Saturday, 27 December 2014

North Woolwich

A walk in the far east of London, which takes in the Thames, the Woolwich ferry, dockland history and provides a chance to see the contemporary regeneration of London. We found this gem of a walk here at the Discovering Britain site, developed by the Royal Geographical Society. It's 2.5 miles long. 

How to Get There 
To Bank and then on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), our toy town train high on raised tracks, offering vista's of London's old and new squashed together and snatches of dockland water with posh yachts and canal boat homes. After docklands the DLR passes the new developments along the Thames, starting with Blackwall, an interesting experience in itself. 

DLR ride towards Docklands. 

The Walk 
The leaflet and podcast which you can download here from the Discovering Britain site, provides easy to follow directions, so no need do duplicate these here. They are also packed with interesting and accessible history and information about the area without overloading you. 

I had rarely been this far east. As you step off the train at King George V the neglect and poverty in this area is apparent.  As you near the Thames the sleeping Victorian edifice of North Woolwich Railway Station typifies an area which has seen better days. It's a rather sad sight with its windows boarded with sheet metal and balconies laced with buddleia. 

You catch glimpses of ornate ironwork through barbed wire and peeling paint.

150 years ago wealthy passengers arrived here to catch the steamboats which departed from the now disused jetty opposite. 

Next we descended to the Woolwich foot tunnel. Built in 1912 thanks to Will Crooks who worked in the docks and campaigned for improvements for local people. 

Entrance to Woolwich foot tunnel

I later found that my dad cycled along the tunnel each morning from his digs in Woolwich in the 1950s to his job in the Cable and Wireless factory on the north bank of the Thames. 

Woolwich Foot Tunnel 

This was only a small detour  and we return across the Thames on the free Woolwich ferry, which seems to belong to a different era. 

Woolwich Ferry 

Interior of the Woolwich Ferry 
There are of course great views through the Thames barrier to docklands. The tug boats and barges which pass seem straight of a 1960's children's book. 

View up Thames from the Woolwich Ferry with the Thames Barrier in front of the Millenium Dome and then Docklands. 

Back on land its through a Thameside park once part of a 19th Century pleasure garden, then along the Thames path, passing a collection of modern estates. A Victorian hotel ' Gallion's Hotel' sits incongruously in the middle of these. It served as a stop off point for the wealthy before they began their journey on the ocean liners which departed from the Royal Albert Dock. 

Next it's the vast areas of water which make up the Royal Docks, with City Airport bang in the middle where warehouses used to be. 

The modern buildings of East London University brighten the final section of the walk. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014


There can't be many London walks better than this. Steeped in history, people watching in posh London, magnificent views, a deer park, stately home and a saunter along the Thames. The walk is from 'Walking London' by Andrew Duncan - Thirty Original walks in and around London  and 4 1/2 miles.

How to Get There
Easy, jump on the train at Harringay Green Lanes, then catch the Richmond train at Gospel Oak, takes about an hour. 

Tea and Cake 
Where do you begin? We stopped off at Pembrook Lodge in Richmond Park.

The Walk 
The walk starts from Richmond station -  the red dot. 

It would be easy to just wander down the high street, chocker with designer stores and miss the history. Instead, out the station, cross the road , through an arch and turn left toward Richmond Green, a Tudor jousting ground. This was the place to have your royal palace when the Thames was London's main highway,  Westminster palace an hour down stream and Hampton Court a few bends up. 

The green is surrounded by lovely Georgian houses, after you turn right along another side of the green you come across houses for the maids of honour. Just after, you can see the remains of the old palace, here since the medieval period. Elizabeth I was the last royal to use the place. As you go into old palace yard, the building which housed the royal wardrobe is on the left. Out the other side of the yard and turn left into old palace lane and down to the river. 

Left along the tow path until you get to the bridge, up the steps, continue up to a roundabout, turn right and take the fork up the hill. As you climb the hill you come to Terrace Gardens with views of the river. 
The Thames from Terrace Gardens Richmond
At the top of the hill you enter Richmond Park through the large gates and take the path on the right along the edge of the hill. 
Richmond Park
The park was created by Charles I in 1637 for hunting deer, 600 or so still roam the grounds. Before Pembrook Lodge you come to King Henry VIII's mound, where he waited to see the rocket fired from the Tower of London to mark Ann Boleyn's beheading, or so they say. Today two lines of trees neatly frame the little blip of St Paul's in the distance. 
St Paul's in the distance from Richmond Park. 
Through the gardens of Pembrook Lodge and out through a gate the other side you begin the descent down hill. When you hit the path at the bottom turn right until you come out of the park. Cross the road and turn left through Petersham Village, with its large, impressive 17th and 18th century houses. Follow the road round a sharp left hand bend and just before the pub (Fox and Duck) turn right and follow the signs to Ham House a grand Stuart house on the banks of the Thames, managed by the National Trust
Ham House
and boasts what is believed to the first bathroom in a private household. For ceramic nerds, there are replica delftware drug jars

Basement Bathroom at Ham House
and original delft tiles in the bathroom. 
Delft Tile at Ham House
Then back to Richmond along the Thames.
The Thames

The Thames looking towards Richmond 

Richmond's Georgian Bridge and others beyond. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Ashridge Estate and Ivinghoe Beacon, Chilterns.

It's taken 10 years to perfect my favourite walk in the Chilterns and this is it. 

A one hour drive from Harringay and you get to a slightly wild ridge walk complete with sheep. In spring the bluebells of Ashridge estate are a bonus, later the beech trees Autumn colours are your reward. You'll certainly see buzzards, usually deer and red kite too. 

It's a 7 mile circular walk, if you cut off the detour to Ivinghoe Beacon, you can cut it down to 5 miles. 

