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The Boroughers, 27/08/2018: Redbridge Ilford manners

Wait what hang on. A boroughers episode? Yes, yes indeed. More than two months since our day out in Waltham Forest – back when we were still (almost) on course for actually making good our resolution to visit all of them in 2018 – and we're back, spending a Bank Holiday Monday seeking culture and fun in one of London's boroughs. For reasons I've already forgotten we'd decided to hit up one of the "hard to reach" parts of town, having updated our long neglected microsite and re-researched what attractions are open and whatnot, and settled on Redbridge.

Where?

Redbridge! It's got a red ... bridge. Actually it doesn't, apparently, but Stonybridge sprang to mind anyway.

Looks a bit like a weird butterly or summat eh. Or maybe the Wu-Tang Clan W logo. Anyway, it's up there on the north east and we knew fuck all about it but for me being aware of the borough-straddling football club Dagenham & Redbridge. We tried to fix our ignorance in advance and this is what we came up with.

  • The only complete mammoth skull in the UK was found in 1860 at Boots, Ilford high street
  • Ilford was the fastest growing tourist destination in Europe in 2011
  • A vine from Valentine's Mansion was taken in 1758 down to Hampton Court, where it became famous and it's still going. Something like that anyway.

We only learnt that last fact while on our day out, having found no other suitable candidate for third fact. That Noel Edmonds grew up there didn't make the cut.

Redbridge

Oh, yes, shit. If we're going Boroughering then we need a picnic, right? Such was our conversation during an unnecssarily wet Sunday afternoon. Amazon Prime Now stocking Morrisons food to the rescue! So, after a bit of a lie-in followed by some rubbish and gardening chores it was time for Helen to surprise me with hastily contrived meal and pun combination. Behold, therefore.

Val-Ham-tines ham-sion, I'm told. Valentines Mansion in sandwich form, innit.

Top marks for effort. Medium marks for pun, because I'm allowing "ham-sion" but "val-ham-tines" doesn't work at all. Also, Morrisons food isn't that great, and there's no cheese. I complain a great deal about Helen eating precisely none of it; if the chef won't touch their own food then why should I? She professes "I ate a bunch of the off cuts!" and quietly admits that, also, she wasn't a big fan of the ham anyway.

Off the 1138 – a late start for such a distant borough, IMO – at Waterloo and a quick vape before a perfectly timed arrival at the Jubilee Line platform. Change at Stratford onto the Central Line and then another change at Leytonstone, because it hadn't been clear that we'd got on one going to the wrong part of town.

But there's barely any wait time still and we're on a train into Redbridge's own loop. Seriously, I'm pretty sure the entire loop at the far right of the central line is entirely within this borough.

Hmm, now that I think about it, Chigwell probably isn't. But let's ignore that.

The tube does a great Loch Ness monster impression, emerging from a tunnel at one station only to dive below ground en route to the next, then above ground again, then below. Once at the borough's eponymous station we're firmly underground again.

Come on then. Impress us!

At Gants Hill. I'm a bit annoyed that every single sign hasn't been desecrated to say "Giants Hill". In fact none of them have. Oh well. There are well signposted exits from the station and we want Exit 4, so we're told. Turns out the station is underneath a roundabout with a sculpture on it. Culture!

It's a bit weird and shit, much like my inability to keep my thumb out of the way of the photo of the sign. At street level there are a fair few people about, being all loud and happy. We walk past the UK's leading vedic astrologer and a long parade full of various different cuisine food shops - Redbridge is hyper-diverse in ethnicities, heritage, religion, etc – and only a couple of minutes along we're at Valentine's Park and Mansion. This is our centrepiece attraction of the borough.

First up is some water and a load of geese and stuff. There's a few people around, not many. More birds.

This is a grotto. Santa is nowhere in sight.

Inside the grounds of the mansion is an impressive couple of gardens. They'd look even better if the sun came out, which it did for about 2 minutes all day.

Here's where we learnt that third fact, the one about the vine.

