October 2018 – I had spent a month in Ireland and had just arrived in London to visit family and lead a Shiatsu workshop. Having stayed the night with my daughter, I woke to find that the sun was shining and I thought I would take my rucksack on a nice walk across London to Chiswick to meet my sister. Approx. 7 miles / 11.5 kms.
I started at Kentish Town West underground station, and turned tail cutting through small streets as they took my fancy, avoiding the busy commuters rushing to work
Refreshed, I found the Owl Bookshop which was full of school children browsing. There was a lovely sense of excitement amongst them at the prospect of the reading.
‘Natural’ is a mix of MAP and Owl, being a café with books stacked in the window!
At the end of Kentish Town Road, I turned right into Hawley Road.
I took a left onto Castlehaven Road and left again onto Chalk Farm Road.
I wound my way between stalls and caravans selling food and other goodies.
You can stand up and paddle on a board under the full moon, at hallowe’en and combine it with prosecco!
When I caught up with it (the church) I appreciated its six-petalled, flower windows.
There were bicycles and a wheel barrow on the roof of a house boat; paintings propped up against trees and hanging on sheets along the washing line; a bench with a proud goat who has curled horns (you will have to go and see!); there was graffiti galore.
Not long afterwards I realised I was not far from Primrose Hill on the right and alongside the world famous London Zoo opposite where the previously mentioned Waterbus makes a drop-off, just before the pretty wrough-iron bridge.
At the Prince Albert Ramp I had the chance of a detour for Camden High Street, and ahead was St John’s Wood, the Snowdon Aviary and Lord’s Cricket Ground. I trundled along taking photos of the wild plants. Joggers jogged and I got to the Jubilee Greenway completed in 2012 to mark the Queen’s birthday and the London Games.
My path took me around Regents Park, named after the Prince Regent, where there’s an Open Air Theatre and a boating lake.
Here there were delphiniums (even though it was October) and foxgloves.
At the Canal Gate (pictured at the top of this blog) I had to leave because the way was blocked off.
I carried on along pavements by busy roads, past underground stations and shops, discovering parts of London I had never visited before. I made my way to Chiswick via Holland Park Avenue, Shepherd’s Bush, the Goldhawk Road, Stamford Brook Road and Bath Road where I met my sister.
My phone ran out so I stopped taking photos and used my handy Belkin Pocket Power (a 5000 mAh portable charger which has been my saving grace many times) to recharge it.
Hot with the action and the weight of the rucksack, I was glad to sit down and have a cup of tea. Had I ‘world enough and time’ I would have visited St Michael and All Angels Church in Turnham Green, an Arts and Crafts building which a gentleman told me about as I stood waiting to cross a road. We had a most pleasant chat while he also regaled me with his life in India. I meet the most interesting characters when I walk.
The Regents Park and Primrose Hill both have excellent views of the London skyline. Royal Parks website.
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
The opening lines of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell
I just can’t seem to stop taking pictures of flowers! I have added links to a blog I have just discovered (London wlogger – we seem to like the same things) and other London gardens which will be sure to delight.
The garden is round the back and I visited when the rest of the museum was being renovated.
October 10 2018: Kent – parts of the Greensand Way and Medway Valley Walk.
Distance: 6 miles / 9. 66 kms
Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours
Weather: glorious throughout
Stiles crossed: numerous
Railways crossed: 2
Boats sailing past: 3 yachts, 2 dinghies with outboard motors chugging away and 3 canoes
Churches: St Mary the Virgin, Nettlestead
Grand country houses : 2 – Roydon Hall and Nettlestead Manor
I started walking across the Lees in Yalding around 9.30 am after a starry night and a misty morning.
The Lees, a low-lying meadow, flood regularly caused by two rivers joining the Medway here – the Teise and Beult. Indeed my father once crossed the submerged road thinking he would be fine and became stranded, having to leave his car and wade back.
On a day like today, the water looked beautiful, producing stunning reflections on its smooth surface.
After some confusion caused by my thinking that the locks beside Teapot Island were the ones mentioned in the leaflet (details below), I set off along the pavement towards Yalding Station from where I walked a few days before using my phone torch in the pitch dark. With the canal on my left and the incongruous new wooden houses appearing upside down under the bridge, it was only a short way to the Marina and Hampstead Lock.
