Walking across Greater London – Part 1

The Project

The idea is fairly simple, to walk from East to West across Greater London at it’s widest points. Apart from the challenge of crossing the Capital on foot, for me it is also a chance to go to a few places where I’ve formerly lived.

The Plan

After having a play with the ‘directions’ bit of Google maps, it looked like a walk across London could be done fairly comfortably in three days, with legs of around 13/14 miles. I grew up in the Borough of Hillingdon so it seemed fitting that I should end my walk there. This therefore meant starting at the easternmost boundary of the London Borough of Havering. Actually finding the boundary of Havering was harder than I thought, but I eventually nailed it down to being outside of the M25 and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

I was keen to start my walk from outside of London which meant that I’d get the Train to West Horndon and walk west.

The Walk

I walked out of West Horndon station to immediately find that, as I’d suspected, there was no pavement on the road towards London. This was a pain, and a tiny bit dangerous, but there was no other alternative so I steeled myself and got going. I found myself on a country road called St Mary’s Lane and I would be on it for quite a while, at least until Upminster. Whilst the Road had no pavement, there was usually some kind of verge and I was able to avoid any of the traffic.

Welcome to the London Borough of Havering
Welcome to the London Borough of Havering

The views for the first few miles were all farms, fields and the occasional glimpse of the train line. After walking for around 35 minutes and very much in the middle of nowhere, the sign I’d been looking for hove into view – Welcome to The Borough of Havering. This was it, the start of the journey proper and the moment was only slightly ruined by the sound of many dogs barking and yelping at the house next to the sign. A mile or two further on the next big milestone appeared, the M25. Crossing underneath the motorway, I found that I was still surrounded by countryside and when I eventually rolled into Cranham it was a bit of a belief. Civilisation and pavements were very welcome!

Upminster Windmill
Upminster Windmill

A little further up the road I came into Upminster and reckoned it was time for a short break and popped into a coffee shop for an espresso and a glass of water. I did feel a bit self conscious as it was a muggy day and I was a bit sweaty. I got over it and was soon on the way again. Upminster looked nice and suburban but the highlight was a cool looking Windmill.

Rush Green
Rush Green

Before I started I wondered how tempted I’d be about meandering about but as it turned out I mostly just kept to the main road through Upminster Bridge and then Hornchurch. I was then lured slightly off the beaten track by a short walk through Hornchurch Park. My memory of this part of my journey is of a sea of fairly bland suburban housing.

It was then on through the unremarkable Rush Green and then I was over the border into the Borough Of Dagenham and Redbridge. The town hall at least looked pretty cool.

Becontree Estate
Becontree Estate

One of the specific places I’d wanted to visit was the Becontree Estate. When it was built after the First World War it was the largest municipal housing estate in Europe. It has some 27,000 houses and over 100,000 residents but yet no ‘town centre’ as such. I found walking through it a strange experience as there were many properties well looked after and clearly loved right next to a place with a fridge in the garden and completely unkempt. There is an ominous uniformity to the style that goes on and on, in my case for nearly an hour.

The street in Barking that I used to live in
The street in Barking that I used to live in

At the end of the Becontree I entered Mayesbrook park and came out into the much more middle class looking Upney. From here it was was short walk to Barking where I chalked up my next special point, the street where I lived for two years. It was slightly weird to come back here but also nice to leave. This is Barking after all. At Barking station, I called it a day on Leg 1 and headed home.

Next time……it’ll be my journey from Barking to hopefully Kensington.

See all the photos from the trip.

Barking Station
Barking Station
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Camping with a toddler

Rose in the tent
Rose in the tent

Earlier in the year I went away for a couple of days camping with one of my friends in Snowdonia and had a great time. My three year old daughter Rose, however, couldn’t believe that I’d not taken her and I think she felt pretty left out.

Since then she has mentioned that ‘when she is older’ she can come with me. At first I thought, yes, ‘when your older’ but the more I thought about it the more I reckoned it would be fun to go now. A date was set and plans were made.

I thought for a first camping trip that we should keep things simple and not try to be too adventurous. I therefore decided to go to the New Forest and only for one night. We packed up the car after breakfast and had an unadventurous 3 hour drive down to the camp-site, getting there about lunchtime.

