Verse Aid : Poems for the Earth

Back in January I was honoured to be invited by Poets for the Planet to run two workshops at their launch event at the Society Of Authors in London.

“Poets for the Planet is a community of kindred poets, performers, artists and creative activists raising their voices to engage with climate and ecological emergency through poetry in all its forms.”

This took place on Saturday February 8th, and was a fantastically busy day with a Poem-A-Thon taking place throughout the day, alongside other workshops from Jan Heritage, Grace Pengelly, Dom Bury, Philip Gross and Clare Pollard.

In the evening there was a gala reading featuring Imtiaz Dharker, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, alongside acclaimed poets Mona Arshi, Hannah Lowe and Jacqueline Saphra.

My workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, were based around my latest chapbook and walking project, Sward : Skin of the Earth, and aimed to get people thinking about their local green and wild spaces, how to write about them and how to value them.

Here’s the blurb from eventbrite:

Skin of the earth: Walking and Ecopoetry

Exploring family memories of and connections to local wild spaces through walking and writing about them. We will look at the writings of Victorian author and naturalist Richard Jefferies and think about the concept of deep topography.

I was delighted that both workshops were well attended and each was very different in flavour! The morning workshop was mostly a talking / thinking / exchanging ideas workshop, and the afternoon workshop was a heads-down writing workshop. As each workshop was only 30 minutes long,  a ‘micro-workshop’, I prepared a handout for people to take away with them too.

The monies raised went to two amazing charities:

Founded in 1993, Bees for Development was the first organisation to articulate the reasons why beekeeping is such a useful tool for alleviating poverty while helping to retain biodiversity. http://www.beesfordevelopment.org

International Environmental Charity Earthwatch brings together world-class scientists and individuals from all works of life to work for the good of the planet.

I also took part in the Poem-A-Thon, reading from Sward, and raised money again for Bees for Development – and thanks to everyone who sponsored and supported me!

 

Sward {skin of the earth}

My new chapbook, Sward {skin of the earth}, published by Sampson Low Ltd, is available for purchase here

Buy Now button
£3.85 incl UK p+p

Sward represents my walks up and down the central reservation of the A240, Kingston Road, from the Tolworth Roundabout to the border of Surrey, where the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames meets the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

Inspired by Richard Jefferies, the prolific Victorian nature writer, author and walker, whose seminal work Nature Near London contains essays about his walks and observations of Tolworth and the surrounding areas.

Jefferies lived in Tolworth for several years, and last year Alison Fure and myself, as part of our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum project took between 30-40 people on a walk in Richard Jefferies’ Footsteps, aided and abetted by our friend Ben Henderson who very kindly agreed to play the part of Jefferies on the day, and did so with great aplomb, providing us with a sprinkle of magic for our journey.

The walk, which took place on a hot and sunny May Bank Holiday in 2018, was recorded for a show on Radio 4,The Art of Now: Women Who Walk’,  celebrating women walking artists, and we were delighted to be involved in this.

This is my last walking and writing on Tolworth for now, although there may be a couple of essays lurking. My family has lived here for generations, since my grandparents came over from Wexford, Ireland during the second world war, and I have spent the last few years walking and writing and thinking and trying to engage other people in the treasures that exist nearby, before they are lost.

Alison and I documented our walks for Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum, and were glad to meet lots of lovely local folk and make new friends, and we continue to walk, write, celebrate and try to conserve the nature on our doorsteps.

This year I decided to focus on a small patch of nature, a long, thin one, in the middle of the A240 – a narrow but important nature corridor, with grasses, 20-odd mature trees and lots of wild flowers. I named the project Sward after Richard Jefferies’ use of the word in his writing.

Last year this slim but vital patch of nature was placed under threat of being concreted over from one end to the other, as the proposed Tolworth Area Plan wished to see this an extension of the Tolworth Greenway – green stripy concrete.

This central reservation, which helps pollinators and other fauna find their way across the busy road from one green space to the other (Kingston University Playing Fields and Tolworth Court Farm Fields respectively) must be kept and properly managed. It also does an important job of mitigating air pollution – and providing beauty – something we mustn’t overlook!

I was glad that many objections to this part of the plan were received and it has been dropped, but I worry it will happen anyway in increments, as Tfl will be extending the ‘greenway’ to Tolworth Station. Although at the moment this does not mean the loss of all the grassy and floriferous ‘sward’ I have been walking up and down for the last six months – and seeing all my life, it still could be in the near future…

 

Cambridge Road Estate Tree Poems

Below are two of the poems I wrote specially for and read on Alison Fure’s Walk with Jane Soundwalk with the Museum of Walking back in September.

