Tuesday, 29 November 2016

London Loop 20/21: Chigwell - Havering-atte-Bower - Harold Wood

Wide views west from the edge of Havering Country Park, 100 m up.

Although it’s mainly within London, this walk includes some of the most rural stretches of the London Loop, along paths and tracks through rolling fields. On the way are two notable country parks: Hainault Forest, a surviving remnant of the old Forest of Essex; and Havering with its spectacular avenue of giant redwood trees. The walk continues past vanished royal estates via the pretty village of Havering-atte-Bower and through the fields to Harold Hill where the surroundings become more suburban as the trail begins its final journey back towards the river Thames.

Once again I’ve combined two shorter sections of the Loop to create a longer walk. Between Chigwell Row and the official break point at Havering-atte-Bower is on one of the longest stretches without a convenient transport option. Havering is one of the only three Loop start/end points at a bus stop rather than a station, but buses are sporadic, with no Sunday service. You may want to continue at least to Noak Hill Road, which has a much more frequent bus service, and combine the rest of this walk with the very short following section instead.

Update November 2017. Although I'd recommend first-time walkers follow the official London Loop route as described here, there is a slightly more roundabout alternative from Noak Hill via the Ingrebourne Way, which is fully accessible and includes some green spaces not on the Loop. Note this doesn't pass that close to Harold Wood though there are bus options.

You're fired: the Kings Head at Chigwell


As mentioned in the previous section, Chigwell is an example of a village that grew a second centre following its connection to the rail network. The stretch around the station is a more recent development on the lower ground favoured by the railway, while the historic village centre is on top of the hill, further north along the High Road. There has been a settlement of some kind in this commanding position beside the old road from London to Abridge and Epping, which closely follows an old Roman route, since at least Saxon times. The name likely indicates a well belonging to someone called Cicca, though the traditionally claimed site for the well itself is some way east, off Brocket Way near Grange Hill station.

The Loop climbs the hill, through what’s now a conservation area, passing several significant buildings. On the left is the drive to Chigwell Hall. This isn’t the original manor house, which was beside the river Roding on a site that later became an RAF base: the Loop passed close by in the last section. The old manor had fallen into disuse by the 17th century and the current Hall, an 1876 Grade II-listed red brick mansion by architect R Norman Shaw, is the second of two replacements. Since 1967 the site has been occupied by the Metropolitan Police sports and social club, though the house is rented out as an events venue and has a public restaurant.

Near the top of the hill, set back in its own grounds on the right, the elaborate but handsome neoclassical mansion known as Grange Court is the first of four listed buildings in the village meriting the superior Grade II* classification. It was first built in the 17th century, but its current appearance dates from a rebuild in 1774. After 1946 it was a boarding house for Chigwell School but has recently been sold for conversion to flats.

St Mary the Virgin Church, at the top of the hill on the left, is a pleasingly attractive building with its cement-rendered white walls, red roof tiles and timber-framed bell turret surmounted by an elegant spire. Much of the south aisle and chancel survives from the 12th century, with 15th century extensions including the turret and uncharacteristically sensitive and restrained Victorian additions.

The buildings of Chigwell School, just along from the church, include the original red brick school house, dating from 1619 when it was founded as a grammar school for ‘poor scholars’: it’s now an independent school for rather richer ones. Among its ex-pupils are William Penn (1644-1718), founder of the US state of Pennsylvania; native American ‘Prince George’, son of a chief of the Yamasee Confederation of South Carolina, who was sent here by missionaries to learn English in 1713; and the actor Ian Holm.

The fourth Grade II*, opposite the church, is the most celebrated building in the village. This is the Kings Head, a massive coaching inn with an exposed timber frame and a delightfully untidy array of overhanging jetties and angular gable ends. The oldest part, with a projecting oriel window on the second floor, dates from the 1620s, though there are numerous later additions, including the window itself which is a 19th century pastiche of Tudor style. The pub’s current appearance is the result of more recent intervention: photos from the early 20th century show the building was once fully rendered, and it appears the frame was only exposed in the late 1940s or early 1950s, presumably to increase its ‘olde worlde’ appeal.

Like the Leather Bottle at Cobham near Gravesend on the London Countryway, the Kings Head is one of several real-life pubs that feature in novels by Charles Dickens. It’s a major setting in Barnaby Rudge (1841), where it symbolises both the good and the bad of English tradition in a story that unfolds in Chigwell and London in the 1780s. Near the end of the novel, the pub is sacked by anti-Catholic rioters, but rises again. Dickens renames it the Maypole, but it’s still clearly recognisable:
The Maypole was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which it seemed as though even smoke could not choose but come in more than naturally fantastic shapes, imparted to it in its tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty. The place was said to have been built in the days of King Henry the Eighth; and there was a legend…that Queen Elizabeth had slept there one night while upon a hunting excursion, to wit, in a certain oak-panelled room with a deep bay window…With its overhanging stories, drowsy little panes of glass, and front bulging out and projecting over the pathway, the old house looked as if it were nodding in its sleep. Indeed, it needed no great stretch of fancy to detect in it other resemblances to humanity.
It’s a sign of our own times that since 2009 the Kings Head has been owned by celebrity businessman Alan Sugar, and turned into an upmarket ‘smart dress only’ Turkish restaurant, entertainment venue and cocktail bar called Sheesh. Sugar is the most famous of the well-heeled Londoners and ‘Essex wives’ who have turned Chigwell into one point of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ in recent years, alongside Loughton and Buckhurst Hill.

Three Forests Way and London Loop
waymarks near Chigwell
Just past the pub, a footpath takes you almost immediately into meadows, emerging on Vicarage Lane. A short detour to the left here will bring you to the Dickens Tree, a wide-girthed veteran oak, perhaps 500 years old, sprouting improbably from the edge of a pavement.

The Loop takes to field paths and farm tracks on the other side of the lane, briefly joining the Three Forests Way. This sporadically signed 96 km circular trail connects the remaining patches of the Forest of Essex: Epping, Hainault and Hatfield Forests, the last to the north near Bishops Stortford and Stansted Airport. Like the Epping Forest Centenary Walk encountered in the previous section, it’s largely the work of the late Fred Matthews of Essex Ramblers, who originally devised it as the route of a walking event held in 1977 to mark the Queen’s silver jubilee. An annual challenge walk continues to this day, though now organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association using a revised route.

Chigwell Row

Round reservoir at Chigwell Water Works, glimpsed through a fence.

Chigwell Row has long been an outlying hamlet of Chigwell in an even loftier location, on a ridge to the southeast that rises to 86 m. Originally surrounded by thick forest, it began to grow from the end of the 18th century, first when medicinal springs were found in the area, and then when a new road suitable for coaches was opened to Romford, today’s A1112. The first of its landmarks encountered on the Loop is Chigwell Row waterworks, built in 1967 and now operated by Essex & Suffolk Water. The trail tracks part of the fence around this large site, with a view of a circular concrete reservoir; elsewhere, there are 18 filter beds and a bigger, kidney-shaped reservoir. Most of the water is pumped up from the Chingford reservoirs in the Lea Valley (encountered on the last section), before being distributed over a wide area of east London and southwest Essex.

Chigwell Row Chapel
Along Chapel Lane you pass the eponymous chapel, a spare but rather elegant building with neo-classical flourishes. It was built as an independent nonconformist chapel allied to the Essex Congregational Union in 1804 but shows signs of extensive alteration from later in that century. It’s now administered by the United Reform Church.

Opposite the chapel, the trail winds through Chigwell Row Recreation Ground. The land here was originally part of Hainault Forest, and allocated as common land following disafforestation in the 1850s. In 1863, much of this common was inclosed and awarded to various private landowners, but a 20 ha plot was subject to the condition it was kept as a public recreation ground. This has since passed to a charitable trust of which Epping Forest District Council is now the trustee. The trail rounds but doesn’t quite enter an area of woodland immediately to the southeast which is also part of the public space, though managed separately by the council as Chigwell Row Wood Local Nature Reserve (LNR). It’s one of the few surviving fragments of the Forest that still preserves its old wooded appearance.

Rearing up ahead is All Saints Church, built on former Forest land to a design by J P Seddon in 1867, the year Chigwell Row became a separate ecclesiastical parish in response to its growing population. Though it’s not obvious from a distance, the tower is a separate building, added in 1903 – there were insufficient funds to include a tower in the original church. Developments on former forest and farmland continued apace into the 20th century, given a further boost by the 1903 Fairlop Loop railway, the same line that serves Chigwell and is now part of the London Underground Central Line – Grange Hill station is a little to the west here. Doubtless the housing would have spread over the fields along the Loop today but for the Green Belt.

The trail carefully tiptoes here around a major post-war infill development: just on the other side of Chigwell Row Wood, and now just inside London, is the vast Hainault Estate. This was one of the big post-war housing estates built outside its own territory by the London County Council, about which I’ll have a lot more to say later when we reach Harold Hill.

Hainault Forest

The Essex-London boundary runs left-right through Hainault Forest Country Park

The earliest vague reference to Hainault Forest as a separate section of the Forest of Essex dates from the year 1130, with more definite mentions in the 1220s and 1230s. Back then it was known as Henehout or Hyneholt, meaning ‘wood belonging to a religious community’ and referring to its attachment to Barking Abbey. The current spelling derives from a 17th century misapprehension that there was some connection to Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault (1310?-1369), from the mediaeval county of Hainaut in the southern Low Countries, now part of both Belgium and France.

