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Tag Archives: outdoors

The Slow Road To Recovery

                        

Photo: http://www.healthtap.com

Virgil wrote that ‘The greatest wealth is health’. Whilst I fully concur with the Greek sage I have to say that my right knee was never the same after I flew over the handlebars of my bike one sunny August morning last year. A raised kerb, hiding in the shadows of a huge oak, propelled me over my handlebars and onward like a geriatric Buzz Lightyear. I saw the funny side of my horizontal launching (and quickly checked to see how many people saw me fly; it was only a few!) but between grimaces of genuine pain. In fact the pain was so bad that I had to wait whilst sat on the kerb until my eldest son arrived to help me home.Thankfully, as we don’t live too far from the scene of my embarrassment and so he straightened my handle bars and supported me as we walked but I was not happy.

My knee didn’t heal but became progressively worse and this condition stayed with me for some time. It now appears to be as well as it ever will be. I have a couple of stages of The Capital Ring to complete so I thought now was the time , metaphorically at least, to get back on the bike and share some of the notes I wrote in my notebook at the time of my rehabilitation. It had been a dark period in my life. Hopefully, my next entry after this will be notes on the completion of The Capital Ring.

Monday 24th September 2012

My knee is getting progressively worse. On the 13th September 2012 I had to attend A & E at St Thomas’ Hospital as the pain in my knee was now at a very uncomfortable stage. I cannot turn whilst standing still as the pain is insufferable. I sat for three hours and the very helpful GP told me that it was more than likely that I’d torn some of the fibres in my medial ligament on the right knee. The damage to these ligaments will not show up on an x-ray and need an MRI scan and so she referred me to attend the Knee Clinic at the Hospital.

It is now more than a week since I attended A & E and my doctor has not received the paper work. My GPs surgery is no more than a five-minute walk from A & E and therefore It’s not too much to expect the paper work to be sitting on his desk awaiting his action. Meanwhile, I sit at home and the knee hurts and I’m taking anti-inflammatory tablets to reduce the pain.
I phoned my surgery and they assured me that no paperwork has arrived and they will get on the case for me and contact the hospital. Something needs to be done soon or I’ll not last the week. The appointment needs to be made soon as my condition is worsening and it will have a domino-effect on the rest of my health and well being. I’ll explain how:

If I am unable to walk I have to sit indoors;
If I sit indoors and do not exercise then I will gain weight, moreover my ankles will start to swell;
then my mental wellbeing starts to get worse as I cannot allow my ankles to swell and this makes me feel morose. I cannot bear feeling unfit and this injury continues to make me feel so.

I am now awaiting a phone call from the surgery to tell me what’s happened and how this problem can be resolved.

Saturday 29th September.

I walked home from Waterloo Station and it appears that a combination of rest, tablets and limiting the distances I walked is having a positive effect and the knee appears to be improving. At the moment I no longer have any back pain though there is every chance this happy circumstance will change by next week. What I plan to do, therefore, is walk sparingly but regularly and slowly build up my tolerance and reaction to miles walked.If I do this correctly it could be a profitable winter for me: one where I may build my walking fitness … The ankles also feel sore and the cracked and broken skin on both heals needs urgent attention. Another job on the list.

Tuesday 16th October

I attended the Musculoskeletal Assessment Clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital to get to the bottom of what it was that is causing me so much discomfort.Getting an appointment so quick is great news but I have to say I’m not looking forward to the examination!

The beauty of seeing a specialist at a hospital is that they know their specialism inside out. The physiotherapist that examined me knew her job so well that she was capable of diagnosing very quickly what she believes has happened to my knee.I first filled in a questionnaire … Next was the examination. For thirty minutes I had to perform leg stretches, achilles stretches and squats to demonstrate that my balance was not impaired and that basic functions of the knee worked without pain.I lay back on the examination couch and she stretched the knee joint and twisted it; probed and prodded the joint in search of floating parts or a knee joint incapable of functioning correctly. All appeared well but she did detect a problem: I had undergone some form of fibre tear on the right-knee which was now almost healed and would account for my improved mobility. After a range of stretches, pulls and exertions she announced that the fibre tear was the most likely explanation due to a lack of swelling after any physical exertion. She would sign me up to a physiotherapy group which would  heal the problems of the knee.She recommended swimming, cycling and re-visiting my own gym which I have been paying for without using for the past six months! Exercise is what is needed but it has to be slow and gradual and not in one leap which may damage me once more. My target is therefore to do cycling in the gym and build up my fitness before finishing the last leg of the Capital Ring sometime over the half-term holidays at the end of the month.
With that I thanked her and walked home to contemplate the first stage of my rehabilitation.

Thursday 8th November

Physiotherapy appointment at St Thomas’ Hospital.

On physical examination, there were no abnormalities observed and no tenderness on palpation. Ege’s test was negative… his injury appears to be well into the healing process as he is self-managing very well. There is however some core weakness and so with that in mind he was given some core strengthening exercises to supplement his current gym programme.’

