The fact that we went for a walk on Saturday shouldn't seem at all remarkable since that is an activity we like to do. The only reason it needs an exclamation mark is because I've been unwell since the beginning of the year and now I am finally better and a BIG hooray is all I can say to that.
We chose a route from Country Walks near London by Christopher Somerville, published by Pocket Books (52 walks within easy reach of London). We've lived in east London and had Essex on our doorstep for the last five years and we've barely explored this interesting county. We had to choose somewhere that we could reach by public transport since we don't own a car and this circular walk from a village near Romford which delights in the name of Havering-atte-Bower just fitted the bill. The middle part of the name is pronounced 'Atty' as was demonstrated for me by a man we met en route.
The guide book tells us that English monarchs used to stay at Havering Palace which was built by the side of the present village green and was well placed for hunting in nearby Hainault Forest. There were no signs of any Royals when the bus dropped us off but we were genially dismissed from the bus by a couple of old ladies who took it upon themselves to make sure that we alighted at the right stop. We promptly checked the return bus times as the bus only runs every 90 minutes and then headed into the church to see what there was to see. Unusually for an English village the church isn't particularly old. It's built from flint and looks in good condition and was finished in 1878. It was clear though when we roamed around the churchyard that there must have been an older church on that site as some of the headstones were quite ancient. All was revealed when we went inside and found an old engraving of a previous church that looked like a thatched cottage and it was demolished along with the Royal Palace. This had been St Mary's Chapel and was later rebuilt as the parish church and renamed St John the Evangelist.
That felt like a good start to our outing and we were so keen to get on with our walk that I quite forgot to look out for the old village stocks that stand on the corner of the green. We felt slightly hampered by not having an ordnance survey map with us which shows every bump and stand of trees in the landscape so we had to make do with the map in the book which didn't give us enough information. But it did get us to a very good pub called the Royal Oak which advertised itself as serving fresh fish delivered daily from Billingsgate Fish Market. We couldn't pass up this opportunity and thoroughly enjoyed sea bass with rice and stir fried vegetables - it was a cut above your usual pub grub.
Our route continued from the pub car park, round a sort of rubbish tip and down an alley behind some houses. Before too long we were strolling through some woodland and met a man who told us he used to live around there as a boy and hadn't been back in 30 years. He appeared to be on some kind of private pilgrimage and he soon left us preferring his memories to our company.
While I love nothing more than gawping at other people's houses especially ones that are built like modern day fortresses with gates, large dogs and numerous cars which are plentiful in Essex it was a joy to get into the countryside proper. This is where the walk started to work its magic. The air was clear, the sun was out and the act of putting one foot in front of the other and stopping every so often to look at the view improved my mood no end. At one point we had a very clear view of Canary Wharf and the office blocks in the City of London and we were walking through a field! This struck me as bizarre but we were only 14 miles away from the city.
My husband is the map reader in our marriage and he carefully followed all the directions and we obediently crossed streams and turned left and right when instructed. Or so we thought but we reached a road at the point where we expected to come out at St Mary's Church at Stapleford Abbotts so we had obviously gone very wrong. So we trudged along a road until we spotted what could be a church tower. The only trouble was that the public right of way marker pointing in that direction was contradicted by a 'private property' sign. What to do? Risk getting shot by an irate homeowner? We chose to be cowards at this point and went the long way round and finally reached the church that Nicholas Pevsner described as hideous. We weren't able to see what he found so offensive as the church was locked so we couldn't get inside. On phoning one of the numbers listed on the church door to see if we could get the key we learned that we could help out with a working party at the church on the following Saturday if we wanted to. Instead we sat on a memorial bench in the church yard and drank our tea from the flask and decided we would risk walking back to the main road via the public right of way and to hell with outraged home owners.