diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 02, 2024

For those of us who like walking, yesterday was a red letter day. A new official London walkway was launched, the first in over a decade - the first of six potential new Greenways proposed by the London Ramblers in 2021. It's been a while because waymarking and accessibility take time, indeed even now it's not yet the case that all the signage is in place. But the great and good of the walking/wheeling world duly gathered in Clerkenwell yesterday to welcome the Green Link Walk, and you too can follow suit because we now know precisely where the walk goes.

» One place to see the route is on the Footways website where it appears as a clear pink line on a scrollable map. This is great for zooming in to see the detail, but less great for using while out walking ("oh bugger it's zoomed out again" [pinch, scroll] "oh bugger it's zoomed out again" [pinch, scroll] etc).
» Another place to see the route is on the Go Jauntly app. The onboarding's a bit of a faff but it'll guide you round the whole 18 miles on your smartphone via auto-updating itty-bitty step-by-step directions illustrated with reassuring photos.
» Another place to see the route is on the TfL Walk London webpage. A proper summary on Day One with links, splendid.
» Another place to see the route will be on the Inner London Ramblers website. They’ve already done phenomenal work mapping and logging the Capital Ring and London Loop, but apparently their guidance and maps for the Green Link Walk can't be completed without the signage being in place so there might be a long wait.

What I chose to use was Go Jauntly's resource for app refuseniks, a 45 page pdf of the entire route featuring umpteen maps and a 318-step set of instructions. It's a bit twee in places ("Step 6: After some time enjoying the peaceful sights and sounds of the woods, continue along the tarmac path") and contains too many fawning plugs for local businesses for my liking ("Prepare for a taste explosion with unique flavours and plates full of personality") but it certainly does the job.

The route is divided up into four stages, each of about four miles. I plan to tackle one a week, rather than overloading you with sequential reportage, starting with the northern section across the borough of Waltham Forest. I walked this yesterday in a mixture of sunshine, rain and hail showers, and what I'll say up front is that the Green Link Walk wasn't very green and I'm still not sure what it links.

Green Link Walk
[section 1]
Epping Forest to Lea Bridge (4½ miles)

The starting point is odd, a bus stop beside Woodford New Road in the middle of comparatively nowhere. It's not near a station, it's not simple to get to and it's not on any existing strategic London walk. What is here is the southern tip of Epping Forest, a stripe of thick woodland that ultimately connects to Chingford (and beyond) via the unsignposted Centenary Walk. But after all the rain we’ve had that's currently a waterlogged quagmire, whereas the GLW has been specifically designed to be step-free and accessible for wheelchairs and prams so it sticks instead to the safely tarmacked St Peter's Path. Blink and you'll miss it, it's only 140m long, and it does seem a tad ridiculous to have been encouraged all the way out here to experience a teensy cross section of an enormous forest.

Prepare for a lot of road walking, indeed it'll be another three miles before the GLW hits its next properly green patch. The first official waymarker appears at the top of Upper Walthamstow Road and points downhill, the first stop of note being Wood Street station and its accompanying 2nd hand bike shop. If you're following the Go Jauntly version of the route you'll already have been advised of the importance of "being careful when crossing the side roads", you're about to be urged to "carefully cross over the zebra crossing" and then comes the plug for the Balkan eaterie. This is The Lacy Nook on Barrett Road, a friendly-looking conservatory-style pop-up, although it's probably too early in the walk to pause for feta parcels, chorizo hash or beef cevaki.
The custodians of the GLW have done a deal with a Local Buyers Club card to get discounts here and at a dozen other establishments along the route, and this will either thrill your wallet or make you roll your eyes at capitalism evilly encroaching on the ancient art of walking.

