Dear Readers, I am still in the throes of year end but am determined to get out for a quick walk at lunchtime – there’s always something to see, and even old familiar sights, like All Saints here on Durham Road, look all the lovelier against a colour-washed blue sky. I dragged my husband across the road to examine the bulbs, and some of the daffodils are almost in flower already.
And then there’s the fact that all the bollards are upright, as opposed to reclining drunkenly to the horizontal having been backed into by a passing van.
And I rather think that this tree is an alder, though it isn’t marked as such on the London Tree Map. I could of course be wrong though – I’ll have to have a closer look next time I whizz past.
In sad news, the tree that was walloped and damaged when a skip was being loaded a year or so back has finally been cut down. It sustained a huge wound and as it wasn’t treated, the trunk started to rot.
The crab apple originally
Following the encounter with the skip
It’s always a shame when a mature tree is cut down, especially when I suspect that if it had not been damaged, the crab apple would have survived for many more years. But accidents happen, our road is narrow and tricky to manoeuvre around, and everyone is under such pressure these days. And clearly you can’t have branches descending onto the noggins of innocent passersby. Plus, the street has received half a dozen new trees this year – although they’re just saplings at the moment, hopefully they’ll have a chance to mature and grow into fine specimens.
But, to end on a more cheerful note, I cannot pass this row of houses on Lincoln Road without smiling.
Each one has a presiding spirit above the doorway. There’s a very sad Poseidon…
..a chap with a very fine moustache…
and this lady, whose rather serious demeanour is offset by that splendid lipstick. I can just imagine someone standing on a stepladder, determined to give her a suitable starlet makeover.
And then, finally, I loved these rowan berries against the moss. It looks like game of bowls played by some mice.
And now, suitably buoyed up, it’s back to the spreadsheets. And goodness, it’s almost February! Soon year end will be over, and I’ll be able to get back to some sort of normality.
Dear Readers, some of the most magnificent London Plane trees in the Capital line the central avenue on Islington Green. This isn’t a village green, but is instead part of the common land that used to exist here, where tenants and ‘commoners’ had the right to graze their sheep and cattle. Latterly, it was a place where dung was dumped, it’sThese days it’s completely hemmed in by roads, with Upper Street on one side and Essex Road on the other, but it still serves as an oasis of (relative) calm in this lively area.
In 1885 it was described by one Henry Vigar-Harries as a spot where
” the young love to skip in buoyant glee when the summer sun gladdens the air“.
He also describes how “within a mile and a half from this spot there are 1,030 public houses and beer shops” and if you included restaurants, cafés and coffee shops in that number you wouldn’t be far wrong now.
According to the Hidden London blog, the trees here were planted in 1808. They are mostly plane trees, but along the edge opposite where Waterstones is now (and where Collins Music Hall stood until it burned down in 1897) there’s a row of very fine lime trees. Grey squirrels and parakeets seem to enjoy them immensely, as does the enormous flock of pigeons that lives here.
Islington Green pigeons
The War Memorial, created by John Maine, was designed to resemble a twisted wreath and was inaugurated in 2007. Six years later the foundations needed to be dug again because they were inadequate for the weight of the stone, all eight tonnes of it – the memorial is made from stone quarried in Fujian, China, which is also where the carving took place.
There are no names on the memorial itself, but there are plaques commemorating those who received the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for gallantry awarded in the UK. Frederick Parslow was serving on a merchant ship carrying over a thousand horses for the war effort when it was attacked by a U-Boat. Parslow gave the order to abandon ship, but then received a message from a Royal Navy destroyer to hang on as long as possible. He remained on the bridge, completely unprotected, while the U-Boat concentrated fire on the section, and he was killed. His son, also called Frederick Parslow, was the Chief Officer, and managed to hold out until the destroyer arrived. 20 men were killed, but the horses were saved.
Frederick Booth was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing an injured soldier alone, under heavy fire from the Germans, in what is now Tanzania.
Both men came originally from the Islington area, Booth from Holloway and Parslow from the Balls Pond Road.
