8♦ Ilford Let's make Ilford (Essex) a London borough, said the Herbert Commission, but eventually threw in Wanstead and Woodford too (to make Redbridge), and so the Municipal Borough of Ilford disappeared. For my journey to this ex-district I've chosen to walk the five longest footpaths in Ilford, according to the Redbridge Public Rights of Way plan. As blog content goes, psychogeography is rarely more niche.
Five Ilford Footpaths
1) From High Road, Goodmayes in a southerly direction over railway footbridge to Green Lane
Where? Out on the eastern edge of the borough, approximately following the line of the (buried) Mayes Brook. High Road runs to the north of the Great Eastern Main Line railway, and Green Lane runs similarly parallel to the south. The footbridge here provides the only crossing between Goodmayes and Chadwell Heath stations. [map]
How long to walk it? Just under 10 minutes
What to see? Like all the best walks, this one begins beside a Harvester restaurant opposite a police vehicle depot. The alleyway slips off up the side of Wickes, past lowrise flats with limescale deposits splayed out beneath the overflow pipes, and a fence crammed with empty bottles. The footbridge rises up to a caged overpass, painted green, with lamps overhead at regular intervals. Crossrail trains will be passing underneath next year, by which time all the maintenance materials piled up beside the track may have been removed.
Dominant to the south are the playing fields of Mayfield School, once attended by songstress Jessie J, and the grey/black blocks of the establishment itself. A supermarket trolley dangles elegantly from the perimeter fence. Students pass in and out through a gate onto the alleyway, secured by a keypad whose four-digit code a departing pupil announces out loud as he passes, and I wince at its simplicity. A new community pool is being built on site, and the lady who lives in the house at the end of the street wanders out of her garage to tut at the workmen. The path passes bollards, skips and snack-hunting sixth formers, to emerge in the centre of Brook's Parade between the off licence and the pharmacy.
2) Known as Philpot Path from Winston Way (Eastern Gyratory) in a south westerly direction to Mildmay Road
Where? Ilford High Street, where all the shops are, is thought to follow the line of the Roman road to Colchester. It was bypassed in I'd guess the 1980s by Winston Way, a concrete dual carriageway round the back of the library, with broad subways beneath for pedestrian osmosis. Philpot Path is the landscaped track behind the sound insulation wall on the southern side, which follows the line of the last end terrace not to be knocked down. [map]
How long to walk it? About 10 minutes
What to see? Philpot Path attaches itself to several surrounding streets, including Sunnyside Road (where the corner shop still claims to be in Essex, according to the address on its awning). The alleyway passes between two schools, one "now enrolling for September 2016", the other much louder. At a junction piazza which urban planners presumably intended to be attractive, shoppers emerge from the subway with orange carrier bags, a man smokes a cigarette by the grit bin, and far too many pigeons peck at something invisible beneath just one tree.
One side of the path is for bikes and the other for pedestrians, but it's not always obvious which. A Sikh family go by clutching a big box of Lego. At the end of Woodlands Road a huge pile of opened envelopes has been dumped on the verge, the contents blown across a large area. The driver of a 51-reg Classic Mercedes has driven repeatedly across the Dartford Bridge, seemingly every day for over a month, without ever paying the necessary toll charge. Each scattered sheet represents a separate £70 fine, unfolded and disregarded, adding up to a potential four-figure bombshell if the authorities ever catch up.
A small boy appears round a zigzag bend on a skateboard, flat on his stomach, arms outstretched. His mother smiles, somewhat apologetically, as he speeds by. At Mildmay Road the path goes no further, diverting down steps to the broad subway beneath the main road. Here shoppers trudge and bikes whizz (definitely on the wrong side), up and past the blank wall of the multiscreen cinema. A lady wheels a trolleyfull of packed sandwiches across the zebra crossing towards the theatre where somebody pretending to be Frank Sinatra will be singing later in the month. Easily the most urban of my five walks.
3) From Ravensbourne Gardens in a NW dirn through Cocked Hat Plantation to Roding Lane North
Where? Clayhall - a large residential suburb which goes generally unnoticed by the wider populace because it sits slap bang in the middle of the Central line's Hainault loop without a station to its name. Specifically Claybury Park, a splendid open space with numerous meandering tracks through the woods but just the one official public right of way, arrow straight towards the edge of Woodford Bridge. [map]
How long to walk it? Over 10 minutes
What to see? The unprepossessing entrance to park and path lurks behind the house at number 23, its front garden liberally scattered with bins and recycling tubs. No Open Fires Or Barbecues, warns a sign whose season has just passed. Just within the perimeter is a reedy pool, then an outdoor gym, plus some other numbered features the map on the information board refuses to divulge. "Refer to Claybury Woods walk leaflet for details", says the legend - a folded sheet I failed to have to hand.