Following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, the land passed to the Crown, and in 1544, a perambulation of its boundaries ordered by Henry found it encompassed 12 km2, stretching from Leytonstone to Havering-atte-Bower in the east, and from Aldborough Hatch to Theydon Bois in the north. Its main function was to provide venison for the royal household, but local people also exercised certain seasonal common rights such as grazing and lopping wood.

As usual with mediaeval forests, by no means all the land was wooded, with numerous open rough grassland areas punctuated by stands of trees. There were various unofficial and strictly speaking illegal encroachments over the succeeding centuries, and mounting pressure to put the remaining ‘waste’ to more productive use. Agriculture expert and campaigner Arthur Young suggested in his 1807 General View of Agriculture in Essex that the forest lands would be ten times more profitable if cleared and cultivated, echoing the opinions of the various local landowners he had spoken to, including the lord of the manor of Chigwell.

In 1851, Hainualt was disafforested by act of parliament and 90% of the woodland was cleared almost immediately. As we have seen, some sections were originally reserved as commons but it wasn’t long before these too were apportioned to private owners. The rapid near-complete destruction of the forest shocked the fledgling conservation movement of the day, and helped inform the successful campaign in the 1870s to preserve significant stretches of nearby Epping Forest, which the Loop traversed in the previous section.

A belated preservation campaign led by early environmentalist and Liberal MP Edward North Buxton resulted in 324 ha of the remaining forest land being bought for public use by the London County Council (LCC), with contributions from other local authorities, for £21,000. Parliament had to pass a further act enabling the land to be sold, with 213 ha of both woodland and grassland opened as a public green space in 1906. This land, plus some additional areas acquired since, now forms Hainault Forest Country Park.

The old forest spread over numerous parish boundaries, and one of these still runs northeast-southwest through today’s park. It separated Chigwell, in the ancient Essex hundred of Ongar, to the northwest, from Barking and later Ilford in Becontree Hundred, to the southeast. The original plan for the LCC’s replacement with a new and much bigger Greater London Council (GLC) in 1965 proposed to incorporate the whole of Chigwell into the capital, which met furious local resistance. So today the boundary has been preserved, with the northwest of the park in Essex, and the southeast in the London Borough of Redbridge.

Like its predecessor, the GLC managed the Country Park as a single unit, but when it was abolished in 1986, the ownership was split between Essex County Council and Redbridge borough. Since then, the county has leased its holding on a long-term basis to the Woodland Trust, and the Trust has bought several adjoining fields on its own account, including land that was cleared after 1851 and is gradually being restored to woodland again. Both sides work together to ensure a relatively seamless visitor experience.

Almost all the surviving ancient woodland is on the Essex side, and after crossing a rough meadow, the Loop plunges into it. This woodland area is now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). With its traditionally pollarded hornbeams and oaks, it’s regarded as one of the best surviving examples of a mediaeval forest despite its much-reduced extent, giving, according to the current management plan, “a better impression of the structure and management of a forest than Epping…not having suffered so much from well-meaning attempts to turn it into ‘ordinary’ woodland.”

At a junction, well-marked with recently-installed fingerposts, the Loop crosses the prominent footpath which follows the old boundary, leaving the current county of Essex for the last time and returning to London not only for the rest of this section but for almost all the rest of the trail. You’re now in the London Borough of Redbridge, and the entire length of the Loop through this borough is within the forest land.

Canada geese love Hainault Forest lake, originally dug as a 1909 job creation scheme.

The trail soon emerges into the more open southern area of the country park, on the shores of the artificial lake dug in 1909 as part of a job creation scheme for unemployed men from the East End. Originally it was intended for boating and fishing and, while the latter activity still goes on, it’s also now much favoured by waterfowl. This is the best point to divert to the park café, just a little uphill on the other side of the lake. Climbing this way, there’s the sudden surprise of the view westwards towards London, a reminder of how high up we are. The multiplying high rises of Canary Wharf and the City, along with the Shard at London Bridge, now make central London seem much closer than it is in reality.

High rise London from Hainault Forest Country Park

Leaving the lakeside, the Loop runs alongside the woodland edge along the perimeter of a vast, gently sloping open green space. This is another area cleared of tree cover after 1851, and for many decades it was used for sports pitches, but these have been replaced with less rigorously managed grassland to encourage species diversity, and the space now does a good imitation of a traditional forest plain. The cluster of buildings to the south is Foxburrows Farm, part of the original 1906 purchase, and now a popular visitor centre and ‘community zoo’ where meerkats and llamas rub shoulders with rare breed sheep and chickens.

Beyond the plain, the Loop finds a woodland track uphill, almost rejoining the Three Forests Way, which has found a different route through the forest. But instead, our trail heads off east across Hainault Forest Golf Course. This land, too, is part of the public space bought in 1906, although the golf club, founded in 1912, now leases and manages it. Loop walkers will probably be pleased to know that this is the very last golf course the trail crosses.

Take care here: if you attempt to follow the route exactly as shown on the Ordnance Survey map you could easily get lost. What looks like a nice straight public right of way on the map turns out to be near-impossible to trace through the golf course landscaping, and the route that’s physically signed with often rather eroded waymarks is rather easier and safer. It runs through a strip of woodland known as the Mile Plantation which also marks an ancient boundary that now separates the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Hillingdon. When you finally leave the trees, at a point further south than the one shown on the OS map, you end your brief sojourn in the former and enter the latter, the very last London borough on the London Loop.

The Royal Liberty of Havering

The rollling fields of Havering, just east of Havering-atte-Bower

Havering is the third largest of the London boroughs, after Bromley and Hillingdon, and like these it includes extensive areas of green space. More than half the borough is parkland, with some genuine agricultural countryside. It’s the only London borough to extend beyond the M25, with a rough square of farmland and marsh around North Ockendon. As with the other more rural boroughs, this mixed complexion is the result of modern boundaries following much older divisions, in this case of considerable historic significance. For Havering once had a special status, with connections to royal privilege stretching back much further than any other London authority. Today, practically every trace of these connections has vanished.

The high ridge the Loop treads has been settled since at least Roman times, with archaeological evidence of a villa and industrial activities. In the later Saxon period, much of the current borough was covered by a large parish and manor known as Hornchurch, in the ancient hundred of Becontree. The parish stretched from the wooded northern heights, south through Romford and Hornchurch and all the way to the Thames at Hornchurch Marshes. Though Romford later developed into a major market town and is now the administrative centre, the original manorial nucleus was on the hilly ground in the north, by the village of Havering, its name derived from an Anglo-Saxon personal name, Hæfer.

There’s a strong tradition that the first English king to hold the manor was the penultimate Anglo-Saxon monarch Edward the Confessor or Ēadweard Andettere (reigned 1042-1066). He is commemorated as such in mediaeval stained glass at Hornchurch and Romford, though there’s no known confirmation of this from primary sources. What is known is that by Edward’s death, the manor was held by his successor, Harold Godwinson, Earl of East Anglia, who reigned briefly during 1066 before his death at the Battle of Hastings, which secured the Norman invasion of England.

The victor of Hastings, William of Normandy, who became the first Norman king, decided to keep the manor for himself. It became the Royal Liberty of Havering, a liberty being an autonomous area exempt from surrounding authorities, with its own laws and courts. For example, residents of Havering were exempt from many taxes, and the market at Romford was the direct result of royal privilege. The special status of the Liberty was confirmed in a charter of 1465.

Numerous royals stayed at the palace which developed on the site of the manor house. Henry III began a tradition of granting the property to the queen consort or dowager when he passed it to Queen Eleanor in 1262. The tradition was broken by Henry VIII, who kept it himself rather than passing it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves. But by this time the palace was already deteriorating, and James I was the last king to use it regularly. In 1619, he granted it to Prince Charles, later Charles I, who became the last monarch to rest at the palace in 1638. During the Civil War period the building was abandoned and by 1816 there was no trace of it above ground.

By then, the manor had long since fragmented through a succession of tenants and the creation of sub-manors, and in 1652 these tenants clubbed together to buy out many of the manorial rights. Finally in 1828, the Crown sold out the remaining rights and property, including the site of the palace and its surrounding park, to a private buyer. Though no longer royal, Havering’s anomalous status as a liberty persisted until 1892 when it was finally reunited with Essex. Two years later it was split between Romford Rural and Romford Urban District Councils, with other areas originally outside the parish like Upminster included in the rural district. Later, Romford became a municipal borough and the rest became Hornchurch Urban District, which, with a few minor adjustments, combined again to form the London Borough of Havering in 1965.

The river Rom just east of Hainault Forest.

The fields beyond the golf course are under Havering council’s ownership. They were once part of the extensive park around the palace, thus the name of the farm you pass, Lower Park Farm. Just past here you cross the river Rom, which rises as Bourne Brook over the Essex boundary in Stapleford Abbots. Like several other river names encountered on the Loop, this is a back formation arising from the fact that the river flows through Romford, which originally simply meant ‘wide ford’. The lower section of the river is known as the Beam, which joins the Thames in the Dagenham Industrial Estate.

From the Rom, the path climbs along the edge of the woodlands of Havering Country Park to reveal another sudden and surprising view back towards the central London. Take your time to enjoy it, as it’s the last such view on the Loop. Then it’s into the trees of the country park and another encounter with history.

The new lord of Havering in 1828 was Hugh McIntosh, a successful building contractor responsible for several of the London docks. His family had a new house built, also later demolished, and gardens and pleasure grounds were laid out in what was left of the old estate. In 1909 the site included extensive gardens, four vineyards, orchards and glasshouses and conservatories with roses, carnations, ferns and palms. In 1924, following the death of Hugh’s daughter-in-law Charlotte McIntosh, the property was sold off. A few portions went for development but, in 1938, Essex County Council bought substantial amounts, including much of the farmland, to preserve as Green Belt. Some of the land was sold in tiny 1 acre (0.4 ha) portions to better-off East Enders as country retreats, known as plotlands.