There is another memorial here too, and I always visit it if I have time when I’m in Islington. This is in memory of Bob the Street Cat, who was the long-time companion of James Bowen, a Big Issue seller who used have a pitch outside Angel Station. Bowen found Bob as an injured young cat, and the two soon became inseparable. Bob passed away a few years ago, but fans of James and Bob (immortalised not only in bronze by sculptor Tanya Russell but in a book by Bowen called ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ and in a film) raised money for the seat. I love that Bob is always dressed according to the season, and for autumn he is wearing a very natty scarf.
I was lucky to find the benches empty – there are normally people sitting here, under the trees, enjoying the bird song and some early morning sunshine. But today, for a few brief minutes, the messages on the two adjoining benches are clear as day. We are, indeed, stronger together, and there is no doubt that so many people deserve a second chance.
Dear Readers, our 3.7 mile long walk today started at Stoke Newington Station. Typically we had decided to get there with a combination of bus (102), tube (Piccadilly Line to Wood Green) and bus (67 to Stoke Newington), which was a bit long-winded but gave us a chance to sit on the top deck and admire the splendid houses along the route. When we eventually arrived, our first stop was Cazenove Road, with its magnificent avenue of London plane trees, planted shortly after 1900. These giants make such a difference to the temperature – this was to be quite a hot, exposed walk, and in retrospect I should have bathed in this cool, shady spot for a bit longer. Alas, not all the plane trees have made it to 2022, and I did wonder how much they shaded the front gardens of the houses. A small price to pay for all this lush greenery I’d imagine.
This one didn’t make it, clearly….
This borderland between Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill is home to many different communities – members of the Orthodox Jewish community were walking home after prayers, there are lots of Turkish and Caribbean cafes and shops, and we passed a mosque which had been cleverly created from three of the terraced houses. It reminds me of how many people have made their homes in the capital, and how much they have enriched all of our lives.
We pass Jubilee Primary school, and I fell in love with the pavement art outside. The children’s drawings have been turned into plaques, along with their descriptions of what living in Hackney was like. This one says “When I’m in Hackney I hear birds tweeting like happy families”.
This one says (rather less optimistically’ “When I’m in Hackney I smell fumes flowing like fire in the air”.
And it looks as if the words of this youngster have been cut off, because all that remains is “When I’m in Hackney”, but I think I can identify a space theme going on, and it is 100% adorable as far as I’m concerned.
Further down Filey Avenue there is the most splendid lilac-blue hibiscus.
And then we turn left into Springfield Park, but before we do I am much taken by these flats. The towers (which I assume house a fire escape or other staircase) are most striking. I haven’t been able to find out anything about the estate, but with a pleasant view over Springfield Park I imagine that it’s a nice place to live.
By now we’ve been walking for oh, about twenty minutes and so our thoughts are turning to lunch. And what better place than Springfield Park? The park was originally the grounds of Springfield House (built in the 19th century) but it was taken over by London City Council in 1909. And if it’s a nice day, and you fancy sitting peacefully, watching the crows imitate that bit in ‘The Birds’ where they congregate before tearing chunks out of Tippi Hedren you could do much worse. I had the most splendid avocado, hummus and halloumi on ciabatta bread and considered myself very lucky.
View from the Springfield Park Cafe
Crows menacing the invertebrates in the grass.
Some very handsome Egyptian geese
Springfield Park also apparently has a community orchard, but I missed it – what a shame. It would have been interesting to compare it to Barnwood in East Finchley.
We walk down through the park, and discover that the geology of the area is actually rather special – it has been designated as one of Greater London’s Regionally Important Geological Sites (which makes me curious as to where the others are – I feel yet another blogpost coming on!) Apparently the park contains not only ‘Hackney Gravel’ deposited by the River Lea a quarter of a million years ago, but on top of this it has fine ‘brick earth’, a wind-blown loess known as rock flour. The two components together make the site perfect for making bricks, and these two components are laid on top of the more typical London clay that forms the basis of the geology of most of London. Roman sarcophagi and a Saxon boat were found during excavations in the park, and it’s thought that the lake is probably the result of gravel extraction over the years.
