too for the land north of this point is pool room flat, so that a walker feels more two dimensional than three, beetling across the surface of the city – even the houses are low rise squats and flat topped flats, except for Stubbs Point high rise (below), which since this Googlecar snap has had a fresh skin applied, an investment apparently not much appreciated by the inhabitants as the surrounding ‘private’ car park is cluttered with litter.

new-barn-street

stubbspoint2015.PNG

Plaistow, West Ham, Wanstead, Redbridge. How to cross the A13, ‘the Newham Way’?
Take advantage of a side step left into West Ham Park, where the trees offer relief from the crustle of traffic and shuffling tribes. It’s a densely housed area, low quality, built on marsh land.

But suddenly there’s a transition, and a straggle of trees, hopefully labelled, indeed honestly and historically labelled Epping Forest, the southernmost broken-off piece of the old arboreal glacier. You can see that the ground, flat and sparsely grassed, must have looked like it had not much value in it, so that you might as well build on it, until its sheer scarcity, like all open places in London, makes its emptiness and seeming-naturalness more valuable than any human construction.

epping-forest-sign

2016-11-13-15-32-39

Here at the southernmost tip of Epping there are unexpected species, like the Egyptian Goose,

geese-wanstead-common

and if not eagles on Eagle Pond, at least a cosmopolitan population of various feathers and birdsongs:

eagle-pond

There are many voices at present calling to build more houses; there’s a shortage; populations are rising; they’re not making any more land; prices are too high; workers in ‘essential services’ can’t afford. But I’m not persuaded that we should eat into more green belt or even fallow land. Leave the unbuilt-on land. It’s too precious. It doesn’t come back. I’d rather redevelop, build on brownfield sites, reimagine.

epping-forest

Meeting place: North side of the Emirate Cable Car, on Royal Victoria Dock
Date & time: Sunday November 13th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is around 6 miles
End point: Southernmost part of Epping Forest Map: https://binged.it/2eeDaDL

The early part of the walk is low rise east end housing; the later part is open flood plain, scrub and woods.

Refreshment: Bombetta Italian (Puglia) restaurant

Return home from: Snaresbrook underground station, Central line

Payment: Free. Unless you take the cable car: bring your Oyster card.
spiral-east-london-from-the-emirates-cable-car
Here are some snaps from Andrew Stuck:
rubbish-here
golden-silver-birch
wansted-walk  bonbetta-cap
forest-path-autumn-sun

Stage 14: through Greenwich – Honor Oak to Millennium Peninsula

This walk starts with the view of the City framed through the trees on One Tree Hill, then proceeds to the spectacular vista across Canary Wharf from Greenwich Observatory.
view-from-greenwich-observatory
But that’s only one highlight of this navigation of the spiral – we take an aviation experience across the Thames at North Greenwich https://emiratesairline.theo2.co.uk/. I’d recommend this – all the more as it is quiet when it should be busy, and for that reason, I can’t see that it will be long open to the public. Its costs must outrun its income. So if you haven’t already been, take the opportunity while you can. The view is fantastic, and from a Spiral perspective, you can just about see the previous crossing of the Thames, just behind Canary Wharf to the west, and you can see the next crossing of the Thames: the Woolwich Ferry.
cable-car-pillar-thames

We began where we left off last time at Honor Oak and headed north through town houses onto Blackheath, then in to Greenwich Park. This is 0 degrees longitude and you can easily imagine seeing the whole universe from the Observatory. It’s going to be hard to trump the scenery on any future stage of the spiral walk round London from Kings Cross to Gravesend.
cricket-hilly-fields
Cricket on Hilly Fields
train-line-to-brockley
Brockley line
brockley-library-in-phone-box
Brockley Library in a phone box
queens-house-greenwich
Queen’s House Greenwich
view-of-dome-from-greenwich-riverside
gorsky-new-build-morden-wharf
The Millennium Peninsula is a strange place for a walker. There’s plenty of space and pathways. But you’re right by the entrance to the Dartford Tunnel, and traffic backing up from all roads around in a slow moving crawl. Cross the tunnel road then cross another dual carriage way – empty this time – and another one. So many roads to the Dome.

cladding

gas-works
antony-gormley-quantum-cloud-thames
Antony Gormley’s Quantum man, with cable cars beyond
view-over-millennium-dome-culti-coloured-cranesMeeting place: Honor Oak Park railway station, map: https://binged.it/2dqLBt1
Date & time: Sunday October 9th 2016, 1pm
Distance: the walk is around 6 miles
End point: Emirates Cable Car by the Millennium Dome
Return home from: Royal Victoria DLR station
Payment: the cable car costs £4. Bring your Oyster card
map-stage14

Stage 13: Wandsworth Common to Honor Oak

stage13

This walk took place on Sunday 11 September 2016, starting at The Hope bar.