When London expanded in 1965, the Greater London Council (GLC) inherited the publicly-owned land. Belatedly implementing proposals in Patrick Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan of 1944, the council planned a new Country Park. From 1970, amid considerable local opposition, it began buying back the plotlands by compulsory purchase, gradually reassembling the estate, and Havering Country Park first opened in 1976. Following the GLC’s abolition in 1986, the site passed to Havering council, who developed it further into today’s 67 ha park.

Giant sequoias lining Wellingtonia Avenue, Havering
The Loop crosses the park along Wellingtonia Avenue, one of the most spectacular lengths of path on the whole trail. Lining it are around 100 giant sequoias or redwood trees, the second biggest such plantation in the UK, created in the 1860s when this conifer species, known scientifically as Sequoiadendron giganteum, had been brought to the European public’s attention during the California gold rush. The term ‘Wellingtonia’ was used in Britain in honour of the Duke of Wellington. The world’s tallest and some of its thickest and oldest trees are giant sequoias. They don’t get quite so big here as in their native Sierra Nevada, but they’re still awe-inspiring, with some of them approaching 50 m in height. The avenue is sometimes compared to a cathedral aisle, but no cathedral column towers quite this high, and the vivid colours of red bark contrasting with dark green foliage add to the effect.

Around two thirds of the way along the avenue is the junction known as Five Ways, a good place to set off exploring the rest of the park if you have time. There are pine plantations, more traditional broadleaved woodlands, grassy meadows with rolling views, and an easy access trail. Very little evidence of the site’s lengthy history survives except the various plantations, exotic specimen trees and fragments of boundary wall and terrace from the McIntosh period, and a plotlands bungalow now used as a park office. The site of the old palace, and the later McIntosh house, is under modern houses to the right, after the avenue passes a traffic barrier and becomes a roughly surfaced drive. A plan made in 1576 shows an extensive complex including guest apartments and a royal bathhouse, but a survey of Royal property in 1650, after the Civil War, found only “a confused heap of ruinous decayed buildings,” barely worth the costs of salvage.


Water tower, Havering-atte-Bower
The avenue emerges on North Road, the main street of Havering-atte-Bower, right next to the village green. Havering today is that rarity in London, a genuine rural village surrounded by green space. Its curious suffix, pronounced locally ‘atty bower’, refers to the tradition of its being held by the queen or dowager. But though the village is picturesque enough, there are no mediaeval remnants left standing, and precious little from before Victorian times.

The green itself is part of the land acquired by local councils in the 1930s, and the row of horse chestnut trees across it was planted to mark the coronation in 1953. It’s said a depression on the green was formerly a pond used for ducking suspected witches, and on the south end there’s another reminder of less enlightened attitudes to crime and punishment in the form of a set of stocks and a whipping post. Although some of the metalwork on these is very old, the woodwork is from 1966: somewhat ironically, the originals were destroyed by vandals. The village sign was only added in 2010, unveiled by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Across Orange Tree Hill from these relics is Blue Boar Hall, a former pub that could be the oldest building in the village, perhaps from the early 17th century, but its timber frame is now fronted by Victorian brickwork. Completing a pretty scene is the Church of St John the Evangelist, which overlooks the green. Its history goes back to the original palace chapel, which may well have stood on this site before the Norman conquest, but the present building with its flint facing was built in 1878 to a design by Basil Champneys in the popular Decorated style of the day.

All this rural charm has its downside: the 375 is the 10th least frequent bus route in London, and the only one to operate on a 90-minute cycle, except on Sundays when it doesn’t operate on any cycle at all. This is also one of only three official loop sections that ends at a bus stop rather than a rail station. If you just miss a bus, exploring the village could keep you occupied: the best pub recommendation is probably the Orange Tree a little down Orange Tree Hill on the other side of the green.

Otherwise you may decide to push on to Noak Hill where services are more frequent. The trail now turns along North Road to find a footpath right next to another pre-Victorian building, the Grade II-listed Rose Cottage, timber-framed and weatherboarded with an external brick chimney stack. It likely dates from before 1750, though was altered in the next century to create a now-closed shop front.

From the fields behind the cottage you should spot two of the village’s other remarkable buildings off to the right, although as both are round and white, they’re easily confused. The squatter, fatter one, just glimpsed through the trees, is the Round House, a three-storey villa built in 1794 for tea merchant William Sheldon. Its unusual elliptical shape, so it’s said, was designed to resemble a tea caddy. A little further along, taller, slenderer and much more prominent, is an elegant water tower that faintly resembles the tower of a Spanish castle. It was built in 1934, taking advantage of the elevation in ensuring sufficient water pressure for the householders of Romford. The base of the tower is 104 m above sea level, and on a good day you can see its tip from the London Eye, 27 km away.

Pyrgo Park

Decorative iron gatepost at Pyrgo Park
Across the fields from Havering, rusted and leaning precariously amid a strip of rough grass along the edge of a wood, is a curious decorative wrought iron 19th century gatepost. This is one of the few surviving reminders of the second great aristocratic park in Havering, Pyrgo Park. The place name probably means ‘triangle of land where pear trees grow’ and has been spelt in various ways over the centuries, including Pergore, Portegore and Pergo. The park here was created in 1536 by Brian Tuke, steward to Henry VIII, but, in typical style, the king took a liking to the site and claimed it for himself, developing it into an extension of Havering Park nearby.

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I gave Pyrgo to a courtier, John Grey, uncle of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, and it passed through several subsequent aristocratic and, later, bourgeois hands. The old house was demolished in 1814, and a new one built in 1852 for stockbroker Robert Field, though this too was demolished in 1940, by which time the park had become part of Essex’s green belt holdings.

Most of the buildings you can see through a gap in the trees to the left as you round the site are recent, though an 18th century farmhouse still stands, and a stable block, garden terraces and two lodges remain from the Victorian period. Pyrgo is the fourth of Henry VIII’s palaces on or near the Loop, after Nonsuch (section 7), Hampton Court (section 9) and Forty Hall (section 17). All but Hampton Court have now completely vanished from sight.

Now in notably rustic surroundings, the Loop tracks the edges of fields. It’s easy to miss a footbridge along this stretch which skips across a field edge: often overgrown, it’s one of the more precarious pieces of infrastructure on the trail. But soon you’re on more solid ground, following a track lined by scattered housing, known as Paternoster Row.

It’s not immediately obvious, but the right turn along Paternoster Row is also a major turning point for the London Loop as it approaches its final stages. A stream, Carters Brook, rises just to the east of this junction, and the track turns south to parallel its valley. From now on, the Loop will follow the water south and southwest, first along the Carters Brook and Paines Brook, then along the river Ingrebourne to the Thames, continuing downstream alongside the main flow to its finishing point at Purfleet. I’d like to say it’s downhill all the way, but that’s not entirely true, as lack of waterside access sometimes forces the trail back of the side of the valley a little. Certainly, though, the walking is much easier from now on.

Where Paternoster Row ends at the gate of Widdrington Farm, and the Loop takes to field paths again, you enter the old chapelry of Romford, a historic subdivision of Havering Liberty. A small stream from a pond on the right feeds the brook. To the east, the land rises from the Carters Brook to the village of Noak Hill. To the south and immediately ahead lies the old estate of Harold Wood and a return to suburbia.

Harold Hill

The Loop reaches Noak Hill Road, which clearly marks the boundary between country and town. On its northwestern side you’ll see only scattered houses and other buildings, but the opposite side is intensively developed. At one point, of course, all this land was countryside. By the 14th century, there were two separate estates to the southeast of the road: Gooshayes, ‘goose enclosure’, to the west and Dagenhams or Dagnams to the east. The latter had itself originally been two estates, Dagenhams and Cockerels, named after former owners.

Richard Neave, a well-off merchant with the West India company, bought Dagnams in 1772, and his descendants extended it in 1829 by buying neighbouring Gooshayes too. The resulting estate remained intact until well in the 20th century, unthreatened by housing development thanks to its remote location, and was protected as Green Belt in the 1930s. Today’s swathes of housing are the work not of a private developer, but of the London County Council (LCC), in response to the housing crisis in London after World War II, when residential property in inner London, and particularly the East End, had been devastated by air raids.

Inspired by the ‘garden city’ movement of the 1920s and 1930s, the view adopted in Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan was that it was better in any case to shift populations out of the polluted and congested inner city to greener, more spacious and healthier surroundings on the periphery. As we now know, that approach ultimately brought its own problems of social and economic dislocation, but today’s reclamation of the inner city as a pleasant and desirable place to live must have seemed unthinkable to 1940s decision makers. The LCC was given special dispensation to build new housing on Green Belt outside its own territory, which at the time covered only Inner London.

The Loop has already encountered one of the resulting housing estates, at South Oxhey on section 14, and skirted around another at Hainault earlier in this section. The Neave family’s estate of Dagnams and Gooshayes was among the other sites chosen. It was not only of sufficient size, but had the advantage of being well-defined and integrated, which planners hoped would help give a sense of place to the new community.

In 1946 the LCC compulsorily purchased the main estate, plus some additional plots that had originally been part of it but had been sold off in 1919. The following year, 605 prefab houses were built as a temporary measure, and in 1948, construction commenced on 7,631 new homes. The work was finally completed in 1961. The name chosen for the new neighbourhood was Harold Hill, as it stood overlooking Harold Wood. Like several estates of this vintage, it’s now the subject of a long-term regeneration scheme, Harold Hill Ambitions.