Skirting past the new building, I took the left fork and crossed the first railway line. Then a series of fields and woods, easily found for the most part.
There was a path which is accessed beside a sweet cottage and that is hard to find but a kind woman noticed my confusion and pointed it out.
The low point of the walk came when the leaflet directed me to cross straight through the middle of a huge field. It looked pretty but there was no obvious path as before and I spied a large red farm vehicle in the far corner, so I decided to skirt instead, through the long, wet grass. To my utter dismay the farmer was spraying green chemicals and went as close by me as he could without actually running me over. There was no way to avoid it and the smell hung in my nostrils for the next hour. (I arrived home with a most unusual headache and had to go to sleep. On waking I searched the Internet, discovering what they were and how harmful they can be up close. I showered and am hoping for the best).
The noxious fumes abated temporarily as I made my way through the welcome cool woods, away from the acrid smell I thought, to the altogether sweeter scent of chestnuts. The fences made me wonder what they were protecting and brought to mind the small trucks I came across in the Austrian mountains where single men collected wood. There was no sun except in dapples and a grey squirrel leapt across the path. I could still hear the warning parp parp of the train as it came to level crossings in the distance and the drone of far-off traffic, but also the birds squawking and crawing and tweeting.
Sadly, despite the wonderful view, once out of the trees the very strong fumes were evident for miles.
The fences became much stronger and the gates quite serious, when I came across the deer on my left standing still, observing me. I startled a reclining stag and away he bounded, taking off and landing from all four feet at the same time which always makes me laugh.
Then the flock of curious youngsters gathered and crept closer until one of the stags stretched forward his neck and bellowed, causing them to pause. He moved into the centre, whereupon the second, smaller male departed. The others continued to stare, their ears pricked. It reminded me of the grounds of Knole House in Sevenoaks where I grew up and where I first saw deer roaming like this. Further on, three more lazed in the shade of a great oak until I disturbed them. They had fawn spots on their backs and white bottoms with black stripes down the middle!
The red brick Elizabethan Manor house, Roydon Hall was on my left now, with its stepped roof edges and old-fashioned chimneys. Apparently it has an escape route below the cellars, but it appeared to be boarded up although the the lawn was newly mown.
I expect they call this prison-like fencing, ‘managed land’.
There was a square tower with a turret and lake to my left (though later I thought perhaps it was plastic-covered crops) and satellite dish to my right.
This was the only slight incline and at the top was what I assume was a folly. Its yellow stone and Grecian columns were set amidst lush foliage in the midday sun.
As I strode down the lane, two women and four walking poles approached me to ask directions.
Several miles along the road took me to the St Mary the Virgin church at Nettlestead with its simple 13th century tower and possible Saxon foundations.
Set in an equally charming churchyard, the building was started by the magnificently named de Pympe family. It has six notably large windows commissioned by Reginald de P.
At the top of each window stand angels with curiously feathered legs. (taken from the history leaflet)
In addition, I was shocked to read that
The original glass of this window with the rest of the 15th century glass in the church suffered damage by impious hands at a time unknown. (Taken from the plaque)
And furthermore, that the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in July 24th 1895
… was well nigh “a visit of surprise” so short was our prior notice… And here let me say at once how troubled I am to think that in the hurry of the moment some members of the Parish Church Committee were overlooked. (From an account in the church).
Not far away was an entrance to the Medway river path where I stood back as a cyclist whizzed past.
It was a gentle stroll back to the Hampstead Marina alongside various water crafts including one propelled by a man with a long white ponytail and no shirt, sitting behind an infant in a baby seat and a woman who talked incessantly.
Tall trees shushed a plane and helicopter and the smells were all fruity or woody, wet or damp.
On arrival there were three men with two boats watching as a fourth opened the lock. I joined them as the water slowly filled the space between the gates, fascinated as they floated through and boarded for “a couple of miles down and back, and then a pint!”
