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.
Meeting at the White Bridge
Walking the Hogsmill
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.”
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.
hedge at Ruxley Lane
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.
William Holman Hunt in his Eastern Dress by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864
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!
White-letter hairstreak on bramble (note the W) photo by Pamela Harwood
Lucy Sustrans ‘in the river’ at the Stepping Stones
Looking at brown hairstreak butterfly eggs on blackthorn- tiny!
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.
I am currently preparing for a talk I will be giving this Thursday, 22nd June at Quay Arts, the Isle of Wight’s leading art gallery and venue for live events. I was thrilled to be invited to speak about my poetry map, Over the Fields, as part of the events and activities taking place around Richard Long’s show, The Isle of Wight as Six Walks, 8th April – 1st July.
I will be talking about how and why I came to make the map. Regular readers of my (somewhat irregular) blog will know that this was a process of going for walks with my Dad and my son, over 18 months, beginning in January 2014, and ending in August 2015. The map was self-published after being beautifully designed by my best mate, and printed and folded into a pocket-sized A6 fold out full colour working map, with poems on one side and photos and map on the other.
Since then the map and I have been on quite a journey, and I have been able to achieve some of the aims I had for it, and other things have happened which were unexpected but equally wonderful.
I will talk about this tiny piece of greenbelt, and the impact it continues to have on my family. I hope you can join me for a walk through the poems and a chance to think about memory, family and place. And walking itself, and why it continues to inspire creativity.
Blossom to Fruit: A writing workshop to explore our relationship with fruit and trees, their histories and our memories…
Write about your favourite pear tree, your grandma’s apple pie, be inspired by our local history of orchards and fruit-growing; is there a particular variety of apple you would like to pay homage to? We will explore all these possibilities and more at the start of Kingston Environment Centre’s Apple Day.
£10 per place- this will be a donation towards raising funds for a leaflet about the Borough’s Apple Story. More about Alison’s fundraising here. This is an important part of our local heritage and I am hoping we can help Alison achieve her aim by having fun writing about our relationships with fruit and trees!
12 places available- please book in advance to secure your place!
Lucy 07859997617 or Alison 07867507086
Time: 10.30-12 midday
Please come! This will be the start of a wonderful day of apple and orchard related talks and activities.
This Thursday, 23rd February I am thrilled to be reading a new collaborative poem with Susie Campbell at the Futures Camarade, which is part of the launch of the Visual Poetry show at the Museum of Futures in Surbiton. It has been an absolute delight to work with Susie, and we are looking forward to performing the work together for the first time on Thursday evening.
The show is being curated by the inimitable S J Fowler , with assistance from creative writing students Kingston University, and will exhibit work from a diverse range of artists and poets working across the boundaries of visual / textual art. I am very excited to be part of this and can’t wait to see what promises to be a distinctive and unique mix of work in the lovely space of the Museum of Futures.
I am chuffed to have a piece of visual work in the show, and to go with that, a new chapbook, Villiers Path: Scalloped Time, the second publication on the Seethingography imprint from Sampson Low publishers.
More about Villiers Path coming soon….
On Tuesday 28th February I will be hosting a Seething Writers workshop at the Museum of Futures: Seething Writers Go Totally Ekphrastic, where we will be writing in response to the work on show in the exhibition. More information here.
Un-rehabilitated prisoners were taken through the dark maze of tunnels beneath the streets of Pimlico to the lock up under the pub, where they were kept before being put on boats at Millbank pier, and eventually transported ‘Down Under’…
Panopticon Prison Plan
Millbank Pier (with MI5 in the background)
There are records of prisoners and prison officers dying in these cells, and in the tunnels connected to the prison, and as Gary, the landlord at the pub, was telling me when I went to do some research, a team of paranormal enthusiasts have carried out readings in the cells late at night….Brrrrrr
Gary very kindly took me and Sinead Keegan, a trustee of the festival, for a tour of the spooky cells, and answered questions about the pub and its history. As MI5 is situated directly across the river, the Morpeth Arms has some fascinating pictures and snippets of information about famous spies on its walls- which could be great stimulus for a flash fiction thriller!
Do join me in the snug, for what I hope will be an enjoyable couple of hours writing stories inspired by this fascinating place!
The workshop is FREE but numbers are limited so please email me to book your place: email@example.com and see the Facebook event here.
Ghosts, POMS and Panopticons at The Morpeth Arms, Thursday 16th June from 7.30-9.30pm, 58 Millbank, Westminster, London, SW1P 4RW