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Tag Archives: The Capital Ring

The Capital Ring in Fourteen days

IMG_1790GrandUnionCanalHighgateRichmond Bridge looking eastIMG_2574E London Uni

Mural at Ford's Lock

Top to Bottom: The City from Woolwich; The Grand Union canal below the A40;Mural on a pub wall near Highgate; Kingston Bridge looking east; Pumping outlet station on the Greenway at Bow; Campus, on right, at East London University;Mural at Ford’s Lock, River Lee.

Finally, it’s over. I’ve completed The Capital Ring, the 78 miles or 126KM walk around the fringes of suburban London.My challenge to myself is over and I’m now looking  at something which will take longer and is further but which can be completed in stages and is not such a drain on my travelling time. For most of these stage walks begin with a tube or train journey out to the suburbs of London from my central location close to Waterloo. They are also covered by the zonal range of the Oyster card and aren’t such a drain on your wallet or purse. So, it’s either the London LOOP for me next or something further afield like the South Downs walk or the Thames Pathway walk, both equally challenging yet achievable over the course of a few days or more .

I’ve finished walking through ‘important nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ and across heathland and common; through pristine parks and neglected scrub, bridging brooks and marsh and untangling myself from briar’s. I’ve sunk, ankle deep, into mud below Bitterns Field on a recently drenched riverbank that had survived the floods of 2012 and scrambled across the bog the river bank had become . I’ve trampled concrete path and pavement, broken slab and gouged macadam and played hop-scotch with dog turds on a path from Eltham Palace that was close to a main road but far from regal.I’ve ascended bridges that spanned the M1, the A40, the A2, the A13 and the North Circular  before descending into the silence of the subterranean foot tunnel which burrows beneath the Thames crossing at Woolwich . I have walked in less pretty parts of London yet never failed to come across some form of natural beauty and , at times, where it was least expected. It’s fair to say that on this walk I’ve seen it all and experienced London and its urban beauty as I had never imagined it would be.

Spread over a calendar year  it took fourteen days in total to complete the fifteen stages though I originally planned to it finish inside a month. The mangling of my schedule was down to the organisers of the London Olympic games (which closed the tow path on the Lea Valley Walk and made an alternative route through Hackney Wick too much to bear) and the disintegration of my right knee ligament (see post below) which made walking too painful. Otherwise it wasn’t a particularly difficult walk but a walk which revealed a verdant beauty to London that will surprise you.

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.

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.

Horsenden Hill – The Highest Point in NW London

Photo by Vin Miles – BBC Website

Horsenden Hill with a view of six counties and ten London Boroughs from the top

Horsenden Hill is neither mountainous nor is it hard to climb and it may not be the first name that springs to mind when planning a walk in north west London but it is worth your time and the effort to walk to its summit. Its location provides a wonderful antidote to a trudge through the hinterland of warehouses, business parks and over burdened roads which sit north of the A40 London to Oxford road. I approached the Hill after a morning jaunt along the Grand Union Canal followed by a quick turn northward and across the fields.Though it’s only 85m in height the walk through the woods and across the meadow had me breathing shortly. As you clear the woods there are a couple of benches which those with the time use to watch the planes landing and taking off at Heathrow Airport. After a couple more gates you reach the path that takes you to the top of Horsenden Hill. The hill is a scenic spot which is a great place to eat your sandwiches, have a picnic or just lie on your back and watch the House Martins and Swallows swoop above you or trace the vapour trails of competing planes.

The hill has been in use for some seven thousand years from the original Stone Age dwellers to troops manning a gun placement during the Second World War. The hill’s connection to the Roman era was that it was the site of a small fort or a look out post. By the fourteenth century Medieval farmers had control of the site and archaeological finds indicate that a wide range of crops – wheat, barley, corn, rye and peas – were grown here.The hill is above the remains of Horsenden’s Ancient Wood which is now so small and has been reduced to a small copse which the Capital Ring cuts through.

As the hill sits north of Wembley Stadium it is hard to avoid noticing the ‘stadium of the bland’ and it’s banal archway but there is also a visitor’s centre, a cafe, craft shops and a public toilet to wipe away that particular memory once you descend.

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.