There is another soundwalk taking place on Saturday 19th October from 10.30am. It is FREE but please book via the Walk with Jane website. See Alison’s blog for a guest post about the walk from Alison Whybrow.

Sward

Meaning “sod, turf” developed from the notion of the “skin” of the earth (compare Old Norse grassvörðr, Danish grønsvær “greensward”).

Walking the central reservation of the A240 Kingston Road, from Tolworth Roundabout to the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames boundary with the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

The project is called ‘Sward’ after reading Richard Jefferies’ works, and seeing his frequent use of it. I am walking while considering Jefferies’ writing, his prolific walking of the local area. I am also doing this in the context of the present threat of development to the precious and unique green spaces nearby – and possibly to part of the central reservation itself.

 

It is the Urban Tree Festival this weekend – celebrating London’s amazing Urban Forest. While we celebrate our wonderful leafy friends this weekend, I am also commemorating the significant number of trees that are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate at the moment in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames. This is not something I want to write about but I made a commitment to focus on climate change in my writing (most of my writing is about that anyway) and so I begin here… we must value and protect our trees! #climateemergency

The Moon Over Tolworth

Harvest Moon by Samuel Palmer (1905-1881)

In the mundane modern

semi-detached suburbs

slippers, gravel, teatime tables

GCSE revision

the Moon guides me home

welcomes me to this season

with its golden corona

moonflower harvest sky

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I speed down the A3 toward

Tolworth

Tower

follow the curve of the road

there it is again on the right

above the cleared MAFF site

behind the bowling alley

 

The Moon ~O~

 

The Moon is over the fields

Giving it the full Samuel Palmer

Richard Jefferies is walking out

late to see the moonlit silver

gold of the harvest under this

crystal studded Prussian blue sky

almost cold and glowing

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I want to stop the car and see the fields

in this Autumn moonlight

but life like a kite pulls me on

a different journey

I hope darkness prevails in the fields

so I can see them like this next year

 

Ancient Droves and the Tolworth Area Plan

A few days before our walk, another walk with my Dad and son, in the heatwave…
“The poetry of earth is never dead:

When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,

And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run

From hedge to hedge, about the new-mown mead;

That is the Grasshopper’s.”

On the Grasshopper and Cricket, John Keats

In the midst of the summer heatwave and haze, we had another Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum walk in one of the most ancient and beautiful places at the heart of Tolworth.

Walking the droves

Well, we thought it would be blazing hot but in the end it was raincoats and brollies weather. A welcome respite from the sultry shimmer of the weeks preceding, and not so wet that we couldn’t wander gently, and stop for a poem or two. Proper British Summer Time drizzle. So, where is this special place in the heart of suburban Tolworth?

It is part of an ancient drove road, in the middle of Tolworth Court Farm Fields, hidden behind hedgerow on the A240. A beautiful wild, nature reserve, which until the 1980s had been farmed for a 1000 years at least, and is mentioned in the Domesday book.

The Ancient Drove on Tolworth Court Farm Fields

Drove roads were the network of roads used over the centuries to move live stock up and down and across the countryside, all over the UK. There are traces of them everywhere, and where the drove has disappeared in its original rural form, it may be identified by names, including ‘Lane’, ‘Drift’, ‘Ox’, ‘Way’ and many other lexical giveaways.

There are certainly lots of them in this area. On my Over the Fields poetry map is ‘Sheephouse Way’ – a road characterised for its large number of blocks of flats these days, but which is shown with the same name on maps which are 500 years old of the local area, and which I was lucky to see at the St John the Baptist Old Malden Heritage Day, when I was doing my research at the time.

Drove roads avoided toll roads, and were a direct and safe route through the countryside for the drovers who could be taking large flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, or even large numbers of geese or turkeys to market. The largest and most famous of these markets  being Smithfields Market in London.

Alison talking about drove roads

They were wide, as much as 20 metres, and usually hedged on both sides, containing the valuable stock, and also helping to keep the animals safe and stopping them from getting infected by other possibly diseased animals living in farms en route.

Elizabeth reading a poem in the heart of the ancient drove on Tolworth Court Farm Fields.
Blackberrying

How sweet I roamed from field to field

And tasted all the summer’s pride.

