Friday, 8 March 2013

The only way is Essex - 1

Whatever that means exactly - thank you, reality TV - there are at least three ways to approach England's most maligned county, pictured above: step inside one of the many old buildings (in this case the Norman remainder of Waltham Abbey); ramble in deepest farmland only a 25 minute journey from the City of London (a distant diplo-mate approaching Mountnessing Church); or brave the urban blight to reach your destination (the end of a horrid walk from Waltham Cross railway station to the Abbey). At least another option - the marshes and the sea - was ruled out by the biting winds and freeze of the Thursday and Friday we took off.

The original aim had been to fly south for a long weekend, but half-term fares proved prohibitively expensive (seems we've sorted one objective now for the near future). So I thought we should capitalise on our delighted discovery of Layer Marney, Tollesbury, East Mersey and Copford while staying with the Le Franc family back in 2007 and the subsequent revelation of lovely Saffron Walden in the company of the Kafalas a year later by getting to know a neighbouring county better. Armed with the excellent Pathfinder Guide, we planned out some options.

With the grey and the bitter cold of Thursday forbidding our intended hike around the coastal Saxon church of Bradwell Juxta Mare, we caught a train from Liverpool Street to Ingatestone, and were immediately charmed by what Pevsner calls the 'friendly Neo-Tudor' of the 1846 station building. The glory is the medieval church tower of St Edmund and St Mary

with its black diapers of lozenges and crosses (there too is the top of the 'three-light brick w window with Perp panel tracery' - Pevsner again - and the first set of two-light windows).

Predictably the church was locked. We phoned the warden (correction, 9/3: rector), who claimed to live not very close and seemed unwilling to drive to Ingatestone and let us in. As J pointed out, I should have said something along the lines of 'we've come a long way to see this', but I wasn't at the time aware of the Petre tomb chest, treasure of the interior; if I had been, I'd have made a bit more of a fuss.

Ingatestone High Street is a mix of old and new, chiefly remarkable to me for the fact that I purchased a by then essential blue woolly (looking) hat for £2.99 in a hardware store over a friendly chat with the people in the shop. There's a very flinty mosaicy type mural on one of the less attractive more recent buildings which looks as if it dates from Festival of Britain time.

Then we were off over the fields, past Sir William Petre's 16th century red-brick Ingatestone Hall. The monastery-dissolver and recusant Catholic had the mural's Queen Elizabeth to stay here, which still makes the town and the odd visiting tourist excited.

Crossing the stream of the Wid, you climb gently to the deliciously secluded church of St Mary Buttsbury.

The body of the church (locked again, naturally, in spite of what the welcoming board at the gate may say) is 14th century, but its attraction is the timber, weatherboarded west belfry. The porch is attractively weatherboarded too.

Ironwork on the north door caught my eye before I found out that much of it was 13th century.

There was now a longish stretch by stream and through fields, past a burnt out car below Kitchen Wood

and up to the church of St Giles at Mountnessing, isolated next to a Georgian hall and farm (though a road runs close). Here's another fine bell tower and west end

though there's apparently less to see inside than at Ingatestone. Which was just as well, since our third church was also locked and the contact numbers in the porch had faded away. Anyway, here we sat out of the biting wind to devour the sushi lunch purchased at Liverpool Street Station. The diplo-mate wanted a photo of the occasion but was as usual coy about revealing his entire lovely visage.

The rest of the walk is lost to visual documentation because my battery had run flat and something went wrong with the transferring of pictures from J's mobile phone. Here's a similarly cloudy-day image taken by another of Mountnessing proper's early 19th century post-mill a couple of miles further on. Gareth Hughes' Geograph project photo includes 'visiting Dutch and Belgian windmill enthusiasts'. Interesting if not especially penetrating observation on the unconscious that here I started to hum the Van der Valk theme (you don't need to be old enough to have seen that series to guess that the hero was an Amsterdam detective).

The dark began to descend, as did we back to Ingatestone. Had this been a collect-churches-for-charity walk like our annual Norfolk expedition, we could have notched up nine in our eight miles, since the town boasts a fair few 19th and early 20th century edifices of various denominations. So back to London, where serendipity found us two returns on the spot for Rufus Norris's ambitious celebration of Yoruba culture, Feast, at the Young Vic. Splendid company work here, dominated by the handsome, well modulated mezzo tones of Noma Dumezweni (J's New Best Friend), the character panache of Naana Agyei-Ampadu and incredibly sexy dancing - not enough of it, sadly - by Cuban Alexander Varona (image by Richard Hubert Smith).

