Posts Tagged ‘London’

Stuck

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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hole

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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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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

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As a child I visited Boston Manor Park frequently with my father but nothing apart from the children’s playground had stuck in my memory. I often catch sight of the Jacobean manor house when driving along the M4 motorway’s elevated section; the bit that links Heathrow airport with London. If you’re travelling towards London, the house is visible on the left-hand side at around the same time as the shiny GlaxoSmithKline monolith appears ahead of you on the right.

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Curious to see what it’s like, I decide to take Nora for a walk there. Expecting more or less an ordinary park, I am first rather disappointed and then surprised. Disappointed because the grounds appear very small, with only a small lawned area and a large pond immediately behind the compact house and stable block. I almost regret having paid for an hour and half’s parking. But we are surprised and rewarded by the discovery of a ‘nature trail’ leading down under the motorway into a mysterious other world that co-exists with the impatient roar of the traffic over our heads.

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The trail is really only a hint of a dirt path that descends out of a flowerbed into a boggy, overgrown mass of ivy and untended greenery. It’s quite off-putting. However, we persevere, with me cursing a lack of waterproof footwear, until we see what I suspect is the Grand Union Canal but turns out later to be a canalised bit of the River Brent, complete with barge and lock (I’m not showing you the side of the lock with the graffitied penises all over it).

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Despite the filthy water, a swan swims up to greet us and we are surrounded by the echoing calls of hidden waterfowl. Nora finds the inevitable pile of human poo and what looks like the skin of a fish and evades my attempts take it away from her. The smell makes me gag and I worry that she will get ill from eating it.

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A cyclist passes on the other bank where there is a well-maintained path but our side seems utterly desolate until a brown-haired man in his thirties wearing a striped tee-shirt wanders by looking aimless. I wonder if he’s a part of this place where nothing looks official or managed. There’s a ramshackle, padlocked, chicken wire gate that leads to more wasteland littered with old bits of tractor and more rubbish. It seems odd to fence in such abandonment. I wonder if the barge people have claimed it for their own since no-one else seems to care.

Beneath the motorway itself stretches an underworldly tarmac paradise, spacious and deserted. It feels strangely liberating to be somewhere so hidden from the mainstream of city life. It occurs to me that I should feel frightened but I don’t. However, I also don’t investigate further under the motorway. Not on my own with a rather unpredictable young dog.

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Looking at a map later, it appears that we might have found more open parkland had we gone on further towards the Glaxo building but, drawn in by the atmosphere of dereliction and isolation amid the busy-ness overhead and in the light industrial areas round about, this seems enough for one day.

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We resurface and return to the car, feeling mildly astonished to have been so close to tennis courts resounding to the noise of a game and council employees working in the children’s play area.

It turns out that I don’t even actually remember the playground.

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