The ‘garden city’ influence ensured that extensive areas of open space were preserved among the houses and flats, and the Loop makes good use of these as it crosses the area, particularly the green strips alongside the brook, which also provide a margin for flooding. Our first site of the brook itself is where it crosses Priory Road by its junction with Tees Drive. It runs here in a steeply cut channel surrounded by trees and shrubs, so attempting to reach the water’s edge is an uncomfortably twiggy experience. You’re better off walking on the grass above. Just before Whitchurch Road, another small stream joins from the left, rising from a series of ponds in Dagnam Park a little to the east. From here, the combined streams are known as Paines Brook, although the watercourse is often designated by the joint name Paines and Carters Brook.

The green strip continues to Dagnam Park Road, once a path linking Gooshayes and Dagnams but now one of the main roads through the housing estate. On the other side, the stream enters Central Park, one of two major public parks on former farmland and parkland built into the original design (the other is Dagnam Park to the east, around the former site of the now-demolished manor house). The mediaeval nucleus of Gooshayes once stood on the other side of the brook to the right here, and Gooshayes House itself stood until 1961 when it was demolished to make way for a community centre. It’s clear from old photographs and maps that the unusually angular kinks in the brook here were deliberate diversions to create more conveniently-shaped fields and farmyards.

Central Park became rather neglected, but received a boost in 2014 with funding from the Veolia North Thames Trust. Veolia is the big French-based utilities company which among other things operates a massive landfill site on Rainham Marshes, further along the Loop. The Trust, which has since been merged with another nationally-based trust, was a vehicle for ensuring that some of the profits from this were invested for public benefit. The cash paid for the state-of-the-art BMX track and skate park on the right as you enter the park, the play area further on, new plantings and other improvements.

The Portrait Bench in Central Park, Harold Hill.

Just past the play area is a roundabout of paths where the Ingrebourne Way, part of National Cycle Network route 136, joins from the left. We’ll be sharing much of the rest of the trail with this route, which has long been in the planning stages and was completed in 2014 as a partnership between Havering council and active travel charity Sustrans. It runs for 21 km from Noak Hill, not far from where the Loop met Noak Hill Road, to the Thames at Rainham Marshes, and indeed you could simply follow it all the way, as it’s more prominently signed than the Loop. But as it’s a multi-user route also suitable for cyclists, there are stretches along the valley where it’s forced to follow roads, while the Loop takes more interesting paths suitable only for walkers. More information about walking the Ingrebourne Way as an alternative to the Loop.

On the roundabout is a simple park bench surrounded by three shadow puppet-style metal sculptures, the Portrait Bench, installed in 2011 as part of the Ingrebourne Way improvements. You’ll surely recognise Henry VIII and appreciate his connection to the area, but the other two subjects, chosen following a public call for nominations, are rather more obscure. To Henry’s left, and maintaining a respectful distance, is Harry Norman Ecclestone, a Bank of England employee who lived locally, and designed the D series banknotes familiar from the 1970s to the 1990s. Next to him is Dick Bouchard, founder of the Romford Drum and Trumpet Corps, who was still alive when the sculptures were unveiled and attended the ceremony. The wood just off to the left, Long Wood, survives from the Gooshayes estate, as does another patch of woodland, Sale Wood, further along.

The Loop leaves Central Park past the ground of Ardleigh Green Cricket Club, founded in 1940, on the left, and continues along the brook through another green strip on the other side of Petersfield Avenue. It runs here between Paines Brook Way and Amersham Road, a street which has a tale to tell about housing policy over the decades.

As at South Oxhey, most of the properties at Harold Hill are now privately owned. The process of selling them to their occupiers began in the 1970s under the Greater London Council, but accelerated significantly under the Right to Buy policy for council tenants, introduced in 1980 as a flagship policy of the Conservative government of the day.

One of the earliest properties sold under this scheme was 39 Amersham Road. In an obligingly media-friendly photocall, prime minister Margaret Thatcher personally sealed the sale and handed over the keys to the Patterson family, who had lived there as tenants since 1962. They paid only £8,315 for the three-bedroomed house, but after the marriage broke up, Maureen Patterson struggled with mortgage repayments and ended up selling it and moving to a mobile home.

The house has since passed through several other hands and its value is now approaching £220,000. Today, the proportion of houses owned by their occupiers in the UK is 61%, exactly the same proportion as in the 1980s, as many of the people who exercised their right to buy ended up selling to private landlords who were buying to rent. Yet in the face of a major housing crisis in London, the current government is intent on extending the right to buy to housing association tenants.

The path along the brook continues through another, smaller, green area, St Neots Road Open Space, to arrive at the A12 Colchester Road close to where it crosses the watercourse at Paines Bridge. The road is the modern incarnation of Iter V, the old highway that linked London northeast with Colchester, the first capital of Roman Britain, via Mile End, Stratford, Ilford, Romford, Brentwood and Chelmsford. By the mid-17th century this road had been turnpiked and, as the A12, it was one of the first British trunk routes designated in 1922. West towards London, the A12 has subsequently been diverted along more recently built roads and the old route renumbered A118. But at this point, though widened to a dual carriageway in the 1940s, it’s likely close to the old Roman route.

This is another point where the Loop is severed by a busy main road, and the official option is to divert to the next light-controlled crossing west, which isn’t too far away though still annoyingly off the desire line. But here you also have the option of an uncontrolled crossing straight ahead, which makes use of the central reservation. As the road is straight with good visibility and the flow of traffic is often interrupted by nearby lights, you should have no trouble using this if you’re quick on your feet and take special care.

Harold Wood

Harold Wood station: before its time.

The A12 marks the southern boundary of Harold Hill: the neighbourhood on the other side is now known as Harold Wood, although the scope of that name has changed over the centuries. In mediaeval times, the area to the north of the Colchester Road, where Harold Hill now stands, was known as Harold Wood, and attached to the Romford chapelry. The area to the south was North End, attached to the Hornchurch chapelry. The Harold in question was Harold Godwinson, the ill-fated last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who as mentioned above once held all of Havering.

The area that’s now Harold Wood developed rather earlier than Harold Hill, although it was still rural in 1840 when the Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) cut through it. In 1866, a development company bought land at Gubbins Farm to turn into a new town, served by a new station to be opened by the ECR’s successor the Great Eastern Railway. Even though the site was technically in North End, the developers adopted the more picturesque name Harold Wood, also used as the name for the station when it opened in 1868.

Demand for housing in the area at first proved lower than expected: the planned new town never happened, and the development of Harold Wood didn’t take off until after World War I. Residential development avoided the watercourses, so once again the Loop has a green strip to follow into the area, although the waterside is soon blocked by an industrial estate. This is the site of Harold Wood Brickworks, established in 1878, which once had its own extensive railway sidings. It was closed in 1902 and the land used for grazing and light industry. The present Bates Industrial Estate was built in the late 1940s, and named after the building firm that developed it.

The trail runs along streets dating from the 1920s and 1930s, and then past the distinctive modernist building of Harold Wood Library, opened in 1960: the Christmas tree in front was planted to mark the 50th anniversary in 2010. The King Harold pub, in contrast, is an 1868 survivor of the aborted Victorian new town scheme. The main station building, perched above the tracks along Gubbins Lane, is from the same year.

This section of the Great Eastern Main Line originally linked the old Bishopsgate station on the edge of the City of London with Brentwood, extending in stages to Colchester and Ipswich and reaching Norwich by 1851. Its London terminal was superseded by Liverpool Street station in 1875, and in 1883 it became an international link to the Netherlands and northern Europe with the opening of a branch to a ferry terminal at Harwich. In 1932 the line was quadrupled, and today express services run non-stop through Harold Wood on the central pair of lines.

From 2019, the station will stand on only the second main line-sized railway to run through central London and out the other side. Services on the Elizabeth Line, formerly known as Crossrail, will run from Shenfield through new underground tunnels linking Liverpool Street and Paddington, passing through Hayes and Harlington at the end of Loop section 10, on their way to Slough and Reading. Since 2015 the local stopping trains from Liverpool Street to Shenfield have been overseen by Transport for London under the brand name TfL Rail in preparation for the new service.

Meanwhile, hidden in the industrial estate, the Paines Brook has joined the main flow of the river Ingrebourne. In the next section, the London Loop meets this river for the first but by no means the last time as it continues its final journey back towards the river Thames.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

London Loop 18/19: Enfield Lock - Chingford - Chigwell

View across the Lea Valley from Daws Hill, Sewardstone Hills

You’ll cross two of the region’s most valuable large green spaces along this section of the London Loop: the Lee Valley Park and Epping Forest. Both plunge deep into east London, bridging city and countryside, though most of our walk is outside London, in Essex, the last historic county on the Loop, even though some of it has a London postcode. It passes through the forest gateway town of Chingford with its Tudor hunting lodge, and on out of the Forest to cross the river Roding where it runs between nature reserves and lakes at Buckhurst Hill.

I’ve returned to combining two shorter sections of the Loop for this instalment. The official break point is at Chingford, and the only practical place to stop before this has a relatively infrequent non-TfL bus. From Chingford to Chigwell there are several other transport options along the way.

