For a lover of hills, this small region of the country offers quite the range: steep hills, lone hills, round hills, hills with views of the sea, hills buzzed by kestrels, or patrolled by buzzards, internationally renowned hills with ruined churches on top, hills crowned by stands of trees, hills once topped by hill-forts, hills with winds that land a flurry of blows near the summit and hills disguised as city streets, with houses and shops groaning up and down their slopes.
I like to start at the western end, off Finch Avenue. To get there, I walk over a railway bridge that looks nothing like a railway bridge, then before reaching the corner, hop up the low wall between a hawthorn and a young oak, and then like many others, cut across the desire path worn into the grass.
Surrounding the wall, stubby ash and elephantine coils of Cherry Laurel gave a writhing border to the site, which, just for a moment, became an abandoned sacred grove. For some reason – the unnatural quiet perhaps – the spot felt like a Celtic ‘Thin Place’, or more accurately a broken thin place, as here it seemed, any doorway to the eternal world had been blocked by litter and forgotten.
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.”
I’ve always quite liked the style of old handbills: the erratic punctuation, jumbled type sizes and overuse of exclamation marks especially. If I produced a handbill for this blog, it would look something like this…
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.
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.
Clevedon: the most boring seaside town in all England; filled with dusty, fusty little sepia-tinted shops, selling dull stuff like lacework, horse brasses and pink and blue vintage porcelain salt-and-pepper sets in the shape of Edwardian ladies.
At least that’s what I used to think…
Tickenham, North Somerset is a long village strung along the B3130 road to Clevedon. On the surface, it’s nothing special, a fairly non-descript ribbon development – the kind of place you either live in or pass through on the way to somewhere else.
As a reader some books are inevitable. Recently I finally got around to reading one that had nagged at me for years. As I plunged in it felt like meeting an old friend.
It seems ridiculous now, but until I set out on this walk it hadn’t occurred to me that Wallsend, is literally the Wall’s End. As you follow the course of the walk, there are plenty more Wall inspired place names like this to take in, such as Walltown, Wall and Heddon On The Wall.
In every city I’ve lived in, I try finding alternative routes through them that avoid streets where possible and move through parks and other green spaces instead. Here’s a short, but worthwhile one for Nottingham.
Between the back gardens and traffic jammed streets of North London runs an extraordinary green path: Parkland Walk, once a rail line to the suburbs, now a tree-lined escape from the city, in the middle of a city.
In a park near Ely Cathedral is a strange, tree-covered little bump in the landscape. For a long time I had no idea what it was.
Every area of urban green space has it’s own particular history. However, in a general sense, it’s probably true to say that the reason for a specific site’s continued existence will be one of three: it’s a cherished survivor, it’s hung on by chance, or it’s been deliberately created in a spot that was previously home to something else.
Grand plans and remodelling on a citywide scale never seem to have worked in London. It doesn’t possess the triumphant avenues, boulevards and grid layouts of other major world cities.
This means that some of its most interesting spaces: old churches, museums, wonderful little shops, pubs, statues, gardens and even whole streets sometimes take a little finding.
In the last half century, visions of Dalston have been refracted in many different ways, from cult 1950s novels, 90s Yardie tales, angst-ridden millennial films to the clean windows of hip coffee shops. But for me, as an ex-resident, its pulsing, vital heart remains the stalls and sounds and crush of Ridley Road Market.
Imagine a map that grew and shrank, advanced and retreated as we lived out our lives. This map wouldn’t simply chart every building, street and pavement encountered, this map would change according to the weight and resonance an individual gave to a place.
Landscapes, places and routes that meant more to you personally would be given greater prominence.
Equally places you had never visited, or didn’t care, for would shrink in relative size, or disappear altogether. This would be an emotional map, a map of the inner world as much the external one.
I’ve just returned from a three-day visit to the Port Eliot Festival, in St Germans, Cornwall. It’s hard to put into words just how good and right the place and atmosphere felt. On the last stage of the drive you wind through a series of roads that alternately give views across small fields that are…