“We know everything there; the trees, animals, plants…It’s like a bush library for us”Djawa Timmy Burarrwanga “It’s just like a big book to us. This whole land. Now, over the years, people been taking – like tearing pages out of our book so there’s bits and pieces getting lost…”George Trevorrow “Life will cook; the seas…
It is more than possible to lose yourself inside the wood. Not, of course, physically in a Hansel and Gretel way, more like released, albeit temporarily, from the cares of everyday life.
Often, from my favoured spot on a fallen trunk off one of the paths, I’ve become mesmerised trying to fathom a spectrum of different greens in the canopy, or below. Other times I’ve found myself drawn briefly into the busy lives of flies and midges, dancing in sunbeams, like miniature gold stars in a pool, a temporary insect galaxy.
The day Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Chinese Room disappeared, was the day I first realised that places, like people, can change.
To my childhood self, the idea that a place wasn’t fixed, that it wouldn’t necessarily always be the same and might even vanish, came as a shock.
It’s a strange thing to walk into someone else’s memories; especially those that have been woven and tangled about a place. A place that you’ve heard about, but never visited. Somewhere that means a great deal to the person who told you about it, but for you, who’s never been, it retains the status of a rumour.
Going down to the mill is something we do every time we come here. It’s a short distance downhill from Rue de la Roche, where my parents-in-law live, to the town’s second river. When the water is low, as it usually is in August, the visit also includes a walk across the stepping stones and…
A mysterious letter. A secret journal. An ancient wood, in borderland territory. Deceptive paths and strange, ghostlike figures, stirring at the edge of the trees. These were some of the elements that quickly took hold and drew me into Ryhope Wood, when I first read about it aged 15.
Recently I re-read it, rediscovered and found many new things to treasure.
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.
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…