Sun! The sun came out! Sun!

At the end is a dovecot, which doubles up as the gardeners cottage café.

But we don't need no café, we're going into the mansion itself. It's free to get in, and an enthusiastic woman on the front desk greets us and tells us roughly what we can expect. For a start the Victorian kitchen is closed, and the room with all the plastic chairs has all these plastic chairs in because it's used as a venue for wedding receptions and the like.

Suffragette city

The first room is a temporary exhibition about suffragettes and suffragists, what with it being 100 years since women got the vote. It's pretty sparse. The displays go into detail about how it was mostly well-to-do middle or upper class women that were able to fight the cause, since working class women had to actually work; and there was a long bit about the white feather sorts, who would shame men that hadn't gone to war for one reason or another... while their sisters were elsewhere campaigning against the war. It was some kind of "look, we might not support war, but if there is one you bloody men should stop being so cowardly".

Frankly it didn't paint them in that good a light, at least to your middle class white middle aged pacifist male correspondent here, and I dunno if that was to be applauded for being candid or whether it's some kind of stealthy "bloody suffragettes!" exhibit.

The next room had a load of kitchen stuff in glass-fronted cupboards. This room too was sparse. In fact, all the rooms were pretty sparse. It's a mansion but not a stately home, and while it's pretty nice to be spared the gaudy opulence of the upper classes it's quite ... boring to just see ugly wallpaper, drab clothes, and uncomfortable looking chairs.

We were only inside for about 10 minutes if that. I learnt fuck all other than one of the rooms used to have a load of owls in it but now doesn't. Helen was displeased.

Valentines MANSION

Well, as a centrepiece attraction goes it wasn't particularly impressive. Hmm. But whatever, it was free, and the bus goes from nearby. It's the 150, up back through Gants Hill between all the weird bent lamp posts, and in fact all the way from this southwestern corner of the borough all the way up to the northeasternmost border.

So, we get a decent top-deck-front-seats view of a signifcant amount of Redbridge.

Turns out Redbridge is largely nondescript. A bit shit, really. Long, wide residential street after long, wide residential street, with occasional schools, parades of shops and the odd tube station. Barkingside is a bit built up but that's kind of it. There's tons of barbers and nail bars and fast food outlets, but very few pubs – like, three or so on the whole journey, and they all looked shit. A few of those kind of small industrial estate-y bits you get within residential areas... but mostly just houses, houses, houses. No high rise estates nor gentrification, just a steady level of seemingly average prosperity, perhaps dipping a little just as we reach our point of disembarkation, up by the big main road and, oh, the border with Essex proper.

We're looking for Hainault Country Park and it looks like it's just across the main road that has no pavement or crossing site. A bloke asks us if we know where Hainault Country Park is and we tell him it looks like it's just across the main road and, oh look, there's an actual proper gate entrance. Almost hidden by trees and stuff but it's there. We all semi-perilously cross the lanes and then go our separate ways, he's meant to be meeting people; we're looking for a farm.

First, into a field with signs warning about cows. The place looks way too overgrown to host cows, but there are cowpats on the ground so it must be true. Helen confidently proclaims that the pats are old, unveiling her heretofore unbeknownst to me skill of being able to age cow shit by sight.

It's a grey day and so not all colourful and stuff. But it's quite atmospheric, and definitely "ooh, countryside". Especially when we get away from the sound of the main road.

The forest does look a bit creepy, in a good way.

There's path after path, with many forks, and very few signs. We're not entirely sure where we're going, but know enough to provide directions to a second stranger within 15 minutes despite us being the insurgents around here.

Being so empty and bleak but also dense off the paths, it really did feel like a prime place for murderers to hang around murdering people, or burying people they'd murdered elsewhere. Though transport would be an issue. Let's just stick with murdering within the park thing.

Eventually we come out at a big fuck-off meadow next to a lake. There's quite a lot of people around here, and we're on the cusp of finding the farm.

Along the lake's side, across a field full of families playing numerous sports, beyond the car park, and hello Fox Burrow Farm.