The view from the hill in Springfield Park
And then it’s downhill to the Lea/Lee Valley Navigation. This waterway used to mark the boundary between Essex and Middlesex, and now delineates the line between the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest and Hackney. The spelling of the name of the area has more or less settled down now, with ‘Lea’ referring to the river Lea and its natural manifestations, and ‘Lee’ referring to anything man-made. The river Lea itself runs for about 50 miles, from Luton to Bow Creek, and the Capital Ring follows it east for about three miles.
First up is the Springfield Marina. There are river boats moored along the whole length of the walk, some of them in fine fettle and some of them on what looks like the verge of disintegration. It’s also a walk that lacks shade, and I was very glad that I’d brought my Factor 50 suncream.
To start with, the path is broad, and we walk along the edge of Walthamstow Marshes, just slightly south of the Walthamstow Wetlands reserve that I visit on a regular basis. The ditch by the side of the path is full of bulrushes, purple loosestrife and other water plants, and I get a brief view of a reed bunting before it disappears back into cover.
Common Reed Bunting (Photo One)
I love that the skies are so big here. Also, the path is relatively wide, which means that the cyclists who zoom past have plenty of room. In the later part of the walk, the path is much narrower and encounters can be a bit more fraught.
There is a delightful pub on the other side of the river, but as my Capital Ring book points out, the little ferry that used to take you across ceased in the 1950s. Alas, for we have been walking now for forty minutes and surely we’re due another sit down?
The Anchor and Hope – so near, and yet so far.
There is, however, a railway viaduct which goes to Clapton and takes people off to Stansted Airport. Apparently an aviator, A.V.Roe, used to create his early airplane prototypes in the arches of the viaduct, and the marshes used to cushion his inevitable crash landings.
Looking along the river, we catch a glimpse of a family of swans and a lone oarsman. The swan on the right looks a wee bit defensive to me. In situations like this, my money is always on the swan, but we didn’t hear any splashing or screaming so presumably all was well.
Looking into the distance I noticed some cows. They were most uncooperative as far as getting a nice photo goes, but they have been reintroduced to the marshes to help with the habitat. We underestimate the role that grazing animals play in biodiversity, I think.
And at this point, the River Lea and the Lee Navigation separate for a while, and our way ahead is blocked by some building work on the new Ice Skating Centre, which will enable people to do their double axels and pirouettes all year round. We are leaving the wide open spaces next to Walthamstow Marshes, and are heading into something altogether more urban. But for that, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow….
Dear Readers, it will come as no surprise to regular followers that I love London – I was born and bred in this city, and yet even after 62 years my heart still races when I walk its streets. It’s the sudden and unexpected views that always get me, such as spotting the new Tate Modern extension appearing alongside the old power station tower as I turn a corner. Today I was even helped by one of the top-hatted concierges outside the Bankside Hilton, who pointed me in the direction of this unexpected view of the Shard. The Shard seems to have replaced the Post Office Tower as the building that pops up everywhere, though it looks rather like some evil triangular god peering over his realm and deciding what to blast with a thunderbolt next.
I am going to Tate Modern to see their ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition, which closes at the end of the week. Time was I tried to see everything at both Tate galleries, but now that I’m working it’s a bit trickier. I will write more about the exhibition tomorrow, as I think it deserves a post of its own, but to be honest it was a treat just to catch a tube ‘south of the river’, wander around with the camera and then catch the 17 bus back to Archway.
I have gotten a bit ahead of myself, though, because I arrived at Southwark station on the Jubilee line, which is up there with my favourite stations. It always reminds me of a cruise ship, for some reason (though I have never been on a cruise ship so who knows?)
It’s certainly got that brutal concrete thing going on, but I love it nonetheless. The blue glass wall shown below was apparently influenced by the work of 19th century Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and I can certainly see where the idea might have come from. When you take the escalator up from the platforms you are suddenly surrounded by this amazing blue dome, as if you have ascended into some kind of transport heaven.
Schinkel’s stage set for Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1815) (Public Domain)
Anyhow, back to Tate Modern. I was a bit alarmed to see that there’s some renovation going on at the top of the power station tower.