The problem lay with most of the various playwrights' contributions: few made clear the advertised connection between scenes from the Yoruba diaspora and the various reincarnations of the 400 or so deities known as Orishas, so it came across as a rather loose, hit-and-miss revue.

Still, it was a steamy far cry indeed from the wintry wildernesses of Essex. That's enough of a chronicle for now: glorious Waltham Abbey to follow soon.


Anil P said...

Are the doors locked because not many people visit them? It's a pity the warden did not make the effort.

The picture of the iron-work on the door is a fine one, a rugged feel to it.

Such calm, serene surroundings.

David said...

Theft, Anil, theft. In which case a notice to that effect should be left in the porch. We found one such on our Arun valley walk last September, but it still gave no clue as to where an honest soul might obtain the key.

Calm it was. The main problem so close to London is getting away from traffic noise, but on the eastward loop from Ingatestone, no busy roads were in earshot until way past the two secluded churches.

Susan Scheid said...

Sad about the need to lock the churches, isn't it? We encountered it first in Greece and never did find the holder of the key to get in. Still, you found much even in the exteriors with your practiced eye and informative guidebook. Love this, of course: "Interesting if not especially penetrating observation on the unconscious that here I started to hum the Van der Valk theme," not to mention the photo of the Diplo-mate as his repast--though sorry we didn't get to see that fine newly purchased hat of yours as well. Well, you are intrepid travelers--I tend to shrink indoors with a book and music on such days--though when in England I've learned it's wise to do otherwise, so as not to miss out on what there is to see. (Your links to earlier posts were great to have, in re what there is to see.)

PS: I made a slight adjustment in the quote you noted, still true to the quote, but taking into account your comment. I hope you don't mind too much being in the spotlight's glare over at PD. I was amazed, as I put together the post, at the extent of the trail of discovery. It was enormous fun to revisit it, and also a pleasure to be able to put it together all in one place for future reference.

PPS: The Edu-Mate, in her way, when I said I was saving my shekels for the boxed set, said, "get it now, why not?" (She hasn't visited our accountant yet.) Anyway, it turned out to be on sale, 1/3 off the price, at arkiv, so I gladly succumbed. It's on its way soon, and thank you again for all!

David said...

Yes - it's really tough with the Orthodox churches. Nearly all the painted ones in the Troodhos Mountains of Cyprus were locked, and the keys not to be found as many were in isolated spots. Normally in English villages if the rectory doesn't have one, a shop will. But now they're getting frightened even of giving the key to strangers.

My gaffe remains in print, so no need to hide it - but thanks for trying!

The thing about these bargain labels is that in the current climate they really are here today and gone tomorrow, so the Edu-mate was quite right, however consumerist it might seem...

wanderer said...

Here's how it goes. I start by looking at the photos, just the visual story, indulging each one, and construct in my mind what I imagine will follow in print.

Then the reading, and hyperlinking, and it all falls into place, checking each photo again, till I'm there with you, two.

Needless to say, Essex and I are rather unfamiliar, but i can almost fell the chill, and walk the cold paths, rattle the latches and wonder at those doors. And admire anyone who eats sushi in the freezing cold when I'm sure there's salt dosed-up hot tasties to be had which are incredibly bad for one but nonetheless.

A countryside adventure and the theatre at night; however do you manage such full days?

David said...

I'm very happy with those readers who just look at the photos. To go beyond requires a special devotion, I'm sure, so thank you, wanderer. You live as far removed from this chill as was the South African, steamy production of Miss Julie I saw last night from the swirling snow outside.

There were no hot tasties within miles of our lunch stop, I can tell you that. Though usually on long walks we do take provisions, as pubs can be dilatory, not to mention limited (or overambitious, which means the ping of the microwave) with their food serving.

That was a real holiday for both of us and, Essex being within such easy reach, did not entail an early start.

wanderer said...

A thermos of hot soup, another of coffee, a scone or two - those were the days. Curse the mircowave. I refuse to have one in the country (our escape I mean, not Australia).

David said...

Does that mean you have a second bolthole beyond Sydney, in addition to the one in the Southern Highlands?

Nick Hasted said...

