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The Boroughers, 23/06/18: Waltham Forest It's really alright

Bit slack, aren't we? The halfway point of the year is nigh and here I am, about to type a ton of nonsense about the 13th London borough my girlfriend Helen and I have visited this year. We should be at 16 ideally but whatever, there's other stuff to do in this world. And maybe we're a bit tired of this whole Boroughers project? Especially since plenty of the remaining boroughs are bloody miles away, like Waltham Forest.

Where?

Waltham Forest. Come on, pay attention, I've said it three bloody times by now including the header. It's that one up top towards the right, where Iron Maiden were formed.

Waltham Forest. Getting bored of saying it now.

We didn't watch any videos to try and learn anything about it, as we have with some of the previous boroughs. But there are plenty available. This one seems pretty instructive.

Facts

This is what our cursory reading of Wikipedia and Londonist led us to find out about the place before we went.

  • 2-ply toilet roll was invented in Waltham Forest
  • The bus company which introduced the routemaster was based here too
  • Surface to air missiles were stationed here during the 2012 Olympics in case anyone was going to try and bomb the park or summat

Oh, and one last thing for the preamble: Waltham Forest only bloody went and won the inaugural London Borough of Culture award didn't they? You know, that thing that is the ostensible inspiration for our jaunts around the capital. This mob are going to be pimping themselves a lot during 2019, all insufferably "check out how cultured and stuff we are" I bet.

Well, we'll see about that. Will they be glorious?

Waltham Forest

Being so far away, I plainly wanted us to start early. My hopes were dashed, what with Helen not getting out of bed until 11am. But, y'know, it's summer and stuff, it's lighter later, and anyway we'd determined it wouldn't be much of a blocker. So, no need to panic, let's get making our "picnic".

Much to my surprise, I was allowed to witness the preparation. Probably she's hoping some of her skill will rub off on me after the terrible Lambeth picnic I made but rest assured that absolutely won't happen. Anyway, here's a bowl full of ham, cheese, and mayonnaise. It's gonna go in some bread.

Much like this, in fact. Doesn't look like much yet, does it? I mean, it's just some ham and cheese and mayo sandwiches.

Hang on though, what the fuck is this?

The answer to the last question is plainly "it's that alpaca cookie cutter thing used for one of the first picnics of the year". But what on earth is going on here?

Oh, this is what's going on. There's a tree, two alpacas, and a giant duck. How very Waltham Forest.

How glorious, in fact!

I'd eaten all the crusty offcuts during this whole time and they were all very crusty and offcutty and not great. But once we'd left and got on a train to Vauxhall we could actually eat the creation and, yum, very nice.

Searching for more trivia about the borough en route, we discovered that Walthamstow originally meant "the place of welcome". That seems hopeful, right? Changing onto the Victoria line we got a crowded noisy boring tube train lightened up only by watching the man to our right swigging water out of an impractically large vessel. But about, I dunno, 80 minutes or so after leaving the flat we're at Blackhorse Lane.

Blimey, they are welcoming around here it seems. We cross the road immediately upon leaving the station due to misplaced confidence on my part about which direction we're meant to be going. Passing us, a man mutters and mumbles sit down sit down sit down sit down a lot. Doubling back upon discovering our mistake, we turn to see the mumbler sitting down and looking happy. Well, good.

The tree part of the picnic was because of the word "forest" in the borough's name; the duck is homage to the first thing we intend to visit, the Walthamstow Wetlands. Turns out that to get there it's a 10 or so minute walk along a large main road, past tons of police randomly stopping and searching cars in both directions, more so (but not exclusively) heading towards Haringey. Oh, yeah, the border is around here too.

We have to push tree branches out of the way to get a proper look at it and I'm thoroughly unimpressed, while Helen takes the opposite view and thinks it's better than most, largely due to it being embossed. In fact, she thinks it's glorious.

Good job too, because finally she's smiling. The walk was particularly rubbish, and the wetlands as a destination hardly compelling. But we're here now. This is Europe's largest urban nature park or something, and only opened at the tail end of last year. Basically it's a bunch of reservoirs around which they've built nice cycling and walking and running trails, and they're taking special care about the wildlife. Also freight trains go right through it, next to the car park.

A variety of signs in alternate orientation greets us and leads us down toward the visitor centre. Apparently everything might be closed.

That would be pretty fucking hilarious to be honest. But it's a lie. The wetlands are open, including the visitor centre. Part of it is shutting because there's like a wedding or something happening from 2.30pm, but that's not for half hour and let's face it we ain't spending that much time here.

A swan taunts us from the water to our right. I'm starting to think this place is pretty glorious.

Not got the legs right, damn it.

