London LOOP section 19: Chingford to Chigwell

With not too many sections of the London LOOP left to walk, it continues to be tempting to walk two – sometimes even three – in one day. The sections often seem to agree with this notion, and even promote it: certain shorter sections feel like a small hop from one place to another, bookended where they are simply by nature of the public transport connections at either end.

We had been tempted to lump section 19 onto section 20 and section 21, making a grand total of 25km or so. Not a short walk by any means, but very much doable in a day (while also bearing in mind the need to get from north West London to rural Essex and back to even start the walk).

But this walk was to take place in the days following a return from twelve days of camping and cycling in Cornwall – of which more in a separate post – and so we decided to keep it simple and do just section 19: a nice, friendly 7km tromp from Chingford to Chigwell.

Having made our way back to Chingford – a slightly easier ride this time as our return home from this point last time included a rail replacement bus service – we made for Epping Forest, at this point a large open expanse of green stretching up to hills in the distance. It’s reminiscent of Hampstead Heath, and not just because of the City of London Corporation signs denoting the owner and maintainer of this space.

A few hundred metres into the walk took us up a short rise to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, a Tudor timbered building – with walls oddly whitewashed to cover the exposed timbers as well.

We’d visited this part of Epping Forest before – the hunting lodge was closed today so I was glad we had already explored it on that previous occasion. I remember being caught by the imagination of what this hunting lodge must have overlooked in centuries past, with royalty leaving London way off in the distance to come out to open country and hunt deer and whatever else. I think it had been a misty winter’s day that time, and it all added to the romance of the images being conjured in my head. The plastic food on the exemplary dinner table and the Tudor costumes for kids to play dress-up definitely helped. But just being able to enter a building of that age and in that setting and climb the stairs to look out over land that really hasn’t changed much in 500 years is… Quite something.

On this day, of course, the lodge was closed. But with the sun shining and a summer breeze, the green spaces all around were full of picnicking families and children flying kites. The nearby carvery pub was doing a brisk trade, and in keeping with the laid-back attitude to this section of the London LOOP, it felt only fitting to pause less than a kilometre into the walk to have a pub lunch washed down with some real ale.

Suitably refreshed, we left the pub garden and it’s attendant child-scaring wasps behind and started out on the remainder of our walk.

Back along grass paths we followed a shallow rise in the land, first crossing a dip and small brook – the river Ching, apparently, marking the boundary where we crossed from the London Borough of Waltham Forest into Essex.

Ahead of us lay a pleasant section of grassy paths weaving in and out of mature woodland. This part took us up to a small collection of quite large houses at Buckhurst Hill, where we had to refer to an OS map a few times to truly understand where we were supposed to be heading.

The London LOOP is like this: you’ll often find yourself spat out from a lovely bit of parkland into a built-up area, having now to follow little green signs rather than your own intuition.

Here at Buckhurst Hill, however, signs were lacking. The path took us down a narrow driveway that served two or three houses, before snaking off to the left down the side of a house. Signs were nowhere to be found. It was the kind of footpath where, without the benefit of an OS map app which plots your exact GPS location on the map, you really wouldn’t be sure if you were simply trespassing. As usual, one suspects that any pre-existing ‘Public Footpath’ signs might have been quietly turned around or even removed entirely by locals.

Speaking of locals, the other reassurance we had been given just moments before came in the form of a well-meaning but slightly overbearing lady who had spotted us, pulled over her car, got out, walked over to us and suggested, “you seem to be lost, can I help?”

It was the kind of tone that, if you heard it in a remote bit of the countryside you would naturally take it to mean “believe me, you are lost, please be on your way, off my land.” But here in the cosy settlement of Buckhurst Hill, and its multi-bedroom houses with expensive cars on the driveway, I think this was just a well-meaning lady who isn’t used to seeing, well, walkers here trying to find the footpath.

Onwards from here we quickly left the houses behind and were back amongst fields, following a narrow path hemmed in on both sides by farmland that had apparently been saved and set aside to stop it being built upon.

We soon dropped down to a railway footbridge. An aroma of marijuana was detected and we passed two ne’er-do-wells loitering halfway up the steps. We descended the other side into another collection of houses rather more densely packed than those at Buckhurst Hill.

