diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A Nice Walk: Chingford (3½ miles)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, much to see, pretty views, properly suburban, pockets of history, pockets of wildlife, dead gangsters, occasional model railways, entirely downhill, won't take long. So here's a pleasant hour across Chingford, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

On the Walking page of the Waltham Forest website you'll find a set of Waltham Forest Wanders - nine downloadable self-guided walks "showcasing a number of famous people and places in the borough". This is much better than most London boroughs manage. The walks are mostly in the southern half of the borough so I went north instead and picked the Chingford walk, uninspiringly called A wander down the hill.

Don't make my mistake and try to navigate it using six pages of text and a toggleable line on an interactive map, that's ridiculously impractical. Instead it turns out there's a proper detailed map in the complete 45-page Wanders booklet, and it's best to discover this before you set out, not after you get home. Also the cemetery section in the middle of the walk is ridiculous, a mile of unnecessary doubling back when the route could have gone a better way, and we'll get to that tweak later.

The Wander starts at the station, purely for transport reasons, so if you can magic yourself to the other end of the high street all the better. It is a rather nice high street though, generally thriving, mostly independent and generally untroubled by boutiquey infestation. A lot of pension income funnels off the surrounding streets and props up a lot of pavement cafes, but also meze and bubble tea and a full-on Amazon Fresh supermarket because Tebbit Town isn't a complete nostalgiafest. The properly old bit is up ahead off Chingford Green, the hub of a hamlet listed in the Domesday Book, although the church is a Victorian enlargement to support a railway-swollen congregation.

Enjoy the twelve millennium mosaics on the front of the Assembly Hall, where Winston Churchill makes the cut but Norman doesn't, alongside Epping Forest, TE Lawrence and the Pimp Hall Dovecote. Nextdoor is Carbis Cottage, a 17th century weatherboarded delight, and all this a stone's throw from the Co-Op should you still need to "prepare for your journey down the hill". The brow of the hill is encountered at the other end of the Green Walk, just past the war memorial and the Kings Head pub, a swift drop with a fabulous panorama across the Lea Valley... but we're not going that way so enjoy your brief glimpse because that was your lot.

The Wander instead follows The Ridgeway as far as St Egbert's Way and then diverts off down a half-mile-long path between the backs of houses. This sounds pleasant on paper but the reality is dull and nettly with relentless unkempt rear fences and only leads to a slew of semis and basically you do not want to go this way. Instead put your leaflet down and continue past the fire station to Ridgeway Park, you'll thank me for it, especially if you're the kind of reader who likes mini trains. Here we find the ride-on loops of the Chingford & District Model Engineering Club where either the Ground level Track or the Raised Track is in operation from 1.30pm every summer Sunday. I arrived too early so only got to watch the members sawing logs and drinking tea, but they look like they have whale of a time.

While we're off-route you want to leave by the northwest gate and go and stand at the top of Mansfield Park because that has the cross-Lea sweeping views we missed earlier. Then head south down Old Church Road to, you guessed it, the old church. All Saints has been here on the ridgetop since the 13th century, indeed it's the severe local contouring that explains why this area is known as Chingford Mount. But in the 1840s that church from three paragraphs ago superseded it and then it spent many decades as a decaying ivyclad ruin, much beloved by Romantic painters. Thankfully it was properly restored in the 1930s and still hosts daily services, but when I turned up it was lovely but locked.

And now, still ignoring the official route, to a notorious burial spot. You want the upper path across Chingford Mount cemetery, not the lower, and there beside the first significant junction of paths will be the grave of the fearless Kray Brothers. Ronnie and Reggie arrived here in 1995 and 2000 respectively, following East End funerals of the like not seen since, but they were by no means the first burials on the Kray family plot. Reggie's young wife Frances was laid to rest here in 1967, his mother Violet (with extreme pomp) in 1982, his father Charles the following year and their eldest son Charles a few months before Reggie. What's jarring is seeing the twins' grave with freshly laid roses and a small plaque saying 'A Beautiful Soul Never Forgotten', not to mention the heart-shaped stone on Violet's plot inscribed to Grandma, and what's intriguing is that if you didn't know the gangstery backstory you'd just walk by. I lingered but didn't pay my respects.

Further down the slope, on the path the Wander's author wanted you to walk twice instead, the cemetery's newest residents are settling in. They don't yet have gravestones, only recently-dug humps of earth and maybe a wooden cross pressed up against a row of concrete baseplates. The most visible arrival is Renell Charles, stabbed in Walthamstow in May and laid to rest beneath a huge flapping Arsenal flag. His floral tributes have now shrivelled but the objects piled upon his grave include a pair of Under Armour Magnetico football boots, a cinema-sized bag of Skittles and two bottles of Calypso Ocean Blue lemonade. Renell's plot is number 414, his neighbours at 415 and 417 are considerably less decorated and beyond that the ground is undug, indeed by the end of the row we reach spaces to be occupied by people who don't yet realise this will be their final resting place. I found this incomplete timeline far more affecting than the decomposing Kray dynasty.

Enough cemetery, let's get back on route and continue down the hill. The path deposits you back into proper suburbia, which you can tell because there's a Harvester restaurant, then thankfully escapes the semis and emerges into more greenspace. Larkswood Playing Fields are where David Beckham's dad once used to take him for kickabouts, this being his childhood manor, although today's sullen teens sit on benches with their hoods up and stare at a lot of unplayed-on grass. Better to slip into the adjacent remnant of ancient forest which is naturally called Larkswood. It's delightfully roamable, especially the undergrowth-free areas beneath thick beech canopy where the bluebells currently aren't. One branch of the path climbs to a rounded summit at Moon Hill, which I would have followed had I not spotted a large dog dangling from a rope swing and hanging on by its jaw, so I very swiftly followed a safer way out.

Expect to emerge in the Ropers Avenue Conservation Area, a demonstration of how good postwar council housing could be, then a short hike down Larkshall Road brings us almost to the conclusion at Highams Park. This is not the smart side of the railway, this is the Big Tesco and sunbeds side, plus there's a throwback fireplace shop that can still sell you one with an electric flame effect. Things get much more debonair around the level crossing where the signal box escaped demolition in 2002 (but didn't survive long as a creperie and is currently empty again). The final shop of interest is Jee's Dry Cleaning on the corner opposite the hollowed-out Regal cinema, where a blue Waltham Forest plaque confirms a former resident of supersonic interest. It's Sir George Edwards, the designer of Concorde, who was born here in 1908 above his father's toyshop, and it's a lot slower but you can always get the Overground home after your nice wander.

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