With the news of a new national lockdown to start this coming week, we felt the need to get a bit of “proper normal” in our lives. We also needed to head into London to check what the situation was with parking in the areas that we usually use for work parking as MrEH has to go into the office next Friday (something that can’t be done remotely) and had no idea if the local authorities would have seized the opportunity during lockdown of having altered the residents parking zones. (Spoiler - they have, and my parking for the office is now going to be a complete nightmare!) So this afternoon, parking reconnaissance completed, we parked at Leyton ready to pick up the route from our last bit of Central Line walk, to continue on round what is universally known as “the loop” - the stretch of line that serves the stations of Woodford, Chigwell and Newbury Park, among others.
First up is very familiar to both of us - Leytonstone, the nearest station to the office where I (usually, if not for the last few months!) work and where MrEH travels into the city from. I walk past both the preserved advertising panels (for stores long gone from the area) and the mosaic panels commemorating Leytonstone’s most famous son - Sir Alfred Hitchcock - on a regular basis but still think they’re beautiful!
Next comes Snaresbrook - a beautiful station building (and spot the ring necked parakeet flying away!) We’re still on the main section of line at the moment - trains here head to and from Epping at the northernmost end of the line, and also our own “local” station, although at about 7 miles away “local” is relative.
On to the first of the two Woodford stations - South Woodford, also known locally as George Lane for the road that the station entrance sits on. Sadly not the most photogenic of stations although that is true of quite a lot of them on this stretch - Snaresbrook was the last notable architecture we’ll see in terms of stations for a while now as our route mostly takes us to the secondary station entrances - some are altogether nicer looking from the opposite side of the tracks.
Then Woodford - which surely must get the title of scruffiest station on the network? There’s really nothing to recommend it is there, and after a brief stop for a drink of water and to roll coats up and shove in bags, we moved on...
At this stage the loop peels away east, and we followed round to a station which truly does have a “title” - this time “the least used station on the network” - Roding Valley. In 2018 just 280,000 journeys were started or ended here - and we will shortly be heading on to the stations which take up positions 2 and 3 on the “least used” list, as well.
While the back entrance to the station is distinctly anonymous, with no barriers here it is possible to walk straight onto the platform, and very charming it is, too! As I wanted to change my walking shoes for boots, we took the chance to use a bench on the (completely deserted!) platform. One notable on this stretch was seeing a Pomelo fruit carved as a Halloween lantern - we were unable to decide if this was the only carveable thing they had, or whether this was a middle-class statement!
Back on our feet and onwards - and we were a little surprised to find a gunsmith in a back street between Roding Valley and Chigwell!
This was one of the most scenic parts of the walk too - alongside then over the river Roding, and admiring the handsome viaduct that takes the line over the top here, before taking a quiet lane which eventually lead us over the 6 lanes of the M11 motorway.
Getting dark now - the glowing lights of Chigwell were very welcoming, this is number 2 on that “least used” list too, but there were a few people about - and a couple of cars outside including a taxi driver giving his vehicle a clean while waiting for a fare...
Feet aching now - and the last few stations had been entirely uphill too. Sadly that wasn’t to change for most of the way to Grange Hill station either. It should be mentioned that this is not the Grange Hill of children’s TV fame - that one was fictional. This one is very much real and yes, you’ve guessed it, sits in position 3 on that least used list...
We departed Grange Hill - downhill, thank goodness - in the now full darkness, and having pretty much decided that Hainault would be our last station of the day. This was our longest walk since we were away in the Hebrides, and the first time on this amount of tarmac for a good while too, and both our feet and legs were really feeling it. Much as it’s never good to feel you’ve been beaten, it’s also sensible to admit when you’ve had enough!
So into the tube at Hainault - my first time on public transport since March! (And in turn probably the longest I’ve gone without using the tube since I was a toddler!) Very quiet, thankfully, we were back at Leyton in what seemed like no time at all. A good walk - and definitely nice to get another section ticked off too. Next will be the rest of the loop, then the “home stretch” from Woodford up to to Epping. The west end of the line from Shepherd’s Bush will probably have to wait a while yet, though!