Passing through these we came to a decent-sized lake which the London LOOP guidebook describes as attractive – and it is, but our appreciation of it was marred slightly by the sudden downpour which sent us ferreting around in our backpacks for our waterproofs, and those who had until that point been enjoying a picnic – or a game of cricket – around the lake scurrying for shelter.

The suddenness of the rain was apparent not just from the cricketers in their whites manhandling a tarpaulin to cover the pitch, but also the amusement and bewilderment of the picnickers we passed who walk-ran, carrying open alcoholic drinks and commenting on the sudden realisation that a hastily packed Bluetooth speaker was still playing away in their bag.

Undeterred – we had, as I say, packed raincoats, and anyway the temperature was still relatively mild – we rounded the lake, joined for part of the way by two small, lean and wiry dogs, their shorthaired coats slick with rain, shivering and sheltering as they walked.

The rain abated a little, and I tried to enjoy the vaguely attractive horizon consisting of three distinct church spires or towers, but we carried on to the other side of the lake, suddenly dwarfed by the presence of a vast leisure centre.

Having rounded this, as the hum of the centre’s air conditioning softened, it was replaced by another low hum: the traffic of the M11, which we shortly had to cross over via an over ridge carrying a short access road.

From here it was a slightly dull trudge along a pavement adjoining a busy road into Chigwell, and we saw little of any interest besides more large and not entirely attractive houses. At the bottom of this road we turned right and onto one of Chigwell’s high streets.

With the Underground some 200m off in the distance and the welcome sight of a pub just over the road, we called an end to the little 7km Chingford to Chigwell section 19 of the London LOOP, such as it was, and headed inside for a drink and a place to warm up.

Mentions of Menton

There’s a nice round-up of New Zealand writers’ reflections on visiting Menton, France, in this recent Stuff article.

As the article explains, there is an annual fellowship for a mid-career NZ writer to visit and work at the Villa Isola Bella at Menton in France, where NZ short story writer Katherine Mansfield spent her final years.

The fellowship has been running for fifty years, and this article collects the memories of some of those lucky writers who have made the trip to the other side of the world and tried – or failed – to ingratiate themselves into the life of a town in the south of France.

I really enjoyed reading tales of squatters, getting locked out, buying a TV to watch the Tour de France, as well as just feeling KM’s ghost in various corners.

As one writer comments, reflecting on her own stay in Menton in 1995:

In the afternoons we took local buses up into the mountains and walked between villages. We met eccentric British ex-pats, and French locals who were unfailingly kind and courteous. We entered a Mediterranean bubble. No Internet. No television. No radio. No phone. We queued with everybody else at the payphone on the Avenue de Sospel.

Sounds lovely…

I’ve never visited Menton, but I’d really like to one day.

Although I do the webmastering for the Katherine Mansfield Society, I’ve only ever attended one of their events – at the penthouse suite atop New Zealand House on London’s Haymarket. This September’s conference in Menton has, of course, been postponed. But maybe I should try and go to the next one…

You’ve just finished The Luminaries

Hey thanks goodreads! But here’s what I’m going to do next: take a big old lie down and probably not read any fiction for a while. Phew! I finished The Luminaries! I can’t quite believe it. 835 pages…

I’ve been trying to read this big book since about 2016 and I made a big dent into it on a summer holiday back then (fortunately the Kindle version as even the paperback is a hefty tome). But I never continued. And it’s such a well-woven tale that it rewards compulsive reading. At times the pace is galloping-fast, and it requires the reader to juggle the back stories and motives of the 12-15 main characters in one’s head all the while. This may not be a huge ask for a fiction fan, but I just… don’t tend to read fiction books. I’ll hoover up a good memoir, and I love to rattle through a diary at whatever pace the writer sets. But fiction is just something I find hard to get inside somehow. Maybe it’s the suspension of disbelief, or simply the ever-present knowledge that this is all made up. So it’s the mark of a very good book indeed that holds my attention. Plus, The Luminaries is about three times as long as any novel I’ve read before. So kudos indeed to Eleanor Catton.

