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)

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.

 

Today

nipperandmeUnusually for us, we have done glorious ‘nothing’ today, a bit of tidying up, read 50 pages of a book, played on the X Box, watched Minecraft  Youtube videos on the tablet, trampolined, walked to Marks and Spencers to buy bread, talked about swearing, blaspheming and the etymology of the word ‘crap’, cooked roast chicken, listened to all the carnival-related programmes on BBC 6 Music, had a dance off to Original Nuttah and Brown Paper Bag – “*THIS* is drum and bass” -snuggled up and watched Streetdance and ended up robot dancing…

laughed, counted our blessings, me and my son.

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Oh By Jingo

I can’t write about Bowie- there are many glorious essays, articles, outpourings, anecdotes, tributes and stories accumulating like gold dust in his wake… they are easy to find, and have been comforting I think for so many of us who feel bereft. I’ve just read this one by Chris Roberts in the Quietus this is interesting too…The Villa of Ormen…  It’s not too late to feel grateful to the Thin White Duke, even if he has returned to the stars. I have a renewed sense of ‘better do it now and better do it the way I want to do it’…and I am sure I am not the only one. What a legacy…. listen to this…Black Star by Elvis Presley- right to the end Bowie was impeccable with his art and his intentions…

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Walking into 2016

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sunset at Avebury, December 28th 2015

I haven’t been blogging much recently- in fact hardly at all. 2015 turned into a crazy, exciting, busy year, creatively. As a result, I found at the end of the year that I had dropped some important threads, including my blog. I hope to pick up where I left off and carry on knitting this strangely-shaped patchwork blanket of random writings on a much more regular basis. Call it a New Year’s Resolution if you like, maybe it is one – my blog has been a writing rudder in the past, steering me through events, successes, failures, moods, frustrations and obsessions…and I hope it will do that again.

Lots of great stuff happened last year – I feel very grateful and fortunate to have met and worked with some lovely, talented and generous people, and to have achieved some of my ambitions for my writing. I will write more about this but I don’t know if that will happen here and now…it might happen randomly and at will, rather than any attempt to be chronological and consistent and comprehensive…

It was good to go away at Christmas and New Year and take a much-needed breather and see some new places and friendly faces.

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hide and seek at the stones, Avebury

We traveled to stay in a tiny cottage on the edge of a farm in Wiltshire, where I hoovered up Viv Albertine’s memoir in a couple of days; wandered around Avebury re-acquainting myself with its stones and trees, after eating lunch in the Red Lion; found a tiny magical part of Calne; stayed in a very rainy Bath and re-visited the Roman Baths and Sally Lunn’s – amazing lavender cake with rose buttercream filling!

Then we were very lucky to be invited to stay with one of oldest friends and her partner and sons in Cardiff, where we saw the New Year in hearing socialist anthems sang exquisitely by members of Cardiff Reds Choir, who happen to live two doors down from my friend’s house, and who were having a party, which we were then invited to. The next two days were filled with trips to the funfair and Dr Who Experience, home-made curry and apple pie…a great way to see the New Year in – best one I’ve had in years. Thanks for everything, Tania XXX

 

 

Back Soon…Time Flies

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This may the least amount of blogging I’ve done in the last nearly ten years… it’s been an eventful and exciting year so far. Very busy creatively- and professionally- in fact the two are combining nicely- which was always the plan- with all kinds of stuff happening, happened, and with a bit of luck and a following wind, going to happen…

So this is a holding post to say I will be posting here again on a more regular basis, with all kinds of news of the soon-to-be-published Over The Fields map, plus an update on what I’ve been up to over the last few months (mainly to remind myself and gather my thoughts as we head towards Lammas), and also to write about other stuff that will be happening this Autumn…

In the meantime- here I am at the Carshalton Time Machine…more now, and then, soon…

 

Carshalton-On-Sea Festival

COSposter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has all come together rather quickly, and impressively, and I am delighted to be so involved. The main event for me and my other poetical colleagues, Sarah Dawson, Neil Horabin and David Russamano, is the Water Poets at 1pm in the Cryer Theatre, Saturday 20th June. There will be tonnes of other excellent stuff to see and do over the weekend!