A walk along the Beverley Brook

The Beverley Brook is a minor English river in London. It begins near Worcester Park Station and ends just above Putney Embankment where it flows into the Thames. It lives for 8.9 miles and for 6.5 miles there is a (more or less) waymarked path following it. I walked along it last week-end and made this audio slideshow from my experience.


If you prefer YouTube, you can watch it at this link.

More photos from the walk can be seen on my Flickr account.

If you’re tempted to go on this walk, Merton Council has a handy downloadable guide for you.

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Nature Sound of the Month: My backyard sound

This blog post has been written in response to the Nature Sound of the Month challenge. Find out more about it and how to participate here.

Living in the south-west of London, I am plagued by planes. They fly relentlessly above my head every two minutes, and their heights sometimes so low I can make out the companies logo.

This doesn’t make for an ideal sonic environment when you’re looking to record nature sounds. And for a while I considered recording from a completely different part of London, but in the end I chose not to. The goal this month was to focus on sounds around us. The ones near me include planes and there’s nothing I can do about that.

So I kept an ear open whenever I was out. There were cars roaring past, planes flying low, trains rocketing on their rails, and amongst all of it birds trying to get heard. Just like in this recording.

Riding from home to a friend’s house, I stopped in Battersea Park for a rest. The planes weren’t as loud as in my back garden but they were undeniably there. It was all I could hear until a small bird I never saw called out loudly, almost drowning out the plane for me. My focus shifted in that instant and I listened to the bird refusing to be silenced by motorised transport.

Before long, I had my microphone out and my ears perked up to the quieter sounds surrounding me. There was the bird calling, the rustle of decaying leaves on the oak tree, a pigeon taking flight, and a distant ball game in progress. The planes were still there but their monotonous drone had receded in my awareness, replaced by the richer chorus of nature sounds of Battersea Park on a beautiful Thursday afternoon.

Cycling home along the Grand Union canal

The plan was to go to Reading and cycle towards Bristol following Sustrans cycle route 4 along the Kennet and Avon canal. I was going to meet up with Pete whom I had last seen in September and we would make a week-end out of it. Only, Pete wasn’t feeling too well and I missed my train to Reading and found myself in Windsor instead.

I could still have followed cycle route 4 but decided instead to head north and meet with the Grand Union Canal. I knew this would bring me at the edge of London but it didn’t matter. I could still have a good day ride and ditch the wild camping plan if necessary.

I pedalled out of Windsor in search of route 61 and met up with it at the outskirt of the town. For a while I meandered between fields and railway lines before penetrating Slough and Langley and their tangles of residential streets. Sustrans signs became scarce and barely visible as they transformed into stickers placed on random posts. I tried to follow them, guessing which turning was meant by the crooked arrow and more often than not got lost. I circled in a residential estate for an hour, occasionally taking a foray on long countryside B roads before giving up by Langley train station. I was sure I was going in the right direction but the signs had run dry at the T junction. I cycled up and down the road, trying to spot the familiar blue logo in vain and decided in was time to give up on Sustrans. There was a canal by the station and if I was lucky it would be Grand Union Canal and I could join route 6 later on.

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The path was a mix of mud and ice and I found it difficult to judge if my wheels would crunch over the many tracks from previous cyclists or if they would just sink in. I trudged along, content to have the canal to myself apart from the occasional runner. A few hours went by in this fashion before I realised I was approaching London. There was an increasing amount of litter on the path and in the distance I could hear the never-ending roar of the M25 traffic. I cycled under it, pedalling away from its noise as fast as I could and stumbled upon a sign that declared I was now in the London Borough of Hillingdon. I had not seen any traces of Sustrans since leaving Langley but by that time my mind had drifted to other matters. My plan to wild camp was scratched off and I was looking forward to cycle from north to south London and make my way back home in the evening. It had been a long time since I’d criss-crossed the capital on a bike and I’d missed it. City cycling is never my top choice but there is something exhilarating about flying through the streets of London while buses, cabs, and cars are stuck in traffic and you are free on your bike, seeing all the major landmarks around you.

Cycling on, I happened upon a T junction at the canal and spotted the familiar blue and yellow map telling me where I was in London. I found out that I had been cycling along the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal and was now faced with two other directions, the names of which didn’t ring any bells. On a whim I decided to follow the many runners all heading the same way. I accompanied them for a while before I spotted one wearing a tag identifying him as a runner in the Country to Capital run. I had never heard of it but judging by the number of people in running shoes many other had.

I meandered behind, letting them take the lead until they noticed a bike behind them and apologised for not having letting me pass before, which I hadn’t minded at all. I wasn’t on a bike to go fast. I stopped at a bench for lunch and watched coots skid over water and runners puffing and panting past me.

Warmed up from a large pot of instant noodles, I mounted back on the saddle and joined the runners once again in their race to the capital. But soon we lost sight of each other. They veered left and away from the canal while I continued on along the water’s edge. I whizzed past a sign that informed me I had reached Ealing. I stopped the bike and backtracked to it to double-check. I had not mis-read it. I was now in Ealing. I laughed. I had not meant to cycle in the direction of home so soon but here I was, not far away from the Thames and my flat.

Grand Union Canal slowly lost its wildness and became gentrified, the paths well-maintained and even occasionally tarmaced. Large fancy barges made their appearance and a few people were busy working at locks until I reached a new T junction and the familiar nut appeared on a post to let me know I was joining the Thames Path. I couldn’t see or hear the mighty river though and for a while I cycled along busy roads and narrow streets until it ended and the murky waters of the Thames expanded wherever I looked.

