Recent outings and activities...

From Crystal Palace to Balham – the Green Way

Eight of us braved the elements on the 28th February (the weather decided not to be too bad – just teasing spits of rain now and then) to walk to Balham – otherwise known as the 'Gateway To The South'. This was the ninth in the series following the Green London Way, and is as far south as these walks go – we checked the compass - before heading west. As we left Crystal Palace, we had time to admire the Sphinxes, the views from the high terraces and to reflect on the Vicar's Oak junction of boundaries.

Streatham St Joseph 160228artMosaics in St.Joseph De La Salle CollegeOn our way to Gipsy Hill we walked through 'Dulwich Wood', a brave little nature reserve created after bombs in World War Two demolished some of the houses there. It wasn't looking at its best this time of the year but it was easy to see what a treasure it is to local residents now. A short detour took us to a house where the Vicar's Wife – otherwise known as Annie Besant - once lived. A plain place for such an amazing lady. After jettisoning the vicar, she became one of those wonderful Victorian philanthropists, with a particular concern for women and children. She supported the striking Bryant & May Match Girls (pun intended), founded a socialist paper – and then moved to India where she eventually became President of the Indian National Congress.

At Gipsy Hill (no prizes for guessing why it was so called) we heard the story of one of their Queens, Margaret Finch, who died aged 108 and had to be burried in a square coffin. To find out why, ask one of the people on the walk. Bet they remember the tale!

Perhaps our most extensive view (and there were several along the route) was from the summit of the hill in Norwood Park. We could even see Epping Forest (just) but it was a bit breezy there so we took advantage of some seats lower down to have a quick(ish) food and comfort break before heading to Streatham.

A plaque in the grounds of The Mansion, just before Streatham Common, recognised the contributions of Stenton Covington in helping ensure that future generations (like us) would still have green spaces to walk through in London despite the avaricious ambitions of developers. Fortunately, he was not the only person – God bless those commoners at that time who burnt gorse and tore down fences, even when sent to prison for doing so.

Streatham Mansion 160228artIn the grounds of the Mansion, near StreathamBefore we left the common we went round The Rookery where we saw one of the three Streatham Common Wells famed for their healing waters in the 17th and 18th centuries. This one was particularly good for 'diseases of the eye and the expulsion of worms' ..... so now you know where to go. There was a handy café as we left the park – not much choice of food but pleasant – to help us refuel etc before the last leg of the walk.

On leaving the common Fred and some of the others accosted some very strange looking men in skin-tight black clothes with VERY big swords (I lie not). I fled (with Val) to find the path I hadn't been able to find the week before …... fortunately we all survived the encounter – and I found Hill Path. This way down into Streatham (and Russell's Path) was one of those quirky routes I would call alleyways on these walks. Dave confirmed what the book said – that there were some impressive houses beyond the high fences. I was more interested in the fact that I was walking in the steps of Lord John Russell, the Whig Cabinet Minister who drafted the 1832 Reform Bill.

Our last leg was across Tooting Bec Common. Here we heard the story of a dastardly local man, a Mr WJ Thompson, who convinced the other locals that he would definitely not enclose the land, if they didn't oppose his purchase. Of course, he did – but, after having his fences torn down several times and having had an injunction taken out to stop him – he agreed to sell the land to the Metropolitan Board Of Works – making a very nice profit of £14,000 – in 1870. Sound familiar?

On the trial walk I took the long way round to Balham High Road because the ground across looked muddy – this time I decided to attempt a crossing (it looked better) – it soon got muddy - and muddier ….. oops. I still thought the walk was worth it though - thanks to all my EFOG companions. Next step April 10th. From Wandsworth to Wimbledon.

Pam, 4th March 2016

Photos by Fred

A walk in the Eildons

During EFOG's break in the Scottish Borders, staying at the Waverley Castle Hotel near Melrose, whilst the rest of the group went on an organised tour Ken and I – together with friends Jenny and Garry – left the hotel to walk towards the Eildon Hills.

These hills form a prominent backdrop to the south of the small town of Melrose on the River Tweed. They consist of three peaks, and are distinctive enough for the Romans to have named their fort at the base of the hills “Trimontium”.

Leaving the hotel we crossed the road and entered the village of Darnick. It is a pretty enough little place, at first reminding me somewhat of some inland Devon villages, with twisting streets and oddly-placed houses. However, there are some nice detached villas on the road towards Melrose itself, and presumably quite costly ones – especially since the new railway line to Edinburgh will have made commuting a practical consideration. Really, Darnick is part of Melrose, and probably will lose something of its own identity as the town expands. It's a shame that we missed seeing Darnick's oldest building: Darnick Tower, which was built around 1425. This looks to be a bit like one of the border area's Peel towers, which were fortified dwellings somewhat necessary in a region which was somewhat lawless!