 

 

South-Western Parks of the Capital Ring

Norwood Grove and its gardens near Streatham

Once I had decided to use the cardinal points of the compass as the easiest method to organise my writing about the countless parks and green spaces I passed through it became a simple matter of sorting out what to include and what not. Geographically the south-west begins at Crystal Palace rail station as it sits roughly in the centre of southern London below the Thames on the Ordinance Survey map.

The television transmitter mast at Crystal Palace (the most visible landmark in South London and visible from all points north and south) sits on top of a narrow ridge which descends eastward in the direction of Streatham. Ahead of it lies the remnants of an ancient forest which once densely choked the slopes between Norwood and Peckham Rye: a huge expanse of woodland which helps explain why Peckham acquired the old English name of ‘the settlement by the wood’. The same land is now choked with inner-suburban housing, sports grounds, graveyards, blocks of flats and social housing.

Striking out westwards heading for Streatham Common and onwards towards the river lay many small pockets of green, urban land. The first hidden park is Norwood Grove and the building at its centre (above) resembles a southern American plantation house. The type of dwelling where Rhett Butler whispered sweet nothings into the ear of Scarlett O’Hara. Alas it is closed with no plans to open it to the general public. Shame really. The house and its beautiful gardens once formed part of the much larger Streatham Common which lies a short walk ahead along a narrow canine-trod path. Both the house and grounds remain part of a ‘hidden South London’  which requires some local knowledge or it may be missed if your excursions don’t veer from the well trod paths and tracks of the Common. At the end of the path as the thick wood ceases to shelter you and the asphalt road abruptly ends your solitude sits the Rookery cafe. It has outside seating and is stuffed with cakes and other things and , most importantly, a good mug of tea which is always what you call for when you take a break.

Thames Water’s Streatham Pumping Station

I nearly stumbled past this unique building which I initially mistook for a temple  or some form of prayer house.It sits back from a suburban road, nestled closely to other less grand dwellings but has a unique presence. The green copper cupolas give it a Moorish feel and there is no denying its exotic architecture but the original owners of the pumping station clearly gave some thought as to how this would blend with the surrounding environment when they built it in 1888. It sits on top of the embankment and close to the main London-Brighton rail line. Ahead, at the end of the road, lies Tooting Common Woodlands which is another green area close by but only a small part of the land it used to be.

South Eastern Parks of The Capital Ring

The view from the ‘broad plateau of sorts that is Oxleas Meadows overlooking Kent and South-East London’

This was meant to be one complete post  but the more I sat and typed the more I appreciated that to do this part of the walk justice it would have to be separated into two sections: south and north. As I continued to type I realised that I would have to write it in four parts (NESW) if it was to be written in any detail. One huge post would be too much of a read in one sitting!

It may not be apparent to some but London is surrounded by green open spaces and genuine countryside: miles and miles of it.In amongst its bulging suburbs and winding roads also exist the remnants of ancient woods now protected by some body or other with an interest in their preservation. There is also a body of people who are willing to put the hours in to help keep such spaces habitable for all to use and appreciate. The Capital Ring walk contributes to this sharing of our public spaces as it winds its way through a wide variety of parks, fields, commons, scrub land, urban spaces and just plain greenery than you could ever imagine! I’ve lost count of the number of parks and spaces but there’s not an existing stage which doesn’t have a green element and a variety of paths to follow. Long may it continue.

On the first part of the first leg in Charlton there are a few pieces of greenery: Maryon Park, where the murder takes place in 60s flick Blow Up (starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave) and which leads into Maryon Wilson Park. The windy expanse of Charlton Park follows leading into a ‘bland’ Hornfair Park which leads you across Woolwich Common. What could be a beautiful refuge from nearby traffic and high-rise living is a disappointing common peppered with scattered waste, beer cans and the abandoned clothing of both children and adults. One tree had so many discarded plastic shopping bags clinging to its branches that from a distance I mistook it as the site of a Tibetan monument with its prayer flags fluttering in a stiff breeze. Following this you emerge from a small, dark woods onto a broad plateau of sorts that is Oxleas Meadows which has a cafe at its ‘peak’ overlooking Kent and South-East London (photo above) . With a wide expansive view this a great place for a cup of tea whilst soaking up the vista before you.Shortly after you descend to the bottom of that view and into Eltham Park which is rather prim and pruned with diligent lady park attendants chewing the fat with local mother’s and wishing you well on your travels. Eltham Park is neatly bisected by the gargantuan A2 rumbling below it and its exit leads to an unspectacular path and arrangement of trees where jaded dog owners parade their prized pooches who bury their noses  amongst the leaves and broken branches like prized-pigs truffle hunting in Tuscany. That will be the first and last time in which Eltham is juxtaposed with Tuscany.