Enfield Lock on the River Lee Navigation

Enfield Lock

For well over a century, the name ‘Enfield’ brought to mind an image rather less peaceful than that of a sleepy Middlesex market town. Between the 1850s and the 1960s, the majority of rifles used by the armed forces both of Britain and other countries in the British Empire and, later, Commonwealth, were made at the Royal Small Arms Factory beside Enfield Lock. The most famous of these was the Lee-Enfield rifle, of which variants were used in a depressingly long list of conflicts from the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 to Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

The Lee part of the name only coincidentally resembles that of the river that passes the site: it derives instead from the designer of the rifle’s bolt system, James Paris Lee. The name Enfield, though, was applied in whole or part to most of the factory’s products, including the Enfield revolver; the Bren gun, a contraction acknowledging that this was a modification of a Czech machine gun made in Brno; and the Sten gun, combining the place name with the initials of designers Shepherd and Turpin.

The factory was founded in 1816 following the Napoleonic wars, out of frustration with the poor quality of weapons then being supplied to the armed forces by Birmingham gunsmiths. Its location on an artificial island between the River Lee Navigation and the River Lea itself provided a convenient transport route not only downstream to London but to the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey, just a little upstream (and briefly encountered on the London Countryway), as well as water power from the river. Much adjoining farmland in the valley was requisitioned for testing. The factory expanded significantly during the Crimean War in the 1850s, adopting US-style mass production methods. By the 1880s, 2,400 people worked at the site, which was then producing thousands of rifles a week.

Two world wars prompted further expansion, but in the 1950s production began to decline, and half the site was decommissioned in 1963. The remaining factory was privatised in 1984, soon becoming part of British Aerospace, who closed it in 1988. The site was finally redeveloped as housing between 1997 and 2003 under the name Enfield Island Village, incorporating some of the historic buildings including part of the original machine shop and clock tower, and an interpretation centre which is open by appointment only. A less welcome legacy also persists – in 2000 a survey found evidence of contamination from lead, cadmium, arsenic and copper, and residents are warned not to dig more than a metre into their gardens.

Despite the fame of its brand, during its working life the factory wasn’t technically in Enfield at all. It stood on the east bank of the natural course of the river Lea, and therefore over the county boundary in Essex, in the hamlet of Sewardstone. Over the years, the waterways across the site were re-channelled, and in 1993, several years after closure, the boundary of the London Borough of Enfield was extended to the River Lea Flood Relief Channel which loops to the east, partly to resolve planning powers for redevelopment.

Enfield Lock station, where the short link to this section starts, and the modest terraced houses that line the streets you follow, are all here because of the Royal Small Arms Factory. Then there’s a short length alongside the Turkey Brook again, continuing from the last section, before a foot and cycle bridge rises up ahead. This takes the Loop over the first of many branches of the river Lea, known as the Small River Lea, and the Turkey Brook bends off to the right to join it just before both merge with the River Lee Navigation a little south of our route.

The bridge continues across Mollison Avenue, the A1055 road, built in the 1980s to provide better access to the industrial estates along the Lea Valley, and named after pioneer aviator Jim Mollison. You then walk along the edge of Prince of Wales Open Space, today a rather straightforward recreation ground, but there are plans by the council and the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust to create a wetland reserve here.

The path emerges right opposite Enfield Lock itself, on the River Lee Navigation. There was probably a crude lock on the river here back in the 14th century, and certainly by 1725, predating the Navigation which opened in the early 1770s. The lock cottages and toll office date from 1889 and the lock itself, number 13, was rebuilt in 1922. The path crosses the downriver end of the lock: the row of cottages stretching to the left on the other side was built for gun factory workers, and is known as Government Row. Just beyond, and running parallel to the navigation, is the river Lea itself, with the former factory site beyond. You could explore it by turning slightly left and crossing the first bridge across the Lea, but the Loop turns right, briefly following the Lea Valley Walk along the towpath into the Lee Valley Park.

Lee Valley Park

The Cattlegate Flood Relief Channel, which now marks the boundary of London and Essex at Enfield Lock. The houses with solar cells on the left are in Enfield Island Village, on the former Royal Small Arms Factory site.

I introduced the river Lea or Lee, the River Lee Navigation, the Lee Valley Park and the Lea Valley Walk (see also Transport for London) at length when they were first encountered on the London Countryway at Broxbourne, including an explanation of the variant spellings, so I’ll keep this brief. The Lea is one the Thames’ biggest tributaries and arguably London’s second most important river. It rises on the edge of the Chilterns at Leagrave in the northern suburbs of Luton, runs roughly east and southeast via Harpenden and Hertford to Ware, then turns south via Broxbourne and east London. As tidal Bow Creek, it joins the Thames at Leamouth near Poplar, right opposite the O2 on the North Greenwich peninsula, a total distance of 68 km.

Throughout its history, the Lea has been important both politically and economically. Towards the end of the 9th century, the lower half of the river became the agreed boundary between the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex on the west bank, and the Danelaw, the part of England governed autonomously by Danish settlers, on the east. It remains the boundary between Hertfordshire and the London boroughs of Enfield, Haringey, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, formerly in Middlesex, to the west; and Essex and the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Newham, to the east. Following various tweaks both to the boundary and to the waterway itself, though, the dividing line doesn’t always follow the course of the Lea today.

Economically, the river was a source of water for drinking and irrigation, fish and power for mills, and also a major transport corridor. One important cargo was grain, and particularly malted barley for the extensive London brewing industry, which was grown in the fields of Hertfordshire and malted in the towns of Hertford and Ware before being shipped south. Wheat was also shipped this way – at one point the abbey at Stratford had a near-monopoly on milling it into flour for London bakers – but barley was more associated with moneyed interests. It was the rich and powerful London brewers who in 1739 led the campaign to establish a board tasked with improving navigation on the river, which had particularly suffered from the abstraction of drinking water to supplement the New River (crossed in the previous section).

This campaign eventually resulted in the construction of the River Lee Navigation between 1767 and 1770, using a combination of improvements to the natural course and 18 km of new cuts to create what was essentially London’s first canal. The Navigation runs between Hertford and Bromley-by-Bow, from where the Limehouse Cut dodges the tight meanders of Bow Creek by heading straight to the Thames at Limehouse. Now used primarily for leisure rather than commerce, its management has passed via British Waterways to the Canal & River Trust.

Development on the Lea’s wide, flat flood plain was restricted by the wet conditions. By the early 20th century, the land use was a mix of water catchment and management, glasshouse nurseries, gravel extraction, remaining fragments of agricultural land, and industry along the lower reaches. The aggregates dug here, deposited in the last glacial period, helped build London, but by the 1940s the supply was nearing exhaustion, leaving an inhospitable landscape behind, and the nurseries and some of the other established industries in the valley were also set to decline.

A vision of the valley transformed into a giant recreational park for east London appears in Patrick Abercrombie’s utopian Greater London Plan of 1944, but no firm steps were taken to achieve it until the early 1960s when the mayor and town clerk of Hackney began building support for the idea among local authorities and other concerned organisations. This culminated in the creation by an Act of Parliament of the cross-council Lee Valley Regional Park Authority in 1966, funded by a modest additional charge to local ratepayers, with most of the early development of the park proceeding in the early 1970s.

Since then, the Lee Valley Park has evolved into one of the brightest of London’s green gems, with 4,050 ha of near-continuous green space stretching over 42 km from Ware to East India Dock Basin. It now includes much of the parkland and several of the venues in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, and will expand still further with the completion of the Lea River Park project to create a linked series of new public spaces between Three Mills and the Thames over the next decade or so. It’s no longer London’s only regional park – the Loop has already passed through the Colne Valley Park between West Drayton and Harefield – but it’s the only one with statutory backing, and the difference is evident in its quality, prominent identity and sense of ambition.

The 80 km Lea Valley Walk is the main walking trail through the park, essentially following the Lee Navigation towpath, though it also stretches a considerable distance further upriver, all the way to the river’s source. The southern terminus is a little more complicated thanks to access issues along Bow Creek: previously the most obvious route was along the Limehouse Cut, but ongoing work on the Lea River Park is opening up a new route called the Leaway, creating much more pleasant walks to East India Dock Basin, Trinity Buoy Wharf on the confluence itself, and the Royal Victoria Docks.

At Enfield Lock, it provides the shortest and most straightforward link between the Loop and the London Countryway at Waltham Town Lock, around 2 km to the north. A more recently-developed parallel route for cyclists and walkers, the Lee Valley Pathway, either runs jointly with the towpath or follows a more easterly course.

The Loop’s dalliance in the Park is, rather sadly, a brief one, and its time on the Walk is even shorter. Soon you pass a fishing pond, the picturesquely named Swan and Pike Pool, squeezed between the two watercourses, and turn away from the navigation to follow the river Lea itself into grassy wetlands, passing an old bridge that once connected the Royal Small Arms Factory to the rail network.

The course of the river here was diverted around 1910 to facilitate the construction of the massive 170 ha King George V reservoir, its grand red brick and Portland stone pumping station soon looming ahead. This is the northernmost of 13 reservoirs in the valley dating from the early 20th century, and still making a major contribution to London’s water supply today. The King George, named after the monarch who opened it, and its immediate neighbour to the south, the William Girling reservoir, together form the Chingford Reservoirs Site of Special Scientific Interest due to their popularity with wintering wild fowl, though admission is restricted to permit holders only.

Just before the reservoir perimeter, the Loop dodges across the Lea on a footbridge and crosses another rough grassy area. There’s something curious about these verdant but still oddly desolate patches, defined by their exclusion from the civil engineering that surrounds them, the reservoir and the various watercourses, like offcuts of cloth. Of course they’re now valued for their wildlife and recreational function, but they retain that slight feeling of being forgotten about. Soon the Loop crosses yet another linked watercourse, the River Lee Flood Relief Channel mentioned above, also known as the Cattlegate Channel. This was commissioned after bad flooding in 1947, although only completed in 1976. The high water levels of recent years have undermined its effectiveness, and still further work will soon be needed in the valley.

