diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 21, 2013

CENTRAL: Walking the Hainault Loop

I'm walking the Hainault Loop, northeast London's very own orbital railway. Previously I've walked east from Wanstead and north from Newbury Park, now finally I'm heading back west. This section of the walk links the three least busy stations on the entire Underground network, because it's semi-rural out here and because everyone owns a car. Technically this is Essex, although never very far from the border with London. Let's see if I can get to the end before it gets dark. [map] [42 photos]

Yes, there really is a station called Grange Hill, adjacent to the suburban estate of the same name. Apologies, it doesn't have a 70s comprehensive school stocked by lovable reprobates, however much you'd like it to. Instead there's a single primary, and some tennis courts, and a mix of housing from flats to "never lived in a flat in their life". The station building would be lovelier had not a doodlebug scored a direct hit in 1944, but Grange Hill's platforms still have a long-ago feel. Part of the neighbouring shopping parade is proper mock Tudor, for your wine and hairdressing needs, whereas the extensions to either side are decidedly less reverent. I watched as two youngsters on horseback emerged from a sideroad between the shops and waited for the traffic to pause. A motorbike roared by, to the obvious horror of the riders' matronly chaperone, until a gentleman in a vanity-plated Merc restored her faith.

There are many ways to walk to the next station. What I'd planned to do was walk up the footpath adjacent to Chigwell cemetery, out into proper rolling fields, but then I looked at the mud and thought again. What I could have done was walk up Mount Pleasant Road and over the top of the Central line where it runs through a tunnel. What I actually did was stumble up a narrow alleyway between the backs of umpteen back gardens, which was almost as squidgy underfoot, to a footbridge across the railway. This affords a clear view straight through the aforementioned Grange Hill Tunnel, which is a very short one, barely 200m long. What I should have done was continue my walk on the other side of the railway, through woodland along a farmyard track, but a local resident with an over-bouncy dog persuaded me otherwise. It's easy to see now that I missed all the potentially good bits, partly through inadequate map reading, but also by visiting in dour grey winter. Mark walked this way as part of his Tubewalker project and found it glorious, but that's high summer for you.

The 'village' of Chigwell creeps up on you. First you think "Lesley Joseph would never have stooped to this", then "OK, maybe Tracey and Darryl might have lived here" and finally "bloody hell, that's beyond even Dorien". Charles Dickens adored the place, immortalising the local pub in Barnaby Rudge. A few cottages from his time survive, notably up the High Road, but Chigwell's streets are now widely infilled by New-Money New-build. Here are all the gastropubs and nail salons a footballer's wife could desire, plus the legendary Debra clothing store for aspiring Towies. Security gate installers must do a roaring trade, but Chigwell's not entirely exclusive, nor indeed unfriendly, and seven-car households remain the exception.

Chigwell station has character, both above and below. The frontage boasts twin pedimented gables, giving the building an appropriately semi-rural stature, although it's very hard to take a photo without finding a 4×4 parked in front. The platforms run in a cutting and are longer than they need to be, so the far end now features dismantled roundels, bulbless lamps and mossy asphalt. There's no way, geographically speaking, that this Essex outpost should be in fare zone 4, but operationally I guess it makes sense. The next station is only two minutes away by tube, over the valley across the viaduct, but I was going to attempt the crossing on foot and that isn't easy direct. First I had to walk some distance down the High Road, past more residential fortresses and a golf course, before turning off down a narrow lane lined by trees. One last push.

Luxborough Lane looks like it's going nowhere, and ultimately it is. But hidden round the first bend, well, here's a collection you might not be expecting. First there's the M11, snaking down the Roding valley on its way to join the North Circular. I enjoyed the view from the bridge, not looking down at the traffic but across to the heights of Buckhurst Hill. Secondly there's a hockey club, that's Old Loughtonians, who have two telltale bright pink and blue pitches. The club was selected as the official training venue for Olympic hockey, so they're now the lucky custodians of true London 2012 sporting legacy. And thirdly, yes, that white igloo-type building really does say Tottenham Hotspur on it. This is Spurs Lodge, where the first team used to do all their indoor training, except they pushed off to new state-of-the-art facilities in Enfield last September. Poor Chigwell, no longer the Premiership hobnobbing location of choice, although I suspect few of the footballers wives have deserted.

A barrier stops cars progressing further, on a brief but lonely stretch of lane down to the river. This is the Roding, which I last encountered eight miles ago near Redbridge. A single angler lurked by the waterside, blatantly fishing during the start of the close season, although who was going to notice him out here? The Central line passed above on brick arches, rather more impressive than crossing via a small metal footbridge with BNP graffiti daubed on the side. Here be mud, which squelched deeper across the rugby pitches ahead. It's a simple lesson in geography - never build houses this close to a river, but it's perfectly OK for grown men to ruck and maul instead. The railway embankment here marks the edge of the capital, to which I was returning. The last pub in Essex looked pleasant, or would have done were it not for a suspicious number of bouquets stacked up round the bus shelter outside.

And here it was, the end of my walk at Roding Valley station. This is the least used station on the Underground, with less than half the number of passengers of second-placed Chigwell up the line. That lack of footfall is reflected on Cherry Tree Rise at Station Parade, which is the only parade I've ever seen constructed with only two shops. But what an intriguing station, for those who bother to visit. There are no ticket barriers, because what's the point? You can enter step-free from either side, thanks to a low ramp installed a few years ago as an easy win. The station manager makes regular announcements "from the control room at Roding Valley", should anybody be listening. And when nobody's around he pops out front and spruces up his topiary locomotive, which has to be one of the most unexpectedly quirky features on the network. The sky was dimming now, with lamplight illuminating the station, as an Essex stereotype in a onesie arrived to purchase a ticket. He rode one stop to Chigwell, obviously, and I rode home.

» map of my walk (not necessarily the optimum route)
» 42 photographs (12 of them fresh today) [slideshow]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream