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.
Outside Richard Jefferies’ Home – pic by Paul Atkinson
The Plaque at RJ’s house in Ewell Road, Tolworth
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.
Richard Jefferies shares a joke with Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum 😉 Pic by Paul Atkinson
Richard Jefferies takes a walk down Tolworth Broadway
Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor, site of The Barn
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…
“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.”
“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
“In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
“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
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
(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?
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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 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
“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
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.
“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,
We will meet outside the Hogsmill Pub (KT4 7PY) at 11am.
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!
Disclaimer- all walks undertaken at the participants’ own risk and responsibility. Please contact for further information and regarding accessibility and mobility.
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.
Geography Workshop Presents….Her Outdoors. Geography Workshop Presents questions assumptions about the ways in which our world is imagined. In this first programme, artists and writers Karen Lloyd, Alison Lloyd, Lucy Furlong and Morag Rose reflect on walking as practise, informed by the pejorative phrase ‘Er Indoors’. How does their work and the embodied practise of walking inform the way they narrate, enrich and question the narratives that dominate nature-writing, landscape and psycho-geography? Presented by Dr Jo Norcup. [Repeated Friday 9am.]
Thanks to Jo Norcup for inviting me to be involved. I had a great time meeting and talking with everyone, and felt inspired and fired-up afterwards.
I will be talking about why I decided to make a map about this small strip of greenbelt on the boundaries between several places, on the edge of Greater London. I will also speak about the process for doing it and how the poems took shape.
Over the Fields walk, March 2016
Over the Fields walk, January 2016
We have continued to walk Over the Fields since the map was published, and I have carried on documenting our walks with writing and photos, with the aim of sustaining and extending my, and my family’s relationship with this place, and finding out what it means to other people too.
I am very excited to have the opportunity to engage with the themes of this conference and to take part in the important and timely conversation that the conference will engender.
A lovely and unexpected thing that happened as part of making my Over the Fields poetry map, was that I was asked to be part of photographer Bill Mudge‘s project 20 in 15: The Lives of Artists. He spent last year photographing artists at work, documenting their creative processes and working environments.
Of the project Bill says: “20 in 15 encapsulates the significance of the creative arts in our communities, giving a unique insight into the lives of creative people and what it takes to make a living from the creative process; from finding studio space to exhibiting, educating and selling work…” Please visit the website for more information and to see who else took part – all types of artists from ceramicists to composers to puppeteers!
At the point where the new map was coming together, I met Bill one hot September day, at St John the Baptist church in Old Malden, an important location on the map. He took photos of me walking through the fields, as I checked all the locations and details on the map were correct, a kind of ‘proofing-in-situ’.
Then he came with me to meet Mel, who is the genius behind the artwork and production of Over the Fields, and took photos of us working together on the final edits and proofing of the map before it went to print. It was a pleasure meeting and working with Bill; it added another perspective to my own project, allowing me to reflect on my creative processes and the environment(s) I work in, as a poet/writer/walking artist.
I am very grateful to him for being so generous with his work and allowing me to use the beautiful photographs he took, a couple of which are here, and on my web site.
Last Sunday me, my son and my dad went for our first proper walk Over the Fields this year. We have all been poorly and the weather has been rubbish but I was desperate to get out and have a walk over there in time for Imbolc/ Candlemas. This is the traditional time of year for sighting the first snowdrops, and maybe to see buds and Blackthorn blossom. With such a mild Winter there was plenty of new green shoots to see, trees in full blossomy bloom, new nettles and dock leaves, hawthorn leaves unfurling… I wrote about the walk for local ecologist Alison Fure’s excellent blog, and you can read what I wrote here.
On Monday afternoon I finally gave up battling with the lurgy I’ve had on and off since mid-December, and went to bed. I’ve been there ever since, apart from a trip to the doctor on Friday. Eye infection, throat infection, chest virus, acute exacerbation of asthma…I’ve been fighting it for ages but finally it got the better of me. This has resulted in a week of cancelled teaching. Not great when you are a self-employed single parent… but…mustn’t grumble eh… my son is being looked after by my amazing dad, and I am safe and warm, if feeling particularly grim.
The silver lining is that being stuck in bed means I have watched a few films. Most affecting of these is This Changes Everything, narrated by Naomi Klein and based on her book of the same name. I need to watch it again and I would recommend that you need to watch it too. So should everyone. It is tough to watch in places but breathtakingly filmed and well put together. A mixture of environmental disaster and tragedy, and the heartening, brave protests of people on the front line, whose land and lives are being profoundly affected by the atrocities of fossil fuel companies and big business. The message is clear and simple. Capitalism vs the Climate- if we don’t fight it we are doomed. Now I need to read the book.
I also watched all of the Hobbit film trilogy- and been for the most part pleasantly surprised; I saw and enjoyed the first one at the flicks, missed the second and third, and was put off watching them by a couple of friends who said the story was poorly handled, there was far too much emphasis on spiders, and that the book had been done a total disservice by the drawing out of the plot to nearly 9 hours of film…I loved the LOTR films but was, like many people, rather surprised and slightly cynical at the announcement that the Hobbit would be made as a three-part series of prequels.
So…slightly late to the party…I watched the final two parts this week. Yes, the story is drawn out but I think it’s ok, if a bit baggy . I find the use of CGI action scenes which look like computer games (and *are* constructed for the computer games market- I know, the biggest part of the film business these days) distracting and annoying- formulaic and jammed into the action of the films- but, otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies- and I would happily watch them again.
After watching This Changes Everything, The Hobbit trilogy of films became a metaphor for the rampaging greed of capitalism destroying nature, Power Over instead of Power With.
I am also re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking- a fascinating, wonderful read and, as this year I am especially committed to developing my walking/writing/making practice, a necessary one too. Once again, in light of what Klein says at the start of This Changes Everything, about the idea promulgated during the Enlightenment, of Nature as something to be conquered and used for ‘our’ benefit- the history of walking ties in, in some ways, with this view of what Nature is and is not…thought-provoking stuff and I will be returning to it again and again no doubt.
I am currently writing a talk about the new Over the Fields poetry map called ‘Mapping Memories’, for the Free University of Seething’s lecture series. My talk takes place next Tuesday, 19th January at the Museum of Futures,Brighton Road, Surbiton (Facebook event here). More about the delightful world of Seething in another post soon….
I’ve spoken about the map several times in the past but not since it was published. I will be talking about why I decided to write about the space my family calls ‘Over the Fields’, and why this had to be a poetry map and not a book. I will also discuss some of the history of the place, read some poems and talk about what I hope to do with it next. Hope to see you there!