Crossing the Cattlegate Channel, you reach the current boundary of Greater London and enter the Epping Forest district of Essex, the Loop’s last historical county. As the channel deliberately followed the eastern perimeter of the Royal Small Arms Factory, it was the obvious option when the boundary was realigned in the 1990s. I also introduced Essex in some detail when the London Countryway crossed into it at Waltham Abbey. Its name commemorates the fact that in the early middle ages it was the kingdom of the East Saxons, and it was once much larger, including most of what later became Middlesex and Hertfordshire. As mentioned earlier, the boundary along the Lea dates back to the treaty that created the Danelaw in 878, but persisted after the final defeat of the Danes in 991.

The London Loop enters Sewardstone Marsh

On the other side of the channel is Sewardstone Marsh, which looks like a good example of the wet, flat meadows that once characterised the valley floor, although it’s been heavily restored. Prior to World War II it was used for grazing, but during the war it was quarried for road construction materials, and then used as a dump for ash and rubble from Brimsdown power station a little further downriver. Acquired by Lee Valley Park in the mid-1980s, it’s now a delightful patchwork of woodland, grassland and grazed flood meadows that provides a home to the rare early marsh orchid. There are many more wonderful sites like this in the park, as you’ll discover along the Lea Valley Path, but the Loop is eager to push on east.


Sewardstone is a straggly hamlet on the old road between Waltham Abbey and Walthamstow. Originally it was a small manor in the south of the parish of Waltham Holy Cross, centred on the powerful abbey to the north, and was once the residence of the abbey’s ‘pittancer’, the person responsible for managing pittances or charitable donations to the abbey. There are still some historic buildings, including Netherhouse Farmhouse, almost opposite as you emerge on the road: although the front wing is 18th century, the rear is certainly earlier, and it forms an attractive group with surrounding barns. The nursery and glasshouse industry in the valley later spilled into Sewardstone and there are still several nurseries along the road to left and right. To the south is the Lee Valley Campsite, operated by the park authority, the only official camping site close to the London Loop

Sewardstone holds another curious distinction: it’s the only place outside Greater London with a London postcode. The anomaly is less puzzling once you understand that postal addresses and postcodes have always served the operational convenience of the Royal Mail above popular or official geographies.

As mentioned many times here, the development of local government in London lagged a long way behind the physical development of the metropolis. The London Postal District, the area where correct postal addresses end in ‘London’ and a compass point postcode, dates back to 1856, long before the creation of the London County Council (LCC), the first true London-wide authority, in 1889. Back then, the District included substantial rural hinterlands that were serviced from post offices in adjacent urban centres: for example, post to Sewardstone has been delivered from the Chingford office since 1813.

The LCC area, when it was finally defined, was substantially smaller than the Postal District, so there were once many more places technically outside London that nonetheless had London addresses, from Brent Cross to Wimbledon. The much larger area of Greater London defined in 1965 subsumed practically all of these, and much more, but the Royal Mail stuck rigidly to its policy of ignoring official boundary changes.

This is why all the London locations we’ve previously passed through on the Loop have addresses and postcodes that refer to other towns: for example, back on the west side of the Lea you’ll find EN postcodes, for Enfield. Some of the ‘post towns’ used in outer London are even outside London itself, so Erith, where the Loop began, has DA postcodes, for Dartford. Except here, where a peninsula of the London Postal District defiantly pokes out beyond the Greater London boundary. As in neighbouring Chingford, which is now within London, the last line of the correct postal address for all the buildings you see begins ‘London E4’. Between here and the river Ching is, incidentally, the only stretch of the Loop within the London Postal District.

Sadly, Transport for London takes a less inclusive view of Sewardstone. As attested by the infrequent service, this is not currently one of those places just outside the boundary graced with red buses and Oyster readers. The 505 bus, which passes through on its way between Chingford, Waltham Abbey and Harlow, is a commercially-operated route that was almost withdrawn completely in 2015, but instead had its frequency drastically reduced.

Dark hills rear up on the other side of the valley, topped by a smudge of forest green. These are the Sewardstone Hills, and the Loop now leaves the road to turn directly towards them, crossing fields and climbing Barn Hill on a farm track. Just after the Loop joins the track, it re-crosses the Prime Meridian back into the eastern hemisphere, after entering the western at Coney Hall near Hayes (Bromley).

Rewarding the climb are the fine views across the Lea Valley that soon appear on the right. As well as admiring the extensive green swathes and the wide blue waters of the Chingford reservoirs offset by the chimneys of Brimsdown power station, you can appreciate from here quite how wide and flat a flood plain the Lea has smoothed for itself. In the distance rise the hillier parts of north London, and off to the north you may be able to work out some of the ridges the Loop has already traversed. Then, reaching the top of the hill, the trail unexpectedly diverts from the farm track at a turning that’s easy to miss, heading for the trees of Epping Forest.

Epping Forest

Carrolls Farm, Sewardstone, surrounded by Epping Forest, just a few hundred metres from London.

It seems almost unfair that, by a quirk of geography, two of London’s most extensive and impressive green spaces are so close together. And despite their proximity, the Lee Valley Park and Epping Forest are contrasting environments in a variety of ways. The former is a recent innovation in a broad, flat valley, highly accessible and well-interpreted for visitors. The latter is a more rugged place with a much longer history and sections that feel genuinely wild. The management tradition is different too, with a cautiousness about ‘urbanising’ nature that is sometimes off-putting to visitors, although this has softened a little recently. It’s still easy to get lost in Epping Forest, and although the Loop takes a relatively straightforward path through it, there are places where you need to read the directions carefully and look hard for waymarks.

I discussed the Forest in more detail on the same section of the London Countryway that introduced the Lee Valley Park, so once again I’ll summarise only briefly here. In the 11th century, it was part of the Forest of Essex, a royal hunting forest like the Forest of Middlesex on the other side of the valley, although considerably bigger, covering nearly the entire county. Like other hunting forests it included open areas as well as woodland: it’s been estimated perhaps only 20% was wooded. The forest was split up in the 13th century, with several much smaller successor forests covering more densely wooded areas. One of these was Waltham Forest, which occupied the southwest of the county between the Romford Road (originally the Roman road from London to Colchester, now the A118) in the south, and Harlow in the north.

By the early 19th century, patchwork inclosure and development had significantly reduced the tree cover and split the forest further into two discontinuous patches, Epping Forest in the west and Hainault Forest in the east. In the early 19th century, the government removed Epping’s royal forest status and sold off the remaining woodland to the lord of the manor of Loughton, whose successors attempted to inclose and develop it. This triggered a campaign of resistance which culminated in the Epping Forest Act of 1878, preserving the 2,476 ha of forest which remains today.

By then, the City of London had become involved, as the closest thing to an official expression of the public interest of Londoners prior to the creation of the London County Council. The 1878 Act confirmed the City as the official conservator, a position it has held ever since. The legacy of the City’s role in preserving countryside as a public amenity has already been encountered on the Loop, when it crossed parts of the Kent and Surrey Commons (in sections 3, 4 and 5/6), but Epping Forest is by far the biggest among its portfolio of green spaces, many of which are a long way from the ‘square mile’ itself, including considerable swathes outside the modern boundary of Greater London.

The little triangular woodland at the top of Daws Hill is only connected to the rest of the historic forest by a thin strip, though the forest lands now extend into the fields and meadows to the north, bought by the City in the 1990s. Then a short stretch along a country lane passes Carolls Farm, where there are two Grade II listed buildings creating an attractive group: a mid-16th century timber-framed and weatherboarded barn, and the farmhouse itself, largely dating from 1767 though with earlier sections. You could follow the lane, Bury Road, all the way to Chingford, but as it’s that rarity on the Loop, a country road without a pavement, you’ll likely be grateful for the U-shaped detour through Gilwell Park and Hawk Wood that shortly follows (also incidentally dipping briefly back into the western hemisphere), though it does miss out the cluster of posh houses at Sewardstonebury.

Just before this, another trail joins from a track across the golf course on your left, which the Loop follows for a while in reverse. This is the Greenwich Meridian Trail, devised by walking writers Hilda and Graham Heap to follow the line of the meridian as closely as possible through England while still providing a pleasant and varied walk. It starts at Peacehaven on the south coast, crosses the South and North Downs, passes through Greenwich and east London, runs close to Cambridge and continues across the Fens and the Lincolnshire Wolds to the Humber Estuary, with a short continuation on the other side from Spurn Head to Tunstall, a total distance of 439 km. This section launched with a self-published guidebook in 2011, and you might spot the occasional waymark installed by volunteers.

The Leopard Gate at Gilwell Park.

Gilwell Park is known to keen woggle wearers and jamboree attendees throughout the world as the home of the international scouting movement. Back in the early 15th century this was a farm, and later a smart country estate: a handsome mid-18th century farmhouse, the White House, still stands at the heart of the complex. By the early 20th century, the estate had fallen into dilapidation, and in 1919 it was bought by the Scout Association for £7,000, donated by a wealthy Scottish Scout commissioner, William Maclaren, to provide a nearby campsite for members in the East End. It’s since evolved into the Scouts’ main training, conference and events venue, with camping for up to 3,000 and events facilities for up to 10,000 people.

