diamond geezer

 Monday, April 27, 2009

Random borough (21): Waltham Forest (part 2)

Somewhere famous: The Beckham Trail
There's no more famous Waltham Forest resident than Posh Spice's husband. Or rather there's no more famous ex-resident, because David Beckham moved out of his parents' Chingford semi several years ago to establish a property portfolio across Cheshire and all points global. But never fear. Since 2003, football fans wishing to follow in David's golden footsteps have been able to follow the official Beckham Trail, courtesy of Waltham Forest's (ill-templated) website. This is a motley collection of ten locations supposedly allowing visitors to track young David's childhood progress, although to be honest it's more a list of municipally-owned properties around South Chingford than anything more exciting. And you never actually find out where he lived. And it's not really a walking route, more a list of car-bound sat-nav destinations. But I gave Becks a try.

Whipps Cross Hospital1) Whipps Cross Hospital: In common with hundreds of thousands of other locals, little David was born in north-east London's largest infirmary complex. Nobody seems to know in which ward, there's no plaque or anything, so visitors are undoubtedly better off crossing the road and wandering round the nearby lake instead. Ice creams and rowing boat hire available.

2) Peter May Sports Centre: Just off the North Circular, this green ampitheatre is home to the Under-10s of Ridgeway Rovers, who've had less successful seasons since young DB moved on. On Saturday the sport of choice was cricket, and not much of it, so the goalnets flapped desolately in the wind.

Walthamstow Stadium3) Walthamstow Stadium: David used to work here as a glass-collector (which may give you some idea how desperate some of the locations in this trail are). Alas nobody works here now, bar a few security guards, because this much-mourned dogtrack closed down last year to be reborn as yet another humdrum housing development. Until that happens, however, the stadium's untweaked white frontage still stirs the hearts of passing travellers (and you can even glimpse the mighty mothballed scoreboard from location number 2).

Larkswood Park4&6) Ainslie Wood & Larkswood Park: These are two wood-fringed grass squares with plenty of footie space, one beside David's nan's flat, the other closer to home. Saturday saw many of the district's soccer-addicted youngsters out for a sunny kickaround, some under the organised auspices of grunting coaches, others merely running around for fun. Desperately ordinary, and surprisingly evocative. Non car-drivers also get to enjoy a twin-peaked bluebell-spotting walk between the two locations.

5&9) Chase Lane School & Chingford School: Come see where David probably wasn't the sharpest tool in the box, except on the football pitch. Or in one case don't see, because David's primary has been completely rebuilt under a private finance initiative. Lovely for the kids, no doubt, but no highlight on this tour.

Mansfield Park7&8) Ridgeway Park & Mansfield Park: Of the umpteen parks along this trail, Ridgeway was my least favourite. That's probably because it was the only park that was busy, with hoop-shooting, police-leafleting and dog-bothering all popular activities. Visitors should note that the miniature railway only opens on summer Sundays, and that Walt Disney hasn't been back for a ride since 1954. As for Mansfield Park, that was unexpectedly fabulous. After a stroll through floral gardens, the land suddenly tumbled down to the Lea Valley below, with excellent views across a glistening expanse of reservoirs towards Ponders End and Enfield. I just can't imagine how young Becks could have found a surface anywhere flat enough to play football.

10) Gilwell Park: For a change this isn't a park, it's the southeast's most important Scout campsite. And here the Beckham Trail ends, with the rather feeble affirmation that a woggled David once went to cub camp here. It's also a mile outside the borough boundaries, so I gave the place a miss, for now. You might consider giving 80% of the trail a miss, to be honest. Like the route's inspiration, it's past its prime.
by train: Highams Park   by bus: 97, 215

Somewhere sporty: Leyton Orient
Walthamstow MarketDavid Beckham may have been a temporary local legend, but Leyton Orient have been kicking around Waltham Forest a while longer. The O's are London second longest-serving professional team, after Fulham, formed in 1881 when members of a Hackney cricket club fancied some exercise to see them through the winter. In 1937 the club crossed the Lea from Clapton to Leyton, and they've been playing on the marsh's edge ever since. Orient's brushes with the top flight have been notably brief (a single season over 1961/2, plus an FA Cup semi final appearance in 1978), so the team is often overshadowed by its more prestigious upper echelon neighbours.

Orient's chairman would rather you called his ground the Matchroom Stadium, but for most "Brisbane Road" does just fine. It casts a grey and unexciting presence from the western side, looking more like a lacklustre trading estate office block, although the club's logo of two big red wyverns brightens the facade a little. You'll find the stadium off Leyton High Street round the back of Coronation Gardens (where's there's an unlikely hedge maze, which I'll tell you more about if I ever get round to writing a series entitled Labyrinths of London). When I walked past on Saturday morning the street was pretty much empty, bar a semi-luxury Anderson's coach waiting patiently to whisk team members off to an away game. I'd like to think that the handful of sporting chaps I saw climbing aboard were members of the first team, keen to grab the back seats before setting off to play a London derby across the Thames. They probably were, but Orient's players aren't exactly household names (away from the back pages of the Waltham Forest Guardian) so I couldn't be sure. If the club ever takes up the option to play at the 2012 Olympic Stadium they'll probably become rather more famous, but a mixture of low attendances and economic uncertainty makes that possibility fairly unlikely. As for the result of Saturday's match, a two-one away defeat to play-off-chasing Millwall. For the O's this season, another big fat zero awaits.
by tube: Leyton   by bus: 58, 69, 97, 158

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