Further pavementing leads past a vibrant yellow acacia, clusters of mini-daffodils and along a lot of typically-desirable Walthamstow streets. This opening section has been fully signed, at least since the station, which helps a lot with the weaving nature of the route. On reaching Shernall Street the Go Jauntly instructions merely say "continue past the entrance to the industrial park" whereas I knew this was the entrance to Instagram mega-magnet God's Own Junkyard, plus being Friday it was actually open, so I diverted inside to be wowed by the kitsch neon onslaught. Pay attention to the unmentioned is what I'm saying. The next stop is Orford Road, the gentrified part-pedestrianised heart of Walthamstow Village, which "has lots of independent shops to enjoy." If you're used to the Capital Ring and London Loop leading you to parks, woodland and riverbanks, this is the Green Link Walk deliberately deviating to offer retail therapy.
Three shops are singled out by Go Jauntly, one with "a wonderfully curated collection of clothing, jewellery, accessories and homeware", one "stocking small independent brands for mum's-to-be and babies" and one "the place to go for poké bowls, açai and smoothies!" Anyone in walking shoes might well prefer the pub, or simply to keep plodding on.

Second Avenue is currently full-on cherry blossom all the way down, but the GLW instead takes First Avenue which alas is only minorly pink. This leads to Hoe Street, Walthamstow's main artery, which is crossed via an as yet incomplete paved plaza. The hustle and bustle continues as we pass between the station and the bus station and then cross the grass outside the shopping mall, which is the first bit of 'green' since three paragraphs ago. Stalwart walkers may then be surprised to hear that the Green Link Walk follows the High Street for half a mile, pretty much the full length of the market, so there may be a lot of stalls and shoppers to dodge. Even Go Jauntly gives up here with absolutely nothing to say, whereas if you're after tracksuit bottoms, clutch bags, bowls of fruit, samosas, mops, suitcases, foam pillows, belts or olives you'll be in your element.
It may be heretical of me to suggest this, but if you started the Green Link Walk at St James Street station, rather than beyond Wood Street, you wouldn't be missing much.

Coppermill Lane is where E17 makes a break for the marshes, and that is indeed where we're heading. Initially it's more pavement bashing, enlivened by some dazzling murals on the ends of houses, plus the GLW's first park (which quite frankly is more of a local playground). Only when you cross the Dagenham Brook into the Lea Valley, an hour and a half after this walk began, does the scenery finally open out. On one side is a massive reservoir complex, the Walthamstow Wetlands, beyond whose waterfowl the towers of Tottenham Hale and Blackhorse Road are clearly seen. On the other side is a massive water treatment works, Thames Water's Coppermill facility, beyond whose gravity filtration tanks the towers of Docklands and the City are clearly seen. Coppermill Lane threads between the two, suitably quarantined, before finally being released from captivity beyond the line of pylons. Hell yes, this is more like it.

Green Link Walk signage abruptly stops at the end of the lane but no, we're not going under the famously low (1.5m!) low bridge, we're turning left onto the marshes proper. The best mile of the walk starts here. Look, catkins, magpies and actual grass to roam on, plus if you climb the bank to the benches on the first bend there's a rollicking thickety view. Somewhere on the far side of the marshes Capital Ring Section 13 is doing its thing, but this eastern flank is has an entirely different vibe and hurrah for the GLW bringing it to wider attention. A painted subway curves beneath the railway viaduct and on the far side things properly open out, with Lammas Meadow intermittently seen behind a wall of brambles. It looks well squishy down there at present but thankfully our path is raised and solid so still wheelchair- and pram- friendly. Also the blossom is great if you come soon.

Just before the underpass, where the footpath is currently flooded, the route bears off to meet the main Lea Bridge Road. One lone GLW marker confirms location, but wouldn't have been anywhere near sufficient help if you were trying to walk this route without assistance. Section 1 ends beside the revamped bulk of the Lea Valley Ice Centre, officially at Bus Stop W, or you could walk up to Lea Bridge station and escape that way. I'll be back in a week to walk the next section to the Angel Islington, which I suspect is even less green than the first but let's not prejudge. Feel free to give it a try yourself before then, because a good walk is always a good walk, however Green or Linky it may be.

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