William Blake

Lots have been paved over, but there is a part of ancient drove in the fields in Tolworth which is grass underfoot, with its double hedge intact, and it is a magical place. And this is where we ended up reading poems, in the drizzle and the green, surrounded by hedges already heavy with blackberries and elderberries, interrupted only by an occasional enthusiastic dog plus owner, not used to seeing a large gathering of people reading and chatting in this in-between-space-between-places. Perfect.

I had hoped to sing John Barleycorn, as we were walking just after Lammas, but my voice was croaky, so I read the words to the old song instead. Alison read the John Clare poem Insects, and Elizabeth read a poem My Orcha’d in Lindèn Lea written by Dorset writer and poet William Barnes (1801-1886)

I also read some Keats and Blake and, not forgetting, some Richard Jefferies.

The beautiful corn dolly made by The Wheat Weaver

I had also brought with me a beautiful corn dolly, made by the Wheatweaver, but was worried about it getting damaged during the walk / weather, so I left it for our after-walk chat and write at Court Farm Cafe afterwards- it is exquisitely beautiful, and so good to know that someone is keeping these ancient skills alive.

With enclosure, modernisation, the rail network and then the roads, the droves fell into disuse, farming methods changed and the old songs, traditions and seasonal customs faded… it is good to remember we still rely on the land for food, and that the sun (especially this year!) and rain are still intrinsic to what we eventually put on our plates.

Although this land is no longer farmed, it is a nature reserve, with bats, rare butterflies, deer and beautiful wild flowers, including pepper saxifrage, as well as some of the oldest trees in the borough.

Alison talking about the fact that this is ONE very old Ash tree!

Alison, who has been walking this way for many years, as part of her job as an ecologist and bat expert, has a deep knowledge and passion for this place. I have learned a lot from her and am so glad we have been able to go on these walks together.

People who joined us for the walk, who didn’t already know and love Tolworth Court Farm Fields, were amazed at how easy it was to enter, and how beautiful and special it is.

“…The walk along the old drove road felt like being in the depths of the country and  I’ll try and walk the meadows when they are in flower next year…”

For me it is a jewel in the crown of Tolworth’s Treasures, alongside Six Acre Meadow, where Millais was inspired to paint his Ophelia, Tate Britian’s most popular painting.

 

 

Six Acre Meadow also falls within the Tolworth Area Plan – and today, the 16th September 2018, is the last day that you can have your say on what you think about it.

Click the link here for more information and to fill out the consultation form. Have your say!

 

(poetry quotes taken from Field Days – ideas for Investigations and Celebrations, Common Ground, ISBN 1 870 364 18 X)

Walking in Richard Jefferies’ Footsteps, Monday May 7th 2018

 

The Plaque at RJ’s house in Ewell Road, Tolworth

Outside Richard Jefferies’ House, Ewell Road

Outside Richard Jefferies’ Home – pic by Paul Atkinson

“Jefferies left school at fifteen and at first continued his habits of solitary wanderings about the local countryside. He dressed carelessly and allowed his hair to grow down to his collar. This, with his “bent form and long, rapid stride made him an object of wonder in the town of Swindon. But he was perfectly unconscious of this, or indifferent to it.”

“Later, after becoming ill in the 1867-1868 “My legs are as thin as a grasshopper’s”, he wrote to his aunt. Illness also prompted some reconsideration of his own character: he was going to be “not swell but stylish” in future, since people set so much store by appearance.”

Richard Jefferies takes a walk down Tolworth Broadway

“Open your eyes and see those things which are around us at this hour. If any imagine they shall find thoughts in many books, certainly they will be disappointed. Thought dwells by the stream and sea, by the hill  and in the woodland, in the sunlight and free wind, where the wild dove haunts.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

And we follow him…

 “In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

Richard Jefferies navigates the greenway, across the Tolworth Roundabout

“Though we have been so many thousands of years upon the earth, we do not seem to have done any more as yet than walk along beaten footpaths.” Richard Jefferies

And we follow him…

At Tolworth Station, Under the railway bridge

“It is but a strip of sward, but it is as wild as if in the midst of a forest. A pleasure to everyone- therefore destroy it.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

Crossing over by Tolworth Station. Pic by Paul Atkinson

(As it was in Jefferies day, so it is now.Surveyors and roadmen make sure that the delightful green strips that once surrounded many sign-posts at lonely lane ends are well covered with disfiguring gravel or lime heaps.)

Samuel J Looker writing in 1946 – what would they think now?

