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Wanstead and its Royal Connections

Through Wanstead Park, where Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, entertained Elizabeth I.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mainly lakeside tracks that can get muddy

Landscape Ornamental lake and parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley

Start/finish TQ 406882; Wanstead tube

Dog friendliness Keep on lead on roads to park

Public toilets By Temple

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1 Turn left outside Wanstead tube into The Green, which becomes St Mary's Avenue. At the end cross the road into Overton Drive, which runs to the left of St Mary's Church. After the Bowls and Golf Club turn right, into The Warren Drive. (The building on the right, before the road bends, was once the stable block and coach house to Wanstead House.)

2 At the T-junction turn left and, almost immediately, enter Wanstead Park through the gate opposite. Continue ahead downhill (Florrie's Hill) to reach the ornamental water. Follow the path to the left of the water and continue ahead as it runs to the right of the River Roding.

3 After another ¼ mile (400m) the path swings sharply to the left round an area known as the Fortifications, once a group of eight islands used for storing ammunition for duck-shooting and now a bird sanctuary. Soon after this the path traces the outline of a section of the water shaped like a finger. To your left are the steep banks of the River Roding.

4 At a meeting of paths turn right to continue alongside the water. When the path bends to the left, you will see the Grotto ahead.

5 At the T-junction turn right. At the end of the water turn right again, to cross a footbridge; then take the left-hand fork towards a field. At a crossing of paths keep ahead until you reach a boathouse. Turn left here and go out through the gate.

6 Immediately turn right to pick up a path leading to Heronry Pond, which narrows and passes over a mound. At a crossing of paths turn right and keep ahead across the grass. At the next junction turn sharp right, towards the trees.

7 The path weaves around the pond to reach a metal gate. Go through this and take a left-hand fork to join a wide, grassy track lined with sweet chestnut trees. At the front of the Temple take the well-defined path on your right. A few paces further on turn left and continue on this path alongside the Temple. Keep ahead, ignoring the next path on the right.

8 When you reach the metal enclosure that surrounds the Grotto turn sharp left, as if you are going back on yourself, but, a few paces further on, take a footpath that veers right and hugs the water's edge before joining another, wider path. Turn next left up Florrie's Hill to retrace your steps back to Wanstead tube.

The surprising thing about Wanstead Park in east London is that, despite its close proximity to the North Circular road, the distant hum of traffic is really only noticeable from the northern side of the park. This is a lovely walk, enchanting even, for it traces the outline of the ornamental waters and its Grotto and Temple as well as Florrie's Hill. No wonder Elizabeth I kept returning.

Wanstead has been associated with royalty ever since 1553 when Queen Mary, a Catholic, broke her journey here from Norwich to meet her sister, Princess Elizabeth, a Protestant, who rode out to Wanstead accompanied by hundreds of knights on horseback. The estate had belonged to Sir Giles Heron but, because he would not denounce his Catholic beliefs, Henry VIII (the girls' father) took it from him. After Mary's death, Elizabeth became Queen - she was just 25 years old. The estate at Wanstead then belonged to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who had enlarged and improved the mansion. The two became very close and Dudley held some extremely lavish parties for his royal guest. In 1578 Elizabeth stayed in Wanstead for five days and no doubt would have spent some time walking in the wonderful grounds.

When Queen Elizabeth died, James I succeeded her. In 1607 he spent the autumn in Wanstead. The manor was later sold to Sir James Mildmay. Unfortunately, as Mildmay was one of the judges at the trial of Charles I, which led to Charles' execution, the manor was taken from the family after the restoration and handed to the Crown. In 1667 Sir Josiah Child (whose family were the first private bankers in England) bought the manor and made huge improvements. Later, his son, Sir Richard, replaced the manor house and landscaped the gardens. Constructed using Portland stone, the front of the new mansion had a portico of six Corinthian columns. The building was considered one of the finest in the country, even rivalling Blenheim Palace. The Grotto was erected and the ornamental waters and lakes were also designed at this time. But why, you might ask, is there no mansion today? The blame lies chiefly with Catherine Tilney-Long, who inherited the extremely valuable property in 1794. Despite no shortage of admiring males, she married a gambling man, who took just ten years to blow her entire fortune. To pay off her husband's debts Catherine auctioned the contents of the house and, because a buyer could not be found for the house itself, the magnificent property was pulled down and sold in separate lots. Fortunately for us, despite this sad tale of decline, the wonderful grounds can still be enjoyed.

While you're there

St Mary's Church in Overton Drive is where Elizabeth I worshipped during her many visits to Wanstead. Grecian in style and cased with white Portland stone, it has four imposing columns. The church was designed by Thomas Hardwick, who was also associated with the building of Somerset House. You'll find a monument to the memory of Sir Josiah Child in the chancel.

Where to eat and drink

The George, opposite Wanstead tube station, is a large, old pub. There are a couple of convenient cafés in the High Street as well. In summer there is a refreshment kiosk in the park.

What to look for

Spare a moment to gaze at the fairytale Grotto, which was overlooked when Wanstead House was pulled down. Now a Grade II listed building, it was encrusted with shells, stalactites, crystals and pebbles, many of which were found in the lake after a fire damaged the Grotto in 1884. The chamber had a domed roof and a stained glass window and it was accessible by a set of steps from the lake.

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