Melrose Abbey 20160226Melrose AbbeyThe area doesn't seem very lawless now, in fact it is quiet and the people we met were friendly, which is always a good thing if you are English and in a foreign country. Ken would probably have been OK anyway, as his origins are from this very part of Scotland. Melrose is a nicely situated town, lying in the Tweed valley with pleasant hills nearby – and considering it was February and bright and sunny, apparently an admirable climate. We walked into Melrose proper along a main street with a nice selection of shops, eating places and a pub or two, then turned right towards the Eildons to look at Melrose railway station. This is not the railway station that serves as the junction of the new railway, but a remaining vestige of the old Waverley line route through the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh. It is a Grade A listed building, so ranks very highly.

Returning to the market square – which I noted was not square, but more triangular – we continued down towards the Tweed to view Melrose Abbey, which not surprisingly is also a Grade A listed building. Our path took us alongside the Abbey, then closer to the river as far as the village of Newstead which – according to an information board – is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Scotland. Crossing under the Melrose bypass and the disused Waverly railway line, we began to make our way slightly uphill towards the Eildons, through gentle sheep-farming country.

Melrose Thomas 20160224Thomas of Erceldoune meets the Fairy QueenOne of the reasons we hadn't headed directly for the hills from Melrose is that I wanted to see the Rhymers Stone. Having read an account by another walker of his being unable to find it, I did not put a lot of effort into searching. As we emerged onto the now defunct old main road – barriered to through-traffic – it was lucky that Jenny looked to the left as we turned right, and spotted a distant road-side artefact. As she pointed it out I knew that it would be the stone, as it appeared to have a nice new tree planted alongside. I suspect that the original one where Thomas the Rhymer met the Fairy Queen back in the 13th century would not have survived. We made our way back to the commemorative stone, and just failed to see the bridge that Thomas had predicted would one day cross the Tweed and be visible from this point.

Nearby was a notice board which gave a fuller story of that chance encounter, and the outcome, with a rather nice pre-Raphaelite-style painting or photograph of the Fairy Queen seducing Thomas from her milk-white steed (or was it a dapple-grey?) by means of flowing hair, pursed lips and a somewhat busy bust-line.

To the hills. Along the road a short way, then along and up and down a farm track, then up a stony path which is possibly a stream at times, and onto the hillside. Already the view looking back was becoming more expansive, and as the route became steeper the predicted bridge came into view. It is not a difficult climb onto the Eildon Hills, but is somewhat strenuous, and underfoot the track is lined with heather and thus gullied in places. There are lots of chance steps, made casually by human feet trying to find the best purchase, but also some slippery slopes and ruts where I found getting a grip or leverage a bit of a problem. I was glad of Jenny's hand on my back a few times as my less-than-muscles and worn-out joints were threatening a downhill trend.

Melrose eildon 20160224A view from the Eildon HillsWe reached the summit of the north hilltop, on which during the Bronze Age was a hill fort but now there is just a cairn. The views are extensive in most directions, with Teviotdale and the Cheviots to the south and south-east, and the Lammermuir Hills to the north. To the north-west, looking across Melrose and beyond Galashiels, are the Moorfoot Hills. We were lucky that – although cold – the weather was clear and sunny.

Descending into the saddle between the north hilltop and the middle hilltop, Jenny and Garry decided that they'd like to reach the summits of the other two hills, whilst Ken and I made our way down. As I'd supposed, in some ways going down was harder that going up, particularly as the way was very slippery. The path was actually less steep and less rugged than the one we'd ascended, but the red earth had just defrosted and so had a combination of icy patches, slidey patches and clingey patches – mostly all at the same time. There were also some wet patches, too. There may have been one dry patch. Coming off the hillside proper, an easy between-the-fields lane led us to a long series of steps which descended into Melrose, where Ken and I searched for a refreshment place. They are not hard to find, but we were concerned about our accompanying mud, and eventually plumped for a small music store/scone and tea shop near the old station. It was a relief to sit down – and even more of a relief to have sat down with having fallen down.

After tea-and-scones we made our way back along pavements (ie the easy way) to the hotel. I was somewhat surprised to find later that we had walked a little over 6 miles, which included 1300 feet of an Eildon hilltop.

