As part of my quest to visit all the postcode districts in London, let's hit the northeasternmost edge of the capital. Here we find RM4, a rural slice of minor Essex villages, two of which happen to find themselves the 'wrong' side of the Greater London boundary. I didn't need to go to Abridge, Navestock, Stapleford Abbotts or Stapleford Tawney but I did drop in on the delights of Havering-atte-Bower and Noak Hill. Both are over two miles from a railway station so not exactly easy to get to, but RM4 does at least get a bus every 90 minutes so is more accessible than some of the other postcode districts on my list.
I missed the 375 bus so walked up to Havering-atte-Bower from Chase Cross. Initial busyness included a block of flats, a Christian school and the Havering Gymnastics Centre of Excellence, but all that was in RM1 so could be disregarded. The dividing line is Kilnwood Lane, a pavementless cul-de-sac with a wonky signpost, which thankfully doesn't set the tone. Instead a sweep of detached pads follows the curve of the hill, rising past a few properly old buildings including The Orange Tree, a roasts'n'wine kind of pub. Keep climbing and you eventually reach the village green with views across towards, blimey, Kent, and a genuine sense of what-the-hell-is-this-place-doing-in-London.
As the village sign makes clear Havering-atte-Bower predates the Norman conquest, having been chosen by Edward the Confessor as the site for a hunting lodge. The surrounding districts became the Royal Liberty of Havering, after which the modern borough is named, and the current village grew from that seed. St John's church is however Victorian, the previous chapel having been demolished in 1876 in a fit of modernisation. Wander through the churchyard and you emerge by a busy set of riding stables and the track down to the country park where the giant redwoods are, and you'll know all this if you've walked the LondonLoop because it traipses straight through.
If you've got your 'village' bingo card to hand, as well as parish church, pub and stables you can also tick off duckpond, weatherboarded cottages, tiny primary school, manor house, cricket ground, smell of manure and set of stocks. They are alas facsimile stocks added in the 1960s, but few other London settlements boast the ability to lock their miscreants on public view. I additionally managed to tick off Barbour jacket and kids in green wellies, but not cockle stall because Harry's truck hasn't returned since the Royal Oak closed. Also untickable are thatched roof, phone box and village shop (although you can get milk and crisps at Tysea Stores if you walk across the border into Stapleford Abbotts).
Havering-atte-Bower is a linear village which in brief sections looks almost typically suburban. But in amongst the semis are boxy Essexy piles with ornate security gates and room to park ten cars out front and these become more common the closer to the boundary you get. The last house before Essex has the kitchen fitters in at present, and the last building is the lodge to a former grand Victorian villa on the site of a Tudor manor, now a livery stables. Romford this very much ain't. I'd never walked quite this far north before, and quite frankly you needn't, but there is a school of thought which says you can't claim to be a London psychogeographer unless you've been to H-a-B and I very much subscribe to that.
The other road out of the village heads east from the stocks towards a turrety white pepperpot. This is the Round House, or rather the Round House is a three-storey elliptical Georgian villa and this is its watertower. The pavement gives out here, there being no need to walk further than the cricket ground, so attempting the next mile on foot is unwise. That's a shame because the main entrance to Bedfords Park is halfway and that's a lovely recreational expanse, but if you do have a car then set your satnav for RM4 1QL. An erratic string of detached houses stretches out beyond until the road draws to a close past a summit called Broxhill. One of the houses here has its name emblazoned across its gates and fence seven times, suggesting 'School House' perhaps has a problem with disoriented couriers.
The southernmost RM4 postcode, and the closest to ordinary suburbia, nudges against the edge of the Harold Hill estate. Everything else around the roundabout is in RM3, including the really-quite-recent Noak Hill Sports Complex. But the caravan park at the hillfoot is in RM4, that's Sunset Drive Park which is perhaps not the best name for a retirement development. Its chalets are tightly packed and often highly personalised, including a Tudorbethan one, a chicken-coated one and a hut called Toad Hall watched over by a gnome on a miniature throne. If you want to live out your days in an unpricy enclave watched over by ancient streetlamps, like a cross between Switzerland and Butlins, then RM4 1QL may be for you.
London's final chunk of RM4 is disjoint and a mile to the northeast in Noak Hill. When TfL buses say 'Noak Hill' they actually terminate a good way short of the actual village which requires an additional uphill walk. Watch out for roaming deer (and should you spot any sick or injured a bespoke Facebook group awaits your call). RM4 only begins once you turn left up Church Road, the church in question being St Thomas's - a fine example of redbrick Victoriana accessed up a flint path and shielded by trees. Across the road is a Hare Krishna temple claiming to be a Community Centre, in what used to be the village school, while the actual Noak Hill village hall is a squat cream box oozing postwar austerity.
This is functional rather than attractive countryside, with multiple small businesses, laybys for lorries and afterthought walkways. Turn left for hardy bedding plants, aquariums and pond pumps, turn right for bathroom tiles, onion suppliers, potato merchants and pigeon lofts. One of the few houses hereabouts has a black Jaguar parked outside with the numberplate 1 VEG because there's money to be made in bulbs and tubers. The overriding atmosphere isn't quite lawless, more wayward, indeed I gave the last sideroad a miss because someone was buzzing a bike up and down it. Given the choice of a London RM4 postcode I'd pick Havering-atte-Bower over Noak Hill every time, although given the choice they'd probably both prefer to be in Essex, and geography suggests that might have been the better decision.