Apart from the fact that the structure looks a bit on the flimsy side, my additional worry was for the peregrine falcons who have nested here for many years. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds used to have telescopes outside so that you could watch the birds, and they were famous for hunting at night because of the floodlights on the building. Many a local pigeon met a spectacular end at the talons of the birds, but sadly this renovation, which has taken more time than expected and more money than budgeted, has rendered the birds homeless. There are at least twenty pairs of peregrines in London, and apparently the Tate Modern birds had a quick look at St Pauls as an alternative home, but decided it didn’t quite meet their demanding criteria. I hope they found somewhere else to raise their young.
After the exhibition I took a leisurely walk back over the Millenium Bridge, which always provides plenty of photo opportunities…
A whole range of skyscrapers….
View towards the Globe Theatre with pigeons who are delighted that the peregrines have moved on….
The Shard glowering under a storm cloud….
A contented gull….
Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge
And then I catch a number 17 bus almost immediately, which is a minor miracle as I usually have to wait for at least twenty minutes. Clearly, the Bus Fairy must be keeping an eye on me.
On arrival in Archway, I saw this.
It’s an old-fashioned phone box, and someone has planted it with a jasmine which is doing very nicely, thank you! It did cheer me up. Someone is obviously taking the time to water it and look after it.
And finally, here’s a random cat, sitting in a sunny spot on the High Road and refusing to respond to my entreaties. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Dear Readers, yesterday I was lucky enough to meet with the Silver Birches groups for the over-55s that are held in Barnwood Community Forest here in East Finchley. What a lovely day it was! We had sessions on pollinators and on the folklore of plants, and the afternoon group learned how to make moss hanging baskets with Ursula from The Flower Bank, an amazing enterprise that recycles and reuses the flowers that would otherwise go to waste at corporate events, supermarkets, weddings and fashion shoots.
Of course, being Bugwoman it was very important to get people up close and personal with the amazing variety of insects that live in Barnwood. Here are just a few…
Side view of the Comma, showing the ‘comma’ mark on its underwings
Speckled Wood underside
What impressed me so much with the Silver Birches was how much fun they were, how welcoming, and how patient they were when chasing some very flittery insects from one place to another with their camera phones so that we could get a snapshot of what was around on this sunny Midsummer day. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had the chance to do something like this and I had a wonderful time. So thank you to Leo and Linda who organise the sessions and to everyone who attended, it was a day that I’ll remember for a long, long time.
Dear Readers, after a few weeks of having a break from the cemetery, it was such a pleasure to be back on a sunny spring day with not a cloud overhead. I was pleased to see the garlic mustard coming into flower, and was keeping a keen eye open for orange-tip butterflies, who lay their eggs on the plant. Well, I didn’t see any, but I did see several citrus-coloured brimstone butterflies, whose caterpillars feed on buckthorn. There is a view that the name ‘butterfly’ came from these bright yellow beauties.
Male brimstone butterfly in flight (Photo One)
I seemed to be scaring up butterflies at every step, like this peacock: red admirals, peacocks and the odd speckled wood were all warming themselves up on the paths. It wasn’t quite the swarms of lepidoptera that I remember from our walks in the Austrian Alps, but it wasn’t bad for East Finchley.
The Tibetan cherry tree is coming into flower, and very fine it is too.
This jay was a little less shy than usual…
But this green woodpecker was rather more reticent than of late…
And we saw the Official Cemetery Cat, who is very splendid…
And an unofficial cemetery visitor, who we’ve seen before, and who looks like a little panther.
But loveliest of all, against that clear blue sky, was the buzzard, peacefully riding the thermals and unharried by the crows for once. Maybe they’re all off on holiday.
Mustn’t it be lovely to fly like that! The closest thing that I can think of is swimming, which is something I haven’t done for way too long. Maybe I’ll find somewhere over the summer.
Oh, and the lesser celandine is still in flower….
….and there was this patch of pink sorrel close to the North Circular Road boundary. I hadn’t noticed it before, but no doubt it will soon be everywhere. All sorts of mysterious things grow in this rather ‘weedy’ area, including the mysterious salsify that I was so astonished by a few years ago. Although you can hardly hear yourself think for traffic noise, it is always full of surprises.
