The London Countryway – Day 15

July 26, 1987: Brentwood to West Horndon

Toby trots at my side along the lake in Thorndon Park.

Toby trots at my side along the lake in Thorndon Park.

On July 26, 1987, Bill, Dorothy, Toby and I returned to Brentwood for Day 15 of the London Countryway. We had been talking about an expedition to Hampstead Heath but, with the prospect of another daylong amplified fete blaring at us from Paddington Rec, it seemed preferable to do a lazy picnic-centered six mile walk in park-like surroundings in Essex.

It is becoming more and more of a struggle to get weather information from the telephone company, but I did manage to confirm a reasonable day on the horizon – cloudy bright, with no rain and much lower temperatures than last time. We left the house at 11:15 and drove to Randolph Avenue, where I parked and put on my boots. Toby, doubly excited by the prospect of a walk and a ride in the new car, was wrenching Dorothy’s arm out of its socket as I got ready on the sidewalk.

We changed to the Circle Line at Baker Street. An American with two Schnauzers in quarantine, told us he wanted to get a third here in England. Dorothy remarked that he looked like Oliver North – he certainly had a military haircut and he did admit that he was here on a government assignment. At Liverpool Street we waited in front of left luggage for half an hour for Bill. Dorothy, her temper wearing thin, remarked that if she could lay end to end all the hours she had wasted waiting for Bill Vincent, she could have had enough time to cross the Atlantic in a dinghy. We missed the 12:15 but made the 12:41 and by 1:15 we were in Brentwood.

After rearranging my pack I led the way through some nice suburban streets, following Chesterton closely. Often I had to call the other two back– for they missed turnoffs chattering while I was poring over the guidebook behind them. We reached our first woodland path and headed south. It was somewhat muddy underfoot but not too bad and the woods were very pleasant to walk in. I disdained a number of crossing tracks and waited for an advertised t-junction. We turned left here and continued next to a ditch for a while, crossed a road, and entered another wood. Toby anticipated the guidebook by crossing a stream on a little bridge and turning left, a ditch now on our left. We cleared the wood and arrived at the impressive entrance to Thorndon Park. Photos were taken with the stone lions on the rampart gates and then we proceeded along the paved drive, letting Toby run free as we looked for a picnic site.

We turned into the first parking area and used the public toilets. Then we walked down a wooded grassy aisle and sat down for a wonderful lunch, packed by Dorothy. Toby had plenty of water, an egg, and a little bit of everything else. There were many strollers about and many dogs. The sun was out most of the time and when it went behind a cloud I put my sweater on briefly; the rest of the time I was able to wear just a t-shirt. After a very leisurely repast and much East Lansing gossip we prepared to leave. A wonderful and large English Sheep Dog was bounding in as Bill and I decided to take pity on the lonely ice cream salesman.

Slurping our cornets we continued along the road. Toby was made to sit as every car approached and he was pretty good at it. Our road became a track and we reached a turn-off for Hatch House – which we were advised not to take. The squeeze gate and stile we were supposed to use weren’t so obvious here, but the path to Herongate was well marked. A golf course appeared on our left and we used its margin to make steady progress along our overgrown path. On our right grain fields ripened in the sun. We entered another dark wood and turned left at a t-junction. A tree had fallen over a stream. Bill, Toby and I used it, but Dorothy continued until the official bridge appeared. We rejoined our track and soon came to a confusing corner. Perhaps someone had screwed the signposts in the wrong direction but path 41, which we were supposed to take, did not seem to be heading south (there was a West Horndon sign) in order to reach an advertised lake. Bill insisted we were lost. However the others did agree to accompany me, and in a few minutes we caught glimpses of the lake below us, on the right.

Fishermen were sitting on the shore, which we reached after a short, steep descent. Toby stuck his nose into a tray of maggots – which caused his mistress to scream hysterically. Dorothy had also been claiming that she could hear running water so we walked up to the end of the lake to see the spillway – but there was only a trickle. Because of a nearby parking lot the area was full of Sunday strollers and an Essex County ranger collecting fishing fees. Dogs were everywhere. We left the lake and climbed a hard track up to a delightful grassy meadow beneath an “octagonal” wood on a hilltop.

Here we lay down in the sun for a nice rest. An infant had a screaming fit when forced to relinquish a ball that was not his. Toby, his face wet with his latest drink, decided to give me a head rub. Kids and dogs raced about us. Finally we decided to push on, reaching the crest of the hill, where a huge rounders match was in session, and then heading diagonally downhill through tall grass and picnickers. Dominating the scene was the East Horndon church, a property in the care of the Redundant Churches Association. On our right was a magnificent vista of flat Essex countryside, with golden fields, fingers of woodland, factory chimneys and, in the distance, hills on the south side of the Thames.

Toby had to be hooked as we descended the road to the Halfway House pub and faced the A127 dual carriageway. It was perilous to cross, but we could rest in an island in the middle before darting across the last gap in the traffic. Bill carried Toby. We tuned right here, on pavement, but the next stretch was unpleasant – with cars whizzing by. Also we had seen the last of the day’s sun. We passed a few farm buildings (“Dobermann (sic) At Stud”) and turned left at a footpath sign to walk along the edges of a several fields in a southerly direction. This brought us into suburban West Horndon. We reached the main road and turned right, but almost immediately I spotted a dispiriting “Emergency Rail Service” bus speeding by in the opposite direction. Worse, a few minutes before reaching the railway station itself, one going in our direction overtook us. We would have to wait here another twenty minutes to get the bus to Upminster. It was 5:30. The local pub was having a private function and we were not invited.

Bill and Dorothy read bits of the Sunday papers while we relaxed in the bus shelter at the end of a splendid outing, my 100th day of walking! Belching yobbos with a ghetto blaster somewhat spoiled the bus and train rides that followed. We rode with Bill as far as King’s Cross, and got home at 7:30.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 16: West Horndon to East Tilbury