Tag Archives: River Roding

Webster’s Land and the Forbidden Triangle

I am an explorer at heart. Disappearing off alone and finding new places is a joy. Sometimes it is more than a joy; it is a necessity.

So when I read about a place only a short walk from the furthest edge of the Patch called “Webster’s Land”, my interest was piqued. My fellow Wren Group member and wildlife surveyor extraordinaire, Paul Ferris, mentions this place on his website.

I walked down the path between the River Roding and the City of London Cemetery, eventually losing the Roding to the Ilford golf course and picking up its tiny tributary, the Alders Brook instead.

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The Alders Brook

I left what I consider* to be the end of the Patch by walking through a concrete and brick tunnel underneath the railway track (between Manor Park and Ilford stations). I won’t pretend there wasn’t a little trepidation as I read the writing on the wall.

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Apocalypse now? Or light at the end of the tunnel

If the other side of the tunnel looks pleasant, that is because it is the Patch. I turned around to take that photograph for effect, but the Ilford side of the tunnel is somewhat less welcoming… Although the blue-painted concrete walls did match the sky that day.

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The concrete continued. After crossing a road or two I wandered through the streets of various housing estates with some bright colour schemes – presumably added to soften the brutalism of bare brick and concrete.

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I know many disagree with me but I personally find something aesthetically satisfying about the municipal and social architecture of the 50s-70s. Although even I wondered whether more inviting street names could have been found than ‘Warrior Square’?  The military theme continued when I found ‘Jack Cornwell Road’.

Digression alert: As any military historian would tell you, Jack Cornwell – a local boy from Leyton – was only 16 years old when he fought in the horrific sea battle of Jutland in World War One. His ship, HMS Chester, came under enormous fire and the entire crew that manned his gun were killed except him. He was found manning the huge gun alone, badly (in fact mortally) wounded, surrounded by the bodies of his fellow crewmen, exposed to further fire but refusing to leave his post and just “quietly awaiting orders” as the citation reads. He died of his wounds and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his astonishing bravery. He is buried locally and – so I discovered – also had a street named after him. Here ends digression.

Eventually I found the long, narrow strip of grassland that Paul Ferris had written about: Webster’s Land. I had Paul’s photo in my mind (inset in the photo below) which was a mistake. Paul had visited at summer when the grass had been allowed to grow into a pleasant meadow. The bare trees and mown grass was not quite so appealing when I arrived on a cold winter’s day:

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Webster’s Land looking down towards Ilford Little Park

I don’t quite know what I expected to find there, but whatever it was, I didn’t find it. I turned around and left.

As I walked back to the Patch, I reflected on what I had seen and what I had been expecting. With the exception of a few local dog walkers and joggers, very few people visit Webster’s Land. Very little is known or written about it. Although Paul explains that it was left to the people of Manor Park by another military figure, a Lt. Colonel Webster. This thin strip of land is sandwiched between a housing estate and the North Circular road. A line of cherry trees hides the busy road. A buffer of common land.

I thought more about this buffer as I walked along an even narrower strip of common ground fenced in between the cemetery and railway line.

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It is a long walk. A necessary evil for those of us needing to connect up two parts of the Patch and can be a destination for few other than drunks and junkies (in case you detect a sneering tone of condescension, I assure you that actually I am grateful for such places and offer no judgement whatsoever on those of us who feel we need to escape ‘civilisation’ or just ‘life’ in body and mind).

At the end of the narrow path, we arrive at another buffer zone. Another no-man’s land in an overpopulated city. A large, bleak place with little human purpose. Not as wild or natural as the Flats, not neat enough to be a ‘park’. A place so insignificant it doesn’t even have a name, although some might consider it to be a continuation of the Flats with just another bi-secting road. We call it the Forbidden Triangle as it seems to offer little prospect of interesting birds. [Edit: The person who initially set out the delineation of the Patch has informed me that it is actually called the Forbidden Triangle, because we can’t count any birds we might see there for the Patch – luckily there seems to be very little there.]

All of the places mentioned in this post could do with being allowed to get a little wilder in my mind, but frankly, I am just glad that these spaces exist at all. If you want to read more about such places, or their slightly wilder counterparts, I can highly recommend Rob Cowen’s excellent book, Common Ground.

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The ‘Forbidden Triangle’

Forbidden triangle

1: ‘Forbidden Triangle’ 2: the ‘long narrow walk’ 3: Webster’s Land

 *Others consider that the Patch ends before this point, but I feel that would abandon this small strip of land to a limbo state, so I include it.

Wanstead Patchwork: Part X (From Roding with love)

Three little birds on my doorstep
On Saturday morning I set out relatively early on to the patch with the hope that fresh air would cure me of a hangover.