How to Get There
Park up in the picturesque village of Aldbury with duck pond and stocks. Up the M1, at junction 5 head off and up the A41 towards Aylesbury, take the Tring turning and follow signs to Tring station and then onwards to Aldbury.

Drinking and Eating 
There is one of those village shops that sells everything, where you can stock up on picnic treats. We usually stop for a pint at the end at the Greyhound pub, which also serves food. 

The Walk 
Ordnance Survey Explorer map 181 Chiltern Hills North is the one to use. 

Take the narrow path (to the left of the Greyhound pub) which runs along the back of the village, cross the football pitch and go left along the path on the other side of the pitch, shortly you take another path right, a tunnel of pollarded trees up to the golf course, straight on and left and right through the white markers up to the wood. This is when the loveliness starts. Not long into the wood you take the path on the right, the steps begin to take you up to the ridge. 

and then you just keep going 

until you hit a car park and road, cross this and straight on again towards Ivinghoe Hills 

Once you've walked up Ivinghoe Hills, you continue left to Ivinghoe Beacon (missed off the map above) 

Looking back at the walk from Ivinghoe Hills. 
and then retrace your steps, but continue along the Hills and through the woods of the Ashridge Estate. 

You can keep going at the same level, in which case you'll eventually come to a monument and National Trust Cafe and there is a path back down into the village. If the bluebells are out this may be the more rewarding route. But it can be a bit trudgey so we've taken to slipping back down into the valley, as on the map above. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Knole Park to Igtham Moat, Kent

We save this walk for Autumn when we forage for sweet chestnuts. A saunter around  Knole Park  a medieval deer park still with 400 deer descended from the herds Henry VIII hunted. Then a ridge walk with views across the Weald of Kent, there and back to Igtham Moat, a moated medieval manor house.

Around 6-7 miles. 

How to Get There 
Just over a one hour car journey. Through the Blackwall tunnel, down the A2 onto the M25, breaking off onto the A21 and into Sevenoaks. The entrance to Knole park is just after the high street. Pay at the gate and drive through the park to the car park just in front of Knole house. 

Knole House (National Trust) 

Tea and Cake
Knole Park has the usual National Trust cafe and if you choose to visit Igtham Moat at the other end, there's another one there of course.

The Walk 
The Ordnance survey explorer map 147 is the one you need. 

Although I've mapped one route, the beauty of Knole is winding your way as you wish. Just make your way up to the 'Chestnut Walk or on the map above, marked Greensand way. 

Knole Park 
Along 'Chestnut Walk', at a footpath 'cross roads', turn right along the footpath which will take you out of the park, across a road and then continue along the Greensand Way footpath  to Igtham Moat. At several points you are rewarded with views across the usually misted, wooded Weald of Kent with its oast houses and typical tiled Kent houses. 

The Weald of Kent 
After Igtham Moat, back along the ridge

Igtham Moat

Back into the park, we get off the tarmac paths and wander along grass paths around the far edge of the park, weaving our way through the golf course. 

You end up walking along the boundary wall, and come across this wonderful line of steps embedded in the wall. 

You'll shortly come across two houses on the other side of the wall, time to head left up the hill and wind your way down to the tarmac path which will take you back to the car park. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

Rochester Estuary Walk

A 50 minute car journey from Harringay and it feels like you are by the sea. This walk takes you along the river Medway and its estuary and takes in a castle, quaint streets, a shoreline amble and then the flat salt marshes of Kent, all very Great Expectations. Popping into Rochester on the way back to see Cathedral, oldy worldy houses along the high street and another castle is an added bonus.

The sea covers the first part of the walk along the shore, so make sure you avoid high tide. Click here for tide timetables

The walk is 4-5 miles and takes around 2.5 hours and is a good walk for all seasons. 

How to Get There
Easy to get to, through the Blackwall Tunnel and along the A2 to junction 1 on the M2, then A289 and a short journey on the small roads to the car park at Upnor Castle. Don't be tempted to start the walk any further towards Rochester, it's a let down.

Tea and Cake 
The are several pubs in Upnor. Alternatively Rochester is brimming with tea shops, the Cathedral cafe serves lovely cream teas in a delightful garden. 

The Walk 
I'd recommend a 'there and back walk' as the circular walk is rather boring. The purple line is the route. 

The short diversion down Upnor's short cobbled street with its traditional Kent weather boarded houses is well worth it. At the end you look across the estuary to Chatham docks. Upnor Castle was built to defend this hugely important dockyard in the 16th Century. 

Upnor's Cobbled Street with good views of the river Medway at the end. 
Retrace your steps and you descend the hill towards lower Upnor via a footpath to the right of the road. Shortly before you leave lower Upnor you might come across the two London stones which mark the end of the City of London's fishermens right to fish, the smaller stone is dated 1204.  

After Lower Upnor you just walk along the beach. 
The beach walk along the Medway 
Past Hoo Marina and you keep to a footpath beside the estuary advancing along that semi industrial landscape at the margins with the power station silhouetted in the near distance, which marks the far end of the walk. 

The muddy estuary is dotted with loads of waders and other birds. When you reach the power station just turn back and retrace your steps and enjoy a new set of vistas as you return. 

The estuary at low tide with waders dotted around. 

More History 
Around a mile into the beach walk you would have come across the remains of a red brick building, another remnant of our maritime history, Cockham Wood Fort.
Cockham Wood Fort (Richard Cruttwell)
It was built in 1667 to house 24 guns after the disastrous Dutch raid on the English naval fleet docked in the river. It was the worst defeat the British navy ever experienced, threatened to destabilise England and ended the second Anglo dutch war. The tension and panic in London is captured powerfully by Samuel Pepys contemporary diaries,  the full story is here.

The Dutch in the Medway William Scellinks 1667 (with Upnor Castle silhouetted in the flames)