There's a load of plants. Later we learn that some of them are nasty, and will cause INSTANT PERMANENT SCARS if you get them against your skin.

Inside the visitor centre is a cafe, shop, turbine hall (off limits) and viewing platform.

The view is not as amazing as I'd hoped. I don't really know why I'd hoped for amazing, to be honest. The big tower is fucking glorious though.

Inside, hanging from the ceiling are a shitload of jars with things in. There were probably plaques explaining what's going on but we really weren't very interested.

In fact Helen wanted to just bugger off already, but I argued that we should at least go and stand near some wet land in the wetlands. Begrudgingly she relented, so we headed up the path to the sign that said "we've got loads of cool wildlife, and they're busy breeding right now, so you can't go look at them". Oh. Never mind, up here there's a reservoir and it's glorious.

Actually it is pretty cool, I guess. Despite the freight railway and main road it's pretty peaceful, and would definitely make for some good running and cycling. We see a bit of wildlife, and I ask Helen to identify trees after she correctly - for all I know - identifies a willow. She thinks it's glorious.

Reservoir Ducks

It could definitely pass for nice around here, so long as you look in the right direction.

In the other direction there's loads of cranes building student accommodation, outside of which those police are stopping people randomly right now. It is less nice.

Glorious?

Realising there's no way out in this direction, we have to double back, finding ourselves far from the only people to stop and admire the pylon. It's pretty glorious, if you like pylons in wetlands.

So yeah, well, that's the Walthamstow Wetlands then. Time to show off my less than glorious stomach.

By now I'm like, seriously, are we doing this glorious thing all day? I mean, I'm a big fan of Bobby Roode 'n all but this is some serious in-joke bullshit that no-one else will be remotely interested in or amused by. Helen correctly points out that "in-joke bullshit that no-one else will be remotely interested in or amused by" is also how I think of my entire blog, Boroughers or otherwise, so what the hell let's keep it in.

Even though it's only 10 minutes, we know the way, and just one stop, we opt to get a bus from just over the border into Haringey back to Blackhorse Road station. This is mostly because it's bus number 123, which tickles us both.

Easy as ABC

Waiting plus riding time likely longer than had we walked, we're back at the Overground station at the worst possible time - the every 15 minutes service leaves as we descend the steps to the platform. Bugger. Still, gives us plenty of time to find a place in which Helen will be able to pose for the train's eventually glorious arrival on platform 2. Yes, 2. Who printed the sign wrong?

Is everything going to be crowded today? Helen gets a seat and I stand next to her, while her seatmate chugs Smirnoff Ice. A couple of stops later we're at Leyton Midland Road, and most people want to get off including us. Just a few steps away from the station there's a Jesus shop.

Why NOT "Good News Agent"? Seriously, come on.

I once again get the directions wrong, and Helen leads us through a few residential streets to an entrance of Jack Cornwell park, at the far end of which is Brooks Farm.

This is part of Capel Manor College, which is in Enfield but also is responsible for the farm we visited in Crystal Palace Park on our visit to Bromley earlier in the year. Back then we were told they had alpacas, and it was a goddamned lie.

First, chickens. I like chickens but this is a small coop. Probably too small even for the children who aren't allowed in it.

Some weight watching donkeys are up next. Poor things.

This cool black sheep comes up for a word. His knackered mate stirs briefly, but just wants to go back to sleep really.

But then HELLO! That's what we came here for.

This is, of course, glorious.

He wanders over for a bit, then wanders away and has a roll around to scratch himself. Daft thing.

And that's why we also had alpaca sandwiches today. Thought I'd tie up that loose end. Now, with the best part of the day done with we can scoot around the other animals. There's young goats and bitey water fowl.

And this angry bitey glam metal pony. On the fence is a sign saying I'M A PONY, and a few minutes later he plays football against no-one.

Hang on though, wait, what's this? There's another alpaca. And another. Wait, bloody hell, shit the bed – there's five alpacas here!

Mostly they stay distant except for this lad, who comes over all covered in hay and that, to eat yet more hay. Most of his mates stay in the shed at the back. Fucking hell though, five alpacas? Maybe they stole all the ones from Bromley.

Well that's all very overwhelming. As it goes Brooks Farm has not much variety of animals: a peacock, lots of goats and sheep and donkeys and alpacas and chickens and, er, that was it I think. What it also had was LOADS of children running and screaming around the place, even bursting balloons next to the enclosures FOR FUCKS SAKE. They'd been carted off somewhere before we left but nonetheless it was very unpleasant.

Back through Jack Cornwell park we read a bit about Jack Cornwell; he was some world war one (or two? Failed to write or remember that properly) soldier who died at the age of 16 having committed sufficient acts of military bravery and heroism as to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and a huge funeral procession locally.