Grove Park sounds very promising but the blight of suburban sprawl has erased all that is left of the park near the grove that so tempted planners to name it so. Is there anyone alive who wouldn’t be seduced into rural living by such a name on a prized letter head? I can think of a few. There is no park here and what glamour there was has long faded. Row upon row of housing, some smart some not, squeezed into tight spaces like a big arsed man or woman determined to have that seat on a London bus.There are plenty of playing fields,though: the preserve of the social clubs which bought them in the 1930s or of well-healed schools with wealthy pupils whose parents can afford them.
The third stage does contain one gem of a park in Downham which starts out as a huge ,broad field bordered by trees on its far side.I didn’t really expect much as the tarmac path gave way to a dirt trail and the trees obscured the light and drew me into a high wood.I walked ahead, following the path,and the trees were taller.I followed both the path and the small green Ring arrows and after skipping mud pools and swerving large, wet unleached dogs emerged next to a golf green and its pristine lawns. The path plunged down a slope towards a stream and the green disappeared from view though ahead and to the left of the opposite hill lay an even bigger swathe of verdant golfing greens basking in the morning sunshine.Once you arrive at the top of the brief climb there is a beautiful white mansion built by John Cator in the 18th century which now functions as a public golf club for those who want a game on a course that winds its way through a truly beautiful part of South London. This is Beckenham Place Park in the London Borough of Bromley and if you turn left out of the entrance you come to the High Street. Beckenham was, of course, the home and birthplace of The Beckenham Arts Festival curated by David Bowie and so has a special place in my heart.

The final part of the SE parks section takes us to the huge Crystal Palace Park which is so big that it contains a national sports stadium within it and still exists comfortably without rubbing shoulders or getting too close. You enter the park through the Sydenham Gate in the  south-eastern corner. This has the feel of a large park with an entrance leading to a nearby car park and then swiftly rises up a path to the boat lake and paths that make up the functioning park. If you continue up the slope this will lead you lead you to the site where the imposing Crystal Palace stood for seventy years once it had been removed being from Hyde Park after the close of the Great Exhibition of 1851.The palace was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.

Skirting the Athletics stadium and heading west to the railway station brings us to the end of the SE Parks and the beginning of the SW Parks stage from Crystal Palace to Richmond which I’ll post shortly. Thanks for reading.

How do we imagine The Brent River Valley?

Part of the bank below Bittern’s Field along the Brent River Valley which was underwater days before.

Leg 8 Osterley Lock to Greenford (4.8 miles or 7.8km)

It requires no effort for Londoners to become detached from the land on which the streets and roads that we daily traverse are built. We know that if we walk a path or a pavement or a road or a track it will take us to our destination though the land on which such routes are built flows in a different direction beneath our feet. Through jaded eyes we view London as a flat plan view map and a series of lines, grids, symbols and colours on a map and grow accustomed to travelling with our finger along coloured lines punctuated with the names of streets, roads or places of interest. Often we fail to note the topography of the city beneath our feet or before our peripheral vision or, indeed, towering above our heads as we are consumed by time and the economic imperative. Very often as Londoners we go where we are herded and guided by the paving slabs and the tar macadam or now, in this age of GPS, by the pulsing Map App in our hand.

Yet there is another London we can see and touch and hear if we listen and smell and look for it. It surprises the visitor to learn that Brent is the name given to a river but that has to be understood before grappling with the concept of  a river valley in Brent. The river exists and the valley through which it courses is prone to flooding in periods of heavy rain. Yet the average citizen fails to imagine London as an area scarred by a series of swollen, brooding arteries bursting their banks and saturating golf courses and flood plains. That vision belongs to the Severn or the Thames of rural Oxford or Gloucester but not inner London.

It occurred to me,as it probably does to many others, when speeding through these valleys and canopied areas in motor vehicles or aboard public transport that our vision is immune to the changes in topography unless the landscape alters visually in some startling form. Only when we begin to walk the ways and paths of London, free from the paving and the tar macadam, are we able to make sense of the topography and the simple, unspoiled beauty of such places as Brent Meadow or, indeed, the flooded plain of the The Brent River Valley.

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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