diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 29, 2016

The M25 was officially opened 30 years ago today. On Wednesday 29th October 1986 Margaret Thatcher cut a ribbon north of South Mimms, wagging a finger at "those who carp and criticise", and millions of vehicles set off on their orbital jaunt. It's now one of Europe's busiest motorways, and an icon to boot, and to many the unofficial boundary of London. But that would be wrong. At least a couple of million people live inside the M25 but outside London, including the whole of Watford, most of Dartford, all of Epsom and Ewell and a considerable chunk of Surrey. Indeed the M25 generally runs a few miles beyond the Greater London border, in Hertfordshire up to seven miles distant, so adopting it as a new boundary would be geographically ridiculous.



From Junction 1 at the QE2 Bridge round to Junction 14 near Heathrow the M25 and the capital never meet, coming closest near Orpington and north of Leatherhead. Motorway and border are perfectly aligned between J14 and J15, bar a little wiggle where the River Colne used to run (and which is destined to end up under Runway Three). A much longer overlap runs between J24 at Potters Bar and nearly-J26 at Waltham Abbey, and again from before-J28 to after-J29 in Essex, where legislation has matched the edge of London to the line of the motorway. But there is one significant corner of the capital which pokes out beyond the M25, roughly eight square kilometres in size, and that's around North Ockendon.

North Ockendon is London's most easterly village, a medieval community amid the fields and forests beyond Upminster. Neighbouring Cranham had been similarly undeveloped, but in the early 1930s extensive housing estates were built and it was widely assumed that land around North Ockendon would be next. The parish was therefore assimilated into Hornchurch Urban District, which thirty years later became part of the borough of Havering, even though the avenues of semis never came. Hence today we see the anomaly of a tiny village sticking out beyond the obvious city perimeter, a mismatch made all the more obvious by the M25 slicing through the fields inbetween.

North Ockendon is of village of two parts, one clustered and one linear, separated by a large field. I started in the younger part, the majority, a scattered run of houses along the Ockendon Road where some of the cottages date back to the 1700s. They're charming but not everything else is, for example the old post office is now a hideous Towie-style uber-chalet perched on a double garage with an ostentatious portico. No shops have survived, but there is a well stocked garden centre, and Steak Night at The Old White Horse is on a Wednesday. This being London there's a very good bus service which belies the size of the population, every quarter of an hour to Lakeside or Upminster (plus yes, the least frequent bus service in the capital, the runty 347). Entirely unserved is Fen Lane which leads down past a somewhat smug golf course, a full mile to the easternmost point in London, a gloriously remote spot by the Mardyke.



To reach the older part of the village I slipped up the side of the pub's garden and crossed the intermediate field along a line of telephone poles. This cut through to the foot of a dead-end lane, the original heart of North Ockendon, surrounded by manor, moat and church. The church is St Mary Magdalene, a flinty number known to have existed in 1075, and then under the direct ownership of new-fangled Westminster Abbey. It's typically Essex-looking, which is to say charming, although likely to be securely locked if you're hoping to look inside. One exterior point of interest is St Cedd's Well, a baptismal spring beside a lilypond, accessed down a set of stone steps from a gate in the corner of the churchyard. I didn't realise at first it was OK to go down, so missed seeing the low kennel-like structure below the wall, eyes fixed only the remains of the medieval moat beyond.

A handful of houses line Church Lane, two of them formerly the village school, and another still with a blue roundel out front advertising 'Coal Merchant'. Some of the other homes are seriously large affairs, gabled hideaways with long drives and outbuildings, plus one farm that keeps the surrounding area in trim. It felt odd seeing wheelie bins labelled London Borough of Havering in the front gardens, indeed North Ockendon and Romford might as well be different worlds. A warning however not to hang around this part of the hamlet for too long else you'll arouse the suspicions of the locals. I aroused the suspicions of the vicar, who drove up (potentially tipped off by one of his flower arranging ladies), said hello briefly, drove off and then drove straight back to see what I might be up to. With his eagle gaze upon me I decided against revisiting the well, indeed probably against revisiting his fiefdom ever again.

I fled instead towards the motorway, which proved convenient for anniversary reasons. The footpath emerged immediately alongside a line of queueing lorries, and a sign warning of no hard shoulder for 230 yards, the traffic separated from me only by a wooden fence and some autumnal undergrowth. I got a much better view further up the hedgerow (and across a very basic stile) from the bridge on Ockendon Road. I think this is the only bridge across the M25 which is in London at both ends, once a few knotted twirls at junctions are excluded. The bridge has ridiculously wide pavements, given that there aren't any along the lane to either side, but all the safer to look down over the gantries and the eight-lane cutting. In one direction traffic was whizzing through, but in the other all was congestion, with trucks and cars and the occasional caravan backed up as far as I could see. How very typical, how very M25.



Just to the north of here, at the Thames Chase Forest Centre, is my favourite scrap of Outer Orbital London. Most of this modern nature reserve lies within the motorway, its wooded paths and scrub heavily frequented by gambolling families, dogwalkers and mildly amok kids. But one triangular segment lies on the far side of the motorway, accessed though a culvert barely six foot high, and prone to flooding if the tiny stream running through fractionally rises. And nobody ever seems to walk this way, at least when I've been - they peer through the dark tunnel and decide against, leaving the umpteen acres on the far side delightfully uninhabited.

This entire triangle has been planted with trees to make driving along the motorway more interesting, bar a few interlocking clearings, regularly mown. Break away from the spine footpath and you can explore the nooks and crannies of this manmade environment, past young spinneys and junior copses, to ascend to the plateau of Clay Tye Hill. At this time of year the leaves are turning gold and red, and edging on gorgeous, and without a single bleating child or bouncy dog to intrude. I like to stand on the hillside near the oakleaf sculpture and look down towards the motorway snaking away across the fenland, with several sequences of blue signs to confirm its presence. I give thanks that I'm not down there in the traffic, instead somehow outside, serene and unspoilt above the snarl and fumes. The M25 may encircle London, but it does not define it.



» If you'd like to follow in my footsteps, Thames Chase Walk No 1 can be downloaded here (or it's available to pick up for 10p at the Thames Chase Forest Centre)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
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

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain
#coronavirus

read the archive
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv