Tag Archives: ramblers

Showing the summer some lovin’

It would be extremely churlish of me if I didn’t mention how much I loved the weather this summer. Especially as a brief look back at past summer posts finds me moaning and whining about the rain and mud that has characterised the last few years. Especially as I’ve the loved the fact that the walking this summer has been all about shorts, sandals, sunnies and spf50. Especially as our summers are often all too brief, or as Shakespeare put it: ‘And summer’s lease hath all too short a date’.

A trip to Bristol to experience the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta also provided the chance for a walk round the nearby Bath skyline as well as a stroll along the Bristol Channel. (On a tangential note, am I the only one to find the increased use of fiesta as opposed to festival intriguing? I’d always associated festival with gala and fiesta collages2with feast and consequently seen the former as community based and the latter having religious overtones. But that might just be me.) Gromit was also ‘unleashed’ all over Bristol for the summer season and 80 Gromits to track down along with the ever present but often changing excellent street art made Bristol a great place for some summer urban walking.

It probably says a lot about me but I’ve always scornfully regarded Bath as the epitome of genteel. All that buttery coloured Georgian architecture on top of its Royal Charter and swanky Latin name – Aquae Sulis – not to mention its Jane Austen connections put it firmly in the top half of the premier league of quaint. So it was a bit of a surprise to encounter a rather large demonstration complaining about the closure of many of the town’s public loos. Good for the well heeled (and well groomed) citizens of Bath who had bothered to give up their time to wave placards and shout slogans I say. We could do with a bit more civic unrest against the ‘cuts’ if you ask me – especially needless ones like these born out of self serving gesture politics. I signed their petition, it was the least I could do, and you can too if you click on the link here.

I understand that the Bath Skyline is the most popular walk on the National Trust visit list and bath-skylinethat’s pretty understandable because it’s an easily accessible walk with great views and is well sign posted. (And we met a couple of extremely cheerful and helpful volunteers on the way round.) I don’t even mind that there are quite a few signs, placed on National Trust property, asking ‘if you like the walk to donate some money’. I reckon that sort of financial ask is entirely appropriate. In fact if you want to financially help an organisation that protects and preserves footpaths along with so much more you can donate online to the Ramblers here.

What I do wish though, is that the National Trust started to dedicate some of the hundreds of miles of permissive paths that they have on their numerous properties as rights of way. Then these paths would not only appear on Ordnance Survey maps they’d also be there for everybody to use forever. Furthermore this would in no way undermine the integrity of their walks database as they could still suggest you visit there attractions.

It’s been a summer for being by the seaside which highlights even more how great it would be if we had an English Coast Path. Scotland has far superior access rights and Wales has an 807 mile path round its coastline. Yet despite a pledge to set aside a corridor of land around the 2,800 mile English coast within a decade becoming law in 2009 barely 20 miles has been completed in the time it took Wales to complete theirs. Even the most optimistic estimates see only 40% completed by 2019.

I don’t mean to suggest we only have access to 20 miles of the English coast but the current arrangement is far from satisfactory when you examine how much of this access is voluntary or permissive and even small gaps can lead to lengthy and unpleasant detours. To emphasise this point as well as enjoy a relaxing coastal walk in the sun me and Clare (@innerlondonramb) decided to walk from Clevedon to Portishead. We also amused ourselves along the way by naming pop music acts – without the aid of google – named after UK towns. Or just those with UK towns in their names. like Portishead, Easterhouse, Dionne Warwick, Michael Bolton, Belinda Carlisle, Eric Clapton… Anyway you get the idea – feel free to suggest your own by adding them in the comment box below.

Clevedon is an old town – it gets a mention in the Domesday Book – cleve meaning cleft and don meaning hill. It saw a popularity surge in Victorian times, when itbutterfly built a pier but is probably most famous these days as being the setting for the immensely popular eponymously named TV drama, Broadchurch. It’s without doubt the sort of quintessential English seaside town that could only benefit from an English Coast Path. As Kate Conto, Ramblers Senior Policy Officer, says: “Our coastal communities are crying out for rejuvenation. The England Coastal Path is a low cost project which will increase tourism and boost coastal economies, as well as spurring on people to get healthy and opening up the coast for families to walk, explore and enjoy.”

