Jenny organised a visit to Walthamstow Wetlands for the group on Sunday 24th February. We had previously visited last year (2018) on 2nd February. Back then there was a mention of it being a good visit 'despite the weather', and the associated photograph gives an impression of that. (see here)
This time it was a lovely day, with temperatures reaching 16°C., and the Sun shone on the group as we met our London Wildlife Trust volunteer guide, Cathy. There were 14 of us on the walk, and Cathy briefly explained to us at the beginning something of the history of the River Lea, even including reference to the Vikings and Saxons. Whose side are you on?
Of course, the reservoir system that has given form to the wetlands draw their waters from the Lea, so the background was relevant. Since recently becoming a visitor attraction, the old engine house has been converted to a cafe for visitors, and the associated chimney stack rebuilt to provide – it is hoped – nesting places for Swifts and roosting places for bats.
As we were with Cathy, we were able to walk some paths that were not open on the day to the many other visitors. They are closed at times to enable wildlife to have their time, and the time is approaching – indeed on such a warm day had arrived – for mating rituals and procedures to take place.
As one or two of our group commented, the sap was definitely rising, for as we walked past Lower Maynard Reservoir those of us with binoculars – or who borrowed them – were fortunate to see the amazing courtship dance of the Great Crested Grebe, sometimes known as ‘The Weed Dance’. At one moment, both individuals – male and female (I suppose) were standing on the water, breast to breast. How do they do that? I can’t.
Shortly afterwards, just before walking up the slope to Lockwood Reservoir, an Egyptian Goose (which, as I pedantically pointed out, is actually a duck) had a bit of a go at the throat of another, which duly lay on the ground. This again proved to be the initial foreplay to what may have proved to be an embarrassing spring event for those of a prudish disposition.
Lockwood Reservoir is the largest of the waters, but on this occasion had relatively little water in it. This gave us the opportunity to get an impression of its depth, but also to observe the ridged ’beach’ which forms its sides. These two, and the Higher Maynard Reservoir by which we returned to the visitor centre, are across Forest Road from the car park and main visitor area, to which we returned for possibly a toilet break, and then to continue our tour.
The reservoirs to the south of Forest Road are older and more natural in appearance, and have been landscaped and planted to provide more of a diverse wildlife habitat and visitor experience. Whilst waiting for those who had popped into the visitor centre, some of us heard a Cetti’s Warbler as we waited on the ‘Meccano’ bridge over the Coppermill Stream. These are incredibly loud small brown birds which not so long ago twitchers would travel down to Weymouth to see (or hear). Now they are fairly common in appropriate habitats, certainly round these parts. From the bridge we were taken along another otherwise closed path, from which we had good views of one of the reserves famous heronry islands. It appeared that these birds were pairing-up too, and apparently checking-out their potential nests.
As we were now walking among the older part of the system, the reservoirs here had more original names and we were actually walking between the aptly-named ‘Reservoir No.1 and Reservoir No.2’. Good, eh? - quite original. These - and a third - were the first reservoirs to be built here, between 1852 and 1863. Not - I suppose - by Vikings or Saxons, but nevertheless dug by hand by the 'navvies', presumably a different ethnic group. At the end of Reservoir No.2, where it meets the Coppermill Stream, our guide excitedly pointed out a speck high on the electricity pylon. It turned out to be a Carrion Crow, and not the hoped-for Peregrine Falcon. However, shortly afterwards Sue S. saw that there was a Peregrine there as well. After an opportunity to see it, it flew off, but I spotted that its mate was still there and so we had another view. Wonderful birds to see, even if the sight was somewhat neck-craning. Talking of cranes, there were plenty of those around too, but of the sort with red lights on at night.
We had a table booked for 12.30 at the Ferry Boat Inn, so we had to get back, but it had been a lovely walk and nicely guided by Cathy, whom we thanked with genuine thanks.
Those of us that stayed for lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn doubtless enjoyed the experience, after which we returned by way of our cars, buses and/or trains, presumably, but not necessarily, to our homes.
Thanks Jenny, and all on the outing.