Post-Hospital recovery

Finishing the last leg of The Capital Ring at half-term didn’t happen. I’d gone off the idea and the rehabilitation to this point has consisted of walking and gym work in between bouts of supply teaching.I’m not a very consistent gym person but I do try my best. I am now at the point where I try not to think about my knee at all but there is always that unease lurking within my psyche that my knee will never be what it was and at some stage will restrict me from doing what I love to do: walk. I understood some time ago that I am mortal (doh!) and that ageing is what we humans do. So, if I am able to I shall get out and walk the paths across our beautiful landscape and I shall appreciate what I can do and not what I cannot. Walking is a simple act of placing one foot in front of the other and yet at times we don’t realise how fortunate we are to walk.

Next: The completion of The Capital Ring.

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The Woods Of Finchley and Highgate

The path through Highgate Wood leading to Queen’s Wood Nature Reserve

Though it is hard to imagine today North London ,very much like South London in this respect, was once covered in a thick canopy of trees and ancient woodlands, some dating back to prehistoric times and beyond . Modern house building, suburban sprawl and the expansion of London and its artery of transport networks have done for most of these woodlands and geographically altered the ecology of the city for ever. From Dulwich in the south to Highgate in the north and all points in between there once existed a thick spread of mighty English Oak trees alongside Hornbeam,Mountain Ash, Silver Birch, Elder, Hazel, Sycamore, Maple and Hawthorn to satisfy the cravings of the most demanding of carpenters. In North London this Great Park, as it was known, sheltered life and gave life though nearly all of it is now gone and yet in places and by foot the visitor is able to glimpse the tiniest surviving remainder of the once ancient and mighty woods and marvel at what once filled these parts.

Cherry Tree Wood, a small though partially dense wood, is squeezed into green space between suburban housing sprawl and the track embankment opposite East Finchley underground station. At first glance the park appears to be popular amongst mothers and their young children until you realise that all parks, woodland or green space with a play area is popular with all parents in all parts of London. It’s not a large park but it’s very hospitable and at just over five hectares there isn’t that much of it left. It is a reminder of what once was. A short walk away down a suburban avenue is Highgate Wood which, at thirty-eight hectares is bigger, denser and darker. Once inside Highgate Wood it becomes apparent that this was once even more substantial than it is and though teeming with dog walkers at various times of the day it has the feel of a great wood. Highgate Wood is cared for and looked after by the ‘Friends of Highgate Wood’ who do a worthwhile job of maintaining the paths and ensuring that the trees are trimmed when they need to be and the paths maintained and that everything within its confines runs tickety-boo. As I walked though the ‘friends’ were hard at it maintaining a fence and repairing a damaged thicket.

The short walk from Cherry Tree Wood to Highgate Wood allows you to imagine a London nestling between two great ridges at Highgate and further south at Dulwich, below the Crystal Palace transmitter. London sprawled across further smaller mounds and hillocks and marshland, rivers and streams. The view from Highgate Village is an outstanding vista across the artificial peaks of the City of London and beyond towards Blackheath, Woolwich and Kent.

Highgate Wood is dark, nestling in the hillside then descends down into what feels like the bottom of a crater in Queen’s Wood. Both woods are separated by the main Muswell Hill Road which connects the upper end of the Archway Road to Muswell Hill Broadway. Both are different woods and have a different feel about them. Queen’s Wood has a lively cafe which doubles as a Visitor’s Centre, of sorts.On the day I passed through there was a meeting in progress of ‘The friends of Queen’s Wood’ who, I’m assured, do a lot of good work and maintain the cared-for feeling that the Wood has. As I sat with my tea and cake they debated and deliberated and nodded earnestly to this proposal and that and ended by talking to a young father who thanked them for their hard work. All cooed appreciatively. Like Cherry Tree Wood the Queen’s Wood has spent time and energy planning and building tree-walks and other activities for youngsters to enjoy. This is what gave it, to my mind, an advantage over those that govern Highgate Wood.

‘The wood is an ancient oak-hornbeam woodland, which features English oak and occasional beech which provide a canopy above cherry, field maple, hazel, holly, hornbeam, midland hawthorn, mountain ash and both species of lowland birch. The scarce Wild Service Tree (which is evidence of the Woods’s ancient origin) is scattered throughout the wood.’ -Wiki

Emerging from the south-eastern side of Queen’s Wood I climbed a stiff path into Priory Gardens and at the end of the road sits Highgate Underground station. A great walk over: three different woods and a great cafe in which to end your tramp. Hard to beat, really.

Wimbledon Common on the Capital Ring

The Windmill on Wimbledon Common

I love this description of Wimbledon Common by Walter Johnson in 1912 and as it can’t be bettered I’ll include it in it’s entirety:

“He does not know Wimbledon Common who is not familiar with its labyrinths of leafy glades, its tangled thickets of wild red rose, bramble, and honeysuckle; who has not often traversed its turfy plateau and had the perfumes of odoriferous herbs borne in upon his senses; who has not pondered over its rusty pebble, and wondered whence they came; tried to acquaint himself with what may be gleaned of local history; First of all, to the Conservators of the Common, to whom we really owe very much, one may appeal for the preservation of the heath in its wild state… one prays earnestly that the Common be not vulgarised… by making this lovely spot ordinary – a kind of level, well-ordered suburban park, for this windswept Common is not ordinary; it stands alone, and is therefore priceless”.