Despite making a start a few years ago, I just had to start over this time, but I’m glad I did. Reading it in about a month was the right thing to do. Plus, I was spurred on by the recent BBC broadcast of the TV adaptation of the book. I caught the first episode, and they seem to have got the setting and general feel just right. The bit that threw me was the chronology, and so I knew I wanted to experience the book for myself, and get wrapped up in its slightly surreal world, and then I could go back to the TV adaptation and (hopefully) enjoy it on its own merits.

I knew I’d enjoy the book: I love the setting (New Zealand’s early settlements of Dunedin and Hokitika) and the infrastructure that 1860s NZ provides (newspapers, shipping records, gold mining, scarce personal records). The facilities provided by the National Library of New Zealand for wallowing in that world are superb: Papers Past is an incredibly rich and useable archive of newspapers of that time and place. I’ve been a fan of it for years now. I know that Catton used Papers Past and a number of other resources while writing this book: her acknowledgments at the end are interesting and amusing. And being able to go and bring up full copies of the West Coast Times from the 1860s and read the news and see the adverts is such a weirdly exhilerating feeling and extension of the intrigue of having read this book.

It’s just so cool.

Anyway. I’m so glad I got to the end of this book. It’s given me a ton to think about. And I’m looking forward to binge-watching the TV adaptation. And then seeing what roads it leads me down in terms of further reading. But I think it’ll be non-fiction for a while yet.

PS: One of the things I was looking forward to, having finished the book, was reading Patrick’s thoughts on it. I respect his opinion on books and videogames, and love his review writing. I was not disappointed. Patrick notes:

I enjoyed the book almost without reservation, both as a piece of entertainment and a work of art; and as a work of dedication and craftsmanship, it has left me spellbound with admiration.

And I must say I have to agree. I recommend his review if you want to understand more about the structure of the book than I could ever attempt to explain.

2020 weeknotes 29 and 30…and 31

I was feeling all smug recently thinking to myself that I could rebrand my weeknotes, as sporadic as they seem, as fortnotes. Geddit? Fortnightly weeknotes? And yet here I am nearly another fortnight behind, and ‘monthnotes’ just reaks of “HEY GUYS WOO SORRY FOR NOT UPDATING IN A WHILE BEEN SO BUSY THERE” so I’ll just keep my spoonerisms to myself and crack on with the updates.

Been getting out and about as much as possible in the last few weeks:

  • went camping for one night in Buckinghamshire, which was a nice little test of our bikepacking / cycle touring setup and the equipment we plan to use in Cornwall soon – as well as involving taking the train. Really glad we did this as we’d seen in the forecast that storms were due and we nearly bailed, but by the time we’d had dinner and the rain showers had passed, the sky was clearing and completely clear by sunset which meant for some great stargazing and a really calm, quiet night – heard owls
  • did a section (two, actually) of the London LOOP for the first time in more than a year – being out of the city was just gorgeous – spring has sprung in the countryside without us and although that is sad, it is just wonderful to be able to step right out into a summer that looks so lush and healthy – walked from Cockfosters to Epping Forest at Chingford/ This also involved using the Tube and the Overground, which was the first time since all of this so it was a good way to break the seal
  • tried to keep up the running – my brief foray into running twice a day for a week or so was good for the endorphins but I have to listen to my body and run 3 or 4 times a week, tops. I did get very good at laundry, though
  • took a multi-modal trip to Kent yesterday (bikes to St Pancras then High Speed train to Ebbsfleet, then nice shared-use paths most of the way) to see M’s grandparents and spent a lovely lazy few hours in their garden – wonderful
  • Friday night took swingball to a local park for a picnic with two friends – we batted and drank and ate while the most ridiculous sunset unfurled itself around us, with red fluffy clouds over Wembley and, in the opposite part of the sky, a sunset rainbow, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before

Work trickles on. We’re all doing fine mostly working from home still, but our usual summer schedule – which tends to be our busiest time – has slipped and a lot of what we expect to do in August now looks like it will be done in September. Which is absolutely fine in the grand scheme of things.