Paul Ferris, 24th February, 2019
A walk in the Thames Chase Community Forest.
On Saturday 16th February - on what turned out to be the least nice day of the weekend and the previous week - we met at Harold Wood station. The idea was to cater for those travelling by public transport but it turned out that we all arrived by car*. Off we went to Wyvale garden centre for a cup of tea then back down the road, still in our cars, to a car park in nearby Hall Lane from which we could start our walk. We just fitted in the car park.
Off we went, all 13 of us, and we immediately noticed that there were a lot of stiles. This slowed us considerably and the mud slowed us even more. Luckily it hadn’t rained recently or we would have had difficulty as horses were able to share the track. The picture shows how difficult it was. We walked in an area bounded by the Southend Arterial Road and the M25 and were therefore never far from traffic noise but it was possible to have a quiet time, apart from our laboured breathing as we struggled up yet another muddy slope. The stiles eventually reduced in quantity and we stepped out, crossing the M25 and walking through Foxburrow Wood, mindful of the fact that we had booked the Thatchers Arms for lunch.
A pleasant lunch (and a pint) which everyone enjoyed and we plunged into Warley Place Nature Reserve, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The snowdrops were out – see photo – as were some crocuses. Time was ticking on and we had a way to go so we cut short our visit and walked down Dark Lane, marvelling at the girders holding up the bank erected to retain the view for the landowner. We then headed back West to cross over the M25 again. Through Tylers Common and then a long boring walk down Hall Lane to our cars. It seemed so short when we drove to the car park.
Total distance walked was 11km according to the member of our party who measured it. Lots of mud on our boots was distributed around the interiors of the cars as they made their way home.
Brian Unwin, 17th February 2019
* not quite - see below.
Some notes and thoughts about the walk...
In fact, I arrived by train. It is an easy and quick journey between my home (near Manor Park station) and Harold Wood station - and indeed only a few minutes more from Stratford. Since I have relinquished my car I have made even more use of public transport, and in many instances it is cheaper and easier - and certainly often less stressful - than car journeys. I suspect this was a case in point, as the confusion about where to temporarily park to avoid paying car-parking fees at Harold Wood probably led to more time and more fuel being consumed than was warrented.
That long boring walk down Hall Lane mentioned by Brian - and the lack of space we encountered in the car park there - could have been avoided by using fewer cars, and those that were required parking in Harold Court car park instead. It is only one mile from the station - walking distance for those that came by train, and only half a mile from Wyvale Garden Centre which itself is only a short distance from part of the loop that we walked. That was the way I came back after the others trudged down back to the cars. And it was an easy walk along the driest and easiest track/path that we'd encountered, and through another part of the country park - Harold Court Woods - rather than down that fairly busy Hall Lane. Also, it was only a short distance from the loop that we'd walked anyway... I think that the fact that I met Karen on Harold Wood station - me having walked, she having trudged and got a lift in a car - proves the point!
And maybe the point is, that we as an outdoor group should try to reduce our use of cars in these pursuits where possible. I am all for accepting a lift where necessary (my extensive hitch-hiking days taught me that) but sometimes, with just a little extra planning, it would probably be advantageous to mitigate our car-useage in favour of public transport, a slightly different route, or at least more car-sharing.
...trails originally created for use by horses." - are often the bane of the other permitted users: cyclists and walkers. And we sloughed through a few of those, or their close-relatives, farm-tracks-used-by-cattle. These can be hard and dirty work, but to me come nowhere near the restrictions enforced on me - and no doubt many others - by the second-worse invention made by man: the stile. These are described as "...a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps" That description would seem to give a lot of scope to the designers and builders of such portals, but the ones we encountered were all of the first of those styles of stile - the traditional wooden one. These seem to me to have been carefully designed to offer a requisite hindrance to as many slightly less-than-mobile or getting-on potential walkers as possible. For somebody like myself that can cope with a reasonable distance over a variety of terrains (not scree, mind you, or Irish rhododendron), just one of these could put an end to a 6 mile walk right at the beginning. And doubtless would have, if I'd not had others with me to offer a hand. There are now wonderful inventions such as kissing gates and rambler gates - much more user-friendly, in my opinion. What is the first-worse invention made by man? Well, that depends on how I am feeling at any one particular time, but the second is definitely stiles.