Richard Jefferies walks towards the railway bridge…
Reading Ewell Road Footprint at Tolworth Railway Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

EWELL ROAD FOOTPRINT

Sun glaring off the pavement, off the bitumen

smell of dust and petrol- the suburbs in the summer

the smell of the spiky checquered upholstery

Richard Jefferies shares a joke with Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum 😉 Pic by Paul Atkinson

on the 281 bus, stuck in the traffic backed-up

along the Ewell Road.

Police Station, Red Lion pub

the last wooden bus shelter in London, removed – no longer the haunt

of crafty school-age smokers on the way home from school.

Past Tolworth Station, the air becomes heavy with the scent of blossom

Bryants men’s outfitters opposite the church,

the church on hot days of May, a rosary month

where we would pray the beads at lunchtime

sometimes hide in the confessional.

Father Kirby with his Dot Cotton fag on

Leading the school mascot and pet goat, Olly.

fainting at the front of the church

holding a flag dressed in Guide uniform

that would be the incense.

My Uncle Bern fixing cars in the Blue Star garage

Walking down the Kingston Road. It’s so green and leafy! Puc by Paul Atkinson

when Tesco was a twinkle in the cash register.

Buying my first single in Woolworths,

watching my Gran with the Greenshield stamps in the co-op,

ice cream floats and squeezy tomatoes in the Wimpy,

On the path… Pic by Paul Atkinson

Verity’s with its never-changing ladies fashions.

Slippery subway steps under the Broadway.

Bells camping shop for my first sleeping bag,

Lorimers, and Superfish- still the same.

…and traffic and roundabouts…

Standing outside Fine Fare on blustery days

on one of the Brutalist fountains,

holding my umbrella, hoping for Mary Poppins action,

spending pocket money in the supermarket on Lucozade and Dairy Milk

Collecting my copy of Jinty from Mouldy’s, opposite Raeburn,

walking home reading and bumping into lamp posts…

and subways and traffic and subways roundabouts

and traffic and green buses and bus shelters…

And (in the Toby Jug) Ziggy played Guitar

 

“A fresh footpath, a fresh flower, a fresh delight.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

The Kingston Road (A240) Bridge over the Hogsmill

Alison showing everyone the vintage photos of the area, including Tolworth Hall Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

Extract from: What Famous Writers Know About Walking – (full feature here)

“Writing is one way of making the world our own, and… walking is another,” wrote Geoff Nicholson in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism.

Walking is also known to relieve depression and stress, freeing the mind to explore imaginary worlds. A 2012 study found that participants with clinical depression who took a walk in nature experienced improved memory, while an earlier 2008 study found that healthy adults experienced a mental boost after walking for an hour in the park.

Said Charles Dickens: “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.”

The White Cycle Bridge over the confluence of the Hogsmill and The Bonesgate Stream and a peek at Tolworth Court Farm Fields

Alison speaking at the edge of Tolworth Court Farm Fields

I read Hogsmill Tiddlers from my Over The Fields poetry map – more about that here.

Tolworth Court Moated Manor

“The meadow glows with buttercups in spring, the hedges are green, the woods lovely; but these are not to be enjoyed in their full significance unless you have traversed the same places when bare, and have watched the slow fulfilment of the flowers.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

Walking across Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor. Pic by Paul Atkinson

The Barn (extract) by Edmund Blunden

RAIN-SUNKEN roof, grown green and thin
For sparrows’ nests and starlings’ nests;
Dishevelled eaves; unwieldy doors,
Cracked rusty pump, and oaken floors,
And idly-pencilled names and jests
Upon the posts within.

The light pales at the spider’s lust,
The wind tangs through the shattered pane:
An empty hop-poke spreads across
The gaping frame to mend the loss
And keeps out sun as well as rain,

Mildewed with clammy dust.

The smell of apples stored in hay
And homely cattle-cake is there.
Use and disuse have come to terms,
The walls are hollowed out by worms,
But men’s feet keep the mid-floor bare
And free from worse decay.

All merry noise of hens astir
Or sparrows squabbling on the roof
Comes to the barn’s broad open door;
You hear upon the stable floor

Old hungry Dapple strike his hoof,
And the blue fan-tail’s whirr.

The barn is old, and very old,
But not a place of spectral fear.
Cobwebs and dust and speckling sun
Come to old buildings every one.
Long since they made their dwelling here,
And here you may behold

Nothing but simple wane and change;
Your tread will wake no ghost, your voice
Will fall on silence undeterred.
No phantom wailing will be heard,
Only the farm’s blithe cheerful noise;
The barn is old, not strange.

