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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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.
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
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…
The new poetry map I have been working on for the last 18 months is on its way to being published…there are still final bits and bobs of writing to do, photos to select and final edits but the art work is taking shape. I am very excited about this as it is highly personal – a map of Furlong territory, especially my Dad’s, and his brothers’ and sisters’ – their ‘second home.’ It continues to amaze me, how much this small piece of land contains in terms of stories, nature and deep history. I cannot possibly cram all the writing and poems, pictures and information I have gathered and created, and am continuing to amass on to two sides of A2 map…maybe this will become something else in the future…
More news and updates on this as it continues to materialise into something tangible. For now, the photos above are of where I lay the other afternoon, listening to many different birds singing, bees buzzing, watching fronds and flowers swaying in the breeze… a ten minute walk from the white noise of the A3 in one direction, and the train to Waterloo in the other.
This is the sound of the suburbs.