It was a perfect day for a walk by the sea. Sublime sensory grammar surrounded – a hint of ozone on the breeze, azure skies, cotton wool clouds, soft sand underfoot, butterflies tumbling from plant to plant and the cadenced cries of gulls wheelingnear-portishead above our heads. After 8 or so miles the coast path peters out at Portishead. If you wanted to pick it up again past Avonmouth you need to detour over 5 miles inland and then cross the M5 a couple of times for pity’s sake.

Like Clevedon, Portishead gets a mention in the Domesday Book but there any similarity ends. Thriving docks were built in the early 19th century followed by chemical works and power stations in the 20th. All are decommissioned now, replaced by a marina bordered by colourful shiny apartment blocks and houses. It’s actually a very pleasing and sympathetic development, although it’s funny to think many of the homes have been built on the dumping ground for the industrial waste, now quaintly named Portbury Ashlands.

Easily visible across the channel, just sitting there gloating, is the Welsh coast. Here you can stick to the coast and by all accounts it’s hard to find a single person who doesn’t think their coastal path is the best thing since sliced bread. Sigh. The ice creams in Portishead, welcome as they were, offered scant consolation.


You can read more about the Ramblers Case for Coast here. If you have not already done so please sign the One Coast For All petition.

Listen to:

Summer Lovin’ (Original Radio Edit) by Musikk Feat. John Rock

Terry Jacks – Seasons in the Sun

Nina Nesbitt – Brit Summer – Demo

At The Edge Of The Sea by Wedding Present

Linda Ronstadt – Rock Me On The Water

Half Day Closing by Portishead, Nick Ingman

Dizzee Rascal – Bonkers


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When common sense goes wrong

I don’t know about you but I’m always wary not to say down right suspicious when an organisation calls for, or praises, ‘a common sense approach’ to something. To raise even the slightest objection then seems to cast you as some gibbering, drooling, messianic zealot so far from the centre of real society that your opinion is worthless.

If I remember my Greek philosophers correctly, the phrase was first coined by Aristotle (but then he’s a fair bet to have been the originator of lots of phrases). I think he meant it as some quasi-sense organ, or inner sensation, unlike the 5 external senses. It was later redefined to be the lowest common denominator collection of beliefs, prejudices, practical know-how, unexamined intuitions, and/or guessing ability thought to be possessed in common by nearly all people. Also used as a synonym for “horse sense”, your ability to look at matters straightforwardly and not be confused by sophistry, education or advice from experts.

Today, the term has so many incompatible meanings to so many different people, and is so bound up with so many hidden agendas and conflicting broader views of cognition, that it ought to be avoided all together. Some who appeal to common sense mean to shield their favourite cultural prejudices from examination and criticism. Some who appeal to common sense are just trying to pull you back into a state where you can acknowledge what you know to be true even though it doesn’t fit into some theory you got from evidence or abstract speculation.  And some who appeal to common sense want to portray you as someone who is implacably opposed to change of any sort.

On Thursday 23 February the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) published The Right Way Forward: The CLA’s common sense approach to access in the countryside. This document is a self acknowledged call for ‘a shake-up of the access and public rights of way system. It goes on to say it is highly desirable to improve access in a way that enhances the system, boosts efficiency and gets better value for money’. Well it’d be hard to disagree with that last statement, so hard in fact, that 2 years ago the CLA joined the Ramblers and took part in the same Natural England working group that considered the future of rights of way and arrived at some jointly agreed commitments. These formed the basis of the Stepping Forward report. Even a brief scan of the CLA’s 31 page report finds them referring to this but acting as if they were someone else’s ideas entirely. An air of the haughty and detached patrician who knows best if you like.

There is also frequent recourse to the dreaded ‘common sense’ phrase – ‘The rights of way system defies common sense’, ‘An injection of common sense is required’  and ‘Simplifying the rules and applying common sense’. Maybe it’s just me but it always seems to crop up when the context is property rights and unsurprisingly the CLA favour the simplistic approach of the landowner being able to tell whoever they wish to ‘get orf their land’ for whatever reason they wish. England and Wales’ 137,000 mile network of public footpaths and bridleways might be eccentric when viewed through bureaucratic landowning eyes but it certainly doesn’t defy common sense. The right to roam legislation might seem draconian to an organisation established primarily to resist wholesale land nationalisation back in the early 20th century but it undoubtedly serves a good purpose as a way of accessing the land for the vast majority of us.

So who are the CLA? LP Hartley famously opened his novel The Go-Between with the following line: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Keep this in mind when you think of the CLA. Formed in 1907 at the junior Carlton Club by the Earl of Onslow, the Earl of Harrowby and several MP’s (large landowners naturally), it was concerned with issues like ‘Land and the Social Problem’ and their nightmare of the urban masses appropriating their land. It has constantly battled government and the public at large over land taxes, death duties and, of course, access rights. It beggars belief that an organisation that would be more at home in tweeds on an Edwardian grouse shooting party than in goretex consulting its handheld satnav should presume to lecture us on ‘common sense’.

But let’s not be fooled by the thin veneer of reasonableness of this report. It represents a seismic shift in access policy in England and Wales and if even a few of the CLA’s immoderate recommendations were adopted it would translate to a very real difference on the ground when we’re out walking. Their proposals on Coastal Access, however they are dressed up, are nothing short of an attempt to re-write the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and stop the Coastal Path ever becoming a reality. It represents an opportunistic grab for the coalition government’s ear to uphold their specific narrow vested interest as part the red tape challenge.

Most of what I know of Britain I learnt through my feet and this includes its history and culture. And I’m definitely a member of the urban masses. Not sure whether George Alagiah falls into this category, maybe more your urbane masses, but he puts it much more eloquently: ‘Sometimes the countryside has been reduced to a leisure activity, a package deal shorn of nature’s life affirming rhythm, and cleansed of the muck and smell that is so much a part of rural life. But the real thing is there – every right-of-way is an invitation, every stile a step into somewhere gentle and generous.’

Our rights of way network is both quirky and delightful and it didn’t come about as a result of a fit for purpose efficiency study instituted by bureaucrats and accompanied by tacit if reluctant approval from landowners. Paths were forged around our landscape by people. People who needed to avoid marshy land or dense woods. People who needed to trade, people who needed to walk to work and by people eager to explore and enjoy the land. I love our footpaths and believe our rights of way network to be the envy of the world.

The most obvious instance of common sense going wrong is probably the fact that the earth isn’t flat but there are plenty of others. This document should be robustly challenged, resisted and ridiculed at every available opportunity. With this report, the upcoming results of the red tape challenge and the recent announcement from the farming minister, Jim Paice MP, that he was accepting 159 of the 220 recommendations of the Farmers Regulations Task Force make these uncertain times for walkers.

Things to do:

Celebrate the Kinder Scout 1932 Mass Trespass

Tweet @CLAtweets using #commonsense

Tweet about the issue using #commonsense

Listen to:

Orange Juice – Rip It Up

Chumbawamba – You Can (Mass Trespass, 1932)

Billy Bragg – This Land Is Your Land

Pulp – Common People – Full Length Version / Album Version

Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – 2010 mono version

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All things must pass

I think it was Heraclitus who said: ‘Mortals are immortal, immortals mortal, living their death, dying their life’.  He’d have said it in ancient Greek of course and I’m not sure I fully understand what it means but it often springs into my mind when I’m looking at a scene that seems to be old and new as well as in the process of change all at the same time.

Take a walk down from Tower Hill towards the Thames using the subway system and stop just before the Tower of London. Fix Heraclitus in your mind and think of his aphorism. Here you can see exposed some of the brickwork from the original Roman wall constructed around 190. Lifting your head you see the Tower where building began just after the conquest in 1066. Shuffle around a bit and crane your neck and you can see City Hall, the home of the Greater London Authority, which was opened in 2002. And dominating this, and seemingly every London skyline, is the nearly completed Shard which is due to open in May 2012. This small snapshot of London shows you the physical manifestation of very nearly 2000 years of building. Paradoxically it manages to convey permanence and flux at one and the same time.

I love London and this combination of dynamism and history is an important part of the charm for me. Indeed I think the best way to experience this is by traipsing about at street level soaking it all in by some strange process of osmosis. Even so every so often I come across a change that fair takes my breath away. Last month I went to see the mighty Chelsea beat Wolves 3-0. I’m coming up to my 50th consecutive year seeing at least one home game at Stamford Bridge. Since I’ve been old enough to drink my pre- or post- (or often both) game ritual involved a visit to the working man’s club in Britannia Street opposite the stadium for a few beers. Imagine my shock last year when I found it had been demolished. Perhaps it was the irony of working men in Chelsea that appealed to me but in many ways I’ll be more able to deal with Chelsea moving away from Stamford Bridge than this. These days I start off with a couple of beers in The Atlas in West Brompton.

During that year I’d been walking around Blackheath and discovered that my old school had been demolished to make way for housing. This change pleased me – housing seems a much better use of the land than the hate ridden place I’d been educated in. However, the houses haven’t yet been built and rather disappointingly the Catholic church had built a bigger and shinier new school across the road. (They’ve changed the saint’s name from Joseph to Matthew though – wonder what that signifies.) If you then add in that the place I first worked other than Saturday jobs was the long closed London Evening News in Bouverie Street and that my first job after uni was in the now rebuilt office block above Cannon Street station I was left with the overwhelming feeling that my past was being re-written around me.

Of course it isn’t just landscapes that change around you, organisations need to adapt to survive. But sometimes these actions make you stand back a bit. Admirably The Ramblers are trying to boost membership by entering into arrangements with different partners but I was recently stunned to find that one of them is Bupa. Whilst I accept not everyone agrees with my views (that would be very dull) this doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather be supporting the NHS not undermining it. And it doesn’t seem to sit well with Inner London Ramblers either who see it as ‘a serious error of judgement’. The Ramblers is a broad church and a democracy and whether you agree, disagree or are indifferent with this decision I was going to suggest you email the Board of Trustees with your viewpoint. However, I was surprised to find there is no central address for you to do this. So if you let me know how you feel I’ll ensure they all get passed on to the Board.

And, of course, it’s not just London that epitomises constant change. (It’s true I’m London-centric but not that much). Whenever I go to Manchester I make sure I visit the site of the Hacienda. The canal side of the new building commemorates the key events of this club. I’m not entirely sure this works for me – it’s almost as if they are apologising for knocking it down.  As George Harrison sang: ‘A cloudburst doesn’t last all day’. Sometimes that’s a bit difficult to believe up in Manchester.

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

I completed the Grand Union half marathon in 2 hours 19 minutes. Thanks to everybody who sponsored me.

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Moby – Run On

The Rolling Stones – Before They Make Me Run – 2009 Re-Mastered Digital Version


George Harrison – All Things Must Pass                              

Listen to:

The Waterboys – All Things Must Pass

The Webb Sisters – Everything Changes/21

The Faces – Debris

Billy Bragg – Glad and Sorry

Neil Young – My My, Hey Hey – Out Of The Blue Album Version

New Order – Blue Monday


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Here be monsters

An inscription used historically by nautical cartographers to indicate a space of uncharted water.  If the mapmakers had no information as to what might be in an area of map, they filled it with monsters; ship-devouring kraken; huge whales with sharp teeth, Neptune on the warpath, or viciously gigantic mermaids.  This practice suggests that the unknown place is both somewhere to be terrified of and also may be filled with the fantastic.

I don’t suppose any ancient maps of the Isle of Wight had the ‘here be monsters’ tag which is a shame. In fact in geological terms the Isle was linked to mainland Britain – from the Needles to Old Harry’s Rocks in Dorset – only yesterday. About 10,000 years ago sea levels started rising as the great ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted and as sea level rose higher, the Isle of Wight became separated from the mainland about 7,000 years ago. Sticking with the geological theme the Isle of Wight is made up of a wide variety of different rock types ranging from Early Cretaceous times (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). The northern half of island is mainly made up of Tertiary clays, with the southern half formed of Cretaceous rocks (the chalk that forms the central east-west downs, as well as Upper and Lower Greensands and Wealden strata). Cretaceous rocks on the island, usually red, show that the climate was previously hot and dry.

All this adds up to a remarkably diverse landscape which often leads this diamond shaped island to be described as England in miniature. It’s one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is still flourishing and it’s certainly a wonderful place to go walking – particularly the 92 km of coastline. Well when I say 92 km you can’t actually walk all the way round the island on the coast and frankly this is both surprising and disappointing. David Howarth goes as far to say that: “Over half of our so-called coastal path doesn’t even follow the shore”. And he should know ‘cos he’s chair of the Isle of Wight Ramblers. They really seem to value their footpaths on the island – there’s plenty of ‘em, they’re well sign posted and we didn’t come across any obstructions. The main part of the coast that is restricted is around Osborne House.

Even more surprising and disappointing is that the Isle of Wight was excluded from the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act. I’m certainly in the Stuart Maconie camp of believing that: “The roots of the Ramblers are not in cream teas and stiles, but in dissent and protest”.  (Just to make it clear I haven’t got anything against cream teas and stiles and am I the only one who thinks Stuart Maconie would make a great pantomime dame? – please insert your own ‘oh no he wouldn’t’ gag here.) So to add your voice of protest please join the Ramblers in their English Coastal Path campaign and contact them to find ways you can help.

Notwithstanding this we set out from Shanklin and walked west past Ventnor until we got to St Lawrence. Then we cut inland and headed for St Boniface Down, which is, of course, a Marilyn. A Marilyn is a mountain or hill in the UK, Republic of Ireland or Isle of man with a relative height of at least 150 metres , regardless of absolute height or other merit. The name was coined as a punning contrast to the designation Munro, used of a Scottish mountain with a height of more than 3,000 feet (914.4 m), which is homophonous with (Marilyn) Monroe. It also offers glorious sea views.

Later on in the week we popped along to the Shanklin Theatre to see Rick Wakeman. These days he seems to be famous for being a contestant on Just a Minute, a Grumpy Old Man and Countdown. But old prog-rockers know him as a member of Yes and I like him for his work as session musician where he played keyboards on tracks as various as Life on Mars, Morning has Broken and Grandad (well aboy’s gotta make a living). He also recorded an album entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII and in a case of art imitating life I think he’s up to number four himself.

The island is also famous for Victorians. The eponymous queen lived at Osborne House after Albert’s death, Dickens holidayed at Bonchurch and Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived on the west tip near the Needles. I can highly recommend another great Isle of Wight walk starting on Tennyson Down. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was sleeting down as we trudged up the down and it all added to the atmosphere. I know these days the poet is probably famous for The Charge of the Light Brigade but I always remember him for the line from In Memoriam – ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’. Then we walked to the Needles followed by a swift visit to Alum Chine – you know where all that coloured sand comes packaged in glass bells, cats and lighthouses. We took a slight diversion to nearby Warren Farm for some tea and cake and then pushed on for Headon Hill. A bit more coastal walking followed before we cut in country and back to Freshwater Bay. The evening was made complete with a few pints of local brewers Goddards Scrumdiggity.

It’s a shame about the coastal path but it’s hard not to warm to the Isle of Wight. There’s an understated solidity about the place. These days our monsters seem to be climatic and financial rather than kraken and Neptune but it’s not hard to imagine the Wighters facing these perils with a collective shrug of their shoulders, briefly stopping their DIY or temporarily ceasing to tend their gardens, stoically lacing up their boots, resignedly filling their rucksacks and staring them down armed with only a Mars bar. Not so much England in miniature but the spirit of England writ large if you ask me. Ah I can hear that Tennyson bloke again: ‘Was there a man (or woman) dismayed?’

