Hackney (Borough of)

Dine with Des – London Trip (September 2023, Hackney Brook)


It’s no secret that one of my favourite things are train trips out and expeditions to London are high up on the list. In a bid to stay in touch with developments in London’s craft brewing scene, I started this marvellous ‘Dine with Des’ concept where we go to London, go on a walk led by Des (saves me doing it) and then I take over with the bar and beer section of the evening. Although we dodged the rail strikes with this trip, we didn’t manage to avoid the dreaded rail replacement buses, meaning I had to get up at 06:00 to get to Norwich railway station. As some slightly poor planning on my part, I had only returned from London at just after midnight the previous day, so this was all a little sub-optimal. But I like adventures and drama, so all to the good.


It was a small group due to people working, being ill or needing a nap, so four of us were setting off on the expedition this time. Steve, Kate and Ray were all on time, looking eager and downing coffee in a bid to feel awake. The rail replacement bus was early and full, so off we went.


Safely at Ipswich railway station, around thirty minutes early, with numerous passengers commenting just how quick it had all been. It’s a slight mystery to me why there’s no bus from Norwich to Ipswich, especially given how relatively expensive the rail journey is.


I had a free sausage roll with O2 rewards, so I decided that everyone could wait for me as I’m always thoughtful and aware of others. In my usual manner, I was something of an inspiration as then Ray and Steve joined the queue for their own quality baked goods purchases from Greggs.


That was a successful mission. We then boarded the train to London Liverpool Street, being momentarily concerned that Britain’s loudest family were seated near to us, but then God smiled on us and they moved. We met with Tim in Colchester, adding to our ranks.


We walked to Moorgate and then got on the Northern Line. I’d add that it was too hot, something which I’m aware I do mention from time to time, but standing at the end of the carriage meant that I got something of a draft to cool me down a little.


We got to the start point of the walk 30 minutes early, but I refused to accept the thanks of the group for this impeccable and competent leadership. But they insisted, so I did. Steve, Ray and Tim decided to go and sit in the warmth to wait, whereas I went to find a cold, miserable and damp place to sit as it was too bloody hot.


Here he is, the mythical figure that he appears to have become in some quarters of the Ramblers, the main man Des.


Starting our walk, Des pointed out the Archway Tavern which was constructed in 1888, although it was on the site of an older coaching inn. It’s had a period of instability and closure, but it’s now open again. I’m afraid that my music knowledge is generally poor, mainly limited to the Wurzels, 1990s Britpop and Scooter, but I’ve heard of the Kinks and Des said that the pub is featured on their ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ album cover.


Our walk was along the former route of the Hackney Brook, one of the series of expeditions where we walk along the course of a former river being moderately disappointed that we never see any water. Sometimes people get excited when they see a drain and hear water, but Des usually just explains that it’s just a drain and nothing to do with the former river. But, the point is to experience the excitement of urban walking, Des’s marvellous tour leading and the excitement of knowing that pubs are coming up at the end of the walk. Here we are at the entrance to Whittington Park, named after the former London mayor Dick Whittington.


Here’s the park which is 11 acres in size. It was first opened in 1954 and then extended again in 1973.


We haven’t got a bloody clue whether or not this is true, but Des says that this is where the river started. I sometimes think he just points randomly at things, but I’d never put that in writing of course. Des is a true entertainer who treats London as his stage, so to be honest, I just assume he’s right as it’s better to be taken in by the magic.


This is the Odeon Cinema on Islington Road and it’s a beautiful structure, built as the Gaumont between 1937 and 1938 and it was in its heyday enormously popular with its single screen accommodating up to 3,000 people. Times changed, the cinema was split up into smaller screens and things declined somewhat before the building itself was in some trouble. However, a recent restoration has taken place and it’s standing proud again.


As I discussed earlier, my music knowledge is limited and so I’ve never heard of Joe Meek (1929-1967). He was apparently a brilliant sound engineer who pioneered numerous musical practices, although he said about the Beatles “they’re just another bunch of noise, copying other people’s music”.