Dear Readers, three weeks after the onset of my Covid I’m finally feeling like myself again, and so it was such a joy to head out to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery to take in the glory of the Lesser Celandine. Just look at them! Could they be any more joyful, I ask myself.
And if you watch closely, you can see them being appreciated by a whole mass of bees and tiny pollinators.
The primroses are out in force too.
I heard the buzzards mewing, and saw one being hotly pursued by the usual gang of crows. And, for your delectation, here is a sparrowhawk’s backside, shortly before she exited stage left, also pursued by crows. Note those distinctive bars on the stomach.
Blackcaps were singing their heads off, as was this chaffinch, who was making a most uncharacteristic volume of sound.
And the blackthorn is in flower.
I have mentioned before that the lesser celandine was Wordsworth’s favourite flower, but I’d never read the poem that he composed to it. I had expected some cheery paean to the first flower of spring but, as so often with Wordsworth it’s rather more thoughtful than that. So here, for your delectation, is Wordworth’s Lesser Celandine. See what you think.
The Lesser Celandine
There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distressed,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest.
But lately, one rough day, this Flower I passed,
And recognized it, though an altered form,
Now standing forth an offering to the blast,
And buffeted at will by rain and storm.
I stopped, and said, with inly-muttered voice,
“It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
This neither is its courage nor its choice,
But its necessity in being old.
“The sunshine may not cheer it, nor the dew;
It cannot help itself in its decay;
Stiff in its members, withered, changed of hue.”
And, in my spleen, I smiled that it was grey.
To be a Prodigal’s Favourite -then, worse truth,
A Miser’s Pensioner -behold our lot!
O Man, that from thy fair and shining youth
Age might but take the things Youth needed not!
Dear Readers, it felt very strange walking in the cemetery yesterday; although I am now past the worst of my covid infection I am still a little slow and breathless, and everything feels most peculiar. I first realised that brain fog was ‘a thing’ after my Dad died and I realised that I could no longer calculate percentages without having to think about it first. Fortunately my mental faculties gradually came back, but at the moment I’m still a bit hazy about many things. Still, it was good to get a bit of fresh air on the most beautiful spring day. I especially love the way that the Scotsman is standing in a pool of lesser celandine. I’ve remarked before that it seemed not to be having a very good year, but clearly I was just too early. It was everywhere on my walk, turning its shiny yellow face to the sun, and hoping for an early bumblebee to pop along, I’m sure.
The petals of many flowers in the buttercup family are shiny – there is a special layer of reflective cells which intensifies the yellow colour and makes the flowers even more attractive to pollinators. As the flowers grow older, this layer may rub off, leaving the petals white, as in the one on the far left hand side of the photo. There are some rather lovely buttercup photos (though not lesser celandine) on this microscopy-uk webpage, well worth a look.
I was surprised to see how much of the cherry plum blossom was gone (after all I’ve only missed one week on my walks), but it has been very windy. On the other hand, the horse chestnut buds are pushing through already.
And although the bluebells look a long way off, there’s one tiny patch of woodland where the Scilla have naturalised, and their blue is almost as intense. What a pretty and delicate flower this is, and it’s obviously happy even in deep shade.
And so it was with some relief that I got home and had a sit down, but it was great to see something outside my four walls for the first time in ten days. For anyone who is getting over covid, or indeed any infection, I’d say ‘be a little more gentle with yourself than you think you need to be’ – it’s good to give yourself time for your body to adjust to getting back to ‘normal’ rather than throwing yourself in with enthusiasm, especially as you’re getting older. When I was in my twenties and thirties I thought I was immortal and indestructible, but sadly now I know a bit better.
Dear Readers, there was lots to see in the cemetery on Saturday, most of it centred around the bird life. We were barely through the gates when we noticed this crow, getting stuck into a mystery fruit. At first I thought it might be a mango, but on balance I’ve decided it was an orange. Who knew that crows had a taste for citrus? I love the way that the crow is keeping the fruit under control with his or her foot.
Normally the crows are pretty shy, but this one was clearly too involved in eating to be put off by me and my camera.