Old Kingston Road. Pic by Paul Atkinson

“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,

and can be found by those who search for it.”

Richard Jefferies in Looker

 

Please read Alison Fure’s fantastic write up of this walk for the natural history and literature underpinning this exploration into the Tolworth that Richard Jefferies knew. It is compelling- especially as we can still recognise much of it today.

~Tolworth Treasure!~

Thanks to Alison as well for suggesting I read Edmund Blunden’s The Barn.

Thanks to Paul Atkinson for letting me use some of his wonderful pics from the walk here.

A massive thank you to Ben Henderson, who became the embodiment of Mr Jefferies, and for bringing his footsteps to life in such a magical fashion!

Thanks to Gill and everyone at Court Farm Cafe for looking after us, and thanks to everyone who came!

Back to Court Farm Cafe for refreshments, conversation and writing.
Perfect

The walk was also recorded for radio and will be broadcast later in the year…more information on that at a later date.

The majority of the quotes here come from Samuel J Looker’s book The Worthing Cavalcade: Richard Jefferies – A Tribute. Published in 1946.

We will be walking again over the summer- more information on the facebook page here: www.facebook.com/tolworthtreasure

 

In the footsteps of Richard Jefferies – Part One

Did you know that one of our most cherished and important nature writers lived in Tolworth? Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) was born in Coate in Wiltshire, but moved to live in Tolworth, at 296 Ewell Road, from 1877 – 1882.

During this time he wrote what is acknowledged to be his finest writing, some of which was collected in a book of essays called Nature Near London. Every day Jefferies would walk along the Ewell Road in various directions, but often he would stroll down towards Tolworth Court Farm Fields and to the Hogsmill. Sometimes he would walk towards Worcester Park, at other times he would wander along the river in the other direction, towards Ewell or Chessington.

We can walk in his footsteps, and still see and experience some of what he saw and wrote about back then. Come with us on a journey through the eyes and feet of this prolific and important writer (and walker!) who put Tolworth on the map in a way that no one else has. His work is hugely important and influential, and people still make pilgrimages to see where he lived, walked and worked.

On Bank Holiday Monday, May 7th, we will meet outside Richard Jefferies’ old home, now a Stack and Bonner Estate Agents, at 11am. Then we will walk down the Ewell Road, just as he did (but with cars and a lot more concrete), out to the edgelands between Greater London and Surrey, where the spirit of Jefferies still haunts the landscape.

We will stop briefly at 11.45am, at the railway bridge at Tolworth railway station, and then continue on, down the A240, to the bridge over the Hogsmill and on to the white bridge at the confluence of the Bonesgate Stream and Hogsmill.

We will then cross over the A240 and go to Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor, and see if we can spot the kestrels currently nesting there; then head down Old Kingston Road and finish at the Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe between 12.30-1pm.

The walk will end with tea, chat and some optional writing activities, plus a chance to look at old photos of the area we will be walking in, including the barn Jefferies described in his essay in Nature Near London, and the old bridge at Tolworth Hall.

Discover one of Tolworth’s greatest Treasures!

The walk is FREE

Facebook event here!

Disclaimer: walks undertaken at participants’ own risk and responsibility. Please contact re accessibility / mobility*

Walk the Hogsmill (Meeting the Tree)

Meeting the Tree – a 500 year old oak, the oldest tree in the borough.

It was about as wet a day as it is possible to have in January, without it snowing. Persistent, doggedly determined precipitation meant that, understandably, many people who had been in touch to say they would be joining the walk, cancelled when they saw the weather that morning.

But twelve intrepid adventurers gathered at the white cycle bridge, the confluence of the Hogsmill and Bonesgate Stream! A wonderful turn out for the first walk in our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum series.

The walk began with Alison talking about the sediment that comes into the Hogsmill from the Bonesgate Stream, and how this affects the wildlife, depending on the amount, for good and bad. As with all waterways there are many complex issues with keeping them healthy, including sewage spills, industrial pollution, the level of water, making sure fish can travel and they have places to spawn; how this affects the surrounding and connected flora and fauna- including kingfishers who are regularly spotted on the Hogsmill.

I read a light-hearted John Clare poem, A Ramble by The Riverside, and spoke about how Richard Jefferies, one of our most famous nature writers, wrote about standing on ‘Tolworth Court Bridge’, which was somewhere very close to the spot we were standing on, describing the river, and the brown trout, which he watched in the same spot for three consecutive summers. It became a place of pilgrimage for him.