This is where Joe Meek lived and Des was telling this positive story about his abilities. He then said that Meek was a troubled figure, which was certainly true as on 3 February 1967 he shot his landlady and then himself at this property. That was somewhat of a darker story than I had anticipated when we stopped here.


We then walked by the front of Arsenal’s new football ground.


I think this is Dennis Bergkamp. Ray was reminiscing at this point about when he watched Arsenal play in the 1960s.


And Bob Wilson, I recognised him even without just reading his name by his photo. There’s some good news about my getting more engaged with football incidentally, I now know the names of over half the Everton squad. I’ll be as good a football commentator at Bob Wilson before you know it and  might even make it to a match.


Arsenal tube station, opened in 1906 as Gillespie Road, but then renamed as Arsenal in 1932 meaning it’s the only underground station which is named after a football club (handy information for a pub quiz there). It’s literally opposite Highbury, which is where Arsenal played between 1913 and 2006, and around a five minute walk from the new stadium.


And there’s the old stadium, which has now been turned into housing. Some of the original stand is still, well, standing.


As I didn’t want to traipse a bag around all day, I risked there being a food option near to wherever Des declared it was lunch. I was surprised and delighted to discover that there was a Sainsburys next to Clissold Park, so my meal deal was safely acquired. Thanks also to Kate who kindly offered to put my jacket in her bag all day, only realising that I had a heavy battery pack in the pocket which she then had to traipse around. She was very kind and said that it was her pleasure, so I’m glad that I could do something nice for someone.


And here’s our river, or at least, a sign saying pipe. I felt something of a connection with the Hackney Brook at this stage, it felt so near. Des destroyed the magic a little by saying that someone could have moved this sign at some stage, but I had to clutch onto what evidence I could about this river.


We made a slight diversion to look at this pumping station, a grand building which is now mostly used as the Castle Climbing Centre.


Next to this centre is the New River which opened in 1613 and is technically neither new, nor a river. We got excited as it was some water to look at, but it wasn’t part of the Hackney Brook, so we didn’t look at it for too long.


We retraced our steps to look at the ponds at Clissold Park and these actually were part of the Hackney Brook at one point, although water is no longer supplied to it from the river.


A quick trip to Abney Park cemetery, one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries. It’s also partly an arboretum and nearly 200,000 people have been buried there.


Then we realised we couldn’t get out of the back of the cemetery due to building work, so we spent a little more time walking in the shade. By this time it was slightly less hot than earlier on, which was something of a relief. We then marched into Hackney and beyond, before the walk ended near to the River Lea. It was another marvellous walk, as the history of urban areas is one of my favourite subjects and Des is fiercely knowledgeable about so much of the city’s heritage. Indeed, he has been on TV a lot recently, so he’s something of a talent.


That meant the next part of the day switched to me and visiting some of the bars of London. This is Beer Merchants Tap, which I’ve visited before and is something of a personal favourite.


I went for the ‘Coconut Coffee Stout’ from Lervig and this was undeniably delightful. It seemed a little thin at first for a 12.8% ABV beer, but it had light flavours with a full body, then aftertastes of bourbon and coconut. This was a decadent way to start proceedings and I think Ray was particularly enjoying the venue. It was decided, mostly by me, that we’d sit inside in the cold rather than outside in the warm, and I was pleased with that decisive decision. I also encouraged Ray to get more involved with his Untappd account which he set up three years ago and never used. I hope that he does use it more, but either way, it means another friend on Untappd and I eagerly add people to make myself feel popular….


We then got the Overground back to Hackney, and this was a return visit for me to the Hackney Church Brew Co.


I went for two halves, the ‘What’s in the Box’ was hazy, fruity and smooth. I thought that there was a taste of apricot in this, whereas Kate thought that there was elderflower, but I wasn’t overly bothered as this was a rather delightful beer. I also went for the Temptation, which is in the above photo, which offered a sour hit of mango. Not as rounded as I’d ideally like, but still very drinkable.