It's a big ol' place, with much more room for most animals than any of the other farms and zoos we've been too. There's goats and horses and guinea pigs and all that malarkey. We are very content with this.

Guinea pigs! I love guinea pigs. Next door to them are some rabbits but they're aggravatingly impossible to get a nice picture of. But guinea pigs!

I will never not be freaked out by weird goat eyes.

The alpacas are frustratingly distant, staying in their hut facing away from us. Grr. Come over here and look stupid!

When he's not taking a massive piss, this horse looks magnificent. But he did take a massive piss just as we started trying to admire him.

The rhea looks angry and like he'd peck you, but one other visitor clearly knows how to put them at ease and as we go past a second time there are several people petting this one and everyone looks very happy.

The sheep ain't doin' fuck all today.

Back at the alpacas, they're still in their hut but now are smiling dopey smiles. Well, this one is.

The other one's still ignoring us, trying their best and almost succeeding at staying out of shot.

MEERKATS. Most city farms/zoos don't have these critters but hey, Redbridge, this is cool.

On our way out we want to make a donation but can't figure out how to as there's no buckets for cash; turns out it's all very modern and you instead text a codeword to a special number and pay with your phone bill. Fancy.

There's a café along the way where we buy just a couple of drinks, and I'm gobsmacked by a view. There's a fantastic cityscape I can't get enough of. I had no idea at all there was anywhere in London you could get such a comprehensive view of the centre as this.

Docklands to the left, Shard/City/West End to the right.

Next up, a bona fide henge. YES. I shit you not, there's a real henge in Hainault Country Park. It's made of wood and called Woodhenge. I insist we look for it and Helen begrudgingly allows me this pleasure. We have to go and complete our cicruit of the lake to find it.

Signs are hard to come by and not easily understood. We each think it's in a different direction with, as we later discover, Helen more accurate than me. Venturing deep into the woods she says "that's it over there" but I completely dismiss the idea, since it looks much more like a bunch of metal and rope connected to trees in a circle to make some kind of large scale climbing thing. Anyway, let's stop and look at this head.

We can't find the henge though, so walking back to the last sign we saw it becomes apparent that, oh, that thing I dismissed was indeed the henge. Well bollocks then. Misinterpreting the situation as being one in which Helen has had enough and is demanding (rather than merely suggesting) that we fuck it off and leave, I concede and we fuck it off and leave. Rather than head back to the main car park exit she's convinced this other random path that, admittedly, is going towards the main road will lead us to another exit.

It does, kind of; we have to scramble up a small embankment covered in litter and through a broken bit of fencing, emerging onto a pavement-free part of the busy main road. D'oh.

Onto the large central reservation until it's safer to cross back and make our way to the nearest bus stop, we hang around for quarter of an hour waiting for a 247 bus which, I am horrified to learn, does not operate 24/7 (unlike many other routes around here, I mean for fucks sake people).

This bus takes us out of Redbridge. In fact, it takes us into not one but two other boroughs we are yet to visit, so we're swearing at each other not to let our brief time in Havering or Barking & Dagenham unfairly prejudice, positively or negatively, our future Boroughering duties. Barking & Dagenham is easy because we only spent about 2 minutes there, going through the weird little spiky bit at the northeast. Havering is harder, because we're on the bus to Romford for quite some time and holy hell everything looks fucking shit around there. Thankfully we're not meant to be hitting up Romford when we come back for our official visit but the memory of this bus ride is going to be hard to erase.

Anyway, at Romford station we're waiting not long for the TfL rail service back to Ilford. I'm desperately hoping for one of the fancy shiny trains but we just get one of the shitty old ones much like all the suburban SWR trains I get on my commute. Bah. As we return to Redbridge I'm scouting for a welcome sign on Google street view, successfully virtually navigating from Ilford station to one near the North Circular. Let's do that then!