  • Nearest station: Wandsworth Common, map.
  • Distance 7 miles approximately a 4 hour walk.

The walk cut across South London, through parks, streets and gardens, and was rewarded at the end with a fantastic view from One Tree Hill of the City, and Alexandra Palace beyond, so we could trace the distance we’d covered in the last 3 stages.

view-of-the-city-from-one-tree-hill

Route:

  • Wandsworth Common
  • Tooting Common
  • Brockwell Park
  • Dulwich Park
  • Camberwell Old Cemetery
  • Brenchley Gardens
  • One Tree Hill

artist-painting-brenchley-gardens

Artist at work Brenchley Gardens

elegant-garden-bin-box-burbage-road-dulwich

Elegant bin box on Burbage Road Dulwich

wild-animal-mural-palace-road-nature-garden

Wild animal mural Nature garden

the-oak-of-honor

The Oak of Honor, so named because Queen Elizabeth rested beneath it(s predecessor).

honor-oak-in-winter-2017

The London Spiral Walk is open to all interested walkers, contact

 

Stage 12 – riverside again, Hammersmith to Wandsworth

The Spiral’s path is determined by the crossing points of the Thames. Previously the ferry from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf which took us in a curve north then west and south again in a smooth line to Hammersmith Bridge, where we cross again, borrowing the curve of the Thames Path to sling-shot us along the spiral towards the next crossing to come, at the Millennium Dome.

hammersmith bridge from south side of the thames

If you like walking, and London, this walk on Sunday 14 August 2016 was for you. Meet just before 1pm outside Hammersmith tube at the start of King Street, beneath the 2 trees outside the Swan pub (map).

Click to see wider map of spiral

Click for route

st pauls hammersmith tree and church

St Paul’s church and great oak.

advertising structure purely for motorists

Roadside structures created and installed purely to show advertisements to drivers on the flyover.

hammersmith flyover strengthenings

Strengthening cables under the flyover at Hammersmith.

hammersmith GP surgery

Modernist curves of the GP surgery at Hammersmith. If this was my doctor’s I might actually go.

hammersmith bridge iron work.jpg

The workmanship in the iron bridge is remarkable. No doubt each shield represents something. No minimalism when this was made.

harrods furniture depository now flats

The river bank trees alongside Barnes hides the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, as well as Barnes Common playing fields – both essentially flood plains, though you can’t see them from the river path itself due to the dyke and undergrowth.

Two smaller rivers cross under the path – Beverley Brook, which has a slightly polluted reek about it, though I’m sure it’s a lot cleaner than it used to be, and The Wandle, from which Wandsworth takes its name.

boathouse putney

Barn Elms Boathouse

putney bridge

Putney bridge

Putney riverside is exceedingly pleasant for both visitor and resident.

saturday market at st marks putney

St Mary’s church yard Saturday market.

blake passage connects putney to wandsworth

Blake Mews takes you from Putney into Wandsworth Park.

crazy golf wandsworth park

Crazy golf at Wandsworth Park.

Carry on to St Ann’s Hill.

st annes church st anns hill

Through St Anne’s Church on St Ann’s Hill.

HM wandsworth prison

We saw Wormwood Scrubs last time, this time it’s Wandsworth prison, which happens to be on the BBC. Recently (2017) it lost it’s reform status.

hope pub wandsworth common

On a blue summer’s day, move across Wandsworth Common, past the ponds, and finish with a cold one at the Hope bar.

Interested to walk the London Spiral? Join here

 

Stage 11 – Willesden Green to Shepherd’s Bush

Wow, check this satellite picture of London from space:

night view of london

Image from International Space Station. http://www.bing.com/gallery/#images/ISSLondon.

The dark areas broadly correspond to parks and water.

What is that kite-shaped patch in the west below the Bing logo?

wormwood scrubs

The upper right triangle is Kensal Green Cemetery, it’s huge; the upper left is railway sidings; and the lower part is Wormwood Scrubs, an empty common land and part of our route on Stage 11 from Willesden Green to Shepherds Bush.

Here it is on a map (https://binged.it/29TETs0):

wormwood scrubs map

Sunday July 10th 2016 saw the London Spiral pick up at Willesden, an area which is gentrifying, and sweep down through remote parts of north west London to Shepherd’s Bush, which is not. Distance 4 miles.

This is where we reach a hinterland – warehouses, train sidings, scrub land, canalside workshops, which, like the scruffy environs of the Old Kent Road to the south east, are close enough to the centre yet can feel quite remote.

Why is it that one area is becoming more desirable while another, equally expensive, is not?