Paul Ferris, 29th February 2016

Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve – More than Just a Visit

How many times in your life do you get to see landscape in the making? Andy May, the Conservation Manager for Essex Wildlife Trust (EWT), was our guide when EFOG toured the latest development at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, near Colchester. Here, a new addition of land has more than doubled its original size. 28 EFOG members and friends visited the reserve on Sunday 21st February, on an outing organised by Duncan.

Fingringhoe Visitor Centre artThe Group assembling at the visitor's centreAndy did a marvellous job, helping us visualise how what was formerly sea-edged and threatened farm-land is being changed into a wonderful area of coastal wetland. Over the years, much of the the original marshlands had been lost due to drainage for farming and other purposes. The EWT project will not only restore this, but will also create wildlife habitats which are even more diverse than they were before – and much more accessible – for people to see, appreciate, learn about and enjoy.

Fingringhoe Anns Reeds artNear Ann's ReedsThey are working with their farmer “neighbours” and others, such as the Environment Agency and even the great North Sea itself; experimenting sometimes as well as drawing on expertise from many quarters. The result is that mudflats, salt-marshes, bird-islands, pools and beautiful reed beds are being 'grown' and created. It felt as though this was happening even as we walked around. Partnership has been crucial to the projects success.

It hasn't all been easy – or without controversy. Risks needed to be taken. Voles had to be removed to safer places during the transformation. The ones 'sent to' Sawbridge on the Rover Stort seem to have settled into their new home quite well. It is hoped other local voles will move back into the area as things settle down. Otters have already been seen on the new stretch of the reserve. What about the adders, the slow worms and lizards? Signs are that they too will thrive as their new world develops.

Fingringhoe Sea wall artWalking out along the sea wall towards the breachPerhaps above all, in terms of global warming, will the sea be better 'tamed' by a wetland barrier such as this rather than a traditional sea wall? Will this kind of defence against land erosion not only be more effective but also support more ecological diversity?

As we walked across the current muddy 'building site', looking at the gradually growing islands in the pools, already admiring the beauty of the lagoons-to-be, it seemed possible. When we saw the wild power of the sea rushing through a breach in the original sea-defence wall, there was no denying how difficult and complex working with the environment can be. I thought of of some of the places seen on recent Green London Way walks were this seems to have happened – and hoped it would be the same here.

Fingringhoe Breach artThe tide retreating through the breachTop of the list for me though, and I suspect for many of the 28 people on the visit, including some 'old' EFOG friends, was the chance to see Ann's Reeds, dedicated to the memory of our lovely long-term member and former Chair, Ann Lowther. How easy it was to understand why she and Duncan had come to treasure this place.

It was good to see that birds are increasingly finding their way here, especially in the reed beds. Cleverly designed and sited hides will give visitors ways of seeing how they fare in the new 'venues'. Walking routes are being extended and planned carefully to minimise disturbance, but also to give visitors opportunities to enjoy some magnificent views across and up the estuary. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to go again, to see what happens next. Thanks for organising this, Duncan. It was so much more than just a visit to a place of interest.

Pam, 26th February 2016

Photos by Peter G.

More hills - and a lot of mud - on the Green London Way.

This was the eighth in Pam's series following the Green London Way, although being winter and the conditions underfoot being as they were, perhaps “green” was not quite the appropriate colour.

We all – all being five of us – met on the Overground train from Whitechapel. That is to say, Pam and Sue were already aboard as it pulled into Whitechapel station and Jill, Fred and I boarded to join them.

Forest Hill station – being the finishing point of the last leg – was the start point of this one, so we proceeded uphill (notice an important part of that term) in much – or, to be precise, exactly – the opposite direction and inclination (or declination?) to that we had taken at the end of last month's section (or leg). This led us to the Horniman Museum, which was conveniently used as a loo stop. I also paid my respects to the walrus and the okapi, quickly.

Through the parklands, which included a farmer's market, then downhill to again use a short stretch of the old railway-line-now-nature-reserve, then across the busy Lordship Lane to pass through a housing-estate passageway and through the gates that lead to Sydenham Hill Woods.

