Originally this was just a straight forward walk from Enfield Lock to Chingford but it morphed into an exploration of William Morris’s childhood haunts. A very worthwhile morphing.

William Morris was born in Walthamstow in 1834 and spent his childhood quietly exploring Epping Forest and the surrounding areas. Which were, at this point, quite far outside of London. He filled his head with wonderment at the endless forms of nature and the distinct atmosphere of places. He was an avid reader of chivalric fiction and so he tied these two loves together into what eventually became his Romantic harkening back to mythological England, Iceland, and Scandinavia. I currently live a short distance from his eventual textile mill at Merton Abbey Mill, on the River Wandle, but there’s absolutely zero evidence of any romance in that location now. Walking the woods he explored as a child is a different matter though.

Starting point: Enfield Lock railway station, Zone 6, trains to Liverpool Street and Stratford via Tottenham Hale (to connect to the Victoria Line)

Finishing point: Blackhorse Road Tube station, Zone 3, Victoria Line services to Central London

Length: 16.68 kilometres (10.38 miles)

OS Maps app route link: here

Download the GPX file for this route here: Enfield Lock station to Blackhorse Road station, via Epping Forest

Moody pylons near Enfield Lock

The air was filled with doilies of rain when we came out of Tottenham Hale and connected to our train to Enfield Lock, but by the time we had trundled through the hinterland of dismal track-side light industry the skies has cleared substantially. Blue was pouring through a tear in the clouds that looked like an eyelid. God was smiling on our plans?

Granary building along the LOOP near Enfield

We waited at the level crossing outside Enfield Lock station because our train and a southbound one cut off the road. Top-tip if you’re eager to get started, when you get off the train and are heading east – use the footbridge to the other platform. Turn south after the pub on the corner and you meet the London Outer Orbital Path proper. To the right, west, is the LOOP route anti-clockwise through Cockfosters. Today, left, east, towards the low hills beyond the chain of reservoirs that dribble down from the upper rim of London.

The Turkey Brook here is pretty clogged with watery vegetation but I bet it’s full of biodiversity. It doesn’t look completely rancid down there anyway! A moorhen wandered confusedly over the pebbly bed as I squinted through the sun glare coming off of the rain-wet tarmac. The park just before you reach Enfield Lock sounded like a glitching pylon, all buzzing arthropod chirps and clicks as if stray electricity was blowing a staccato between conductors.

Intense green foliage of the River Lea

Then Enfield Lock itself appears before you in all its raised and sedate glory. The long aspect reflected the sky and stopped us in our tracks. It just looked great at that time. To the south the River Lea Navigation looked lazily unnavigable and shallow. Two swans and two coots perched together in the pond nearby.

Enfield Lock

The homes on ‘Enfield Village Island’ must have some lovely views from upstairs windows, and from ground level it’s really nice as well. Inviting green foliage, submerged. Nesting waterfowl. Silvered hump of a bridge rising and plunging out of the brambles, like a whale.

Hump of a bridge near the River Lea

In the background the ridge of the hills hides Epping Forest from view but closer to hand it was time to eat blackberries, lots of them. Some were still resisting being picked but those that come off easily swung between cloyingly sweet to perfectly sweet-sour. I made my tongue purple very quickly.

Juicy wet blackberry

Caoimhe and a stile on the LOOPAfter crossing the A112 carefully you enter a field over a stile and cross it diagonally, despite the distant fences bisecting things. As you get closer you identify the gate and the ‘Ramblers Open’ notice, which I hope isn’t a sign to indicate access but more a sign identifying some unknown international Ramblers tourney. Walking pole jousting? Worther wanging? Mint-cake discus?

Beyond this field I took about ten minutes to start climbing the hill because I couldn’t stop grazing on blackberries. Being 6’2″ has its advantages when you can reach far over the best defences the low bushes have to offer. Next time I will bring tupperware and do a better job. £1.75 in Sainsbury’s seems ridiculous for gratis sun-drenched deliciousness.

Ramblers Open sign along the London Outer Orbital PathForge on up the hill, don’t forget or neglect the intermittent views out towards Ally Pally and Highgate. The access points to the fields are a little overgrown at the moment but not impassable. Soon though you’re on a twisty road with unpleasant automotive surprises whizzing up your backside. Cross over and you will find a fair path through the trees which completely avoids the roadside. Much better.

When you get to the long driveway leading to the Scouts HQ don’t get too scared. It feels a bit like you’re entering a military camp with the CCTV and strange drill exercise noises drifting over from somewhere close. Soon you are back in the woods and tipping downhill. Turning left about halfway down, onto a steeper downhill slope and you’re now on the edge of Epping Forest.

Birds in the River Lea

Jimmy the 9 month old puppy burst from a bush, covered in burrs and tongue flapping in ecstasy. A lovely dog whose head was too big for his body, a dog whose run was half-rabbit-half-horse. We chatted briefly to his owner and then strode ahead up and back up the hill. Jimmy attempting to lick his way through Caoimhe’s water bottle and then trying to push nose-wet into my dangling camera. Easily forgivable with a face like his.