But we had no time for reflection on acts of wartime bravery, for there was a puerile snigger-inducing bus number 69 to get up to Walthamstow Central.

It's a slow ride, beset by road works, enabling us to admire the vast number of restaurants of cuisines from all over the world, alternating with a pretty remarkable amount of hairdressers. Chapeau, Ali Barber. Though I think I might prefer "Uppercuts, the REAL barber" a few doors down.

Both being quite hungry, our aim at this time was to reach L Manze, a listed pie and mash shop up on Walthamstow High Street. The internet is fucking hopeless about this place, giving varying opening hours including "shuts at 3pm" (it was past 3pm by now). The L Manze website doesn't even mention the Walthamstow branch as existing, so it was with some trepidation we wandered along what is, don't-you-know, Europe's longest street market.

One thing I'd read likens it to a souk. Having been to Marrakech we are not of the opinion that Walthamstow market is anything like a souk. It is fucking long though, taking ages to weave through until finally arriving at a gloriously open pie shop. If you squint, you can see the reflection of me in the mirror at the far back.

I struggled to order, not really knowing what to do nor understanding that we were being told there was virtually no choice: either we had small pie (one or two), or we had fuck all. OK, I'll have two pies and Helen will have one. Furthermore I'll have liquor with mine – which is a kind of non-gravy made of parsley sauce.

The food is pretty glorious to be honest.

Pen in hand, pad on table, ready to brain dump

Right. Let's skedaddle and go get another bus, from the nearby St James Street bus garage. It's a shady car park behind the rear entrances to a bunch of the market shops and next to some dilapidated arches by the train line. It is an inauspicious place to wait for a bus.

But, being the starting stop for the 212, we have our pick of seats and can therefore claim the front right on the top deck. Glorious!

Up beyond the garage we peel away from central Walthamstow and towards "the village", where we get off up Church Hill to go look for a post box. But first there's an owl mosaic. Helen always appreciates bonus owls.

The other side of St Mary's church yard there's an ancient house. Right next to it is a sign pointing at it, saying "ancient house". Well OK then.

This is a bonus as well. We're here for a post box, damn it, and here it is. Unexpectedly it's not actually in use any more, but it's still historical and cultural and stuff. It's a hexagonal "penfold" pillar box and looks like this.

Somebody is very impressed. They do, in fact, think it's glorious, and this is the most carefree demonstration of that emotion yet – what with a bunch of other people around and seeing us pose for and take this pic. Fuck 'em!

Everything else we want to visit is in a pretty tight cluster in this part of Walthamstow. We're searching for an industrial estate, which is through a gap in the fence at the end of a cul-de-sac just up the way. First is God's Own Junkyard, which is a massive festival of neon. Helen doesn't like neon so hadn't put it on the list, but I'd found it independently and declared my wish to see it.

Oh my god it's mental! So much neon! And so much evidence that neon is primarily used for music venues and adult entertainment!

Oh, and Top of the Pops. A bona fide physical TOTP neon sign WANT WANT WANT WANT WANT.

It's not clear if anything is for sale. There is a sign saying photography is fine though, if for non-commercial use and taken with a phone not a camera. Well, good, 'cos I ain't leaving here without no pics. I'm loving it.

Turning her original impression on its head, Helen is now of the opinion that all this neon is fucking glorious. And she's right!

At the back there's a little bar, and it even serves booze, but to be honest drinking in here might be a bit too much overkill on the senses. Also it's warm outside and there are places to sit and drink there because the three other things on our list for the day are also in this industrial estate. It's basically the best industrial estate ever. Let's have some gin shall we?

That would be a gin palace in a converted munitions factory, as you do. We go in and are moderately flabbergasted by the selection of gins available. The menu has 6 pages of them.

All those bottles above the bar are gin. All of them. Helen has a Mothers Royale – prosecco with a rhubarb liqueur – and I have an Old Tom, a gin made on the premises and cut with tonic and coriander and some other stuff. It's lovely and hella strong. Outside we can't find a seat so we're back indoors, but wanting a drink elsewhere we abandon the temptation to have more here (we have bought one of their bottles to take home, after all). The second we emerge a party leaves a table across the way which I immediately grab. Score!

So now we're sat outside The Real Al Tap. It's a place we'd not heard of before turning up; it's selling loads of kinds of cider and craft beer. We like those things! Helen has a can of tamarind sour (which we think she'd had before, in episode 1 down in Lewisham) and I have some Partizan porter. This is pretty fucking glorious.

Far from the (very) cosmopolitan nature of the rest of Walthamstow, here is the perfectly predictable "mix" or 30-40-something middle class mostly white hipster motherfuckers drinking expensive but fantastic booze. There's a table of "Bollocks to Brexit" march-attendees on the table just over there, who apparently have been talking smack about "northerners and their shit lager" in my absence.