Thanks to Ann for the walk, and thanks to all for the company (and the help over the stiles).
Paul Ferris, 17th February 2019
Photos by Brian Unwin and Paul Ferris
A night walk and a fish and chip supper
The Epping Forest Outdoor Group started doing voluntary work at Copped Hall, near Epping, in 2002, moving masonry from the garden into what were once cellars, but by then were open to the sky. Later we were digging the mushroom earth out of the brick cellars from when it was a mushroom farm. In those days the Hall only had an original concrete floor running from the front door to the rear and a new roof covering the centre of the building. The chimneys could be seen from the cellars, with fireplaces hanging from the walls, and the windows boarded over. As the years have gone by the hall and grounds have become more developed with a derelict building now having rooms starting to be refurbished.
This has led to me, starting a few years ago, leading a night walk around the perimeter of the estate, ending up in the Hall with a log fire lit by Duncan, and a fish and chip supper.
On this year’s walk we had nineteen people walking and several staying in the Hall. As usual we had some of Peter B.’s Scouts, leaders, and parents with us, braving the cold and mud. The walk is only two and half miles, across fields, along a private road, then into a narrow strip of woodland that has a winding path due to trees having fallen over and walkers making alternative routes. I have got mislaid (not lost) sometimes in the past due to this, but not this time. Eventually we came to a tunnel under the M25 then out into more forest. In the past we have seen a huge number of deer in this area, but none unfortunately this time. We come to the track that leads from the front gate to the Hall, warmth and eventually food, but this time with an electric heater, not a fire, in the education room.
Peter G. 10th February 2019
Three Days and Four Nights in the Borders
Ten of us met at Chingford Mount on Monday 28th January for a 09.30 departure to Melrose, in the Border Region of Scotland.
After the inevitable interchange at London Gateway, our main coach eventually got us to our hotel at Darnick, near Melrose, after 8pm – a somewhat long journey time. Having been regaled by some somewhat sexist jokes and some rather dubious facts about places of interest by our driver during the journey, the evening meal was welcome.
Although having been renovated since our last visit in 2016, the hotel nevertheless was rather less than warm. Decent enough overall, though, and the self-service breakfast the following and subsequent mornings was good.
So – the first morning. After breakfast we had opted to join the included coach excursion to Edinburgh. There had beensome snow in recent days, and if not snow at least a heavy frost overnight. The views from the coach were somewhat obscured by heavily-tinted windows, making the day seem more dreary than it actually was. Edinburgh was cold and damp, though with no actual snow or rain. We paid an extra £8 per person for a guided coach tour around the city, which gave us a good overview, and then walked up the Royal Mile to the castle. The same excellent piper was busking in full dress at the same point as last visit. We walked up the Royal Mile, and we walked down the Royal Mile. We had a snack in a cafe, and caught our coach back to the hotel.
Wednesday dawned – eventually – minus 5C. cold and brilliantly bright. Some of our group had decided on an optional coach trip whilst five of us began a walk towards Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford, about 2 miles away. The route – into the village of Darnick and along a little-used country road – was lovely, with a nice frost, pleasant views and no traffic. We paused at a barn to pass the time of day with some cattle, and left them feeding on some of their out-of-reach foodstuff. A bit naughty of us perhaps, but they were happy.
