For a long time it didn’t have a name. It was just the lane that ran along the back of Mum and Dad’s bookshop…Sometimes I’d dare a peek over the top of the wall, but all that could easily be seen was an area thick with buddleia and other wild flowerings.
My imagination was quick to populate the space further with various other unnamed horrors and I’d quickly scramble back down to the ground and in through the door before sliding the bolts back across in delicious relief.
How a once-derelict patch of ground, is helping to galvanise a community in one corner of South London.
To the left of the hostel, and contrasting with its lime-white walls, the soot darkened, red and yellow bricks of St Alban the Martyr, stretch up and up – in one direction forming the church’s hulking tower, in another eventually tapering into a gabled roof with turrets, topped with a crucifix – and just a little lower down, mammon’s TV aerial.
St Alban’s grand scale crammed into a tight spot, give this half-hidden Neo Gothic edifice an uncomfortably, squeezed appearance; like a fat parochial priest squashed into the corner of a Southern Train vestibule.
It doesn’t take much to make a familiar place unfamiliar. A change in the weather – rain, bright sunshine, or more dramatically, snowfall or fog can all do it. Smells too – who hasn’t found themselves aware of sniffing more consciously than normal when drains are blocked, or there’s a whiff of barbecue, bonfire or worse in the air?
And then of course there are a place’s distinctive sounds.
At the inaugural Balham Literary Festival, a gathering of Nature Writers, Landscape Writers and Writer writers came together to discuss the state of the natural world. Here’s my report on what I saw and heard.
Is it acceptable to call replica Sphinxes ‘The Guys?’ Who is The Headless Lady with no arms (who has arms)? What terrors await when you stop paying attention in the maze?
Is it possible to be haunted by a place? I think that I may be. In this case it is Ashley Vale in Bristol – an exceptional urban oasis caught between the tracks, containing allotments, woods, hilltops and a pub next door to a farm.
I recently went in search for an ‘anonymous suburb’.
This is what I discovered.
Today a coffee shop near where I work in Clerkenwell disappeared…
Let’s say I was there.
In a hotel near three reservoirs for Wigan.
Let’s say I slipped out back on an unexpected walk,
on a circular path…
Norwood is yawning but awake: shopping, grabbing coffee, heading for breakfast, haircuts, workouts, dates. Watching Saturday unfold beyond the cemetery gates, it’s a little difficult to picture a time when almost none of this was there.
In 1837 London was growing rapidly and expanding at the edges. The city had an urgent need for space and not just for its living. Traditional city centre churchyards and dissenters’ burial grounds were full to bursting – the metropolitan dead also needed somewhere to go.
Brandon Hill aside, other hills in Bristol have their own distinctively languid charm and grace, such as Park Street, while a few are simply brutes.
One of these is the short and abrupt St Michael’s Hill, stretching from Upper Maudlin Street to Cotham. The lower slopes are dotted with attractive iron street furniture, step-work and historic buildings – including the pretty Colston Alms Houses – but don’t let these architectural gewgaws deceive you – it’s a bastard.
This post originally began as a bit of a rant about ‘gatekeeping’ in so-called ‘New Nature Writing’. Since then, I’ve occasionally updated & added links & info, esp. concerning lack of diversity in nature writing, creeping nativism and more. Which may be useful to anyone interested in this well trodden, much debated field.
I’m back. It’s been a while. The woods behind my parents’ house on Tickenham Ridge haven’t changed hugely in the last few months – the seasons have cycled through and for now the hill is a shining riot of green in a dozen shades.
An hour earlier I was in these woods in company with my two boys, my sister, brother-in-law, two nephews and my Dad, but this time I am alone and things feel different.
An ordinary looking grassy field, at the foot of Gipsy Hill in South London, turns out to be anything but…
Not far from where I work in Clerkenwell, a series of large orange and white flags fixed to lampposts line the major thoroughfares running through Holborn, Chancery Lane, Bloomsbury and St Giles. They state blithely that you are InMidtown, before in tiny print, grudgingly acknowledging the actual names of the places they are attempting to reinvent.
Stamford Hill Motors is not the most romantic of destinations, but I always feel a frisson of excitement when I have to go there. I used to live nearby but no longer, so the annual MOT has become an excuse to visit one of my old North London haunts. It also gives me a legitimate reason to simply…
Crystal Palace, geographically at least, is defined by its height: Palace = Hills.
But, hidden beneath busy Crystal Palace Parade, there is something else, a stunningly beautiful place that is usually inaccessible to the public.
I must admit that when I first heard about the campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City, I thought it was a joke.
And yet the more I thought about it, the more interesting the concept became.
It gives me hope a place like this. A small brown sign outside the Queen’s Hotel, Church Road the only local clue. Stambourne Woods this way, down that gravel drive and through the gate. On the house next door another sign gives red framed warning of a moose who isn’t there. This sliver of…