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5 secret places often overlooked in London


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14th December 2013

Author John Rogers reveals the neglected gems he discovered researching his book, This Other London

John Roger's book, This Other London,  takes readers into the hinterland of London, the parts of the city that are lived in; the London where workaday dormitory suburbs sit atop a rich history that could rival Westminster and Tower Bridge. Here he lists his favourite five places, left untrampled-upon by hordes of tourists, and right on London's doorstep.

1. Erith Rands and pier

The name ‘Erith’ apparently means ‘ancient haven’. Excavations have found extensive flint working in the area dating from the Mesolithic period and grave goods buried by Bronze Age Beaker People. The mud flats along the riverbank at low tide have the look of a primordial landscape. Long, wooden slipways reach out over the alluvial sludge into the river. At low tide the dark fossilised trunks of a 5,000 year-old Neolithic Forest poke up through the muddy bank. For over 2,000 years a dense woodland of ash, oak, alder and elm grew along the Thames foreshore till the waters gradually eroded it away.

Morrisons supermarket and car park occupy the site of a Victorian pleasure gardens and hotel when daily steamers stopping at the grand pier gave the town an all-too-brief status as a chic tourist magnet. The pier may only be a 1950s replacement but it provides a sojourn from the busy city.

Getting there: Erith is on the River Thames in the South East London borough of Bexley. It is a five-minute walk from the Erith Natinal Rail station on the North Kent Line.

2. Horsenden Hill

The summit of Horsenden Hill stands 273 feet high with views across four counties. It’s a canvas so vast that the built environment is reduced to brown smudges and ridges of red tiles. You get a glimpse into a prehistoric London occluded at street level. There were settlements on Horsenden Hill dating back 7,000 years ago.

The name is said to mean ‘Horsa’s Dun’ – ‘dun’ being an Old English word for ‘hill’, the hill of Horsa, most likely a Saxon warrior and possibly buried within the summit. In The Chronicles of Greenford Parva, published in 1890, John Allen Brown recounted a Mr Farthing’s earlier version of ‘A Legend of Horsenden Hill’ that tells of the great battle which took place between Horsa and his rival Bren where both were slain and Horsa’s ghostly steed stills trots over the fields to the hill at midnight leaving a trail of blue hoof prints burnt into the morning frost.

Getting there: Horsenden Hill is in Perivale in the London borough of Ealing. The closest tube station is Perivale on the Central line. You'll find more information on the Ealing Council website.

3. Lesnes Abbey

The ruins of this 12th Century Augustinian Abbey sit on a high plateau above Plumstead Marshes with magnificent views east and west along the Thames and across to the northern heights. It is framed by the Abbey Wood, a remnant of the once mighty forest of Kent, that contains an ancient burial mound and fossil beds.

Getting there: Lesnes Abbey Woods, Abbey Road, Belvedere, DA17 5DL. The nearest station is Abbey Wood on the North Kent Line. You'll find more information on the London Borough of Bexley website.

4. William IV Pub, Bakers Arms, Leyton

A beautiful old London boozer with large painted mirrors that in my eyes rival anything that famous local artist William Morris produced. The bar is edged with framed Victorian prints of country scenes mounted on a wooden border like a suspended gallery. The back room has a domed glass roof and roaring open fire. And best of all, in the yard, Brodie’s Brewery turns out some of the finest ales ever to pass your lips. You could drink your way round East London with their Bethnal Green Bitter, Shoreditch Sunshine, Whitechapel Weizen, London Fields Pale, Hackney Red IPA and Mile End Mild.

Getting there: 816 High Road Leyton, E10 6AE. The nearest station is Leyton Midland Road on the London Overground line. For more information visit the pub's website.

5. Herne Hill Velodrome

Now that cycling is the new rock and roll, Herne Hill Velodrome is one of its seminal venues. This is the track where Olympic hero Bradley Wiggins learnt to race. It was the cycling venue for the 1948 London Olympics and still has the original banks of seating. During its heyday in the 1920s and 30s the annual Good Friday event regularly drew attendances of over 10,000 spectators to watch international stars such as W. J. Bailey and Lucien Faucheux. There’s a great friendly family vibe at the regular race meetings and open sessions on weekend mornings where budding future Olympic stars share the track with have-a-go pensioners. One of Britain’s truly great sporting venues.

Getting there: 104 Burbage Rd, London SE24 9HE. It is a ten-minute walk from either Herne Hill station or North Dulwich station. For more information visit the velodrome's website.

This Other LondonThis Other London by John Rogers can be ordered on Amazon now.

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