I parked the bike next to a row of cars, sat on the edge of a wall, and smiled as geese and rowers passed by under the cold golden light of winter. When I got back on the bike, it was a matter of minutes before the scenery became familiar and I navigated my way out of habit, losing sight of the river after Richmond Bridge, the flow of water being replaced by the flow of cars that carried me all the way back home.

A year of microadventure comes to an end

Earlier this month I completed my Year of Microadventure – a year of enjoying the outdoors. Here’s how it went:

January
Start small
01 January

Starting small was a good idea, especially in January. I had a warm dinner at home before tucking my sleeping bag and sleeping mat in a unconspicous bag and headed for my local park. I slept relatively well but was woken up a few times by the cold. It was only in the morning that I realised it had been much colder than I had thought. The vegetation, my bag, my shoes, and everything else around me was glittering under the headtorch. It was mesmerising and in spite of being frozen, I couldn’t help but smile.

February
Of backgardens and birds
02 February

I had grand plans for my second microadventure but I sprained my ankle at the end of January and found myself unable to trek very far. So I opted for a night in my backgarden. It was like being a child again when your garden is a world of its own. This time I took the tent but still got very cold.

March
A foray into the woods
03 March

This was my first proper microadventure of the year. I planned my location in advance and had to take a train out of London to reach the woods. This was the month I truly got addicted to wild camping. I was not far from the city but I was still able to submerge myself in nature, forget my worries, and wake up to the songs of birds.

April
The Vanguard Way: words and photos
04 April

By April I knew I was going to walk a bit of the Camino de Santiago later in the year and I wanted to do some preparations. After some googling, I discovered that the Vanguard Way would take me from London to the coast. So I made the most of the bank holidays and wandered south. Although the weather and scenery were very different between this walk and the Camino de Santiago, the Vanguard Way prepared me well for what was to come in July.

May
The Vanguard Way: audio diary and soundscape
05 May

The previous month I had suffered the beginning of an injury on the Vanguard Way and had to give up before the end. So in May, I went back to the trail and walked to the coast. It felt like coming back to a friend, one that had blossomed into life. The vegetation was overflowing on the paths and everything around me was green.

June
A 5 to 9 microadventure
06 June

June has some of the longest days of the year so I decided to try a 5 to 9 microadventure in the middle of the week. I headed out of town after work and walked for a long while before settling in under the shade of trees for the night. I felt I had left my normal world behind and had entered a world of fairytales and wanderers.

July
Camino de Santiago: on the Via Turonensis
07 July

This was it, the Camino de Santiago. I had waited months for this trip to finally arrive and it did not disappoint. I meandered in the paths of France with a friend and together we suffered the heat of the sun but mostly we had a lot of fun catching up on our lives, gossiping and discovering an unfamiliar part of our birth country.

August
Moment of zen
08 August

I didn’t actually wild camp that month. I had been spending so much time outside already that when the end of the month arrived, it was a shock to realise I had not gone wild camping. I did however try my hand at making a video for the first time.

September
Deserted Dungeness
09 September

I met up in Rye with Pete (with whom I’d been chatting on Twitter) and we cycled to Dungeness. We discovered a surreal landscape made of pebbles, black houses, and nuclear power stations. It was odd to be lulled to sleep by the engines of a nuclear station but wonderful to witness a sky full of stars.

October
Walking the Lyke Wake Walk
10 October

I joined Jenni and Zoe from the Outdoor Blogger Network in the north of England for a crossing of the North Yorkshire Moors. Once again I did not wild camp (we had booked a B&B) but didn’t feel like I’d missed a microadventure. We trudged through the moors, clocking 20 miles each day in unfamiliar grounds, and were treated to the brightest fall colours.

November
missed
11 November

I missed this month entirely. The best I managed was an hour walk in the Irish countryside (on small roads), and a walk around a village in France. I used business as an excuse not to get out and paid for it in stress.

December
A cycle tour in Kent
12 December

I went out to explore Kent along Sustrans routes from Tunbridge Wells to Ramsgate. I ended up spending three days grinning like an idiot, and found out that in between motorways, Eurostars, ferries, and seaside resorts Kent has a very peaceful and beautiful countryside.

—*—

All in all it has been a successful Year of Microadventure. It got me out of the door and built a habit of escaping London at least once a month. But most of all, it allowed me to meet like-minded people, start new friendships, and build a confidence in my outdoor skills I didn’t have. I still have a lot to learn but I no longer fear bivvying (I can even sleep reasonably well most times) and I can read maps again. So thank you Alastair Humphreys for starting such a great challenge. I am very much looking forward to another Year of Microadventure in 2016.

Season’s greetings to everyone

It has been difficult this year to get hyped up about Christmas.
Decorations went up but coat and scarves stayed in the cupboard and it just felt like a very long Autumn with increasingly short days. Even yesterday morning, when I cycled into work, the only sign that Christmas was afoot was the lack of traffic on the road.

But as evening drew near, the weather turned colder and my Summer jacket suddenly felt a bit thin against the wind. I pedalled hard, trying to warm up when I spotted a group gathering around a violinist, a guitarist, and a recorder player in a side street. I turned around, dismounted and found myself in a street choir about to sing.

I eagerly joined in, pulled my phone out of my pocket and for the next hour I sang and recorded the performance as we moved from door to door. Here’s the end:

Merry Christmas to all that partake in the tradition, and to everyone else, enjoy the festive mood.