Compass points (an occasional feature where I visit London's geographical extremities) EAST London - Fen Lane, North Ockendon
East London goes on a lot further than you might think. Past Shoreditch, past Stratford, past Barking, past Upminster. It even stretches past the M25, past junction 29, into fields you'd think ought to be Essex. A single thin tongue of the capital sticks out beyond the six-lane beltway, further than London has any right to go, down an insignificant country lane to the insignificant corner of an insignificant field. I think I can guarantee you've never been. So I've visited on your behalf. [map][aerial shot]
Geographical interlude:North Ockendon is the only London settlement located outside the M25. The village didn't look quite so anomalous on the map before the motorway came along, but its fate was sealed by a series of boundary changes. Always part of historic Essex, this rural parish was transferred to Hornchurch District Council in 1936. Then in 1965 the new borough of Havering was formed, combining Hornchurch with Romford, and North Ockendon suddenly found itself part of Greater London. There have been tweaks to the border since, most notably in 1993 when an Act of Parliament transferred all land outside the M25 to the north of the Southend railway line back to Brentwood. But land to the south of the railway line was left alone, not donated to Thurrock, so the wiggly 1936 boundary survives.
There are two Ockendons, North and South, of which North Ockendon is by far the smaller. It's not much more than a crossroads and a church, separated by a field, plus the moated remains of a manor house destroyed in the war. But it's a pretty village, astonishingly so compared to what most of London looks like, as befits its status as a true outsider. Being part of the capital bring its privileges, not least of which is the provision of two bus routes to serve the minimal population. I alighted outside The Old White Horse pub, turned my back on Charing Cross and headed east to explore.
Fen Lane starts off with cottages but these soon give way to less interesting post-war development. Bungalows and detached houses are the order of the day, increasingly hedged and fenced and gated as the road proceeds, and then the landscape opens up with fields to either side. There's a golf course tucked away to one side behind a bank of willows, plus the London hotel located the very furthest from the West End. It's a bit basic-looking, and the menu's dreadfully safe, but probably just what you need after a strenuous 18 holes. The lane's footpathless, but still with enough of a verge that I could step out of the way whenever some brash motor sped by. And on it stretched, down a gentle slope to fen level, and the very last homes in London. They're both very ordinary-looking farms, Home Farm and Corner Farm, whose far-flung residents are represented by Mayor Boris just as much as you or I.
I continued round the double bend, past a particularly yappy guard dog, to the very edge of town. The boundary ought to be at the bridge over the riverMardyke, I thought, but for some reason it extends one field further. Some years it's corn, others fallow, but on my visit the last field in London was golden rape [photo]. At the final hedgerow are two road signs, one welcoming motorists to Havering (Please Drive Carefully), the other to Thurrock (Welcomes Careful Drivers). There were more drivers than I was expecting, which meant keeping safely out of the road while taking photos. One careless step too far and it'd be the Essex Police investigating my accidental death rather than the Met. [photo][streetview]
But it's not on the road itself, the easternmost point in London. The field to the right of Fen Lane pokes slightly further east than that to the left, so that's where I needed to head [photo]. To get there required a brief walk up to the first road junction in Thurrock - with its brick bridge, lone postbox and deserted pub. It was hard to imagine that the Harrow Inn had ever been profitable, let alone the Fen Restaurant nextdoor - abandoned, burned and left to decay. I needed the footpath back across the fen, along the edge of a deep drainage channel, to a lone gate propped open beside a thorny bush. Down there in the murky brown water, at the precise point where the incoming hedgerow terminated, that was as east as East London gets [photo]. I wasn't stepping down to stand on the precise spot, I hadn't brought any wellies. But I ticked off my visit all the same - North, South, West, and now East, the four corners of the capital are mine.