Hello David,
As I grew up on the East London edge of Essex (near Barkingside)and have always been proud of my county though ignorant of most of it, last summer I walked the Essex Way from Ongar (which you can take a steam train to from Epping...) to Harwich (with some bus cheating along the way). It's the best holiday I've ever had. The further you get off the roads and railway lines, the more distinct, varied and rural the county, accents and habits become, even quite close to London. All the many churches we visited, the graveyards and memorials of which gave a tangible sense of the past we were walking through, were open, including an part-Anglo-Saxon wooden one near Ongar. In the beautiful village of Great Waltham, when my hope of happening upon a B&B wherever we got to by nightfall failed, my girlfriend knocked on the door of someone who turned out to be the church warden at 10pm. He not only opened his door, but opened the church hall for us to stay in that night. And in the church the next morning, the vicar invited us into the coffee morning. The pub was equally inclusive of strangers. It's not far from Chelmsford, but a different world. We had better luck ringing up a ridiculously lovely farm just outside Colchester to stay - eggs straight from the hen for breakfast. There was one deeply unfriendly village, and all of them were different. You could go a day without finding anywhere to eat, although food was growing in the fields all around, but in most ways it's a pretty and culturally rich county. When we got to the end of our journey, walking along the coast to the Harwich lighthouse, the people, oldest cinema in England (revived by volunteers) and locally caught fish and chips gave us a perfect finish. Not being able to drive, I was also pleased that putting one foot in front of the other gave me access to parts of the county which lost their train stations and bus lines long ago. Recommendeded if you have a week...
All the best,

David said...

What a wonderful narrative, Nick - sounds like there's a little book in it. Your steam train news is encouraging as I certainly want to go from Chipping Ongar to the wooden church at Greensted, but we couldn't work out the public transport to get to the starting point.

And who knows, we may end up doing the whole thing, though I'm a stickler for Grands Projets - we completed the 600 miles of the South West Coast Path after ten years (average of eight days a year, four in the spring and four in the autumn, interrupted by foot and mouth) and we've started Offa's Dyke but only done the first leg. Now that it connects up with the Welsh coast path, we could do a lot more.

Anyway, good to hear from you, and onwards with TAD.

wanderer said...

The Southern Highlands out-of-towner is the one and only, and that's more than enough.

Good news in this morning's mail - tickets secured for June 12. The 'universe' says GO. More anon. I'm sure we will have a car, and some flexibility. Next step: Britten in the Yellow House June 14.

Nick Hasted said...

It's not open all year round, though for most of it - but the volunteers on what I had thought till I heard about the new steam line last year was still on the Central Line (as it was till well into the '90s) take you on a vintage bus from Epping tube to North Weald, then a steam train to Ongar. It's an easy walk to the church. Blake Hall Road station, which is on the route and when it closed in the '80s was the least used station on the system (about 18 people daily on a commute from old farmland - total public transport...)is sadly now private property. It was the one grim, racist village pub further into Essex where I was stuck for an afternoon with spread maps and futile payphone calls trying to find a B&B after the generous but hugely uncomfortable church hall episode which made us skip a pretty large chunk of the Essex Walk - but I plan to fill in the gaps sometime soon.
And yes, in TAD, for all the clear, increasing impatience at editorial level with the world of Total Democracy we were promised, it would be a great shame if it wasn't there.
All the best,

David Damant said...

Essex is half into East Anglia and there - before the spread of motor cars, second homes, television and other solvents - the villages were stolid rather than unfriendly to visitors ( not that there were many visitors). I saw that world myself as a boy (when the churches were always open and full on Sundays). There is a wonderful (and true) 1940 cartoon by Pont, of a village pub showing several of the rude forefathers of the hamlet each sitting behind his pint in stolid silence. And over the wireless Lord Haw Haw ( the British born Nazi propagandist) is saying - "Meanwhile in the countryside mass panic has gripped the entire population"

David said...

Wanderer - I only asked because you put 'Australia' when I think you meant 'Sydney'. Great and surprising news about Rosenkav.

Nick - it seems that the nearer you get to the coast in East Anglia, the greater the number of disused railway stations. A shame and a bit of a disgrace. Buses, however, do seem to have improved.

David - there's nowhere like Cornwall for 'you're not from around here' folk in a pub (suggesting it with hostile looks that could kill). Not halting in Essex pubs - not even for lunch, for reasons previously given - I couldn't tell you what it's like there.

David Damant said...

I have as a stranger been to pubs all over the country where having entered one of the various sections it was said firmly by the authoritative barmaid that " I think your bar is across there"

PGW: "Any man under 30 who says that he is not afraid of barmaids and post office ladies lies"

Unknown said...

Hello David, I just came from the article about Alexander Ivashkin to this page, as I was looking for an information about the musician. Thank you for the posts, and your blog, they are very inspiring and informative, as I specialise in Russian music. I am very sorry for contacting you without any introductory recommendation, but I was wondering, if there would be any possibility for you to advise me on my CD project with Russian contemporary music/ piano concertos. Please let me know how it would be possible to get in touch with you. Many thanks, and looking forward to hearing from you.

David said...

Leave me your email, Maria, if you wouldn't mind (I won't post it), and I'll get back to you that way.