Keeping the same seats, I pop into Pillars Brewery next door and buy a pint and half of chocolate orange black lager. Because, y'know, fucking hipsters.

Helen's already claiming to feel a bit pissed by now, but also wants to leave because the bench we're at is quite uncomfortable. Much to my surprise and delight she agrees that standing up might be better and indeed acceptable should we get another drink, because I'm insistent that we get another drink because also in this industrial estate is the Wild Card brewery.

Yes. Three breweries or otherwise purveyors of great beer, a gin palace, and a booze-vending neon cavern. Like I said, this is the best goddamn industrial estate in the world.

Inside Wild Card we queue up and then, while being served, I grab another spare bench. This is working out very well, though the "Black Forest Gateau" beer I want isn't available so I have to settle for a chilli porter so hot it makes me cry and almost gives me hiccups.

Helen's espresso gose is sadly not all that. I think the two things have cancelled each other out.

Picking up a booklet from the shelf behind us, we find out that there's fucking loads of culture and stuff going on in this area this very weekend. Like, an art trail and stuff. Why on earth wasn't that on the Waltham Forest government events website? Well, whatever. We can amuse ourself watching the orderly queue for the two loos, which is long and slow moving enough that at least one man reaches the front of it perilously late, requiring him to do that "fuck, I really need a piss" dance that all us blokes do.

Anyway. Enough of that. Time to leave, briefly stopping at a table of young 'uns outside where Helen taps someone on the shoulder. Oh, it's a colleague of hers. They live in these parts - as do about 10 other colleagues best I can gather - and we rip through an explanation of everything we've done including our wide-eyed FIVE ALPACAS IN LEYTON excitement.

Right. Time to leave. It's a walk back through the church and up to the bus stop, then bus to Walthamstow Central, then Victoria Line. Helen wants to score things already but I'm like, look, we could still get mugged or have someone vomit on us or something while still in the borough. You have to wait to rate, says I.

Well that clears that up.

No-one mugs or vomits on us. The station is confusing though, and the Victoria line remarkable; we're at the last stop on the line, and a train comes in from the south thus kicking everyone off. Somehow it sets off back into central London only about 90 seconds later, which seems infeasibly quick for a turnaround.

So, that's Waltham Forest done with. There's nothing else to say but to briefly detail how our train changed its destination midway through the route, causing us to hurriedly recalibrate our route home and decide to change onto a train to Waterloo. At Waterloo we were hungry and decided to go into that Italian restaurant just near Fishcotheque, under the railway line from Waterloo East to Charing Cross. You all know the one, right? Been there forever, and you've never met anyone that's actually been in it.

Well, you have now. It's reasonably priced, certainly for central London. The service is, meh, it's OK. Our drinks don't arrive until our bread and butter starters, which themselves take a while. We seem to be the only patrons who don't have suitcases with them. Helen is non-plussed by the bread or the main courses, which are very bog standard pasta dishes. Not awful, but not great. My canelloni is a bit weird.

Before leaving Helen wants a tactical piss, but takes so long I'm thinking that anyone seeing me must think it was a first date and she's done a runner. No! We live together! And look, her bag is still here! But seriously, why's she taking so long?

I learn the reason, in hushed tones until we're out of earshot: apparently, heading upstairs to the ladies she stumbled into some mafiosi private deal, alongside a bunch of other suspicious doors all marked PRIVATE. The door to the loo won't open and a matriarch orders her silk-dressed daughter to help, finding herself surprised that indeed the door won't open. A waitress is called to help, but the whole thing feels like Helen has stumbled into a place where she really shouldn't be. This is reinforced further when a group turn up too late to be fed but a woman asks if she can use the loo, and is directed to using the gents on the ground floor.

This is all fucking hilarious to me. But let's not go back there, eh? And let's actually score Waltham Forest.

Scoregrind

Darren

  • Fun: 6. It was loads of fun!
  • Learning: 3. Yeah, low score. I felt like I learnt almost fuck all. Even the toilet paper fact isn't as interesting as it could be.
  • Nice: 5. Blackhorse Road dropped a point, as did St James Street bus station. Eurgh.

Helen

  • Fun: 6. FIVE alpacas, gin, beer, pie and sunshine. How could we not have fun?
  • Learning: 5. I learnt about poisonous plants, sensitive ducks and historic post boxes.
  • Nice: 6. It was GLORIOUS!

So that's, what, 31 points by the looks of it. Which means that according to our league table it doesn't quite live up to the local moniker "Awesomestow", but, well, it were alright.

And we're left to wonder, will any future boroughs be glorious?

Created By
Darren Foreman
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