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*

Walking the Tolworth Edgelands

Come and discover some of Tolworth’s ‘edgelands’ – find out what edgelands are and why they are important.

This is the second of our ‘Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum’ walks of 2018. The walk takes places on Sunday 25th February from 11am-2pm.

Facebook event here

We will meet outside the Hogsmill Pub (KT4 7PY) at 11am.

Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor- picture by Alison Fure

Be an Edgeland Navigator, and see what you discover!

Spot classic edgeland features including:

• Unexpected specialist plants-why are they growing there?
• Paths – are they human or animal?
• Dens- who do they belong to and what’s inside?
• Networks- there is a ‘world wide web’ besides the internet!
• What types of animals, birds and insects inhabit edgelands and why ?

There is a wealth of history around our route, including Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor. We will be close to the site of Worcester Park House, which is no longer there but has its own fascinating history, stretching way back to the time of Henry VIII.

The walk will end at Court Farm Garden Centre Cafe- please join us for tea, chat and a chance to do some creative writing activities, if you would like to. The cafe sells a wide range of hot and cold food, snacks and drinks.
http://www.courtfarm.uk.com/cafe-restaurant

Accompanied children aged 10 and over are welcome, under adult supervision.

Stout footwear essential!

Cost: FREE!

Disclaimer- all walks undertaken at the participants’ own risk and responsibility. Please contact for further information and regarding accessibility and 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.

 

Tolworth Treasure & The Hogsmill Hum

FREE Walks and Workshops for 2018 with Alison Fure and Lucy Furlong

Walk the Hogsmill River and explore the green fields of Tolworth. Experience the wildlife, learn about the environment, discover the hidden heritage.

Please ‘like’ and follow the facebook page www.facebook.com/tolworthtreasure for more information and updates about events

WALK THE HOGSMILL

First walk of the year: Saturday 20th January, 11am-2pm

Come and see the oldest tree along the river!

The Hogsmill at Ewell Court, January 2018

We will meet at the white cycle bridge, at the confluence of the Hogsmill River and Bonesgate stream. This can be found off the A240, Kingston Road, Tolworth, just on the boundary with Epsom and Ewell.

Walking along the Hogsmill River towards Ewell we will have  time to stop and talk, and take photos. Please join us afterwards for tea, chat and a chance to write at Bourne Hall cafe at the end of the walk.

Please note this is a linear walk. It will take approximately two hours, so allow an additional hour in the café as well as time to get home. From Bourne Hall it is easy to catch a bus back to Tolworth / Surbiton / Kingston, or jump on a train at West Ewell station, which is nearby.

We will walk along the river, through fields and woodland, up to where the oldest tree in the borough of Epsom and Ewell, and onto the Hogsmill springs near Bourne Hall.

Alison will talk about what happens when two rivers meet and about the ecology of the area. On the way we are likely to see and will look out for: kingfishers, little egrets, various types of fungus including ‘ear fungus’; the eggs of the brown hairstreak butterfly, discuss the importance of yellow meadow ant mounds and much more!

Lucy will talk about how you can experience this walk from a creative perspective, and about some of the famous artists who were inspired by this landscape. There will be a chance to take part in some brief writing activities at the end, if you would like to.

It may be muddy and slippery so please wear stout footwear, bring water and a snack to share on the way. This walk is not suitable for young children – over 12’s are welcome- and there will be other walks coming up which will have a family focus. Facebook event here.

Disclaimer- all walks undertaken at the participants’ own risk and responsibility. Please contact for further information and regarding accessibility and mobility.

 

 

Writers’ Centre Kingtson Event: Hoping

I will be doing a short poetry reading this evening, the last one this year, as part of the Writers’ Centre Kingston literary event on ‘Hoping’.

It is FREE and being held at the MINIMA Yacht Club, along Kingston High Street.

Reading alongside me are Sarah Dawson and Gale Burns, prelude to the main speakers: Tony White, Dr Helen Minors and Helen Palmer, who will each be talking on the theme of Hope.

More info here https://www.writerscentrekingston.com/hoping

 

Tolworth Treasure

Tolworth Court Farm Fields

What kind of Five Year Plan should Tolworth have? I would like to see a commitment to keep and manage its green spaces sensitively – because they are what make Tolworth special.

I was shocked to hear Tolworth referred to as a ‘ghetto’ by staff and students at Kingston University while I was studying there. It is one of the oldest parts of the Borough- with ancient and deep historical roots. There are the remains of a medieval moated manor at Tolworth Court, where Kingston Biodiversity Network holds open days. Tolworth Court Farm Fields is a wonderful wild treasure, which should stay that way.

Can you spot Tolworth Tower?

Alison Fure, a local ecologist, has been taking people on Apple Walks, fascinating insights into the history of orchards and fruit growing in this part of the borough. This includes the Tolworth Apple Store, an important piece of local heritage, which she is campaigning to protect.

Buy Alison’s chap book here.

On the borders of Tolworth is the Hogsmill Valley, where Millais painted the backdrop to his painting Ophelia, something I have written about in my poetry map, Over the Fields, an exploration of four generations of my family’s relationship with the greenbelt, which is at the end of the Sunray Estate, towards Malden Manor.

photograph by Bill Mudge

The other day, on my regular morning run down Old Kingston Road, I got to the bridge over the Hogsmill and stopped, to see a flash of iridescent blue zoom downstream: a kingfisher (click the link for a lovely video on the RSPB web site!). It’s not such a rare sight, if you stop there regularly, and look in the right direction, away from the traffic.

Tolworth is remarkable for its open green spaces, and we have a choice now- do we value them, and protect them, recognising them as our lungs and our unique heritage, or do we lose them and become more urban, more polluted and a lot less interesting?

(This article originally appeared in the ‘Tolworth Observer’ a newspaper produced as part of the public consultation on the draft Tolworth Area Plan. For more information see the Kingston Borough Council web site here.)

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#SourcePark Hastings

A week staying in a tiny cottage in Hastings Old Town took on a new significance for my scooter-obsessed son when we discovered, on our second day here, that a 20 minute walk along the promenade would take us to The Source Park – the world’s largest underground skatepark.

The Source building was originally the White Rock swimming baths, including a Turkish bath and individual baths back in Victorian times. Its popularity waxed and waned, and over the years the building was modified and became an ice rink and a cinema. Eventually it closed and was derelict for several years.

The skatepark opened in 2016, after gaining funding in 2014, and the White Rock baths underwent a massive overhaul in being fitted out as a skatepark. But what is fascinating about the building now, apart from it being a great place for all ages of scooter / BMX / skateboarder to go and ride, is that in transforming it, many of the original features of the pool have been kept, and are wonderful to see.

This would seem a fitting tribute not only to the original architects and designers of the White Rock pool, but also to the original development of skateboarding, and its anarchic roots in the riding of backyard swimming pools back in the 1970s, as shown in the seminal documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, about the pioneering Zephyr team, whose skateboarding started as an extension of surfing.

As the mum of an enthusiastic 10 year old boy scooterer (is that a word?), I am pleased to have somewhere cool to take him, which is also a pleasure for me to spend time in, has a great cafe, and as a writer about place, is not too smoothed over. It feels honest. The music is great too!

 

 

 

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