IT was a wet Sunday morning when John Francis of the West Essex Ramblers led a group of the Highams Park Society on a walk of discovery to follow the route of the River Ching.

Starting from the landmark of the Walthamstow Stadium we wandered up through Highams Park before the relative seclusion between Chingford hatch and Whitehall Lane.

The weather cleared in time for our arrival at Connaught Water and we were rewarded with sightings of cormorants and grebes in addition to the standard ducks, geese and coots.

To all intents and purposes the course of the Ching starts here, but there was a time when it ran into the lake at its Northern end. As you will read, our party satisfied itself that it had found the true source of the river.

1. Start

Start the walk with the Walthamstow Stadium on your left. Proceed towards the Billet roundabout and go left at the first turning. At the end swing left under weeping willows on a footpath which goes along the side of the stadium and which, besides displaying an extravagant gallery of graffiti, gives an occasional glimpse inside the dog track. Your first sight of the Ching is at a trash trap on the left with a school beyond. Given the immediate environment the Ching here is not unattractive although walkers need to be warned that there was an example of the poisonous Giant Hog Weed at one point. The path twists and turns and emerges in Cavendish Road.

2. 0.4 miles/0.6 km

Keep forward, having temporarily lost sight of the Ching, to arrive at the junction with Haldan Road. (This used to be a mini-shopping centre with a greengrocers, electrician, and fish and chip shop etc. All are private houses now). Veer right to reach Winchester Road where you go right and almost immediately left along an alleyway which takes you under the railway line to Beech Hall Road which you cross.

3. 0.7 miles/1.1km

Cross into Beech Hall Crescent and immediately take a narrow path to the left which takes you behind a garage and houses alongside the Ching. The path is at first overgrown but does improve.

On reaching Hale End Road, cross and turn left to go right into Vincent Road. The Ching now flows over to your right; you will cross it at a bridge at the end of the road and go left through a kissing gate into a narrow meadow.

Leave by another kissing gate and go left to walk up to Gordon Avenue where you turn right. At the end turn right, re-crossing the river, and then left into a small car park.

Climb up the bank to view Highams Park Lake. (Originally the lake was formed by damming the Ching. Humphrey Repton, the garden designer, used stones from the previous London Bridge to form the bank on which you are standing. In about 1850 the river was diverted to flow alongside the lake.)

4. 1.3 miles/2.1km

Return to the road and turn right over the river and right again to walk alongside it. At first you are walking in parallel to Forest Glade but the path soon opens up and you go to the right toward the river which is now in full meander. Pass one bridge and eventually cross one which doesn't have handrails. Walk up a slope away from the river, turn left to reach Chingford Lane.

5. 1.9 miles/3km

Cross to a small brick bridge and go forward for a few metres before turning left on a mown track.

You will rejoin the road just past the roundabout at Chingford Hatch. Turn right along Chingdale Road.

When the houses on the right end you continue forward on a wide drive. Eventually the main path swings right to cross a bridge with two obelisk-like posts on either side.

Don't cross but keep forward - depending on the conditions underfoot you can either take the path right next to the Ching or continue forward on the wider alternative.

Kingfishers are often seen along this stretch of the river. You emerge at Whitehall Road.

6. 2.8 miles/4.5 km

Cross carefully, go right and then left to continue alongside the Ching. Keep forward on this path which becomes a ride and brings you to Rangers road (A1069).

7. 3.9 miles/ 6.3 km

Cross over and continue forward. At the first opportunity go right on what is usually a mown path.

First you cross the Cuckoo Brook which feeds into the, now much narrower, Ching on the right.

You arrive at the point where the river emerges from a sluice at Connaught Water. (We are going to return from here, below you can read how to reach the source of the river).

8. 4.8 miles/ 7.7 km

Retrace your steps across the Cuckoo Brook and go ahead, crossing the surfaced ride, and continuing uphill on an indistinct path.

Near the top go to the left of a white-topped post, around some scrub and ahead to a Victorian drinking fountain and The Butlers' Retreat. Follow the road round to Chingford Station l

The intrepid members of the Highams Park Society went to the far end of the lake where you can just discern the fine gravel bed of the immature Ching - this probably contains water after heavy rainfall but is usually dry.

They followed the indistinct course into the scrub, across a ride into more woodland where the channel was clearer and eventually found the actual source in a luscious green patch under a tree.


Starting and Finishing Points: The walk starts outside Walthamstow Stadium on Chingford Road (A112) and finishes at Chingford Station

Distance: 4.8 miles/7.7 km

Time: 3 hours

Terrain: Muddy in places

Suitability for Dogs: Good;(remember that dogs need to be kept under control in fields where there is livestock and at times when birds are nesting)

Stiles: None

Refreshments: Butlers Retreat and the Royal Forest Hotel near the end of the walk

Public Toilets: none

Public Transport: Buses: 97 158 215 357 397 657 W11 stop outside the Greyhound Stadium

Map and Grid Reference: Explorer 174 375 913

More Information: The Highams Park Society is interested in the history and upkeep of the local area. If you are interested, please phone 020 8923 7301 or 020 8531 2938 or email for details of membership.

If you would like to support the work of the Ramblers Association you can join a number of local groups.

All also offer a regular programme of walks with leaders which you can obtain free of charge.

West Essex Group operates four walks of varying distances every week (020 8529 6265).

The Redbridge Group has fewer but more adventurous walks, it also coordinates car lifts to the starting points (01708 456 771). The Lea Valley Friends group specialise in shorter walks of 3 to 4 miles (020 8529 7328).

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