Surrounding the wall, stubby ash and elephantine coils of Cherry Laurel gave a writhing border to the site, which for a moment felt to me like an abandoned sacred grove. The idea of Celtic Thin places came to mind, though here it seemed, any doorway to the eternal world had been blocked and forgotten.
The thoughtless hands that had tossed bottles and plastic bags, now tangled in rolling brambles, made this more of a Thick Place – dirty and broken, frayed at the edges, with nothing but shadows able to leak through the veil and stumble off ragged into the undergrowth towards an indifferent city beyond.
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…
I started to wonder how far I should go, without a map or much water, but a trail leading out of town and into the fields is always hard to resist. After all, as Richard Jeffries notes in in Nature Near London, one should “Never omit to explore a footpath, for never was there a footpath yet which did not pass something of interest.”
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.
Dead rats aside, there was one area of the garden that always made me feel a little uneasy. As the name suggests, there was once a mill here.
In the late 18th century it was a paper mill, but by the 1820s had become a cloth-mill. By the end of the Victorian era, the mill was gone, but perhaps something else lingered in the grounds.
An ordinary looking grassy field, at the foot of Gipsy Hill in South London, turns out to be anything but…
The best way to approach London, according to Jonathan Raban at least, is from the north. You should drive down via Archway to take in the fabled Dick Whittington hillside view of the city and descend deeper within, until you reach the river Thames, where London’s full glory will hit you.
My own arrival was rather prosaic by comparison: a dull coach journey up the M4 from Bristol, which ended up amid the traffic at Hyde Park Corner