The access to the woods is a slightly uphill pathway between railings and probably only a few hundred metres long – if that. However, it felt somewhat longer as it was muddy. We have most of us experienced the trough between fences which with the passage of humans, dogs and bicycles leads to a trough becoming a slough. There wouldn't really have been enough room for anything other than a particularly well-aimed bomb, and certainly for a summer walk that would not have been at all friendly, but the slough aspect of it had me thinking of John Betjeman.

efog green lndn way 160130 114100906artThe path deposits one near a bridge across what seems to be a natural gorge, but this was the route of the the previously mentioned Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway. There is a notice board on the bridge showing a train in the view back when, and the present aspect is totally unrecognisable. Entrance to Dulwich Woods is through a gate in the railings that surround the woods, as they are private. They are part of the Dulwich Estate, and notices at the entrances make it clear what may or may not be done to or taken in to the woods. Also, it is made clear that pedestrian access is permissive only, and no right of way is to be understood. It is obviously a popular place, for we encountered reasonable number of adults and children enjoying a lovely woodland area, with plenty of mud, to boot.

efog green lond way 160130 132711060artNow, the view from up there...We used a convenient bench to have a quick refreshment and enjoyed a bit of sunshine and a bit of sleet. But at that time both were brief, the latter so much so that some of the group – and remember there were only five of us – missed it. Shortly after we emerged onto a tarry road, which as Fred pointed out might have been as sticky as the mud if we'd actually gone there on a WARM day. This road is evidentially a private one, and not open normally to vehicle traffic, being part of the Dulwich Estate. At the end of the road – which, by the way, was the top end as all the hills were up ones, we looked at an Italianate pub and an art deco apartment block – or was it a house? There was also a large house where John Logie Baird worked on his experiments with television. This was actually an important aspect of the walk, because we were walking towards the increasingly visible mast of the BBC television transmitter at Crystal Palace.

Now here is a thing, because we went downhill for a way – with the North Downs in the distance – to enter the nicely laid-out Sydenham Wells Park. Whilst Pam read out a short bit about the park and its name deriving from the Epsom-salt laden mineral waters once taken hereabouts, four of us stood or sat and listened in warm sunshine. There were crocuses and snowdrops in flower, and cherry trees quite covered in blossom. There were birds singing and maidens dancing. I diverge into fancy.

Shortly, after an uphill bit, we entered Crystal Palace Park. It probably comes as no surprise to most that the park was named after the famous Crystal Palace, which was relocated here from Hyde Park in 1854. When it was destroyed by fire in 1934 it is said that the glow could be seen from Brighton. Pam said something about being able to smell the sea breeze, too – but I think that was also a fancy. We walked up to the terrace where the palace stood, and peered upwards to view the TV mast. This was somehat reminiscent of peering upwards to view the 60 inch TV screens mounted above the mantle piece in some homes - much to the detriment of necks and mantles.

We walked through the park to the cafeteria for lunch and then on to view the dinosaurs by the Lower Lake. They are actually in the lake, or at least the more aquatic ones are – or on islands. I'm sure when I did this walk too many years ago you could touch them or even climb on them, so they must have moved, or else it's flooding.

Our return was via Crystal Palace station, now a terminus of the Overground system but sometimes considered to be one of the most inaccessible London stations. It is quite a magnificent building – a legacy of it being constructed to cater for visitors to the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851. It has recently undergone a major renovation to restore the Victorian ticket hall and to provide lift alternatives to the 100 or so steps down to the platforms. For me, it was a fitting end to a grand – if muddy – walk. We used the stairs.

Paul Ferris, 31st January 2016

efog green lond way 160130 145038764artDinosaurs - and EFOG party

efog green lond way 160130 145555413artJust Dinosaurs - and ducks















Paglesham in January

Seven Efogers assembled at The Eagle in Snaresbrook on Sunday 17th January to drive to Paglesham, where we enjoyed a walk in the fresh 'sea-almost' air of coastal Essex. A snow-clouded, dull London sky evolved into sun-streaked brightness by the time we got there. We took advantage of this by 'doing' the walk backwards (not literally but in reverse to what Peter had originally intended).

A well-signed footpath took us through what looked like people's drives and across fields before we 'climbed' up the sea wall. The open-ness and sense of space was great. The land around gave us clear lessons about how the grazing marshes have been made – and how they are maintained. The birds interesting – especially the four giant, penguin-breasted herons. Not too windy, not too muddy – just right. It didn't seem 4 miles before we reached the first hostelry … quick drink (or in one case a 'larverly' fruit crumble) and nibbles – as well as 'the necessary' before heading out again for the last leg – plenty of time to admire the flat expanses of fields getting ready for Spring, fringed with lines of trees showing off their filigree winter tracery against wide, wide sky. Beautiful.

Thanks to Peter for organising this, and to my companionable companions – Lynne, Amina, Marian, Ken and Jenny.

Pam, 17th January 2016

paglesham sea wall 160117pg

  paglesham plough and sail 160117pg Photos by Peter Gamble