I was rewarded in that, within 20 minutes, I had added a new bird to patch list for 2015. Whilst navigating my way around a number of dead frogs (don’t ask me why) on the fringes of a pond known as Cat and dog, I flushed a snipe (Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago). The long-beaked wader put up in the air in a blur of russet and khaki camouflage and flew over the Flats (where it was later seen by other birders).

A little while later I heard my first warbler of the year, and probably my first summer migrant. A Chiffchaff sang out its name from the island on Alexandra lake.

River Roding
I then took directions from Nick and Josh to go and look for my 65th species of the year, Teal. I had all but given up seeing this common winter duck on the patch as I thought they might have all returned to Siberia.

The hunting ground for my quarry was the River Roding:

River Roding

I walked South, sandwiched between the City of London Cemetery and the little river. On the other side of the water, golfers swung, hacked, and FORE!’d their way around the fairways of Ilford course while the steady hum of traffic on the North Circular served to remind us all that we were contained within the capital’s boundaries, where busy roads serve as walls.

I crept around vainly looking and listening for water rail in the reeds, whilst a few metres away people wearing purple and orange (what is it about golfers and fashion?) hit small white balls around manicured parkland. I was struck almost simultaneously by the sense of both the ridiculousness and the wonderfulness of hobbies (I used to, and occasionally still do, play golf very badly myself – my crap scores must be on account of the drab colours I wear). As silly as many hobbies are, it was at that ludicrous moment that I felt very sorry for anyone who doesn’t have a pastime to indulge in.

Dear Polly
Talking of hobbies…

I often say – to anyone who will listen – that hobbies satisfy many of mankind’s ancient and primal urges to hunt and gather. In our increasingly plastic and sanitised world, some of us seek to retrace the steps – albeit through heavily ritualised and modernised (often safe) means – of our ancestors. I contend that birding satisfies the spirits of hunter (tracking down wild animals) and gatherer (the list element and need to ‘collect’ as many species as possible) that still occupy us.

A hobby that satisfies the gatherer within us, is that of the collector – for example of postcards…

River Roding

This postcard above (a recent purchase that arrived today) is over 100 years old and depicts the Rover Roding. On the other side it reads:

Dear Pollie [sic],

I am enjoying myself allright [sic], went fishing [I am trying to ignore the fact this word looks like “fisting”] here this afternoon did not catch anything, will write tomorrow. With love from Ethel

Ignoring the fact that our long-dead friend, Ethel, seemed determined to make an enemy of punctuation and grammar, I love how she writes to her friend/sibling/lover/relation daily whilst on holiday (?) in a nearby part of London. Polly/Pollie lived in Islington just a few miles away (I actually know the street in the address as I used to live nearby and know that any house she lived in was destroyed in the war or demolished to be replaced with flats).

An even smaller river
The Roding is a small river. It often flows under bridges un-named and unmarked. It eventually seeps slowly into the Thames anonymously or, rather, under the title of ‘Barking Creek’. But this belies the fact that the Roding is an ancient and important water source. The fifty-mile long river – once entirely located within Essex, until London grew – is believed to be named after a Saxon chieftain, Hrodas, and his people, the Hrodingas, who came to Essex and subdued (read ‘slaughtered’) the local pagan tribes.

I would love to see the Roding follow the lead of its western cousin, the Wandle, and become a second London home to wild brown trout.

Not many Londoners – I am quite sure – could name the Roding correctly, and yet there exists an even smaller, sorrier river, a tributary of the Roding, that has a place in this rather lengthy story/post, the Alders brook.

The earliest extant reference to this stream is from the 16th Century. But now, I can find nowhere to tell me where this brook’s source is – other than the admirable – and hopefully correct guess of Mr Ferris in his excellent online resource of all wild matters locally.

I trampled brambles to look at the heavily algae-clogged (if not stagnant) brook and then saw, far up stream, a pair of Teal. They saw me too and swam effortlessly around a bend and behind the locked gates of some allotments.

In my desire to photograph this pair and further explore this poorly-known waterway, I backtracked and and tried to gingerly make my way through the narrow and heavily overgrown bank of the stream that runs alongside the metal fencing of the allotments. The going became impassable and so, probably luckily for them, the Teal remained unphotographed:

Alders Brook

Typically, back in Wanstead Park, I saw more Teal – despite two months of blanking them in the same park:

Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

But I regretted nothing. Had I not gone in search of Teal in the inaccessible narrow waterways of East London, I may never have set foot on the narrow banks of the shamefully forgotten Alders Brook.

Along the way on my journey, I photographed for the first time this year so far…

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

and…

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata) - presuming it was too early for Common Dog Violet

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata) – presuming it was too early for Common Dog Violet

… and listened to my first singing Dunnock of the year:

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

… and completely forgot about my hangover.