The Deviant and Dandy Brewery is a location that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, but it’s either been closed or I just haven’t had time. I was a little disappointed that they were having dispense problems, meaning that I was a little limited to just the ‘It was a Good Day’ hazy IPA, although this piney beer didn’t disappoint. The service was friendly and the surroundings were comfortable, so it was an enjoyable place to visit and I’ll likely go back.


The brewery set-up, housed in the railway arch and they say that they have “a fearless disregard for taking risks”.


I then marched us to Forest Road Brewing as time was getting limited and we still needed to order food. I had been excited to come here for the first time, until I got here and remembered that I’ve been here with Liam. But, nonetheless, it was still exciting as I don’t get out much.


They appeared to have had a busy day and so beers were running out, but the Work IPA was agreeable enough. The pizza was very much needed and I very much enjoyed this, the toppings were generous and full of flavour. It was generously sized and Des enjoyed trying his pizza so much he lobbed it on the floor. This isn’t something that I’d be guilty of personally, I don’t drop food. Well, I might lob vegetable and fruit on the floor, but that’s a slightly different matter.


Once again, I appointed Steve as a responsible adult to get us back to Liverpool Street as we didn’t have much time to get our train back to Norwich. We got a bus to Whitechapel and then jumped on the Elizabeth Line ensuring that we arrived in time to get a seat and get ourselves comfortable for the long expedition back to Norwich. We had a situation at Whitechapel on the platform where they were making announcements for someone to stop leaning on the glass panels next to the track. They were describing this guy and his clothing, but he was standing next to us and wearing headphones so he couldn’t hear it. Ray told him, but I’m not sure that the passenger was thrilled at this intervention, although it the right thing to do.


Our first adventure was to get the Greater Anglia train to Audley End. The train was too hot which was very much sub-optimal and I think it’s fair to say that after an early morning, a day of walking and then an evening of drinking, we were quite tired. The loud and excitable passengers sitting opposite livened things up no end, I think that’s a polite way of putting that. I was pleased that Kate and Steve were nearer to them, I leaned against the wall planning my email to Greater Anglia about their hot train. I won’t write it, but it stops me from getting annoyed.


Safely in Audley End, we then got the replacement bus service to Cambridge. I was deeply unimpressed with this driver, he had no idea how many people he let on his coach and mid journey he unnecessarily shouted at a passenger to sit down forgetting that there weren’t any seats for them to sit on. Unimpressive, that passenger took it well, but others would have perhaps be less forgiving.


Safely at Cambridge railway station for the last part of our journey into Norwich. We were definitely all tired at this point, it was a trek of just over three hours back from London, but secretly I love this whole extra adventure element. We got back safely just after midnight, all I think rather content. Three of us walked home, whilst Steve went off on a scooter and I’m pleased to report that no incidents took place with him storming down the road at 12mph.

All in all, another quite marvellous day and thanks to everyone who came along, as well of course to Des, the very popular walk leader. I gave him a well deserved 9 out of 10, he lost a point for the hot weather and not supplying unlimited doughnuts. Everyone else gave him 10 out of 10, but I don’t think that sufficiently inspires him for perfection….. And, great news, there will be another one! It’s likely going to involve the Bermondsey Beer Mile which I’ve done many times, but I’m always up for a London adventure and I can definitely be tempted back to the Bermondsey area.

Apologies for the interruption to my slow and grinding write-up of the Liverpool weekend, I’ll get back to that now to ensure that my two loyal readers aren’t left waiting unnecessarily.

Des credits much of the inspiration for his lost river series to this book ‘London’s Hidden Rivers: A walker’s guide to the subterranean waterways of London’ by David Fathers, who sometimes comes on these walks. It’s a highly recommended title for anyone interested in the subject.