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

Plastic Operator – The Long Run

More information:

OS Map used – Outdoor Leisure 29 Isle of Wight. Pay less when you order this map here.

Listen to:

David Bowie – Life On Mars?

The Bees – Go Where You Wanna Go – Single Version

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Coast To Coast

Rick Wakeman – Morning Has Broken

Clive Dunn – Grandad

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Be the change

The story goes that back in the 1930’s in India a mother frustrated by her inability to stop her son eating so much sugar dragged him off to see his idol Mahatma Gandhi hoping he’d be able to make the boy see sense. They walked for miles for an audience and when granted one Gandhi is reputed to have said: “Please come back after two weeks and I will talk to your son.” Perplexed the mother wondered why Gandhi hadn’t just told her son to stop eating so much sugar but she dutifully returned 2 weeks later. Gandhi immediately looked the boy in the face and said: “Son don’t eat so much sugar it is bad for your health.” The mother was angry and confused now and demanded to know why Gandhi hadn’t just said this 2 weeks before and according to legend he is supposed to have replied: “Mother, two weeks ago I was eating a lot of sugar myself.” This modern parable gave birth to the saying – Be the change you want to see in this world. Or maybe more aptly for this blog – walking the walk.

I was born in Lewisham and went to school in Blackheath and know the area really well. (I was tempted to say with all its echoes of Wat Tyler and the Peasants Revolt  I feel it’s my spiritual home but alongside that opening paragraph that would be way too much new age stuff for one blog.) Anyway quite a few years ago Bob Gilbert wrote a book called Green London Way. I’m not familiar with the route but when the West Essex Ramblers reported a set of steps going down to the Lethbridge Estate as very dangerous I thought I know the very place. A key part of the Ramblers’ work is ‘to encourage the provision and protection of foot paths and other ways over which the public have a right of way or access on foot, including the prevention of obstruction of public rights of way’. A representative of West Essex had informed Lewisham Council of the problem but I thought I’d pop along and have a look.

I approached along the edge of the heath and headed for Wat Tyler Road and then Morden Hill. The steps mentioned by the West Essex Ramblers are off a lane that starts here. Well their letter to the Highways Department had presumably prompted some action because the viewing area that the steps led down from was now padlocked off. Undeterred I clambered over the fence and walked down the steps. They were indeed in very bad repair. The exit into the estate was also padlocked off but this time by a gate that was only hip height and a lot easier than many stiles to negotiate. The estate is predominantly grey concrete and was probably built in the late 60’s and now is the subject of major redevelopment.

Now I’m not about to suggest that in some pre-lapsarian golden age before wholesale public service cuts Lewisham Council would have maintained these steps but in my mind the real stumbling block to getting this route re-opened is that the council are under no obligation to keep this path open for the public. Under the current legislation the Inner London boroughs (of which Lewisham is one) are excused from having to maintain a definitive map. This map depicts every single right of way within the authority’s boundary and these rights of way are then protected by law. These steps in Lewisham highlight exactly why the Ramblers are running the essential Put London on the Map campaign.

In keeping with this theme of activity to encourage change I’m in training for the Grand Union Canal half-marathon being held on Sunday 13 November. I’m running this in aid of the Ramblers so if you support the work they do any donations will be gratefully received. If you give online the money goes straight to them and will be put to use preserving and protecting paths immediately. A link to my sponsor page can be found at the end of this blog . If you are able please dig deep – every little helps. Thanks.

 And finally on Tuesday 27 September at 7 pm I’ll be leading an evening stroll from Richmond station. The local MP, Zac Goldsmith, a champion for the environment and friend of the Ramblers will be coming along. Zac was one of only 6 coalition MPs who had the courage to vote against the government during the controversial proposed sale of woods debate this year. Another great example of being the change you want to see in this world. Come along if you can and thank him for this action as well as urging him to do more to preserve our precious footpath network.