The Common is anything but ordinary nor what I would consider suburban. It attracts visitors who come to exercise, stretch a leg, yarn, ramble or just pass time under its shaded boughs. Types of person drawn to this beautiful managed woodland range from earnest dog walkers of all ages (and some considerably older than you might imagine!), walkers brandishing maps (and those without) , horse riders, coach trippers and denizens of the local elderly care homes for whom the Common provides a fantastic opportunity for exercise, pleasure and an alternative to sitting indoors and slipping from view of the world.

The car park is a good starting point as it is there that the cafe, toilet and entrance to the windmill museum all cluster. The tea and flapjack I can recommend and do so! Once you set off then head in the direction of the Queen’s Mere which takes you rambling through the woods, down and up the hill, following the path and across the golf course. There are many paths to choose from once you’re in and most seemed peaceful, smothered in leaves and very quiet on the day I visited: less dogs unleashed here, also. On a very hot day twisted bracken and leaves lay strewn around and after taking in the lay of the land I decided there and then that I can’t wait until winter to re-visit here, to see it stripped of its summer clothing and bare. You see, a fresh perspective in a new season is not just the obligation of a photographer but of anyone who has a love of the landscape and this Common has a handsome prospect apparent from the moment you dig your heels into its rich, loam soil. There are plenty of benches within the woods to sit and gather your thoughts or to simply watch the geese or just people-watch: whiling away some time on the tree tinged shore of the Queen’s Mere is probably the best use of a walker’s time.

A very English setting for a pathway

When you’re up for moving you may set off down the slight incline which ultimately leads you to the A3 and the Robin Hood gate and entrance to Richmond Park. As you descend the slope there is a rather large war memorial on your right shielded from view by the tall thicket of bushes and towering trees which make this path such a pleasure. This is also close to Putney Vale Cemetery, slightly further up the incline and close to a different path.

I have mixed memories of the cemetery as this was the site of a memorial service and burial I attended with some forty to fifty others of a good friend of mine. His name was Sam and he was in his late thirties. He died from mental health complications that none of us seemed to understand nor know about and with neither parents alive nor his family in attendance it was us, his loyal but ill-informed friends, that had to see him off to the next world. The vicar assured us that it had been the best turn-out he had seen for some time considering he was to be buried in a rather un-assuming plot. If nothing else we ensured through our collection, the last big whip-round, that he would have a grave stone and be remembered with some dignity despite the condition in which he died.This walk was the first time I’d been close to the cemetery since his burial some years ago.

Ahead lies the A3 and Richmond Park and I’ll end the South-Western Parks at this juncture as I’ve written a fairly long piece on Richmond earlier in the blog.Once I tired of Richmond town and its various and numerous watering holes it was across the Thames and onto the paths of the Regent Canal to the west of London and the path to Harrow-on-the-Hill.

 

 

Beauty Where None Was Expected

Leg 13 – Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick (3.6 miles or 5.2km)

After leaving the bus stop in Stoke Newington High Street I weaved my way eastwards through the wide busy roads pulsing with Hassidic Jews. Within twenty minutes I stood at the gates of Springfield Park, a park I had never heard of and one which didn’t get much of a mention in my guide.

‘Inside the park there are impressive views of beautifully landscaped parkland with steep, rolling contours … and presenting pleasant vistas … east over the River Lean and Walthamstow Marshes.’ Source.

The park is a wonderful blend of woodland, grassland and wetland with manicured greens and areas of  ‘managed meadow’ nestling amidst the Ash, Oak and Plane trees.It is a rare gem of a Local Nature Reserve which attracts plenty of  visitors and people eager to enjoy a peaceful day behind its gates. Yet it wasn’t the paradise I was hinting at in the title.

The ‘beauty where none was expected’ was when I first sighted Walthamstow Marshes. The photo (above) I shot at eleven in the morning and its simple beauty is something I didn’t expect to see in London. The Marshes at Walthamstow, nestled beside the River Lea, are the last remaining natural marshlands in the London region. The campaign which saved the Marshes from the gravel extractors in the 1970s listed some 350 species of plants growing at the the time along with 17 species of butterfly, Herons, Warblers, Jays and Kestrels amongst the 30 odd type of bird spotted.

‘Wetter parts of Marshes have beautiful mixed-fen vegetation, i.e. large expanses of sedge (beautiful in flower in May) distinctly zoned from stands of Reed Sweet Grass (Glyceria maxima) and Reed Grass (Phalaris arundinacea). Latter grow to 5 and 6 ft. Two large Reed Beds – North Marsh (3 acres) and South Marsh. Reeds grow to 2.5m (8ft) and are at their best in Winter.’ Source Here.

If you have the time pay a visit. There is an official website Visit Lee Valley but I prefer the left-field version of events in the Marsh from Marshman.

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John Furse

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