I retraced my steps to The Boathouse for a half of Shepherd Neame’s Autumn Ale. I was admiring the hops when a couple stopped to tell me what they were and that they had been hop pickers years ago. Hundreds used to come from London to join the workforce at the picking season.
The sign said,
Cheers! Yalding has always had a strong connection to alcohol! At one time it was producing more hops than any other parish in England. It is also famed for its cherry orchards and the (sic) remains of the Medieval Vineyards have been found in the area. The various crops have been used to produce wine, beer and cherry brandy..
You can download the pdf of the walk leaflet here. It is pretty good and contains useful and accurate photos of fields with superimposed arrows showing where to go. The second paragraph of number 2 is a repeat so ignore this.
I was born in England but have lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for many years. Take a tour with me around some of the best known London sights. Discover parts of the UK capital that you might not know; and enjoy the architecture, the views and the detail of this fabulous city. It is my personal selection.
I have written a before about Downton on the River Avon in Wiltshire, and the New Forest which is nearby. Here is a link to a map showing it outlined in red, and you can see that it crosses the three English counties of Wiltshire and Hampshire, very close to the Isle of Wight.
I stayed with kind and hospitable relatives in the village of Downton. It used to have a tan yard and still boasts the remains of a Saxon Moot (Mote, or meeting place) with a rarely surviving amphitheatre. If you read the rather amazing novel ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind you will get a graphic account of the scent that must have pervaded the town where they tanned the leather in those days. It also has an impressive range of trees; mainly beech, yew and elm.
Four Matildas and three Henrys – a little history
Situated on the edge of the New Forest (or Nova Foresta) it was William I, the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and husband of Queen Mathilda (1032-1083 of Flanders) who created this 30 square miles of private hunting ground for their use in 1079.
‘William I was described as a tough, brave, inspirational and religious man. This invasion by the Normans changed much of the Anglo-Saxon way of life that was being established here. French became the language of the upper classes, cow meat became known as beef and swine became known as gammon; murder became a crime and slavery was abolished.’ from William the Conqueror and the New Forest
‘Empress Matilda’ was named Adelaide at birth in 1102. Daughter of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland, she was only aged 11 years when she was married to Henry of Germany, 20 years her senior. That was when she became Matilda. Her husband Henry was crowned Holy Roman Emperor which is why she became Empress Matilda. Made the first Queen of England by her dad but never officially known as that, she was nevertheless in charge of Normandy in Northern France and had claims to land and fortifications, namely Downton Castle.
Mother to Henry II of England by her second marriage to Henry of Anjou (at 15 years old he was 10 years her junior), she maintained her links with the church and the matter of pilgrimage by bringing the Hand of St James (titular head of the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain) back to England (now in Reading museum) and turned out to be great at supporting monasteries (eg Bordesley Cisercian Abbey, Worcestershire)
In the mid 12th century she was engaged in the civil war with Stephen her cousin, in and out of Oxford, incidentally married to another Matilda (of Boulogne), who then won Downton from her.
One of Empress Matilda’s good friends was Lanfranc, prior of her favourite religious house, the Abbey Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. He was her children’s tutor, and when she died (aged 65 years) she was originally buried there (later her bones were transferred to Rouen Cathedral where they remain).
Walk 1 featuring Eyeworth Pond
We began our first day’s walk at Telegraph Hill, the highest point of the New Forest and once the site of a beacon which was used ‘as a form of communication, in chains up and down the country to act as alarm systems in case the country was invaded. They were placed on elevated positions to make them easily visible for miles around.’ It was said ‘that in 1588 it took 12 hours for the news that the Spanish Armada had been sighted to travel from the south coast of England all the way to York.’ National Trust page.
There was ice in the puddles and streams, and wet squidge underfoot in places. Thankfully we were wrapped up warmly against the cold wind.
Sixty million years ago, I was told, this forest was a tropical sea and it sits today on a bed of chalk with flint, reminiscent of my native Kentish Downs and therefore hosting similar flora and fauna.
It was fascinating hearing anecdotes from my hosts for whom the forest was the site of family parties when the children were growing up. Like all good adventure tales there was the game of Cargoes where teams have camps on either side of the burn and are charged with routing the other’s territory.
