Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Freedom for an hour

This morning I was up at the Institute of Archaeology at Gordon Square. Not a momentous or remarkable event its own right but the upside was that all the snow that I had heard about on BBC News 24 this morning but hadn't seen outside my own window turned out to be real! There it was, carpeting the areas still in shadow in the pretty park in Gordon Square. Someone had made a tiny snowman and I enjoyed crunching across the remaining inch of snowfall to inspect what was left of it. I would love to see the architect firm's justification for the IoA building - a ghastly block of a thing right in the heart of Bloomsbury.

I managed to leave early, and even though the 188 bus's route through Elephant and Castle is more than a little impeded by roadworks at the moment I was back at home by early afternoon. It was such a gorgeous day that I abandoned my work bag, grabbed my camera and shed the fetters of both home and university lives by heading off to the fabulous autumn shades of the RDW and Stave Hill. After all the rainfall yesterday, and the visible snow in Bloomsbury, it was quite remarkable that the day was so stunning.

I promised myself that to save blog visitors from another deluge of the autumn leaf photographs which have featured on the blog recently I wouldn't click any leaves. I broke my promise, but I only broke the rule for one or two particularly colourful photographs. As usual, if you want to see a bigger version of the photograph just click on it.

I started off wandering down the winding path that starts off at the end of Onega Gate or the Greenland Dock underpass. The sun was doing its thing, filtering delightfully through the leaves. There were lots of birds, most out of sight, but in full voice. Several robins and blackbirds were singing brightly one or two of which could be seen as they sang. The usual mix of magpies, pigeons and the occasional sparrow were there, and there were lots of squirrels. Other than that it was very quiet indeed.

I walked along the edge of the green, where two sets of dog walkers had met to talk whilst their dogs played with each other. I very much enjoyed watching a group of sparrows taking it in turns to bath noisily in a pool of dirty water, and then headed towards the Downtown ponds. The first one that I reached seemed to be rather sorry for itself. The pond vegetation looked battered and sad, probably because of the heavy rainfall, and there was an unpleasent smell of decay. But when I reached the other side of the bridge the story was much more positive. Yesterday's rain seems to have replenished the water to a considerable degree and for the first time in ages there were mallards as well as coots enjoying a float through the reeds.

Globe pond had the usual selection of ducks and coots, and it was there that I bumped into Steve Cornish, with whom I enjoyed a chat about all things local which really helped to elucideate some of the topics that are flying around on email at the moment. You can see a summary of the latest events on the Friends of RDW news pages.

Steve told me that in August a Stave Hill Ecological Park survey had identifified a new type of pipistrel bat in the woodland, one of a rare few to be known to inhabit a London urban park. That is a great piece of information to add to the news that a rare wild orchid was discovered in the ecological partk a couple of months back. Overall, we seem to be looking good on the habitat diversity front!

As Steve and I talked we spotted two foxes, both glowing in the sunshine. One of the Quadron people passed, with strimmer in hand, and told Steve that he had salted the bridges to ensure that they weren't slippery. Good news all round.

Steve went down to see Rebeka at the Trust For Urban Ecology shed and I walked towards the Stave Hill pond. There was no life to see at all there, and the only unusual thing there was a supermarket trolly thrown into one end of it. Some people are completely useless. But looking to the right the reeds were brightly golden in the sunshine and very beautiful.

I did a half circuit of Stave Hill, from which people were viewing the Thames scenery, and headed down Dock Hill Avenue towards Surrey Water for the sad task of photographing the sorry remains of the Nature Girls. Part way down the path that leads from Stave Hill to Dock Hill Avenue is a rather strange dip in the path which contains a small bas-relief sculpture of Tower Bridge at its centre. Stuart Rankin's walking guide to Rotherhithe says that this was once a fountain but that due to repeated vandalism the thing was dismantled. He also says that a fountain that once gave life and light to Surrey Water was stolen. The urge to destroy something both unique and there for the common enjoyment of the entire community always strikes me as incomprehensible.

The remnants of the Nature Girls really were a sorry spectacle to contemplate, with the remaining red shoes amputated crudely at the ankle. There was something quite dreadful about it, and criss-crossed as the remaining shoes were with bright light and deep shadow they were more than slightly disturbing. Sad, because they had made so many people smile.

Steve says that there has been some suggestion that the gorgeous sculptures outside the Surrey Docks Farm on the Thames Path, also metal, should be relocated to a place within the farm. I love them and would be very relieved to see them moved for their safety. I've written more about that plan on the Friends website.

The rest of Surrey Water looked very peaceful, with birds preening on pontoons. I walked back up Dock Hill Avenue towards Stave Hill, where a family were having a chilly picnic on the steps, and walked down the tree-covered avenue towards the RDW that cuts down by the side of the primary school. I cut in from there into the ecological park again, circling round to the butterfly sanctuary.

The bits of the butterfly sanctuary that weren't cut down are now completely dead, and the bits that were given a crew-cut are now recovering. I would have cut the whole lot down in one go at about this time to give the insect life half a chance whilst the plant life was still alive, but TRUE obviously had a different and more informed agenda. Lots of work has been taking place in the general area, cutting back trees, hedges and shrubs and strimming down the grass.

Popping out from a back track onto the top path circling the green I heard a lot of rustling of leaves and branches from the evergreen to my left. I turned my head slowly to see a male chaffinch sitting looking at me. As I slowly raised the camera he took off, taking a whole feathered clan along with him.

It was by now extremely cold, in spite of three layers plus a ski jacket, so I headed back down the winding path and eventually found myself magically in the Moby Dick pub where the heating was on and my friend Garrett had fortuitiously just arrived and purchased himself a pint. A warming hug was most welcome.

I didn't take many photographs, so I'll have to dive out again in the next few days to capture some more. If it doesn't rain!

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