And yet I’d never actually visited. The surprise is that it’s only around five miles south-east of Leyton and Leytonstone; easily walkable.
Start at Leytonstone High Road Overground station, crossing over to Ferndale Road. Then, GPS in hand, strut diagonally in a south-easterly direction across Wanstead Flats to Alexandra Lake, with its legions of waterfowl, and pretty curved shoreline.
From there it’s straight down High Street North past Manor Park station towards East Ham. On this stretch you’ll pass the Sri Mahalakshmi Temple, built in 1989, as well as dozens of tempting Indian restaurants and food stores. These I made a mental note to explore on another day.
After reaching East Ham tube – don’t miss the striking deco Station Parade signage opposite – chuck a left along Burgess Road. At its very end, where it bleeds into Watson Avenue, climb the pedestrian bridge by the atmospheric old gasworks (below) over the North Circular. There’s a definite moment of smugness glancing down at the choked lanes of traffic.
Then snake down alongside the motorway, cross busy London Road over the River Roding – and you’ll reach Barking Abbey Grounds. By now you’ll probably be one-and-a-half to two hours in, depending on how much you dawdle en route.
The fascinating thing with Barking – and this is your reward – is its sheer antiquity: getting on for 1500 years old, history seeps out of its every pore.
River Roding aside, with its windswept views from the Town Quay (below), the other main attraction by the waterside is the leafy park which contains the walled ruins of Barking Abbey, which, unbelievably dates back to 666 AD.
By the tenth century it had been built as a female-only nunnery, and by 1066 William the Conqueror ruled the country from the abbey while he was building the Tower of London down the road.
Sadly, it was game over nearly 500 years later when Henry The Eighth shut it down in between chopping off his wives’ heads.
Fast forward another five centuries and today the Curfew Tower is the only part standing, while St Margaret’s Church and graveyard, below, make an attractive stroll.
The waterfront is home to the dozens of apartment blocks springing up with no-doubt exorbitant price tags. A perfect pitstop-with-a-view is the charming Boathouse Bar (featured pic, above) in the old Ice House Quarter, home to repurposed old industrial buildings, including Bow Arts and the Laura I Art Gallery.
Just as I arrived, anticipating an alfresco pint on the cosy terrace positioned for maximum daytime sun, columns of rain swept in. So instead I sat inside its tiny, characterful room with framed prints, a piano and quirky bar, pictured below. You’ll be pleased to hear that owner Derrick is from Leytonstone, and there are craft beers, cocktails and a decent menu of vegan mezze and tacos.
Walking back up the high street to the station, two restaurants in town stood out for a return visit: the chic Christina’s Casual Steakhouse, where rump and chips is from £18; and the popular Wood Oven Turkish Grill, just up towards the station, busy with punters even at 5pm.
Taking the Overground back, within just nine minutes I was back at Leytonstone High Road. Sure, this was only the teeniest of urban adventures, but, I pondered, that’s why, with just a bit of effort, you can really never tire of London. There are always pockets of interest waiting to be discovered, no matter what your preconceptions may be.