Clapton, Walthamstow Marsh (running on the edge 3)

I never noticed them before, but, come 5.30pm in the City there seem to be hundreds of runners obviously running home. It’s only recently I’ve occasionally joined them and discovered all the added dimensions this brings. Running home from work is not without its challenges, and certainly not something to do on the spur of the moment- it needs careful thought and preparation. Ideally you need to avoid running with a bag which means some careful juggling of things between between gym bag, office bag, and desk drawers.

Shoes are left under the desk, shorts and T-shirt donned in the office toilets and the days clothes stuffed in drawers to worry about later. Weighty loose change removed from wallet, essential valuables accommodated in shorts pockets, phone armband strapped on, water bottle filled at the cooler and diary checked to ensure there’ll be time in the morning to çome to the office and change shoes before first meeting.

With all that accomplished I leave the office feeling half naked with bare arms and legs – double checking I actually do have train ticket and house keys, and hoping there is another clean pair of trousers at home for the morning.

I’ve never actually run all the way from the City to Highams Park – 15k or so after a day at work feels like too much, so I head for my normal train from Liverpool street and get off at Clapton. Anyone who commutes on this line will know that Walthamstow Marshes lies between Clapton and St James Street stations. It’s not unusual for a train to stop for a minute or so between these stations and its then that tired commuters look up from phones and newspapers and gaze across the fields. Cows now graze on the marshes for much of the year, you can see more sky than from most places in London, and its entirely possible to forget, for a moment, that you’re somewhere between Hackney and Walthamstow.

That escapist feeling hits tenfold when you jog onto the marsh after a short trip down Southwold Road, from Clapton station.

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It’s multiplied again when you see a train that you could well have been sweating on pass over the bridge in front of you.

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This section of the journey home really does makes any of the inconveniences seem worthwhile. For a mile and a half, jogging along the path by the Lee, or directly across the meadow with the Olympic stadium and Orbit visible in the distance, then along the road past the reservoirs and waterworks to Coppermill Lane, thoughts of the days events are processed and dismissed for the evening.

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If seeking a shorter run it would be easy enough to finish at St James Street or Blackhorse Road, and pick up transport from there. I continue through streets lined with Walthamstow’s famous Warner housing, and through the Priory Court estate, emerging onto Chingford Road to cross the North Circular and return to Highams Park.

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Highams Park and Lake (Running on the edge 2)

When I was a true Walthamstowvian, Highams Park existed as a station before Chingford and little else. Although I am sure it is now known to more local residents (who probably call it Highams Green) since the opening of Tesco last October, it still feels unlikely that it is a destination in its own right for many – and perhaps particularly so for runners from elsewhere in Waltham Forest, who are more likely to see Chingford Plain as the gateway to long cross country routes in Epping Forest and use the marshes for their shorter off road runs.

Highams Park itself, and the neighbouring lake, offer a short run combining paths, grass and forest trails, providing one of the most panoramic views of the City anywhere in Waltham Forest and varied wildlife spotting opportunities to say the least. Though I’ve more than once been startled by rats darting across my path, I’ve also seen bats when out running at dusk, and some of the largest dragonflies I’ve ever come across.

A circuit of the lake or park is easily incorporated into any number of longer routes but here is a suggested c. 5km – easily reached from the station (Chingford to Liverpool Street line) so perfect for a quick after work escape for Walthamstow dwellers.

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The gateway to the forest

Exiting the station at the clock tower side (not Tescos side) Highams Park itself can be quickly reached with a few minutes jog up Handsworth Avenue, taking a right turn it crosses with Falmouth avenue and left into Tamworth Avenue. My preferred route however , uses Vincent Road and reaches the park with a short detour through a sliver of forest which somehow remains in the middle of the relatively built up area. I always think of the path through this attractive wood as my gateway out of London – from here, barring one or two road crossings, it is actually possible to run through forest all the way up to the M25 at Epping.

 

The City - View from the Edge

The City – View from the Edge

Most walkers through the park stick to the paths, and it was only when I started running that I went right round the perimeter and realised what I was missing. It’s not flat by any means, but a lap or two is more than rewarded by a view of the City from the top. This view, more than anything brings home the fact that we are truly On The Edge of the capital.

 

Down along at the bottom of the park there’s more than one gateway/ stile which will lead you into the forest and onto the path which goes right around the lake. It is to me one of the most beautiful parts of Epping forest.

Highams Park Lake

Highams Park Lake

 

The mud tracks stay relatively clear most of the year round, though this part of the run can feel like proper cross country at certain times. The River Ching (which gave Chingford its name) runs alongside the lake – there is a path between the lake and the river, as well as a bridge which takes you to another (often drier) path on the other side. I normally do two laps of the lake, and run both these paths. Emerge onto the road and take a right turn to set you on course back towards the station.

 

 

Highams Park Forum has lots of information about the area, including an interesting history http://www.highamsparkforum.co.uk/history.html

Running on the edge

fromtheedge.org was originally inspired by living in a place where five minutes in one direction takes you deep into Epping Forest, whilst the same short distance in the other direction leads to the heart of some of the most diverse and densely populated parts of the country – communities with all the excitement and challenges that inner city living can bring.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I’ve been running for the last year or so (those hours spent pounding the trails and streets are perhaps part of the reason this blog has been so quiet). So this summer I’m going to rejuvenate this site with a series of posts based around my favourite routes in the area …long runs through the forest without crossing a road, trips through parks and round lakes, runs home from the City taking in the marshes, Victorian housing and modern estates, and my first half marathon which beat the bounds of the borough – through Chingford, Wathamstow and Leyton.

These posts will generally be less about running itself and more about the places and routes – but I can’t finish this introductory post to my running series without a reference to the route I run probably more often than any other. Three laps of a local Sports Ground playing fields may not sound like the most exciting running route in the borough but I’m there at 9am most Saturday mornings for the weekly Walthamstow Parkrun .

Parkrun is an amazing example of communities making something happen because they want it to. Organised by volunteers at over 200 sites across the country these free timed 5km runs are open to all and are relaxed and uncompetitive events – it’s true that some runners enjoy chasing a PB each week, but just as many jog leisurely, enjoying the fresh air and weekly catch up with others.

Walthamstow Parkrun started in February of this year, and in the 30 weeks since then has had 342 runners take on its three lap course. Some are club or marathon runners looking for a short fast run as part of their training, some families with multiple generations running together, others parkrun tourists – visiting as many of the sites as possible. The run is a 3 lap course of pleasant tree lined playing fields – a small hill near the beginning means the course is not without its challenges but they set up the weekend nicely, and more often than not what was supposed to be a gentle run finishes with a sprint to the end in an effort to achieve that 21.30 time which has so far eluded me.

Walthamstow Parkrun is at Peter May Sports Ground, Wadham Road, Walthamstow, E17 4HR at 9am every Saturday morning – more details at http://www.parkrun.org.uk/walthamstow/.

Register for free on the website before attending.