Support the Ramblers – sponsor me HERE

Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – Running

Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running


 Listen to:

MC Yogi – Be The Change – Niraj Chag’s Swaraj Mix

David Bowie – Changes

Fairport Convention – Wat Tyler

Captain Phoenix – Blackheath

Camera Obscura – Underachievers Please Try Harder

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In the bleak midwinter (December 2010)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Very appropriate except it probably should say ‘just a while ago’ and they’re not kidding with the ‘snow on snow, snow on snow’ bit are they? On Saturday 18th trusting to the weather reports I popped out to the shops for the paper and a spot of panic buying early in the morning. The Met Office forecast snow at around noon. Almost as I shut my front door the few flakes fluttering lazily down from leaden skies turned into a howling blizzard. By the time I reached the main road the snow was crunching noisily under my boots and collecting on my eyelashes. The journey down by the river truly was magical.

The snow abated early afternoon leaving a crisp white even covering of about 6 cms. The birds seeing their chance descended on the feeding pole in our front garden with some relish. It’s a pretty grim time for garden birds; smaller birds like wrens lose the heat from their bodies pretty quickly, so they need to be eating all the time to survive. Trouble is they really need us to be putting food out for them because the berries on trees, the insects and fish in frozen ponds and rivers, small mammals, or the worms and insects in the frozen ground are all inaccessible. But they love grated cheese, porridge oats, fruit, cooked pasta and rice (before sauce), cooked potatoes, and unsalted bacon, cooked or raw. Festive things like pastry and cake crumbs are also welcome.

Sport was another big casualty of the weekend. I’d been looking forward to watching the mighty Chelsea get back on form by beating Manchester U but that game was called off a day early. Post has been severely interrupted as well – not great at this time of year. (Hope of everybody who Amazon’d their presents got their stuff delivered on time – aah the worries of modern life.) But talking about post my favourite Christmas card is without doubt the one that has an Edwyn Collins illustration of a robin on the front.

With the snow largely melted from London on Tuesday evening (winter solstice day) with images of Odin slaying the frost giant Ymir playing in my head I set off to lead a Metropolitan Walkers walk based around Dickens in London. I’m a big Dickens fan me – and Wilkins Micawber always seems appropriate but even more so these days: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and – and in short, you are for ever floored.” They don’t write ‘em like that anymore – well sadly not George Osborne’s speechwriters anyway. (You young readers might want to find an old person to explain the vagaries of pre-decimalized currency to you. And anybody who can explain to me whether ‘Oik’ Osborne has any economic theory, however misguided, underpinning his cost cutting programme would be more than welcome.)

After a very enjoyable walk I had a couple of beers in The Dickens Inn at St Katherine’s Dock. I couldn’t find any connection to Dickens himself but thinking it was just a ruse to drag in the tourists I was told that one of his great great grandchildren opened the pub here years ago when the re-development of Docklands began. The journey home was definitely messy. Held up for over 45 minutes at Earls Court while police attempted to clear revellers off the rails near West Kensington I was forced to re-route to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line and catch a 24 hour bus back home. Got in just before 2 am. Ah the problems of winter travel in the UK. So with the modern version of the Nativity apparently being no room at the airport terminal I hope you all had a great holiday break.

Listen to:

Annie Lennox – In The Bleak Midwinter

Edwyn Collins – Girl Like You

Dolly Parton – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Winter Makes You Want Me More

Charles Dickens – Christmas Ghosts

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Hotter than July

30 June & 13 July 2010

All I see turns to brown
As the sun burns the ground’

Well it ain’t that often you’ll see Led Zeppelin lyrics quoted here (Kashmir in case you’re asking) but summer is definitely here and definitely hot. Before I get on talking about the 2 evening strolls this blog is about I s’pose I ought to say sorry that we’re still in London but like people say a lot these days, ‘We are where we are’, and I do live here.