Then, I was looking at the blossom (which is rather fine at the moment) when my husband said ‘what’s that bird with the red head?’
And yes it was a green woodpecker, usually a very elusive bird. This one was digging up ants as if they were going out of fashion – the wet weather has made the soil a bit easier to hammer into. The bird was completely engrossed in its task, but was moving so quickly that it was hard to get a decent shot. Some birds seem to live on a slightly faster timescale than us, and this one definitely did that. If you look carefully in the video below you can see the bird’s long tongue flickering out to lick up the ants. It looks in some of the photos as if the beak is malformed but the bird looked healthy and was clearly feeding, so hopefully it can still look after itself. It’s a hard life bashing yourself against hard surfaces all day, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t sometimes some collateral damage.
Then we spotted a small panther, clearly watching out for mice or other small rodents.
In the more open part of the cemetery there were several flocks of redwings, probably several hundred in total. They are starting to gather for the flight back north, but it was the first time I’d seen them in such numbers.
Round we go, and here’s another panther – this one is a bit chunkier than the earlier one.
And everywhere, the daffodils and various narcissi have taken over from the crocuses and the snowdrops.
The primroses are coming into their own as well.
And one of my favourite cherry-crabs is almost at the peak of flowering.
And finally, someone has given the lovely Scotsman on Kew Road some new flowers, and some twigs. I think this is probably the finest sculpture in the cemetery, and he never fails to move me, standing there so proud amongst the trees. When he was alive, someone clearly loved him very much.
Statue of Susanna Wesley the ‘Mother of Malethodism’
Dear Readers, I was on my way to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery for my usual weekend walk when I was stopped in my tracks by this extraordinary statue. It appeared this week in the grounds of East Finchley Methodist Church. Last week, this was a red cedar tree, but this week it has been transformed.
The sculptor is Simon O’Rourke, and the funds for the project were raised after a 103 year-old parishioner died, and left money for something to be created ‘for the children’, with extra funds raised by local people and donated by the Heathfield Trust, a Methodist charity. The design of the sculpture incorporates some lovely details that I’m sure children will love.
Susanna Wesley was born in 1669, the youngest of 25 siblings. Although she never preached a sermon, she was a strong believer in the moral and intellectual education of young people, both boys and girls, and her meditations and commentaries on scripture attracted large crowds to her family services. Susanna and her husband had nineteen children, of whom only eight were alive at her death. Amongst the children were Charles and John Wesley, who went on to found Methodism, which now has about 80 million followers worldwide.
The whole of the area around the sculpture will be transformed into a garden for adults and children.
I rather like the statue, with its intricate details and the sense that Susanna Wesley is both welcoming everyone with open arms and simultaneously jetting off into heaven like a Red Arrow trailing smoke.
There is an explanatory sign hung on the railings.
In spite of this, I was intrigued to hear one male passerby describing Susanna Wesley as ‘John Wesley’s wife’. And this is how women are regularly denied their place in history and relegated to the role of appendages. Our assumptions betray us, every time.
After this, a walk in the cemetery was going to seem a little ordinary, unless the foxes would oblige with a spectacular showing. Alas they were keeping a low profile, but there were lots of more subtle delights on show. For example, my husband said that his hay fever was kicking in, and sure enough, lots of the conifers have their tiny cones just opening.
I love the way that the sun shows off the smooth silver bark of the young ash trees. It’s easy to forget how many there are in the cemetery. If/when ash dieback hits hard, it will be a very different place.
I love the way that horizontal branches develop their own ‘moss gardens’ as well. In the tropics they have bromeliads, in London we have moss.
The lesser celandine are really starting to kick off now….
And whilst in some places the snowdrops are in full flower…
…in other spots the buds are just starting to emerge, like little rockets.
Everything is starting to push up through the soil, and it will only be a few weeks until the cemetery is a riot of birdsong and crocuses. This year the winter has seemed very long to me, and the greyness unrelenting. How lovely to see the days grow longer (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere), and to feel winter losing its grip for another year.
You can read more about the Susanna Wesley statue in the Ham and High article below: