At Walthamstow Wetlands

Dear Readers, yesterday I saw my friend S for the first time since lockdown started. We’ve known one another since 1981, and, apart from her year in Australia back in the ’90s this is the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing one another. But, in the way of all true friends, it was as if we had never been apart: we fell back into our rhythm of give and take, listen and talk, as if it had been there all the time in the background, just waiting to be resurrected.

We decided to meet outside as we are both in our sixties and, as much as we might try to ignore it, we are at higher risk should we get Covid than younger people. And so I suggested Walthamstow Wetlands, and what a splendid place it is. I have been several times previously (see here and here) but this time we explored the reservoirs by the Maynards entrance. Whichever way you look, there are apartment blocks going up, but there is also some splendid Victorian architecture to be seen alongside the reservoirs. I love that there are still Thames Water workers doing their ‘thing’ to keep our water supplies safe, even if it does mean dodging the occasional car.

At the moment, there are hundreds of coots, tufted ducks and pochards, making elegant patterns as they swim across the reservoir.

And here is a bird that is now popping up everywhere, although the first pair only nested in 1996. Little egrets have taken to our lakes and rivers with great enthusiasm, and my Crossley Guide states that their plumage is ‘invariably immaculate’. Indeed. This one is probably a juvenile because it has green legs (or at least I imagine that they are both green because, as is often the way with storks and herons I can only see one). Apparently the call of the bird is ‘an irritable growling’. I know just how they feel.

There are lots of people out and about, but it’s easy to social distance: we stand aside for a group of cyclists, who appear to be mostly in their seventies and eighties but are not afraid of lycra. I notice a very fine mute swan, and then I see a cygnet. Such elegant birds, even if I was once chased up a country lane by one when I came a little too close to her nest by mistake. They have a surprising turn of speed for such large birds I can tell you.


Adult mute swan not cooperating with my camera work

Cygnet being more obliging

But then I hear an unfamiliar peeping sound coming from the middle of the water. What is it?

It’s a young Great Crested Grebe. I love those zebra-stripes on the head, which will gradually  be lost over the winter. For now, though, the youngster is still relying on parental provision of food. I spot an adult a hundred metres away.

Looks like s/he’s got lunch. The adult swims at surprising speed towards the chick, who is squeaking away. It’s like that bit in a romantic movie where the lovers run towards one another across a crowded train station, only it’s usually roses not a stickleback.

Coots rush to get out of the way as the fish is delivered, and the youngster gives the parent approximately 5 seconds relief before it starts calling again. What hard work it is to raise a young creature! I bet the adults will be relieved when this one is off-hand and they can put their (very large) feet up until the whole shenanigans begins again in the spring.

Not all of the reservoirs are accessible at the moment, so we loop back towards the entrance.

Pretty much the end of the road at the moment

There are still some plants in flower: Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a new one to me, and I rather think that there might be a nursery spider egg case in the undergrowth behind it (which I didn’t notice until I uploaded the photo).

The purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a lot less leggy than the stuff in my garden, but then this plant is growing out of a crack in the concrete, poor thing.

Purple loosestrife ( Lythrum salicaria)

There’s some greater birdsfoot trefoil(Lotus pedunculatus) growing in the damp places alongside the reservoir – the flowers are a pure yellow without the occasional red and orange tints of common birdsfoot trefoil(Lotus corniculatus).

And across the road in what I think of as the main part of the wetlands, there are some hops! I love those ‘cones’ – there are the female flowers which enlarge after pollination. I feel several Wednesday Weeds coming on…

While we walk along the edge of the reservoir, I spot one of those Victorian water towers that I was talking about earlier. I love that the Victorians took care to pop in some detailing on the ‘bridge’, and to give the tower itself some crenellations.

And there are islands in the middle, currently serving as lookout posts for the cormorants.

What a pleasure it was to go somewhere different today, to find some new plants and, most of all, to reconnect with someone who has been part of my life for such a long time. What is so splendid about old friends is that there is so much that you don’t have to explain, a richness and patina that only comes with knocking along together, through bad times and good times, until just a gesture is enough to communicate a whole history. How lucky I am.


8 thoughts on “At Walthamstow Wetlands

  1. Anne

    What a marvellous experience: meeting a dear friend and exploring a new place – generously sharing with the rest of us. I had tea this week with such a friend, whom I hadn’t seen since February: we sat in my garden and the intervening months simply fell away. This looks like an interesting place to visit more often.

  2. islawight

    Ooh my neck of the woods. I often cycle round there of a Wednesday (non-working day) or at the weekend. I really love all the reservoir paraphernalia too! You can do a really nice long cycling route taking in the wetlands, Walthamstow marshes and on as far as the Olympic Park.

  3. Charlie Bowman

    Watch out for cycling MAMILS – Middle Aged(and obviously beyond) Men In Lycra. The Little Egrets are now so common to be conspicuous by the absence when not seen in my part of the world.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hah, I am forever being nearly mown down by Mamils as they power up the hill outside and then pile up their bikes while they pop into the cafe for a skinny latte…

  4. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    The ‘coincidences’ continue… I met my mate P (😉) in 1980 and he spent nearly 8 years in Australia. We’ve just had a great time on our walk(s) and I’ll be putting together some posts in the coming days.

  5. Pingback: Wednesday Weed – Hops | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

Leave a Reply