It's almost hidden in a ton of overgrowing trees and shrubs and stuff. The best picture we get is the one above, which Helen took while I was moving as much out of the way as I could. Taking a selfie with it visible was a much harder task since our hands were no longer available as shrub-shifters.

Anyway. That's on the bridge over the River Roding, which seems to be the borough's border with Newham in these parts. It's on a road called Ilford Hill, on which there are tons of huge new modern high rise apartments are being built. There's fuck all else of use to the planned influx of new residents though - no pubs, no shops, no supermarkets. But up top of the road is Ilford town centre, and we're here looking for somewhere nice to eat and drink.

It's going to prove tough, we feel. This feeling is based on our research failing dismally to find anywhere attractive to eat or drink in this whole godforsaken borough. Google maps threw up a few restaurants with ropey reviews, and a previous search for somewhere to get decent beer came up entirely empty. There was a news article about Redbridge's only craft brewery shutting a couple of years ago, and being bought by someone who's just making bottled Belgian beer and you can't visit them anyway.

Honestly, we've seen barely any pubs all day. In Ilford near the station there's an O'Neill's, and Jono's, another Oirish bar that looks fucking terrifying. But, miraculously, and unlisted by Google apparently, we stumble across and into the Pie Factory. A factory of pies!

Woohoo! We like pie. And, in fact, these pies are very nice indeed. Pie Factory say they're a place which opened in 2012 and are unifying the best of traditional British food – pies – with Asian flavours to represent large parts of modern British society and demonstrate a spirit of togetherness between cultures 'n that. So basically these are gorgeous spicy halal pies in a restaurant that doesn't serve alcohol. They're really very good.

The pub I know about in Ilford that isn't O'Neill's or Jono's is a Wetherspoons called The Great Spoon of Ilford, a name I find attractively funny, but the boozer is a good 10 minute walk away and Helen's totally fucking had enough of Redbridge. I convince her to let us have a drink in O'Neill's then, because otherwise she's condeming me to coming back here on my own one day and that's not fair (I insist on having a pint in each borough, meaning I already have to go back to fucking Harrow at some point).

Anyway, O'Neill's looks great.

Walking in, it's virtually silent. The radically cosmopolitan nature of Redbridge as a whole is entirely unrepresented by the smattering of miserable white folk all drinking either solo or in pairs, with barely any conversation taking place. We get our drinks, sort of: they've run out of Helen's first choice, only having cans on display but not in the fridge. If that doesn't top things off I don't know what would.

Oh, hang on, I know what would ramp up the fail even more: if her replacement drink was actually quite nice, but my pint of Hop House 13 was nasty, suspiciously close to being off but not quite enough for me to complain and ask for a replacement. Y'know what fuck this place, let's go get the train back and start writing numbers down.

Scorious

How do we do this? I've forgotten again. Stupid 2 month break full of heatstroke and European railroad madness. Oh, yes, that's right: we both rate our day on a 1-7 scale across the three categories "Fun", "Learning" and "Nice".

Darren

  • Fun: 5. High marks just for being back out Boroughering. Probably dropped lower during a shitty bus ride and later missed a henge, but bumped back up by eventual schadenforeman.
  • Learning: 2. It felt like one of the least educational days out yet. I mean, when we got home Helen started watching some Kardashian show on TV for fucks sake. Thanks, Essex.
  • Nice: 3. No deprivation or any feeling of danger, and the country park was good 'n that, but ... we saw barely any history, character, or interestingness. Meh.

Total: 10 points! That is fucking measly.

Helen

  • Fun: 5. Fun to be out Boroughering again; points knocked off for antisocial alpaca and lack of good drinking venues.
  • Learning: 1. Learnt one thing about an old vine.
  • Nice: 2. Valentines Mansion and park was lovely. Hainault Forest country park could've been lovely, if bits of it didn't seem like a crime scene. Rest of Redbridge... not so lovely.

Total: 8/21.

So, holy shit, that's a total of just 18/42. Deary me Redbridge. Deary deary me. Still, whisper it quietly – you might beat Havering...

Created By
Darren Foreman
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