Reaching Abbotsford House, the staff of the visitor centre seemed pleased to welcome a group of visitors to boost their small winter numbers. There is an excellent display of the life of Sir Walter Scott – who had the house built in Scottish Baronial style, and the grounds laid out, in 1824. It bankrupted him, but added to his novels in consolidating an image that persists now and is what people around the world expect of Scotland. There is also a nice cafeteria, which, as you will imagine…
Although the house itself and the walled garden is not open at this time of year, the grounds and their pathways are, so we walked around the outside of the house and made our way to banks of the River Tweed, heading back to Darnick by a riverside path. Ken left us here to catch a bus into Galashiels, his childhood home, and the rest of us passed under the road-bridge over the Tweed – where we immediately encountered some difficult terrain. The Tweed is a large river, and subject to erosion of its banks. Hence footpaths may be made and lost. And at least at the lower levels where we were, they had been lost. A steep and hairy climb up to higher levels brought us to a better path and from then on the going was relatively good. The day continued bright, and the low temperatures meant that the ground was firm, although not particularly slippery.
The attractive route was enhanced by sightings of the incredible little water-bird – the Dipper. These are somewhat like a black-and-white Robin, fly above the water surface like a Kingfisher, and bob up and down on rocks waiting for an opportune moment to jump into a fast-flowing stream, or river, to swim under the water, or even walk along the bed, using their wings as propulsion. They feed on small water creatures such as crustaceans or insects. We sighted a few Goosander ducks flying along the river, with an occasional Buzzard overhead.
Nearing the access lane to the hotel, we decided that the walk was so pleasant - and that we had only walked about 4 miles - we should carry on towards Melrose. This added another 3 miles or so to our walk, and enabled us to visit the small town and have a nice stop for a snack at a cafe. The butcher/pie shop was not yet offering the dawn haggis-hunting opportunities as per last visit. Too early in the season, perhaps?
We walked back to the hotel via the slightly longer, but considerably quieter, back road, passing Darnick Tower, a 15th Century peel tower, which is a fortified style of house common on the borders of Scotland and England.
The following morning, Thursday, after breakfast, seven of our group left the hotel for a walk on another cold and frosty morning. Unlike the previous day, there was no brilliant sunshine, and instead a cold mist gave an eerie light to frosted trees, particularly as we walked down the footpath from the hotel grounds to the Tweed. On the river bank, tall grasses and the left-over seed-heads of umbellifers were grey-white with hoar frost. We soon saw our first Dipper of the day, standing on a nearby rock and giving us a good view before flying away upstream. The tributary stream that I had videoed yesterday afternoon after the ice had melted was now almost ice-covered. We were walking, with Ken as leader, towards Melrose.
Melrose is a small town by the River Tweed, noted for its 12th Century partly ruined abbey, once a Cistercian monastery. Before entering the town, we had a look at the Chain Bridge, a narrow pedestrian suspension bridge giving acces to the village of Gattonside on the north bank. Pausing to look at the abbey, and for a toilet stop, we continued along a slightly higher path some way from the river and overlooking the river’s flood plain - which stretched away as flat as anything from the Fens - to the village if Newstead, which is reputed to be the oldest continually-inhabited settlement in Scotland.
From Newstead it was uphill, passing under the A6091 road which was built on the line of the old Waverley Route, the railway line from Edinburgh to Carlisle which closed to passengers in January 1969. Beyond the road the land becomes rural, and trends upwards to the slopes of the Eildon Hills.
Our footpath between field hedges eventually merged onto a tarmacked road, but one essentially closed to through traffic. This was the original route between Melrose and Newtown St. Boswell, but being superseded by the opening of the A6091. To our right – although we did not visit it – is a plinth with information about Thomas the Rhymer; we turned left to visit the memorial stone and tree where the famous incident with the Fairy Queen took place. With questions such as “Famous?” and “Who?”, a possibility, perhaps have a look at the article I wrote onto our website in 2016 and reacquaint? (click here)
There was occasional Sun getting through the mist, but it was still very cold as we walked down the road towards Newtown St. Boswells, crossing the somewhat worryingly-named Bogle Burn on the way. On the road – with no traffic apart from once or twice a farm vehicle – the walk was a pleasant experience, enhanced by the views and something I have never experienced before – real fairy dust! This phenomena was tiny, twinkling drops of frozen moisture falling through the air. Lynne had seen it before on ski-ing trips, but never in Britain.Eildon farm settlement was noisy with many House Sparrows as we passed, before entering St. Boswells.
