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East Ham Nature Reserve

The pavement by the side of the main arterial road is not a place to linger. It seems impossible to be able to escape from the roar of the lorries as they thunder overhead along the flyover, but just close by there is a church that dates back to a time when this was a hamlet surrounded by fields and farms - the oldest Norman church in London.

In the graveyard of St Mary Magdalene Church, the birds sing louder than anywhere else perhaps because they are competing with the constant rumble of the traffic and by concentrating on the bird song it is possible to absorb the atmosphere of this eerie and other worldly sanctuary.

Stand for a while under the Weeping Willow tree and you are surrounded by its feathery leaves tumbling down, enveloping you in its branches.

And then as you pick through the paths that curve around the ancient graves, you find an entrance to a tunnel of trees sprouting up and overhead so now you are indoors - inside a structure that nature has provided.

It is often deserted although there are visible signs that it is cared for, with volunteers weaving willow fences but keeping this site as nature would want it to be.

This strange and almost mystical place is evocative of peaceful times gone by, of tragedies of the past and of the stories of the people that we will never hear. We think of the people who have been resting here for hundreds of years and picture what the surrounding landscape would have looked like.

In the 1870s, a local writer described narrow tree shaded lanes, meadows covered with buttercups and hedgerows peppered with wild flowers. But all around there was also ghostly marshland and hideous crimes took place in this church yard.

To enter this space is to experience two strange phenomena.

First, you feel that you have left behind the modern world and travelled back through time to an era when this was a country churchyard.

And as you immerse yourself in this landscape you find that that time slows down. It is only as you leave that you become aware of how much longer it seemed that you were there.

It can seem rather gloomy, especially on a grey day and yet slow worms and lizards, both lovers of warmth and sunshine, live here.

Walk or cycle along The Greenway to East Ham Nature Reserve


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