On Saturday 22 May the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign and Sustrans went on a bike ride that was both pleasant and revealing. Led by Neil Collingbourne from Sustrans 13 riders followed the river Ching from Folly lane to Chingford station. Sustrans has committed much time and effort to clearing parts of the path and promoting it to Waltham Forest Council as a viable Sustrans walking and cycling route. I think everybody on the day agreed that Sustrans has our full support on this.
Clearly there is much to be done yet. To the west there is potential to link up with the Lea navigation carrying National Cycle Route 1. The path between Folly lane and the A406 North Circular road is accessible, but rather narrow and overgrown. Nevertheless it something of a hidden treasure running along a pleasant brook flanked by a golf course and school sports grounds.
At some point the A406, one of the big road building sins, must be crossed. We chose the ramped footbridge, although using the underpass under Billett roundabout may be a better option, not least because it leads directly onto the quiet route along the Ching without having to negotiate the rather hostile supply roads to the local supermarket.
Once on the marked cycle route along the Ching the ride is again very pleasant indeed. Whereas the official LCN route continues through quiet streets and Larkswood park to North Chingford, we persisted in following the river Ching.This meant going down the quiet Cavendish road and turning left onto Winchester road, which can be quite busy and is rather narrow. But after only a couple of hundred meters we turned into a very nice path opposite Haldan road, which took us under the railway bridge. Cycling is prohibited there, which surely can be changed given the very poor alternative for cyclists crossing the railways.
Emerging on Beech Hall road we crossed over into Beech Hall Crescent only to turn left immediately behind some kind of garage. This really did not look like a feasible path. But a sense of adventure and a healthy dose of stubbornness revealed the river again and the path would be perfectly fine, had it been maintained. So again some work to do to make this one of the nicest parts of the route.
Turning left onto Hale End road we took a right straight away into Vincent road. At the end of this coul-de-sac we joined yet another beautiful off road stretch and we decided to go via Gordon avenue and Falmouth avenue into a Forest path back along the Ching. There may well be a route that stays with the river avoiding Gordon avenue, something yet to be explored.
The path parallel to Forest Glade does need draining to make it useable all year round and we chose to go on Forest Glade in the end. After a right and left into Waterhall avenue we reached the roundabout at the bottom of Friday Hill. This one really does need proper cycle facilities and high speeds must be addressed to enable cyclists and pedestrians to use it.
It appears Neil saw the steep hill (Friday Hill) and couldn’t resist the challenge. Now there is nothing wrong with a steep hill, but the adjacent road is not very pleasant at all and we quickly realised we lost track of the river and should have gone via Newgate street and Chingdale road – another bit to explore next time.
As it happened we ended up on Normanton Park, crossing Whitehall road and following Long Deacon road and Beresford road. These are relatively minor roads, but appear to be popular rat runs. There clearly is scope for a modal filter or traffic calming to make this better for cycling and walking.
For this last stretch to Chingford station it might be worthwhile trying to stick closer to the river again. I’m sure with the support of Waltham Forest Council and Sustrans we will work out a great route in the end. For this brilliant ride our thanks go to Neil and all others at sustrans for pursuing their campaign and putting so much work into it.