We sloshed our way across the landscape, past the Eyeworth pond to The Royal Oak in Fritham for a half of bitter and delicious lunch.
Around the table stories were recounted, notably of the traditional Mummers Play (a medieval theatrical) which comes to this hostelry, ‘in which a champion is killed in a fight and is then brought to life by a doctor’. A scene was painted for me, of the play being performed with a glass of ale in one hand, and I could imagine it clearly in this traditional setting.
As a young teenager, I participated in a Mummers Play – back section of the dragon wearing swimming flippers and processing through the town. It was to celebrate the 300 year anniversary of our primary school, and resulted in terribly sore bits at the fronts of my ankles where I still have scars!
Walk 2, in which we came across Shetland ponies
On day two we visited the wonderfully named Godshill Pit, this time in Hampshire. It was misty and raining with, once again, ice in puddles and between blades of grass. Copper water bubbled over orange flints beside bronze bracken as we leapt soggy brooks and landed on springy peat turf. Aside from this, it really was very deeply squishy under foot!
Down country roads we walked, pitted with puddles; past ancient cottages with mud walls, pigs in oval-roofed huts, alpaca in fields, a delightful Shetland pony (why are they always so delightful?), and many elegant horses attended by adoring women in wellies.
We drove back through Braemore (say Bremmer) with its quaint bridge over several waterways, its dairy, railway station, working blacksmith and post-office. It is an extremely pretty village built of local stone and I was starting to get used to the crowds of donkeys perched by the roadside, tearing off brambles and bracken from the banks. The pub was closed today so hot soup was most welcome on our return.
Thanks go to Angela for preparing special vegetarian food for me; to Mike for cleaning my walking shoes – twice; to both for showing me this wonderful part of the world and telling me stories about it.
Oxford is very crowded with students and tourists – the pavements are narrow so allow time to walk around the centre, but at every corner there is an architectural marvel. From the Colleges and their gardens, to the River Cherwell and its fascinating bridges, there is just so much to see.
Check out the expansive Port Meadow with its wonderful views; the cafes of the Cowley area; the Museum of Natural History on Parks Road (not shown here) for the inside decoration alone, never mind the collection (there are plenty of events for children); and the magnificent Blenheim Palace (very close to the city and easy to get to by bus) is an absolute must-see.
Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.
As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed a few days ago, at the advice of my walking guru, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois (woods) de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont (bridge) Bercy. I did not manage all the way the the Bois de Vincennes in the west due to time constraints.
Today I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit but the sun shone so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of a pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.
A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone with bordered pathways lined with bark pieces.
There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.
There are rustic benches in private nooks, and luckily a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun this September noon.
Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.
This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.
Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sun and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.
They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, female activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.
Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.
Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third I know not what. It stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, its edges elegantly wrapping around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade which is ‘Hof’.
I am taking a break from my regular life in Edinburgh to discover what I want to do with myself and my future. I’m walking my way into my next half century.
Ken and I were wandering together years ago by a river in Cardiff and he was telling me how walking helps the brain settle, how it gets the creative juices flowing. Simply setting one foot in front of another helps the thoughts to move along, and gets you from one place to another.
Luckily I am healthy; my beautiful daughters can now manage brilliantly without me, and so with lots of support from family and friends I have taken time off to explore. I intend to spend time sitting, resting, listening, watching, meeting new people, speaking another language, and of course walking.
‘Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and (that) life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.’ Bruce Chatwin ‘Songlines’
I started my Autumn walks in the New Forest with Angela – snake stories, practicing Spanish verbs, annual acorn-eating pigs, and some donkeys.
Our excuse was to take Polly, Christinas’s dog, out for exercise, and we roamed along grassy paths with the smell of Autumn all around us. We tried to avoid any wildlife that might readily be chased.
As we roamed along valleys beside meandering streams, and the bracken seemed to turn browner by the minute, we got to know each other and Polly explored. Inevitably she discovered the donkeys which are free to roam as part of the peoples’ rights to graze their livestock, pick holly, and cut peat.
I recommend this gentle part of the world for walking. It will deepen your appreciation of your surroundings, and moving side-by-side with someone is perfect for meaningful exchanges.