The camp-site, near Lymington was quite crowded and we struggled to find a pitch that wasn’t surrounded by noisy types. I plumped for a spot next to a quiet looking couple and hoped that they wouldn’t turn into drunken monsters later. As it turned out I’m not sure they spoke to each other all evening. Rose was actually quite helpful with putting up the tent. She could click the poles in place and handed me the pegs as I put them in. When it was up and the sleeping bags were in she excitingly got in and said we should go to sleep (despite it only being 1 o’clock).

I persuaded her that it might be nicer to have a spot of lunch and then maybe visit a castle before bed. Rose seemed to like this idea. Following a nice pub lunch we made our way down to Keyhaven where we could get the ferry over to Hurst Castle. For Rose, the ferry trip was a bit of a treat in itself and she almost seemed a bit disappointed when we arrived at the Castle.

View from Hurst Castle
View from Hurst Castle

The castle itself was originally built by King Henry VIII but was substantially added to during the 1860s-80s and became one of ‘Palmerston’s follies’. We had a good time looking at, and in Rose’s case climbing on, the massive guns and climbing the walls. There is a good view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight! Rose also devoured a massive ice cream!

Canon or climbing frame?
Canon or climbing frame?

Before getting the ferry back we both enjoyed a little paddle in the sea and a walk along the shingle. Back at camp, it was time for a spot of dinner so it was out with the camping stove and on with some pasta. I also had a tin of mild curry too but only just realised that i’d failed to bring along a tin opener. doh! I therefore went off to beg for the use of someone else’s.

Dinner eaten, Rose declared that she wanted to go to bed (it was around her normal bedtime) so I thought why not and said we should get in the tent. She then asked questioningly ‘are we sleeping here’?? I think she slightly couldn’t believe that we’d actually sleep in tent. She didn’t put up much protest and got into her sleeping bag. Two hours later, three long trips to the loo and a walk to go and pick blackberries (and see the sunset) later she was finally asleep. At times she was like a whirling dervish in the tent. Mostly, it was quite funny and i’d always thought it unlikely that she’d go to sleep that early.

My plan was to stay in the tent with Rose and once she was asleep read my book or play a game on the iPhone and this seemed to more or less work out. Fairly promptly at 6am, though, Rose awoke and made it pretty clear she wasn’t going to be going back to sleep. I took her to the toilet and, as the campsite was still very much asleep, suggested we walk down to the sea. This turned out to be a great move as we got there to see the very beautiful dawn.

Dawn Solent
Dawn Solent

We walked up and down for a bit seeing a fish leap out of the water a couple of times before heading back to the campsite for breakfast. I made us some nuttella on bread (and a coffee for me) and it was really nice, just sitting in our camp chairs watching people emerge from their tents and start their own morning rituals. After brekkie, we ‘broke camp’, which Rose was a lot less keen to hep out with and hit the road. Rose said that she was keen to go to the beach so I thought we’d head to Christchurch as it has proper sand. We didn’t get very far, however, before she was out for the count and whilst I could have made her wake up I thought I’d treat her to a nap. I at least got a very pleasant and mildly picturesque drive along the coast and then back towards Lyndhurst.

Midnight Tryst?
Midnight Tryst?

I didn’t want to go home without going in at least some of the actual ‘New Forest’ so we stopped and had a wander about. As ever, the best bit for Rose was looking under logs for ‘bugs’ and climbing on fallen trees. And why not? In a little clearing we also found this (empty) wine bottle and two glasses that must have been for some midnight tryst?!

The weather was a bit iffy with spells of rain so I thought we should go for home while the going was good.

Summary

Well, I have to say that it all went pretty swimingly. Rose had a great time and since we’ve been back has requested to go again many times.

I was really keen to make it fun and really worried that I’d put her off on her first trip. I’m therefore quite glad that I was relatively unambitious this time.

The only slight error I made was pitching the tent so far away from either the toilet or the field edge. It wasn’t so big a problem but next time I’d bring more pillows and blankets to pad out the tent a bit. I’m so used to very minimal camping that I didn’t think about it. A portable DVD player might have helped with a calm bed time too.

Altogether, both of us can’t wait till next time!