Posts Tagged ‘London’

That’s better…

I love the city’s ability to hide spots of nature in areas you think you know well.


Tired of dodging the runners on the Thames Path this week, Nora and I were tempted into a slight fork, deeply carpeted with yellow, fallen leaves. It looked like it just led onto the road again. Disappointed and about to turn back, I found myself looking at a metal gate leading to the Leg of Mutton Reservoir, unused for thirty-odd years, and now a nature reserve.

Tucked away beside a road I’ve driven along hundreds of times, it’s a little gem of a place. The low-lying water is still and sheltered, with pontoon-like structures on which stand herons, cormorants and ducks. A single, stately swan swims silently past. Moorhens peck at insects just below the waterline.

Cars drive past invisibly and don’t bother us, masked as they are from view. We pass a couple walking three dogs—it’s not until I leave that I see a sign telling us to keep dogs on leads—but Nora listens when I say no and they are all well-behaved, not chasing birds or going in the water.

We make a circuit, first alongside the road and then on the inside edge of the former reservoir that abuts the Thames Path. The runners keep on running while we walk undisturbed on our side of the fence.


We switch sides as it starts to drizzle again and head back, and all at once the main path looks a lot more inspiring and interesting than it did only twenty minutes earlier.

That’s better…

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Five twenty-two

Five twenty-two. It’s quiet. The light is grey, starting to sneak in around the edges of the curtained windows. I don’t know why I’m awake.

Without much thought I get out of bed and pull aside the curtain to get a look at the day that is to come. Bleak-looking, damp, cooler. It’s the summer. The street, usually parked nose to tail, is almost bare of cars. The neighbours are on holiday.

I shrug myself back down under the duvet, trying to find the warm bit, delighting in the knowledge that I have another hour and a half before anyone wants anything.

The cats at the foot of the bed look up bleary-eyed, blinking. Even they aren’t ready to rise yet, although they are curious.

For once, I’m not aware of the distant howl of jet engines on the flightpath to Heathrow along the Thames. Nor do I notice the comforting double hoots of the trains going in and out of the junction. I’m in my own, rare little world.

Finally, I hear the hollow shutting sound of a metal door down in the street and a van starts its diesel engine, revs a few times and is gone. I was wrong. Not everyone is away.

I’m loath to close my eyes and submit to sleep. I want to savour the pleasure of this limbo. I stretch gently and wiggle my fingers and toes, making sure that all of me is there. And while I’m feeling so calm and settled, nod off again.

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The other new place that we’ve been walking recently is Wormwood Scrubs, which is ridiculous as I’ve had Nora almost two years and this is very local. But the Scrubs is big and if you approach it from the wrong side — the side with the prison and Hammersmith Hospital — you can be forgiven for thinking that it only has football and rugby pitches which are not really that enticing. However, if you come at it from the west then there are acres of wildflowers, birdsong, trees and rough paths cut through the meadowland, for that’s what this is. There’s even a spot designated for flying model aeroplanes if that’s your bent.

Wormwood Scrubs view

There’s also this amazing view across London. From the obsolete gas holder in Kensal Rise (make the most of it, they’re fast disappearing and I’m kind of fond of them) to Trellick Tower in Portobello (social housing designed by Ernö Goldfinger), the Post Office Tower in the West End (formerly the headquarters of what is now British Telecom), the London Eye in Westminster and the Shard in… well, wherever the Shard is… somewhere south of the river towards what used to be the docks, I think. Typical Londoner, I have no idea about half of it. And, typical Londoner, I don’t really care that I don’t either. Shameful.

