Towpath trot

On Easter Monday, between squally showers, Nora and I joined some friends for a walk along the Grand Union Canal in West London. Beginning in the surprising Georgian streets around The Butts in Brentford, we walked past the spot I had discovered a few weeks ago at Boston Manor for about four miles along the towpath to Hanwell, joining up the two ends of the walk with a quick bus ride back to the car.

On a bright bank holiday, the towpath was busy with runners, cyclists and walkers, and the canal and locks were full of waterborne traffic. Nothing like the odd atmosphere when we were last there.

The walk was inspired by Margaret Sharp’s Travelcard Walks and is well worth a look if you’re in West London.

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Victorian lock at Hanwell, Greater London, UK.

There’s a marvellous flight of five or six locks at Hanwell. Such an engineering achievement!

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The water’s stillness is remarkable. Even when it is disturbed, it quickly returns to its mirrorlike calm. Yet the canal divide and merges with the River Brent in a couple of spots and there’s quite a current flowing downstream.

Bridge over canal with boats on the water.

There are bridges of all kinds over the canal. Footbridges like this Hanoverian iron one and others that carry underground and mainline trains, as well as major roads feeding into London, such as the A4 and M4.

Bluebell glade.

The bluebells weren’t fully out but were starting to put in their glorious annual appearance in woody glades here and there.

Cormorant drying its wings on a roof.

Birds are everywhere along the canal filling the air with their calls. Here, an urban cormorant dries its wings on the apex of a wharf roof.

painted barges lining the Grand Union Canal

People live on the many well-kept barges that line the Grand Union Canal. There are also a fair number of  travelling narrowboats going through the locks.

Labrador on a canalside ramp

The canalside has ramps built into it. This was so that when a horse towing a barge fell into the water, as they inevitably occasionally did, it could clamber out again. Falling into the water was called ‘taking a look’. I was keen that Nora shouldn’t do more than actually look, so where it was busy she was kept on her lead.

The Fox pub sign on the canalside at the Hanwell end of the walk.

I rather wished that we had been able to go for a drink at this pub with it’s jaunty sign, but we’d started the walk with fish and chips at a pub in Brentford, so by the time we reached here we felt it was time to return home for tea.

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flower trug hanging from nails

sheddy

shed crop

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The woodshed is one of my favourite places at Spring Cottage, although I like all the outhouses, of which there are three; there’s also a garage (used mainly to store gathered wood for kindling) and an ancient stone building known as the wash house.

I’ve worked out that the woodshed’s 1960′s windows used to be the kitchen windows before my predecessor ‘improved’ things with a wide span of double-glazed panes overlooking the fields. The trouble is that the double glazing has let moisture in between the panes, so the build-up of condensation often means you can’t see out as clearly as you might like to. But, that aside, at least the woodshed has some nice windows.

The light is lovely in there on a fine evening, and the building is warm and smells gorgeously woody. The floor is covered with wood-chips, fragments of bark and butterfly wings however much I sweep. I don’t know why so many butterflies seem to meet their ends in here; perhaps they find the log pile a good place to rest.

Dusk

duks6 dusk dusk4 dusk5

Now, what does a lilac sky at night mean?

 

Nora and I went for a little walk along the Thames Path from Chiswick to Barnes today. It could have been somewhere quite rural at first but it got more urban as we went along. So we just turned around and went back again. London’s full of these quiet little spots. You just have to go a little off the beaten track and explore.

Chiswick Bridge Mortlake tree stump grown around fence black labrador on country path Barnes Bridge Train going under graffitied bridge jogger on urban path

I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

Allotmentitis

water barrel and tapI love allotments; those little patchwork plots in cities, like here on the edge of Bridgwater in Somerset, where people grow vegetables and flowers; where they build sheds and scarecrows out of discarded materials; where they go to relax and unwind by toiling on their actually not so little patches of earth. Turning the overgrown, run to seed dirt into neat rows of sprouting vegetables and fruit.

allotment run to seed

allotment compost heapI think it’s the variety that you find on allotments that appeals to me: neatness, abundance, rot, abandonment and nurture side-by-side in equal measure. I love the textures of the ground, of the buildings, and of the things that are grown. I find them just as satisfying to look at at this time of year as in the fullness of harvest time.

I don’t have an allotment or even aspire to having one, having just one mouth to feed these days, but they’re still very pleasing to look at. It’s like looking at a microcosm of the countryside: tiny little fields, sharing water, battling to outdo each other yet doing completely different things, their keepers annoying each other with their varied methods of cultivation and outcomes.

Allot 4  Allot 6 Allot 7

Allot 5

What do you think? Have you got an allotment or do you want one? Or are you one of those who find them a messy eyesore on their horizon? Are my glasses totally rose-tinted?

 

Containment

N2 When Nora arrived she was small enough to slip under the gate to the back garden from the little contained area immediately around the house. Fortunately, that didn’t last long and for a few months it was safe to let her out of the back door knowing that she wouldn’t be able to run off and get lost.

Then she became a teenage dog and discovered exploring. Through the hedge she would go, unerringly finding the one section where there was a break in the ancient wire netting embedded in it. Terrifyingly, she would run out into the lane and then stand stock still in the middle of the road ignoring all calls for her to return. Heart stopping, knowing that people bomb down here fairly fast, although it’s often quiet for hours, lulling you into a false sense of security. more fence Then she got even naughtier and started to jump over the ridiculously low back fence and go off foraging for things in the field behind the cottage. The fence was deliberately low, having been put up by my predecessor who favoured the view. Oddly, at that time the field was used for cattle grazing, which was brave or foolhardy of her, depending on your point of view, as she might have had a ton of cow land on her while she was sitting out in the sun. fence Worse than the possibility that Nora would leave an occasional poo among the growing crop was my fear that she would be seen. In the hills, you can see an animal from a long way off when it is the only moving object in a field, so I worried that the farmer would be annoyed that I’d let the dog loose on his land.

So, off I went to buy some wire fencing to temporarily (I hope) constrain her adventurousness until she is old enough to listen when she is told to wait and come down. It’s ugly, much harder to put up than I thought and knackered my hands completely, but it does the job and I hope to be able to take it down in about eighteen months or so.

I do feel rather sad at spoiling her fun as there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment and she’s very curious about them. Nora 1

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