“It was at the tail end of one of the arches of the bridge over the brook that my favourite trout used to lie. Sometimes the shadow of the beech came as far as his haunts, that was early in the morning, and for the rest of the day the bridge itself cast a shadow…For three seasons this continued. For three summers I had the pleasure to see the trout day after day, whenever I walked that way, and all that time, with fishermen close at hand, he escaped notice, though the place was not preserved.”

Alison talking about Riverhill Copse

We walked along the rainy river to  Riverhill Copse, where Alison talked about the efforts Epsom and Ewell Borough Council has made to create places where people can walk and enjoy nature. Riverhill Copse is beautiful: a lovely little walk through trees, which, if you didn’t know, might assume had just grown there, rather than being purposefully planted in a designed space.

At the other end of our mini-woodland ramble Alison talked about the importance of the yellow meadow ant mounds for birds and small mammals, and some of us were amused by the knowledge that woodpecker droppings, one of the birds which benefit from the ant mounds, look like the crumpled ends of cigarettes!

Chris Packham waxes typically lyrically about woodpecker poo: “Perhaps my favourite bird poo (and I’m sure many other people’s too) is produced by the green woodpecker. Again cylindrical, it can be found on short grassy areas where the birds have been foraging. It is about 6-8mm in diameter and somewhere between 25-35mm in length. Its outer skin is white and the interior, visible at either end, is tan brown and roughly textured, so it can look a bit like a crumpled length of a cigarette.”

Continuing our walk along the path by the river, towards Ewell, we stopped just before the road bisects the path, to listen to the exquisite sound of a song thrush singing.

We crossed over Ruxley Lane and stopped again to admire the hedgelaying along the side of the road. This is a traditional country craft and it is good to see it used as a green boundary along this busy suburban road.

Slightly further on, there is a section of  willow spiling along the river bank. The river looks noticeably different here because of it; spiling is used to help the banks and vegetation to naturally re-generate and helps to prevent erosion. It also creates good habitat for various wildlife.

At Ewell Court Stream I mentioned the the Pre-Raphaelite painters who lived and worked locally, particularly William Holman Hunt, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848.  Inspiration for his most famous painting, The Light of the World came from Hunt following the course of the Hogsmill, and discovering an abandoned hut once used by workers at the gunpowder mills at Old Malden: “On the riverside was a door locked up and overgrown with tendrils of ivy, its step choked with weeds.” Hunt visited the hut at night-time to capture the effects of moonlight – and was suspected by the village policeman of being a ghost!

Pamela watches white-letter hairstreak butterflies, whose favourite habitat is the tops of elm trees. She showed us her favourite elm tree, and told us how she watches them: lying on her back, looking up through binoculars! A good conversation starter for passing walkers if ever there was one!

Alison pointed out the Ewell storm tanks, which, if there is heavy rain, sometimes empty  excess sewage directly into the Hogsmill. It happens more frequently now and there have been big sewage spills recently. It is a facet of life on and around the river which cannot be ignored, and vital to understand the different pressures, due to population growth and urbanisation, which are placed on this unique river, when we are walking and enjoying this space. It is good to know that the river is monitored by volunteers.

We walked on past the stepping stones, halting briefly so that Lucy Sustrans could hop across and Alison could show us the chalk – the Hogsmill is a globally rare chalk river. Pamela searched the blackthorn growing at the side of the path and we looked at the eggs of the brown hairstreak butterly- they are beautiful- like tiny sea anenomes!

At Green Lane stream we stood on the recycled bridge and were treated to an extended visit from a kingfisher- who stopped to perch on a branch over the water, showing the full spectrum of its plumage- the best view I have ever had of the red and orange hues, rather than that flash of iridescent blue as it zooms downriver, over the water.   It then flew around us, around the bridge, to avoid us, bestowing us with another glimpse of its halcyon feathers.

And then, finally, we processed along a muddy path, through an avenue of young trees, which gave way to the oldest tree in the borough. A commanding 500 year-old oak. It was a joyful moment – we delighted in discovering a tree that has endured and witnessed all that has taken place in the last 500 years, since Shakespeare died. I read a poem and we all held hands around the tree. It was magical- our friend the tree!

We continued on again to the source of the Hogsmill, which comes bubbling up in ponds at Ewell Village, by Bourne Hall, which always looks to me as if a 1970s space ship has landed in a pleasant Surrey garden. There we were glad to stop, dry off and get warm in the cafe, talk about what we had seen, and do some writing.