Wormwood Scrubs


Anyway, Wormwood Scrubs is marvellous to have nearby if you crave outside space as I do when I’m not in Somerset. It’s full of wildflowers and different types of grasses, masses of cow parsley rimmed by elder, hawthorn and blackthorn bushes, as well as a ton of trees (that’s the technical term) and some magnificent teasels with which I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

Naturally, it’s also full of wildlife (the closest meadow pipit nesting site to central London apparently) and the birdsong along the railway embankment is the best (perhaps I mean the most concentrated or loudest) I’ve heard in a long time. Also, a big bonus is there are usually very few people unless you come on a day where there’s some kind of sponsored run going on.

acres of cow parsley




Before anyone thinks this is some kind of country park it’s worth noting that on the side of the Scrubs along the road to Harlesden, there are two of these weird bench-and-table set-ups in a kind of abandoned concrete picnic area. The shape of the structures reminds me of the signs that used to adorn the horrible underpasses under Shepherd’s Bush roundabout and each end of Shepherd’s Bush Market about 25 years ago. They probably stem from the same mistaken initiative to jolly up the borough a bit with some childish art and bright colours. They will probably vanish in the locally controversial plan to revamp Old Oak Common, a mostly defunct light industrial area and railway depot north of the Scrubs that doesn’t live up to its name.

I’ll find something other than walking the dog to write about next time, I promise, but I guess the point I’m making — as I usually do when I write about London — is that urban life is not all about housing, shops and roads. Of course, these less urban bits are tinged with being in the city and that’s what makes them rather special to London, which is why I always take pictures of the grunge along with the pretty things.

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We’ve been stuck in London for a few weeks. My mother-in-law (or ex-mother-in-law, to be precise but it makes no odds) and two friends from the older generation died within a couple of weeks of each other, so it’s been impossible to get away with one thing and another. Then the Girl finally moved out and I’ve been feeling a bit low as a result of all this.

I do miss the Quantocks very much: our long solitary walks and the ponies on the hills.

Exmoor ponies grazing

And the sense of freedom that comes from the fine, long, uninterrupted views across the countryside.

view across field

To compensate, we have been going to Wimbledon Common in south London a lot and it’s lovely walking there too. It’s enormous and feels quite country-like. There are ponds and lakes and Nora has learned to swim. It’s getting quite hard to keep her out of the water…

dog swimming in pond

Here she is in Richmond Park, another favourite walking spot, on another day.

dog by a lake

We love the woods at Wimbledon.


There are different kind of woods there. Some mixed deciduous on the hillier ground and one, in a very flat area, is just birch. It has a rather beautiful stillness about it on a cold winter’s day.



The blackbirds have started singing, and magpies and great tits are collecting nesting materials in the garden. Quince is flowering here and there, and this morning I noticed a little bit of cherry blossom where yesterday there was none.

Dog amongst crocuses

It’s a good thing that Spring is just around the corner.   

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Merry Christmas!




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Walking the dog

Nora and I walk twice a day, every day, so once a week I try and go a little further afield and discover somewhere a bit new to entertain us. A couple of weeks ago we went to Petersham, just down the hill from Richmond.

Thames Path signpost

dog walking along riverbank

It wasn’t a very nice day and we got a bit wet but still managed to walk for an hour or so along the Thames Path to Ham House. Then Nora ran off and stuck her head into a bucket of curry that someone had left by a bin. Leftovers from a picnic, I think.

Ham House

I really wanted to go to Petersham Nurseries Cafe but it’s shut on Mondays. We made do with wandering around the nursery which is really prettily arranged to show off what they sell.

flowers in Petersham Nurseries

Petersham Nurseries bench

Petersham Nurseries

Petersham is an exclusive area full of Georgian houses which feels a little like a timewarp with even a ferry (hail by shouting across the river) to take people over to Twickenham. However, even if I could afford to, I wouldn’t want to live quite so close to the river though with flooding so prevalent these days. Makes for a lovely walk though.


Cottage doorway through hedge

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We came across this amazing tree in Richmond Park today. Obviously hit by a bolt of lightning that had done its best to burn it down and which had pitched one of its branches about 30 feet, it was still alive and just coming into leaf. Only a reprieve until the next windstorm takes it down perhaps but nature really is amazing.

blasted tree still going Blasted tree 2


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