At the top you need to ignore your intuition to turn right and instead head left back into the trees. The path is well-used by mountain bikers and joggers so be prepared to give way from time to time. There is a slightly less-used parallel path to the right, with the golf course beyond it. This section of the LOOP follows the exact edge of London for several hundred metres. It’s a rarity on the entire London Outer Orbital Path for it to ever actually trace the dot-dash edge of the LB Boundary but it does so here.

The River Lea twinkling

Watch out for the fake tree on the other side of the golf course. It’s a radio mast similar to one on the LOOP down south of Croydon.

Next up you’re plopped out by a Waltham Forest sign and have to cross the road. Immediately look for a path into the bushes and you’ll discover the route follows the road but is shielded from it by several metres of foliage. It’s nice in here. More recreational folk pounding the dirt but wide paths and dappled sunlight everywhere.

Dappled sunlight along the LOOP near Chingford

A sign warning you that the ‘dog poo fairy’ doesn’t exist marks the car park edge. Head back to the road and follow it for a short distance until just before the Chingford junction. Chingford station is just ahead of you but this walking route takes you left instead, up a gentle hill.

The hill is surmounted by Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge in all its weird white blockyness. The wooden deer carvings outside are quite nice too.

Queen Elizabeth I's hunting lodge and deer sculptures

Now we diverge from the London Outer Orbital Path and join the Centenary Walk. This walk celebrates the 1978 centenary of Epping Forest being saved for the people of London. It runs from Manor Park in east London to here at Chingford but until the day before we walked here I had never heard of it. A glaring omission from my lists of walks-to-be-done in London!

Today we walked half of the total distance. It’s a thin strip of woodland heading almost perfectly north-south and somehow you almost never get the feeling that there are sometimes people’s houses only a literal stone’s throw away. The Centenary Walk is not well signposted though, at all. It took a few false starts until we were on the correct path beyond Warren Pond but it seems that usually you can follow your instincts and you’ll be going the right way. Occasionally you’ll need to duck 20 metres to the right or left to get back on the ‘correct’ path but so long as you’re going south I think it’s fair that you can call yourself ‘on-track’ even if you aren’t exactly. When you do try to stick rigidly to the correct path you might find yourself doing as we did and spinning aimlessly in a copse for a few minutes when a path seems correct but ends up going nowhere. Just try to keep the River Ching to your right and it’ll all be okay.

Duck bum

The gently rolling landscape takes in woodland and meadows, riverbank and a boating lake. You have to cross a few annoying roads but with a little care it isn’t too tough. The feel of this column of woodland is pretty special and regularly I found myself thinking about little Master Morris on his pony dressed as a knight but looking to interrogate the undergrowth for weird bugs and beautiful plants. He must have had an amazing time out here.

Mushroom in the woods

It took perhaps an hour of slightly confused vaguely southward wanderings to reach the footbridge over the roaring A406. The day was still lovely but the wind had picked up significantly. Grit was beginning to sting on my face and Caoimhe’s skin was starting to glow from a little too much sun, even through these clouds.

Another busy A road along the LOOP near Walthamstow

Flowers in WalthamstowAfter the A406 there is a another footbridge but you need to turn off to the right before you mount it. From now on it’s a relatively tame road walk westwards.

The wind drove dust at us but the environment generally wasn’t too nasty despite the road. Flowers dazzled one junction and some impressive artwork adorned the side of a pub in upper Walthamstow.

Very soon we passed the weird bulk of Waltham College.

Waltham College

And then arrived the William Morris Gallery at the south edge of Lloyd Park. I don’t know why we didn’t bother to explore the park because it looks lovely. Especially from the balcony out the back of the gallery’s café, with a coffee and a bit of chocolate muffin. It’s not cheap in there BUT the gallery is free!

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow

This is the house where William Morris spent his teenage years, after his father died unexpectedly. It now hosts his biography and many examples of his and his firm’s work. Morris & Co was once a direct rival of Liberty’s but now seems to have been largely subsumed into that old institution. In its heyday Morris & Co. furnished the homes of some incredibly wealthy people, and often snarled about doing so while taking their money. It’s a very strange paradoxical relationship where Morris eventually became a leading socialist agitating for revolution whereby people would work in meaningful jobs to create beautiful and meaningful products, whilst also having enough leisure time to create their own beauty in the world.

Xray artwork on a pub in Walthamstow

An admirable drive but also saddled with the fact that so often these products were so expensive to be completely out of the reach of regular people. Perhaps collectivism was the goal here? Everyone chips in to buy lovely things for the abode where they’ve all chipped in to afford to live?

Not certain, but I recommend you read News from Nowhere – Morris’ fiction about a fallen London where his dream came true.

Temple frontage in WalthamstowAfter well over an hour of admiring patterns, furniture, and pondering his lifestyle and philosophies, we stepped back outside into the persistent gusts. With one eye on the clock for the upcoming but ultimately dreary Arsenal versus Leicester match we headed home by walking east for another 20 minutes and catching the Tube from Blackhorse Road.

We both agreed that this was a very good walk indeed. Slightly longer than originally intended but rewarding and relaxing even in the face of a dust-stung face.

Do try to get out to the William Morris Gallery as it deserves the minor effort expended in getting there. Recently I’ve also explored the Roald Dahl Museum on foot too so I’m wondering where else I should plan to head to? Darwin’s Down House for sure but any other suggestions please do post them in the comments below.