diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Marking the meridian: Waltham Abbey

xlviii) Waltham Abbey is a curious mix of old and new. The meridian arrives in town across the 20th century M25 (between junctions 25 and 26), crosses cobbled 16th century Sun Street (site of the Meridian coffee shop), then promptly hits the ruined remains of an 11th century abbey. The main Abbey building lies a few metres to the west, a spectacular example of Norman architecture. Or so I'm told, because it was closed to the public on the day I visited so that three consecutive Essex weddings could take place. The local men looked slightly uncomfortable squeezed into hired suits, while the local ladies oohed and aaahed at the horse and cart pulled up outside the church. Lovely gardens for the wedding photos though.

xlix) Waltham Abbey Gardens are so ancient that they may well be the burial site of King Harold (think '1066', think 'came second'). The meridian passes between the moat and the cloisters, straight through the Rose Garden where a steel arch forms a Meridian Gateway (complete with moon, stars and giant red sextant). The line continues across a pile of stones that used to be the old blacksmith's forge, then narrowly misses an arched medieval stone bridge (called, imaginatively, Stoney Bridge). It really is a lovely spot for a picnic, just so long as you can ignore the traffic on the Waltham Abbey bypass a few metres to the north.

l) Cross the bypass, turn right at the Dragonfly Sanctuary and you come to Cornmill Meadows, possibly my favourite of all the sites along my meridian journey. This long thin peaceful woodland was once part of a Greater London Council arboretum which supplied many of the trees planted in London's parks. The meridian passes right up the centre, marked to north and south by two statues carved from granite blocks taken fom the old London Bridge. This unlikely pair are called Travel and Discovery, one (south) featuring a world map carved with 0° line of longitude and the other (north) blessed by some slightly strange human form. But my favourite bit wasn't the statues, it was the arrow-straight footpath that stretched between them. I followed this grassy track for a full 15 minutes through a multitude of trees, crossing a wooden footbridge over a tiny stream and tiptoeing through a couple of muddy meridian puddles. This green line had zero people but maximum charm. I was able to walk uninterrupted precisely along the meridian for nearly a mile, in a way that just hadn't been possible anywhere else on my journey. Having tracked as many as 50 meridian markers between here and Greenwich, this felt a perfect place to stop.

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