Posts Tagged ‘nature’

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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misty background, tree and gate

The morning dawns grey and misty. On our walk my gaze, drawn away from the vanished horizon, falls on what is closer to hand: catkins blowing back and forth, the little green tips of bluebell shoots pushing up through their slowly-rotting leafy bed, the dark red foliage of some brambles that have got caught up in the skeletal remains of last summer’s ferns. Glistening water droplets hang from wet branches like jewels. Yellow gorse flowers, almost gone over now, brighten the dull bushes alongside the heathland track. And dead cow parsley as tall as I am is silhouetted against the sky like an exploding firework.

I wonder, yet again, about Reg, who once passed this way leaving his mark on the trunk of a beech. Who was he and where is he now?

rose and fern leaves

dried cow parsley

hazel catkinshazel catkins

flowering gorse bush

water drops on a branch

tree carved graffiti reading Reg

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Small things


Sometimes it’s the little things that make my day. Like the passionflower which I bought from Morrison’s for £3 flourishing on the side of the woodshed. I thought it would die during the winter, so buffeted did it get on our exposed hillside.

Like our wasps’ nest. They’re squatting in the bird box on the side of the garage. The hole you can see in this rather fuzzy picture (I was holding the phone above my head with rather shaky hands – see previous post) is where I poked the crepe bandage-like structure inside with the end of the shears because I was wondering what it was. I’d never seen one before.

I soon knew. They all came flying out to have a look at what was attacking them but they didn’t seem very aggressive. I left them to calm down and go back inside, which they did quite quickly. When I went back later to check, the hole I made seemed to have been mended or to have mended itself. I will have to do some research into wasps’ nests now to find out how.


Like my ‘exciting’ 15 minutes in the garden one night. While I was standing there waiting for the motion-activated outside light to go off so that I could well and truly lurk in the dusk, an owl turned up and sat on the telegraph wires. I could only see its outline but it was obviously an owl with its massive round head and silent, swooping flight. It’s my first owl sighting, although I hear them quite a lot from the woods nearby. From the calls I’d say it was a tawny.

rainbow over country scenery

And like the rainbow that was so complete and huge that I couldn’t fit both ends of it into the picture. There was a rainbow on the day I moved into the cottage and I’ve always thought of them as a good omen, although they usually signify an impending shower.

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When is graffiti vandalism and when is it art? When is it tradition?

I found myself thinking about the distinctions between different kinds of graffiti the other day when I saw a local tree that had been tagged “LASER” in spray paint. It’s a West London tag and I’ve seen it in lots of places and styles – some more elaborate than others. Normally I wouldn’t have done more than notice its recurrence.

Why did I feel that the tree had been spoiled by the spray paint when knife-cut graffiti (ultimately the longer lasting of the two) doesn’t offend me at all? Was it the very urban use of spray paint on something as natural as a tree? Possibly, because I don’t mind spray-painted graffiti in an ‘appropriate’ location at all (see pictures below), although I completely appreciate that what is appropriate is a value judgement.

I think I tend to forgive the cutting of names or initials and dates into wood – whether living or not – because it (generally) has a life that continues developing as time passes. I also like the directions that my mind is sent in by by the addition of dates.

I don’t have the answers to any of my questions. Nor do I have a picture of the spray-painted tree as I was in a car at the time. But here are some trees and their adornments and some urban graffiti that I’ve enjoyed, as well. There’s also some helpfully labelled graffiti of a tree, which I found very pleasing.

And, yes, I have done it myself. I carved my initials into the woodwork of my school’s sixth form garden on the day I left school. I wonder if they’re still there and what they look like now.

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urb urbs P1020172


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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.



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.



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.


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.



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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Misty walk


Low, low clouds, in a masquerade of mist, sit squatly up on the hill,


amidst trees furred with moss and lichen.


Branches bowed and cracked in the snow’s wake litter the soft footbed of mulching leaves.


Transplanted beasts, shaggy pelts damply waved, turn quizzically towards passers-by.


And the great king of trees, rooted here for centuries, waits patiently


to be gently taken for a ride.

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From the silhouettes of Italian trees to the spectacular giants of Lydeard Hill in Somerset, they are under threat and I am worrying about them; capturing their beauty while I can.




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IMG_0627  IMG_0639


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