Aldersbrook Bridle Path is more commonly known in the area simply as the Bridle Path. Perhaps increasingly, it is not referred to at all!
The path mainly follows the southern, eastern and part of the northern boundary of the City of London Cemetery. It should perhaps be noted here that it is not shown on the Ordnance Survey map as an actual bridle path - that is to say a path that may be used by horses and bicycles as well as pedestrians. Certainly I have known cycles to use it, in the past I've known cattle to use it, but have never encountered a horse.
The southern and much of the eastern route of the path appears to be situated within the London Borough of Newham, and as such should be maintained as a public highway by them. The northern stretch, which forms the boundary between Newham and Redbridge, it seems should be maintained by Redbridge. This last section was from 2008 until the Summer of 2010 very overgrown and in some places impassable.
To follow the path, it may be convenient to access it from Aldersbrook Road by Wanstead Flats, directly opposite Forest View Road and by the Rabbits Road railway bridge. (see picture above) Here, adjacent to the South Gate of the City of London Cemetery, a signpost that indicates no cars and no motorbikes marks the beginning of the bridle path. It drops down slightly for 50 metres or so to turn sharp left as the railway fence is met. For about 500 metres the route is about a metre and a half wide, constricted between the low wall and high railings of the cemetery and an exceedingly unattractive wire fence towering above the original railings that guard the railway lines like a prison-camp fence.
This southern stretch has a variety of trees, shrubs and herbs including ash Fraxinus excelsior, beech Fagus sylvatica, Turkey oak Quercus cerris, sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus and hawthorn Crataegus monogyna; of shrubs, garden privet Ligustrum ovalifolium and firethorn Pyracantha coccinoides are included. The Turkey oak probably derives from trees in the adjacent cemetery, and the firethorn is probably bird-sown. Other plants include white dead-nettle Lamium album, red dead-nettle Lamium purpureum and shepherd's purse Capsella bursa-pastoris. A list which includes plants found along the bridle path is available here. At the far end of this stretch, nearer the brook itself, hop Humulus lupulus is draped high over the fencing of both the railway and the cemetery. It would be interesting to think that this might have associations with Whitbread's depot that used to be across the railway in Little Ilford, but this was a bottling and distribution depot rather than a brewery, so it is doubtful!
At the south-east corner of the cemetery boundary the bridle path turns left and continues alongside the railings. To the right is the foot-tunnel under the railway, giving access to and from Little Ilford. It is worth looking at the brickwork above the tunnel, for here grow hart's-tongue ferns Phyllitis scolopendrium, otherwise scarce in this area. These have taken advantage of the gaps in the brickwork and any dampness and shade that are to be found on this north-facing surface. The spores are propitiously wafted here by passing trains.
Ahead across the Alders Brook is Ilford Golf Course, which is in the London Borough of Redbridge, beyond that the A406 North Circular Road and beyond that Ilford town centre. For a more detailed look at the Alders Brook, click here.
The bridle path has traditionally continued alongside the cemetery railings, but in 2007 a 2-metre wide hard-surface track was laid as part of the Roding Valley Way. Instead of using the existing path along the edge of the cemetery, the new route was insensitively laid across what was effectively a wildflower meadow. As might have been anticipated, this means that now the original route is becoming overgrown and blocked and it may be noted that there is already a considerable ground-cover of dewberry Rubus caesius which may well invade much of what remains of the meadow.
The area here is known - although less commonly now - as The Butts and continuing northwards eventually the gates of the Bridle Path Allotments are met. It is here, adjacent to the Alders Brook itself, that actual alders Alnus glutinosa grow. It is noted that in 2008, holm oak Quercus ilex is becoming frequent; it was not recorded in 1978. Our path then continues on its original route, now passing between the allotments and the cemetery railings. Before the new path was laid, it must be said that this stretch was sometimes so muddy as to be almost impassable. Now it is comfortable. At the beginning of the stretch are some large crack willows Salix fragilis, a good place to find fungi. Just as the north end of the allotments the Alders Brook is crossed as it exits from the cemetery, and may be seen on the right.
Ahead, as the landscape opens out somewhat between the cemetery and the River Roding, a pleasant aspect presents itself with the hard-surfaced track passing between some nice oaks Quercus robur with the remains of adjacent silver birches Betula pendula.
The bridle path continues ahead north alongside the cemetery, or a track may be taken towards the Roding on the right. The photograph above was taken in 2000, the one below after the creation of the Roding Valley Way track, in 2008
An alternative to the bridle path may be taken by bearing slightly right, passing through the legs of an electricity pylon; this will lead you to a footpath along the higher bank of the Roding flood defence bund, parallel to the bridle path but with a very different aspect. The River Roding meanders now to one side of its flood plain, which here is the Ilford Golf Course; occasionally - at times of flood - the river reclaims its territory! (photo) The banks of the Roding can be glorious in early summer when bargeman's cabbage Brassica rapa ssp. campestris is in flower, and then a change of colour with cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris. See here for more on the Roding nearby.
Continuing along the bridle path proper, much of the vegetation that lined it - particularly on the cemetery side - has gone with the creation of the hard surface (see photographs above). With the trees and shrubs between the path and the Roding it is a pleasant enough walk, however. The silver birches Betula pendula that were in this area are now dead or dying; perhaps as a replacement a bird-sown yew Taxus baccata was noted in 2009! An alien species that is occurring more frequently throughout the area is also present : cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus.
In some 300 metres, nearing the old concrete fence of the Aldersbrook Exchange Land (the old Redbridge Southern Sewage Works), the new surfaced track does a sudden turn towards the Roding, leaving the original bridle path route, and continues through the entrance to the Exchange Land - now part of Epping Forest. This really is a tragedy; the Exchange Land should not have had a hard-surface track laid upon it, nor should cyclists have been encouraged to use it. It is a haven of peace and tranquility, for wildlife and people alike. The original bridle path needed to be renovated, and could be in itself a most pleasant route. That should have been the track for the Roding Valley Way.
Because of the deviation towards the Exchange Lands, the original bridle path soon became impassable. In early January, 2009 I managed to negotiate it as far as the northern-most corner of the cemetery, but this was a painful and hazardous experience and I was pleased to manage an exit through the railings into the Redbridge Field. The route is adjacent to the cemetery railings through a semi-wooded area with many large crack-willow trees Salix fragilis. These tower over and across something of a ditch, quite wide and muddy in places, the far side of which is the remains of the sewage works concrete boundary fence. It is something of a wilderness area, with a host of habitats for birds and animals. In spring there are many daffodils Narcissus spp. that have escaped from the cemetery. At the end of the north-south section, at the corner of the cemetery railings, the path turns left - now narrower and at first with the wood of the Exchange Lands to the right and later Aldersbrook Allotments and then the maisonettes of the circa 1970s residential development. In 2008, this part of the path was in a terrible state. Near the corner (where the Roding Valley Way route should have continued ahead and alongside Redbridge Field (see map) it had become rutted, and everywhere choked with vegetation. Indeed at the path's eventual egress into Empress Avenue, where a signpost indicating a walk to the Roding Valley Way had been placed, it was impossible to access the route from Empress Avenue. It seems that this section of the bridle path, which is on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Newham, is actually administered by Redbridge. If this is the case, it seems that Borough - until Summer of 2010 - did not perform its statutory duties of keeping public highways open - or maybe it isn't a public highway? It was only in late May or early June 2010 that the path was cleared and became possible to traverse again. However, due to the somewhat rudimentary level of clearance, the fact that there was no reinstatement of damaged surfaces and - particularly - the amount of litter that had accumulated blown through from the cemetery, this was not a pleasant experience!
Historically, the route of the Bridle Path is interesting - although I have not researched it in detail. However, I have a cutting (unfortunately from an unknown source) that is worth reading. (click here). Some of the points: there is a bridle path running across the cemetery in 1861. This doesn't follow the line of the existing path but enters the cemetery through what is now the main gate and passes just north of the chute and Birches area trending slightly north of east to cross the Roding at a ford. There is actually a footbridge near to this point nowadays which allows golfers access from part of the course the south of the Roding to the Ilford side. "Through the River Roden" : note the spelling and also that the Roding was forded - easy enough when the levels are low. Also, the insistence that the road he was following was a "public road". The rifle-reports off to the right agree with the local name even now of "the Butts", and the accent of the 'countryman' suggests quite an Essex "tang"!
For a list of the plants which have been found in the Alders Brook area - click here
For a map showing the bridle path - click here
"A Perilous Journey" from Wanstead Flats to Ilford - click here