We can see families moving to Willesden, where houses are larger, you get more for your money, doing them up, making them nice, and  little cafs and delis opening with nice things to eat, catering for mums and weekend breakfasters, improving the amenity of Gladstone Park, and working together slightly awkwardly but still getting things done,  meanwhile, due west of the city centre, despite the massive draw of Westfield shopping emporium, the terraces of Shepherd’s Bush are more transitory, less connected, less trustworthy.

running track willesden edward vii parkRunning track at Willesden Sports Centre – underused on a Sunday. Check the Lynford Christie track, below, for how it should be done.

scrubs lane bridge over railwayView from the bridge on Scrubs Lane over the railway. Modernist block next to traditional London terraces. You can see from the stones of 2 colours placed into the panels that someone was interested in the design of this bridge.

kensal cemeteryKensal Green Cemetery

There are people from many countries buried in this place, most in regular tombs, but there are a few that seek to impress:

grand memorial at kensal cemetery

But here is the most impressive, to a boy who died aged 11 and his grandma:

most elaborate memorial kensal cemetery

Pillars, stone angels, bollards, fresh garden flowers in bloom.

scrubs lane bridge over canal and rail sidingsIron bridge over the Grand Union Canal, with the Great Western Railway and Hitachi train buildings beyond.

entrance to wormwood scrubsPedestrian entrance through the trees into Wormwood Scrubs …

wormwood scrubs looking south towards hammersmith hospitalWormwood Scrubs looking south towards Hammersmith Hospital.

sprint at lynford christie stadium

100m race underway at the Lynford Christie stadium

climb that - prison wallBack of Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Try climbing that!

subway beneath central line du cane roadFor walkers the route ducks under the Central line,  then under the busy A40.

library renovations by the A40Work being done by the Public Library of Wormholt.

shane green futura carving wormholt park 2012Shane Green’s sculpture of a hurdler, carved from an oak trunk, in Wormholt Park.

banana tree fennel adelaide road shepeherds bushBanana tree and fennel at #46 Adelaide Road, Shepherd’s Bush.

 

You wouldn’t think of these as millionaire’s mansions, and only a decade ago they were a third or less today’s asking price, being mostly low rise semis and terraces of no particular quality. In a few years we may well look back and wonder how anyone could’ve offered 1.1 million pounds for that, if prices come off the boil like they did in Japan in the late 1980s when a piece of Zen garden was worth more than Manhattan or whatever it was, and declined again and again, until people could see that their assumptions of the time could not possibly last. Either that or demand, especially foreign demand, due to our weaker or more affordable exchange rate, our low interest rates, and the sheer wealth that people in other lands are able to command, continue to sustain the housing market, continue to hold air in the inflatable, continue to bring forward ready buyers, and our wealth too will have risen, if we’re home owners and can find a mechanism to realise the capital gain.

 

We passed 3 secondary schools on our trip, all rebuilt during the Tony Blair “education education education” years (click to refresh your memory)

3 academies

capital academy willesdenCapital Academy, built by the Norman Foster practice, a long sweeping curved building, built around the idea of a central “street”.

phoenix academy workholtPhoenix Academy, a modern extension to the 1960’s style original.

 

hammersmith academyHammersmith Academy, a modernist replacement, making the most of limited space.

the godolphin and latymer schoolBut it’s the traditional one all the parents want to send their kids to – The Godolphin and Latymer school.

 

Stage 10 – New River, New Stream

Perusing the map to plot a journey across Haringey gives not much indication of how interesting this route will be.

ally pally

I had imagined endless rows of poorish housing, tarmac and low rent stores, and, while that pretty much seemed to sum up South Tottenham around Seven Sisters, Wood Green and the so-called Green Lanes, once you sub under the main railway line north from Kings Cross you come to a world of green and rivers and trees.

Ancient trees by the look of them, in Highgate Wood. Solid, tall, left alone. And before that, spectacular views from Alexandra Palace across the great city. And below that, a man-made river, a reservoir and filtration beds.

The reservoir there filters, or perhaps filtered – it’s hard to see if it’s active – the water of the New River, which was created by Londoners to bring fresh water to the city.

From a flow of water to a flow of electromagnetic waves, carrying sound and images. It was from Alexandra Palace that the first ‘high definition’ television broadcast was made in 1936. The massive building is just too big and ornate to know what to do with itself, and remains a kind of blast from the past.

The walk follows an old railway line that never came to life, and takes us into the well to do houses of Muswell Hill. From here it’s old common land and playing fields around Hampstead Garden Suburb down to Golders Green.

swans on new river london

Palm House at Alexandra Palace

Tarzan swing, by Alexandra Palace

Highgate Woods water fountain

Wild flowers Hampstead

https://goo.gl/maps/tCrnb9Fm87Q2