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!
This is a grotto. Santa is nowhere in sight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.