This was a larger town than I had expected, and at least on the edge that we entered, a bit industrial-looking. We had joined by then the Borders Abbey Way, and its signposts directed us underneath the A68 main Edinburgh road. Our footpath was by the Bowden Burn, another Tweed tributary, and the route pleasant enough but obviously well-used by local dog-walkers as well as Borders Way trekkers. Underneath the high road-bridge, a tree covered in hoar-frost, just like a Christmas decoration, encouraged a lot of photographs. It isn’t far to the Tweed from there, but the path goes upwards more than we expected, with a series of steps to assist. Eventually it drops down again to a spot where there is a pedestrian suspension bridge across the river. There were fine and frosty views towards Dryburgh on the far bank, and closer – on the supports of the bridge itself – some amazing formations of frost on cobwebs.
The final half-mile or so from the bridge to our destination – Dryburgh Abbey – was proving to a few of the group to be a half-mile too far, and when we reached the entrance to the abbey some decided to give it a miss and head straight intothe nearby hotel to rest and get warm. The rest of us paid our entrance fee and had a look round the ruined building and its grounds. Then we all repaired to the hotel, had a meal and ordered a cab large enough to carry all of us back to Melrose. That walk was 6 miles, plus - for a couple of us - the extra mile between Melrose and the hotel at Darnick.
Thus ended, apart from our evening meal and Scottish-themed evening entertainment, our three full-days at Melrose. It was a 5am or so rise for us the following morning, for a 6am breakfast and 6.45 coach departure. The weather forecast for the journey home was not promising, and the promsie was fulfilled by overnight freezing of surfaces and snowfall particularly from the Newcastle/Sunderland area southwards. We endured a 7-mile tailback on the A1, due to ice on the road, and thus arrived back at Chingford at something like 7pm. From there, of course, we had to make our respective ways home.
Thanks to Jenny for suggesting and booking the holiday, and to all of the group, who made it such a success:
Jenny, Eileen, Fozi, Fred, Jinan, Ken, Lynne, Marian, Marilyn, Paul
Paul Ferris, 6th February 2019
Tate Britain, the National Gallery, and more
Eight of us met at Tate Britain on a cold but dry Saturday January 19th. We were there to see the Burne-Jones exhibition, although a couple of us baulked at the admission cost and just went round the rest of the Tate. There was the usual grumbling that the admission automatically assumes you are a 40% taxpayer and adds on a couple of pounds, requiring you to say, in a clear voice, that you do not want to have it under Gift Aid. It makes you feel cheap, which I suppose is part of the plan, but really, isn’t the gallery satisfied enough with the extra 25% it gets under Gift Aid? I would happily agree to Gift Aid if it does not cost me any more than the already high admission charge. Ah well, back to the exhibition...
Burne-Jones was one of the last of the Pre-Raphaelites and worked a lot with William Morris. He produced and designed works for tapestries, paintings, stained glass windows, and so on. It was a surprise to see so much work – there were 7 rooms full of his work – and it took us more than 2 hours to get round. All of us agreed it was a wonderful exhibition and felt a bit mollified about the cost (Sorry, last time I shall mention it). Meeting up with the others who had toured the rest of the gallery we then adjourned to a nearby pub for lunch.
It was now 3 pm but we had not finished. We walked to Trafalgar Square, noting as we passed the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall how many protest groups were stridently demanding freedom, liberalism, justice in various countries from the Democratic Republic of Congo (when a country has to include Democratic in its title you know it is anything but) to Balochistan (look it up, I had to). The police were out in force to cope with the groups.
Dave wanted us to see the Rachael Maclean exhibition in the National Gallery (free this time – sorry, I lied!) There was a thoroughly entertaining video and examples of her art. A lot more colourful and bright compared to Burne-Jones. Coincidentally, Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen was on display in an adjoining gallery and was well worth seeing.
Exiting the National Gallery in the gathering dusk a few were planning on going to Stratford to watch Stan and Ollie, a film about Laurel and Hardy. A full day indeed! The rest of us went home.
Brian Unwin, 20th January 2019
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