It houses a museum, a volunteer-run hospital, places of worship for five different faiths, and a collection of monuments and memorabilia, including a buffalo sculpture in honour of the ‘unknown Scout’ who brought Scouting to the USA, a sala containing a 1,000-year old Buddha, and Baden-Powell’s Rolls Royce and caravan. Since 2001 the site has also been the main administrative centre of the Scout Association with several hundred staff based here. It seems like an idyllic place to work, and appropriate given the organisation’s outdoor tradition, though I suspect most employees reach the office by car.

The Loop doesn’t venture into the site beyond the carved wood Leopard Gate, constructed to mark the main entrance to the site in 1928, but you can catch further glimpses into the park as you circumnavigate it, and if you’re interested, some areas are open to visitors. On the other side of the path is a covered reservoir that takes advantage of the elevated location. After a while the trail turns south, descending Yardley Hill to a valley floor. Crossing a ditch which forms an old field boundary, you walk back into London, this time into the London Borough of Waltham Forest, its name a deliberate echo of the old royal forest.

The trail climbs again towards Pole Hill and then turns off along a ridge, close to the edge of Hawk Wood. On the right here you’ll glimpse a golf course, the Loop’s first for a while. This is Chingford Golf Course, founded in 1888 as the Royal Epping Forest Golf Club but taken over in 1901 by the City, which still runs it today. Several different clubs share the facilities. For most of its existence, as if typical golfing clothes weren’t loud enough, players were required to wear a red item of clothing so they’d be clearly visible to other Forest users. The rule was only abolished in 2014.

The rather odd conifer at Jubilee Retreat.
Eventually the trail arrives back on Bury Road, briefly crossing back out of London, but now there’s a broad path on the other side, parallel to the road just inside the trees of Bury Wood, which takes it almost immediately back across the boundary. This is also the route of the Holly Trail, one of the official Epping Forest circular walks. Look out on the right for Jubilee Retreat, across the road, now used as a clubhouse but once one of several forest ‘retreats’ – late Victorian temperance tea rooms that aimed to persuaded visitors away from the local pubs. Look closely at what appears at first to be a very tall conifer in a compound next door – it’s actually a mobile phone mast disguised as a tree.


The trail soon arrives at the wide, undulating grassy expanse of Chingford Plain, the first piece of Forest land immediately to the north of the built-up area, occupying a plateau that forms part of the clay ridge between the Lea and Roding valleys. On a fine day, especially in early summer when the grass is deep green and dotted with flowers, there’s an exhilarating sense of space here. On windy winter days it seems like one of the bleakest places in London.

The original Anglo-Saxon settlement of Chingford was likely quite a long way from here, to the southwest, by an ancient crossing of the Lea at Cooks Ferry which now carries the North Circular Road. The name is thought to mean ‘ford of the stump dwellers’, the ford referring to the Lea crossing and the stumps the foundations of pile houses built to cope with the marshy ground. The rest of Chingford, away from the river, was then covered in forest, but large parts of this were cleared in the 13th and 14th centuries to create a scattered parish of three manors and various small settlements, with a single parish church on high ground at Chingford Mount.

Chingford Plain is yet another site on the Loop, after Nonsuch, Bushy Park and Forty Hall, that owes something of its current appearance to Henry VIII and his insatiable appetite for hunting. By 1544, Henry controlled two of the local manors, and set about converting parts of these and the adjacent forest into a hunting park to be known as Fairmead Park, appointing Richard Rich, one of his then-favoured cronies, as keeper. Much of the grassland was probably created at this time through woodland clearance, and one of the original ‘standings’, lodges built for hunt spectators, still commands a view of the plain today, as we shall soon see. The project proved short-lived and the site was ‘disparked’ by 1553.

Rather like the area around Forty Hall, Chingford’s development was restrained by its relative lack of transport access, although a number of upmarket country houses appeared in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Encroachments on Forest land also continued: in the 1860s the local lords of the manor inclosed and ploughed up parts of the plain, but following the Epping Forest Act in 1878, they were ordered to return this land to open space.

The arrival of the railway in 1873 triggered development around the stations, particularly just to the south of the plain around the terminus close to Chingford Green, one of the original hamlets. By 1894, the area was populated enough to become an urban district. But it only achieved its current near-completely urbanised state between the two world wars, when development sprawled north to link it to Walthamstow, incorporating it decisively into the metropolis. Technically it still remained in Essex, until finally becoming part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest on the expansion of London in 1965.

You may divert from the Loop here not just if you want to break your walk at Chingford station but also to take advantage of the shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants that line Station Road, linking Chingford Green, the station and Chingford Plain. The official route heads off across a car park just after entering the Plain and then follows the road. But it’s more pleasant just to keep ahead across the springy turf, on a path that doesn’t pass that much further from the station.

The first station in the locality was opened in 1873 on Kings Road, closer to the Green, as an extension of the Great Eastern Railway’s (GER) branch from Clapton to Walthamstow. In 1878 the line was extended to a grander terminus on the present site, then less convenient for local housing but closer to the Forest, which the GER saw as an important potential stimulus to the growing leisure travel market. The plan was to extend through the Forest to High Beach, already a popular Forest honeypot (visited on the London Countryway).

Although this scheme was never realised, Chingford met all expectations as a gateway to the newly-preserved green resource. It was at Chingford in 1882 that Queen Victoria arrived by train to declare the Forest open to the public forever. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, regular fairs on the Plain attracted huge crowds, reaching a peak on Whitsun bank holiday Monday 1920 when over 100,000 people passed through the station. Interwar development increased the railway’s importance as a commuting route and the line was subsequently truncated slightly to make way for the bus station, but the Victorian fabric is largely intact. It’s now part of Transport for London’s London Overground network. Look out for the plastic owl under the canopy of Platform 2, placed there to deter pigeons.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, with new improved
Tudor monarch-resistant deer.
Back on the trail, you walk across the Plain right in front of what’s now the most historic building in Chingford, and indeed one of the finest surviving Tudor buildings in London, so it’s worth making a minor diversion for a closer look. This is the old Great Standing constructed for Henry VIII’s Fairmead Park project, now known as Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge.

The Grade II* listed building and scheduled ancient monument with its exposed timber frame and plaster infill has been much restored over the years, including a rather fanciful rebuilding in the late 19th century that resulted in the current window layout. When built, it was the only such structure in England to boast three floors, and would have had open galleries overlooking the Plain. You can imagine what a fine view it commanded from the top of the slope of the bloody entertainment below as deer were driven out of the woods.

The walls were filled in by 1608, as by then the Manor Court met on the top floor, and by the early 19th century a Forest Keeper lived on the floors below. When the court stopped meeting in 1851, the Keeper and his wife converted the space into a tea room to cater for the growing number of leisure visitors. Between 1895 and 1960, the Essex Field Club used the building as a natural history museum, after which the City of London took it on. A more sympathetic restoration between 1989 and 1993 put right some of the damage done in Victorian times, and the Lodge is now open as a museum again, with exhibitions about life in Tudor times.

Next door is a smart City of London visitor centre, the View, opened in 2012 in a late Victorian building. As its name suggests, this boasts its own spectacular (and more accessible) view of the Forest as well as exhibitions and information on forest life. And next to that is the Royal Forest, a sprawling early 20th century ‘Brewer’s Tudor’ pub-hotel that now houses a Brewer’s Fayre and Premier Inn, another of the handful of accommodation options along the Loop.

The trail finally climbs from Chingford Plain beside another celebrated venue, the Butler’s Retreat, a timber-framed, weatherboarded early 19th century building that may once have been a barn. This takes its name from its 1890s proprietor, John Butler, and is the last surviving Forest retreat still open for public refreshment, although it now has an alcohol license. It was restored as part of the same project that created the View and is currently operated by a small upmarket café chain, the Larder.

Reaching Rangers Road, the Loop meets another trail from the northeast, the Centenary Walk Epping Forest, unsigned but shown on Ordnance Survey maps, which runs for 24 km through the whole length of the Forest from Forest Gate in east London to Epping. It was devised as part of the centenary celebration of the Epping Forest Act in 1978 by the late Fred Matthews, a prominent Ramblers campaigner in Essex and a prolific originator of walking trails.

It’s still the basis of an annual walking event organised by the Friends of Epping Forest and the Ramblers. It provides another convenient link between the Loop and the London Countryway at High Beach: the latter trail actually shares the alignment of the Centenary Walk from there to Epping. The Greenwich Meridian Trail, which has pursued a slightly different route, again converges with the Loop here, then heads decisively south with the Centenary Walk towards Walthamstow and Wanstead Flats.

The Loop now keeps eastward on the other side of Rangers Road, through an area known as Hatch Forest, to encounter a pretty stream, the river Ching. This rises at Connaught Water, a lake not far to the north, and flows roughly south between Woodford and Highams Park, then curves east between South Chingford and Walthamstow to meet the river Lea just north of the Banbury reservoir, a distance of about 9 km.

As you may guess from my previous comments about the origin of the name ‘Chingford’, the river’s name is a ‘back formation’ from the place rather than the other way round: it used to be called the Bourne. Much of the Ching’s course once formed the eastern and southern boundaries of Chingford parish, and here it still represents the edge of London. As confirmed by the county sign beside Rangers Road a few metres away, once across the Ching the Loop is back in Essex, where it stays for the rest of this section.

Buckhurst Hill

Folk etymology in picture at Roebuck Green, Buckhurst Hill
The area of Epping Forest immediately to the east of Chingford is known as the Warren, as by the end of the 18th century there was a large rabbit warren here. The Loop enters it along a broad grassy strip, climbing again to reach Epping New Road, a turnpike driven through what was then deep forest in 1834 as an improvement of the coaching route between London and Newmarket.