The path heads west alongside proper dog-exercise meadow, with a separate woodland track immediately parallel. Most of the trees here are oaks, acorns ripe and tumbling, and younger than the remnant trees in neighbouring Cocked Hat Plantation. The path turns from gravel to grass (and later I suspect to mud), rising gently to a large acreage of acid grassland, part landscaped by Humphrey Repton back when this was the Claybury Estate. Claybury Hall can still be seen on higher ground, no longer a stately mansion, nor mental asylum, but at the heart of an enclave of luxury flats. Further exploration is required.
4) From E end of Station Rd in an E then SE dirn to Oaks Lane.
From Bridleway No.94 in an E dirn N of St. Peter's Church at Aldborough Rd.
Where? Technically this is two footpaths, but they join in the middle, and the fingerposts at each end point straight through. The station referenced is Barkingside, from which the path skirts Fairlop Waters Country Park and then rounds an actual farm on its way to the church in Aldborough Hatch. That's another incognito London suburb the Central line just missed. [map]
How long to walk it? About 15 minutes
What to see? Past the bridge where tube commuters leave their vehicles, past Redbridge FC and the council offices, the double yellows end and a locked barrier blocks the road. At the next bend the entrance to the country park has been marked with a ring of carved posts, a modern oak-henge, erected as art in 2014 with TfL money. This commemorates the Fairlop Oak, an ageing tree east Londoners once flocked to each first Friday in July for riotous bacchanalia. Through the next hedge two tractors are collecting hay, and then the paddocks begin.
Aldborough Hatch House Farm has a somewhat horsey feel, the main residence more villa than cottage, surrounded by scattered barns and assorted vehicles. There used to be a much larger mansion at the tip of Oaks Lane, but today only its chapel survives, converted into a pert private residence after storm damage in 1987. For the local parish church, walk to the end of the path past a meadow dotted with sharp agricultural implements and Michaelmas daisies. St Peter's is Victorian, erected to serve the expected increase in the local population as farms replaced forest, and is built from Portland stone recycled from Westminster Bridge (the demolished-in-1862 version).
5) From Hainault Rd S of Hainault Farm in an E dirn to Billet Rd, adjacent to farm track opposite Crooked Billet House
Where? Redbridge's back-of-beyond is the open farmland on its eastern flank. Large expanses of arable land survive either side of Hainault Road, of no great quality, but protected by Green Belt legislation from becoming the housing estate it probably deserves to be. A single public right of way doglegs across the fields, and has done for decades, although finding it proved entirely problematic... [map]
How long to walk it? At least 20 minutes
What to see? On one side of Billet Road, experience everyday suburbia on the outer fringes of Marks Gate. On the other, hedgerows, rolling fields and a single farmhouse guarded by wolfhounds. Ilford's longest footpath sets off (somewhat unexpectedly) from a bus stop, across discarded cans, then into the midst of rural oblivion. No sign or fingerpost marks the way, only a line on a map, but initially it seems self evident which way to go - up the side of the first field past a burgeoning bank of brambles.
All is safely gathered in, so the soil has recently been ploughed into huge broken clods, like waves of clay lapping across an earthen sea. Two tractors are busy in the upper field as I approach, turning the earth in sequential rows, providing crows and gulls with something fresh to pick over. The drivers seem to be eyeing up this rare rambler crossing their land with suspicion, so I wait for them to reverse on the verge before heading by towards the lone tree. My map suggests the path carries on, whereas reality suggests no such thing, merely a perpendicular track, so I follow that, and then lose confidence that I was ever even vaguely correct. No signs, no clues, no chance.
It's an odd sensation standing lost in the middle of a hedgeless field within the confines of Greater London, ominous rainclouds on the horizon, and the skyscrapers of the City clearly arrayed along the distant skyline. I might have risked traipsing further had the tractormen not been watching, but I'm now certain I've strayed from the official path, and I can't be sure where the other end might be. So I retrace my steps, ultimately pointlessly, defeated by an unsigned path the farmer was clearly in no hurry to encourage. But think you know London? This adventure made me think again.