After an anxious few months where we thought the flat that we rent was to be sold, we found out incredibly slowly that we were in fact fine to renew for another year. Weeks of not quite knowing what was happening really tore my nerves (and fingernails) to shreds but it’s nice to have a bit of certainty about something.

I treated myself to a Kindle Paperwhite when they were on offer recently. My 2012ish model with flappy buttons just won’t seem to die – which is brilliant, obviously – but as well as reading on it, I also send articles, read PDFs and try and use Kindle-friendly RSS readers (thanks Reabble!) which are all things that newer Kindles just do a lot more smoothly. The faster refresh rate and higher resolution makes zipping around PDFs much nicer. I also read in bed a lot and liked the idea of having a backlit screen.

Apart from random articles and blog posts I send to myself, I was egged on by the recent BBC adaptation of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton to finally finish reading the darn book which I hadn’t managed to before. I had to start over as it had been four years or so since my last attempt. I’m about a quarter of the way through and, of course, I love the vivid, descriptive prose, and all the mention of NZ’s goldrush and life in early NZ settlements and references to those early settler newspapers is just bliss. But damn the early chapters are long. I’ll get there though. I will.

I scanned a bunch of old photographs recently and it was just as much fun seeing old pictures of friends and family from 20-30 years ago as it was the settings – particularly pictures which featured a large portion of the image showing, say, what my lounge looked like when I was about ten years old. The books on the shelves, the weird… chintz?… that my parents seemed to hoard. The reminder that fashions and furnisihings are often a decade or two late – my lounge looks like it’s from the 1970s but it’s like 1992. And the tech! The giant telly. VHS tapes everywhere. And the best bit: a decent shot of the main computer I remember growing up with. A little Packard Bell 486.

I have written a little just-for-me memoir of the computers I have used in my lifetime and that’s the one I perhaps remember most fondly, but conversely know so little about. So it’s very useful to see a photo of it in situ on the desk surrounded by floppy disks and the remote control for the CD player and other stuff. All these contextual clues.

Have been getting my bike ready for our trip to Cornwall next week. Taking the bikes on the train down to Penzance and will be bikepacking/cycletouring/camping around. Moving on every few days. Carrying all our equipment.

I’ve replaced the kickstand on my bike, which has given it a great new lease of life because, stupidly, I’d let it become one of those components that slowly got worse over time, the bike listing at a worrying angle and being unable to stand with any sort of luggage. Now, a ten quid part and some easy twists of the multi-tool later, she’s as a good as new.

I’ve also ordered a front pannier rack and some new bags – my first Ortliebs! – which I now need to try and install. If that works, my bike will have a bunch more storage space and hopefully feel more stable than when she’s got all the luggage (and me) weighing down the rear end.

Am looking forward to snapping some more film with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s on that trip, and will be taking my Canon dSLR as well, particularly as I’ve now installed the Magic Lantern firmware that breathes a bit of life into the old 1100D’s bones – primarily for me this is focus peaking, which displays via live view where exactly in your image is in focus. This will be great for any manual lenses I use with the Canon, like the lush Ensinor 24mm f2.8 I picked up a few months back and am really enjoying.

I’m not sold on this current website theme/design. The general overview is nice but some of the fonts feel a bit thin and light, and the differentiation between URLs is not as bold as I’d prefer.

Apollo 11

I finally watched Apollo 11 (the 2019 film) last night and was so glad I had it piped into my noise cancelling over-ear headphones cranked up – it’s the first time I’ve felt them vibrating while wearing them!

Obviously the pictures looked incredible. I kept pausing and it was like a perfectly crisp still photograph every time. The crowds on launch day – wow.

The sound design was fantastic – the inevitable roar of the Saturn V rocket was as wonderful as I’d expected but other subtle moments caught me out where (I guess?) foley effects were added to wide shots, and other nice stereo pans were added for effect.

The score was also a pleasant surprise – huge, WARBLING, WOBBLING bass and pulsing/ticking metronomic tension for the time-sensitive, heart-in-your-mouth segments.

I loved that at the end of the credits was a note that Matt Morton’s score was produced using equipment that was available at the time of the Apollo 11 mission. Cool. Very cool. Not seen that sort of liner note since Elephant by the White Stripes.