In the 1920s this road was designated part of a major trunk route, the A11 from London to Norwich, but since the opening of the M11 it’s been detrunked and renumbered A104. The pub here, the Warren Wood, was opened shortly after the road, in the 1850s. The house known as the Warren, once one of the Tudor ‘standings’ and now the Forest Keepers’ headquarters, is some distance further up the road to the north.

The Loop continues on a footpath through another stretch of Forest and alongside a cricket ground to emerge at Roebuck Green, which still preserves some of the atmosphere of a rural hamlet in an airy hilltop location. Since crossing the Ching, you’ve been in the area known as Buckhurst Hill, once a remote and wooded western part of Chigwell parish. It was bisected by the old highway on which you now stand, running roughly north-south from Woodford to Loughton, with only a rough footpath running east-west to connect with the parish church at Chigwell. Remarkably, there wasn’t a proper road between the two until 1890.

As a buck is a male deer, and a hurst a wooded hill, the place name seems evocatively rural, but it was originally the more prosaic-sounding Bucket Hill, probably ultimately derived from the fact that beech trees grew here. A straggle of houses lay along the road, which increased in importance in the 17th century when it was extended at its northern end to Epping, becoming an important link in the coaching route from London to Newmarket. But the climb up the hill was a cause of frequent delay, and the road was eventually superseded in 1834 by the Epping New Road, which the Loop crossed earlier.

Dog rose at North Farm, Buckhurst Hill
While the various road improvements stimulated enough development to necessitate the building of a church in 1837, Buckhurst Hill only really became a significant settlement with the opening of the railway in 1856. Much of the building was on inclosed Forest land, with the most expensive and desirable properties up on the ridge, and denser housing further east into the Roding valley, closer to the railway.

You can still see this pattern today: up here there are big villas overlooking the attractive green, with Victorian semis down the hill around the station, and interwar private and social housing and flats filling in the gaps. Today, the more desirable bits are very desirable indeed: along with Chigwell and Loughton, Buckhurst Hill forms the so-called Golden Triangle of affluent vulgarity featured in ‘reality’ TV show The Only Way is Essex.

The grass and scattered trees of Roebuck Green are another fragment of Forest Land, as are the fields of North Farm which you pass on a half-hidden path between the houses overlooking the green. Once these fields were covered in a wood known as Plucketts Wood, later inclosed, largely cleared and farmed. After World War II the owner, Charles Linder, allowed local people to use the fields on the right of the path for events, and in 1956 handed their management over to Chigwell Urban District Council, since succeeded by Epping Forest District Council. The 3.6 ha site is now managed as a Local Nature Reserve, with hay meadows that are particularly attractive in early summer, and a few remnant patches of ancient woodland.

It might not be London, but they have the Underground. Crossing the Central Line at Buckhurst Hill.

The Loop descends through fine green meadows, finally leaving the Forest lands to cross the railway. This was originally opened by the Eastern Counties Railway, predecessor of the Great Eastern, as a branch from Stratford to Loughton, providing through services to Bishopsgate and later Liverpool Street. It was extended in 1865 to Epping and Ongar, and in 1948 electrified and incorporated into the eastern extension of the London Underground Central Line, thus the familiar London Tube trains you’ll see plying the route today.

The remainder of the Loop through Buckhurst Hill is amid interwar development, though part of it makes good use of the Green Walk, an old footpath retained as a feature of the surrounding housing estates, which crosses close to the shops on Loughton Way. By now you’ve descended from the ridge to the flat flood plain of the next major Thames tributary east, the river Roding, and the Green Walk heads straight for the water, its surroundings soon opening out into Roding Valley Recreational Area.

The Roding Valley

The river Roding at Roding Valley Meadows, between Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell
The river Roding rises near Dunmow and flows for 80 km, initially roughly south through the Essex Rodings, villages which are suffixed with the river’s name. It works its way southeast from Ongar to Redbridge then slightly southwest through Ilford and Barking to join the Thames at Creekmouth – or Barking Riverside, as it’s shortly to be renamed once it’s redeveloped into a massive new residential estate -- as tidal Barking Creek.

Like the Lea but on a smaller scale, the Roding has a broad, flat valley, which as you’ll by now expect has been kept largely undeveloped for water management reasons. There have been various plans for a Roding Valley walking trail but currently following the river for any distance on foot is a rather disjoined experience.

Following World War II, the riverside land here, once used for farming, was designated as an open space for the much-expanded settlement and is now known as the Roding Valley Recreational Area (RVRA), an extended swathe of recreation grounds and sports fields which straddles the London boundary. In truth it’s one of those green areas along the Loop which, though undoubtedly valuable, is currently under-utilised, and would benefit from a more varied texture. Potentially it could become almost as attractive as the Lea valley.

Roding Valley Lakes, a legacy of the M11
This section of the RVRA is owned by Epping Forest District Council, but since new parish councils were created in this urbanised area in the late 1990s, the District has been negotiating to transfer its management to them. The Loop bends round the edge of one of the recreational area’s most prominent and attractive features, one of a pair of lakes used for fishing and boating. In another echo of the Lea valley, these were converted from gravel pits used for the construction of the nearby M11 in the late 1970s.

The trail then crosses the Roding itself and follows it briefly upriver through Roding Valley Meadows Local Nature Reserve, the largest remaining area of water meadows in Essex. This ancient landscape with its small meadows divided by traditional hedgerows was preserved into the later part of the 20th century as much of the land was requisitioned as an RAF base, RAF Chigwell, in 1938.

The base was a centre for barrage balloon operations in the early part of World War II, and part of the nuclear early warning system during the Cold War. Decommissioned in 1964 and largely demolished in 1968, part of the base was buried beneath the M11, while the rest was passed to Essex Wildlife Trust in 1986. It’s particularly noted for wild flowers like the southern marsh orchid, yellow watercress and devil’s bit scabious, as well as butterflies and other invertebrates.

The trail meets a concrete track of RAF origin, and if you detour left here, you’ll find one of the few substantial remains of the site’s wartime career, a concrete apron equipped with rotundas from which barrage balloons were launched. But the main route winds in the opposite direction out of the site, past a huge private David Lloyd leisure centre that also occupies part of the old base, and along a drive first towards the M11 and then parallel with it. The trees to the north conceal one of the hidden secrets of the motorway, but we’ll shortly enjoy a better view of this.

On the right, near the end of the drive, is the former Buckhurst Hill County High School, built in 1938 and closed in 1989 when it merged with Roding Valley High School and moved to a different site. The building is now an independent Sikh faith school that goes by the rather cumbersome name Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College.

On to Chigwell

The M11, looking north from Roding Lane bridge at Chigwell. Sliproads lead to and from the never-built Chigwell Services.

The rest of this section is alongside the road into Chigwell, which crosses the M11 motorway, the last of the family of ‘Great North Roads’ the Loop encounters, and so far, the last of the major motorways built out of London. This section opened in 1980, superseding both the A10 and A11 as a through route to Cambridge and East Anglia, and providing a convenient exit northward from east London. It also serves London’s ‘third airport’, Stansted near Bishops Stortford, which was massively expanded in the mid-1980s.

Look left northwards along the motorway from the bridge and you’ll see unsigned slip roads on both sides. These and the overbridge just visible ahead are the only obvious clues on the ground to a curious instance of unfinished infrastructure hidden behind the trees. Aerial photographs are more revealing, showing that the slip roads loop around two large semi-circular areas of open grassland. As planned in the 1960s, the motorway was intended to extend much deeper into London than its current terminus on the North Circular at South Woodford, continuing through Hackney to Islington as part of the London Ringways plan. The land here was set aside for the motorway service area that would therefore be required, to be known as Chigwell Services.

But public opinion was turning firmly against such disruptive intrusions into inner cities, and plans for the final section of the motorway were finally cancelled in 1994. This is the reason why the southernmost junction on the M11 today is numbered 4, as junctions 1-3 would have been on the continuation south. A descendant of the scheme, the M11 link road to the Blackwall Tunnel approach via Leytonstone, was belatedly completed in the face of much local opposition as a diversion of the A12 in 1999. So Chigwell Services was now surplus to requirements. The site enjoyed a brief useful life between 2009 and 2012 as an off-site logistics depot during the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but is now redundant again, as if awaiting a new golden age of motorway building.

At first, fields on both sides relieve the road walk, but soon, chains of interwar houses snake up Chigwell Rise as the Loop descends into the valley of the Chigwell Brook to a roundabout where the Rise meets Chigwell High Road. Chigwell is another of those hydra-headed suburban villages, where the railway has created a secondary centre. The historic core is up the hill to the north, along the next section of the Loop. But the railway builders preferred the lower ground, so if you’re breaking your walk here, you’ll turn right through an area of more recent development. The High Street here is lined with 1930s shopping parades, now boasting retailers upmarket enough to match the well-heeled locals’ aspirations. Another attraction is the well-kept village green, now a little park with a colourful ‘millennium garden’.

Chigwell station dates from 1903, when the Great Eastern Railway opened a branch line known as the Fairlop Loop from its main line at Ilford to Woodford on the Epping and Ongar branch, encountered earlier on the Loop. Like the Epping line, this became part of the London Underground in 1948, with a new tunnel from Newbury Park to Leytonstone completing the now-familiar Hainault Loop on the Central Line. The connection to the main line was finally severed in 1956. The original red brick station still sits on the road bridge over the lines, recently refurbished but largely unaltered. With its elegant vaguely Dutch-looking twin gables, it provides a modestly attractive location at which to end this typically varied section of the London Loop.

Modestly elegant and decidedly above ground: Chigwell Underground station.