The first stroll is more like stroll+ because it’s a 12k Richmond circular – down to the river, up to the park via Ham Common and then back for a few beers at the White Cross. All very standard stuff but no less enjoyable for all that and 28 other people obviously thought so too. Metropolitan Walkers are trying out new ideas to make their already incredibly successful evening strolls programme appeal to yet more London walkers.

The Thames is always a delight to walk beside but as we pass by Twickenham on the far bank I’m reminded that Alexander Pope made his home there from 1719, where he created his famous grotto and gardens. (They must be famous because there’s a pub, The Alexander Pope, commemorating them.) Pope’s entire life was affected by the penal law in force at the time upholding the status of the established Church of England, which banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, holding public office or living closer than 10 miles from the centre of London on pain of perpetual imprisonment. (Those were indeed harsh times.) Pope decorated the grotto with alabaster, marbles, and ores such as mundic and crystals. He also used Cornish diamonds, stalactites, spars, snakestones and spongestone. Here and there in the grotto he placed mirrors that were very expensive embellishments for those times. A camera obscura was installed to delight his visitors, of whom there were many. The serendipitous discovery of a spring during its excavations enabled the subterranean retreat to be filled with the relaxing sound of trickling water, which would quietly echo around the chambers. Although the house and gardens have long since been demolished, much of this grotto still survives and now lies beneath St James Independent School for boys, open to the public once a year.

We return leaving Richmond Park and take time to admire the view from Richmond Hill down to the Thames. In spite of the words introducing this blog the scene is still remarkably verdant. The front markers had set a cracking pace and we polished off the 12k in two and a half hours leaving me plenty of time to enjoy some welcome Staropramen in the pub.

A coupla weeks later, with the ceaseless sun giving way to some light drizzle, (not enough for my garden I fear) I’m waiting outside Norbiton station just before 7 pm.  Clare’s leading this stroll as well and this time the invitation has been extended to the other London Rambler groups so we’ve got some representatives from South Bank, Hammersmith and Hampstead there as well. And very welcome they were too.

As we enter Richmond Park using the Kingston Gate we are welcomed by the gleeful cacophony of a flock of ring necked parakeets. These colourful birds thrive round here lighting up the skies with flashes of luminous green while dominating the dawn and dusk choruses with their airborne shrieks. There are estimated to be at least 6,000 Rose-ringed Parakeets (Psitticula kraneri) – often referred to as the Twickenham or Kingston Parakeets – flying wild in the South London suburbs. Their specific origins are unknown, but most likely they originated from a single pair of breeding parakeets which escaped or were released in the mid-1990s. Other origins, however, have been attributed to them: the most popular theory is that they escaped from Ealing Studios, during the filming of The African Queen (which was actually made in the Isleworth Studios) in 1951; they may have escaped from an aviary during the 1987 hurricane; and it has even been suggested that the pair released by Jimi Hendrix in Carnaby Street in the 1960s is to blame. (I really want the Hendrix urban legend to be true and vow to propagate it at every available opportunity!)

We exit the park at Ladderstile Gate and cross the road to the Coombe estate. Coombe is one of the more affluent private estates in south west London and is home to television personality Jimmy Tarbuck, tennis player Annabel Croft, while Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood also lives in an estate on Kingston Hill, located opposite to the entrance of Coombe Park. One of Saddam Hussein‘s daughters had a house in Golf Club Drive for a number of years, and Elisabeth Murdoch also lived here for several years. Dwight D. Eisenhower, when Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, lived at “Telegraph Cottage” in Coombe, which was adjacent to the golf course which he used at weekends. We finish the walk back at the station and then a good few of us repair to The Albert for some well earned London Gold.

View the routes:

Richmond Circular


Norbiton Circular


More information:

For a similar route to the Richmond Circular (and 40 others) see here:

Listen to:


 Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

The Faces – Richmond

The Isley Brothers – Summer Breeze

Seals and Crofts – Summer Breeze

Jimi Hendrix Experience – Little Wing

Camera Obscura – Tougher Than The Rest




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