Category Archives: The Nott’m Walker

Urban Badgers

I first realised we had badgers roaming our city estate when returning home one autumnal night at about 10:00pm. What I thought was a ludicrously fat cat strolling across the road patently wasn’t when I wiped the rain from my glasses. We found ourselves feeding it or them by accident. That autumn a rather cheeky fox nonchalantly strolled passed us across the patio as we enjoyed an after-dinner cuppa. It looked like it could use a good meal, so we later obliged and were delighted the next morning to find the take-away tub cleaned out. A few days later I happened to be doing a spot of late night reading in the back room when I heard the tub being shuffled around… by a badger.

We believe we have two regular visitors, male and female adults, but admit to being a bit rusty at sexing badgers. In July 2020 a third appeared, a cub, probably about five months old since I’m reliably informed they tend to be born in February. Following badgerland.co.uk advice, we feed them a variety of vegetable and fruit offcuts, leftover rice, potatoes and wet pasta sometimes mixed with dog food or muesli. We don’t leave out water because we have a pond they can easily access. We have hunted around the area to find their sett but without success. Since our estate is surrounded by main roads, 0ur fear is that one day they will become roadkill.

I thought it might be time to mount a campaign for a ‘Beware; Badgers Crossing’ warning sign, but the local city badger group are reluctant to make the world and her predatory husband openly aware of their existence, which I get.

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Walking the Lockdown

FrontDoorThese days, walking out the front door to go for a stroll is a scary business. The solitary flowering daffodil immediately in my line of vision is no longer a glorious wonder of spring, rather an ominous siren luring me onto Infection Street. I find myself checking left and right before placing a single foot onto the garden path. You never know, there could be a plague carrier incoming, a milkman or postie. I step out and recce my proposed line of travel equidistance between toxic surfaces shuttering my short driveway – the wall, the car, the tree trunk. For a brief moment they appear to be a gauntlet bubbling with millions of agitated Covids, hairy microscopic golf balls, bouncing against each other and chattering in excited anticipation. “Here he comes!”

ThankYouSignIt doesn’t last long; doorway to pavement is but a dozen paces yet the fear is tangible and horribly unnerving. I check that the road and pavements are clear then stride towards the white line, turning left to follow it, proceeding down the centre of the road to the snicket that leads to my R&R destination. Barely a handful of people are out promenading, undoubtedly feeling equally freaked out, eyes scanning the tarmac as if to look up and acknowledge me might risk impregnation, by or from. I’m feeling bold by now and cheerfully hail them. They immediately respond and positively beam, waving as if we’ve all just received a swift immunisation shot. Strange days…

ThisWillPassMy designated R&R has been to engage in a spot of guerrilla gardening in the wetlands located at the bottom of our estate. These were created maybe eight years ago to mitigate the Daybrook flooding, a small stream that used to rush straight down a culvert running along the side of what was then scrub land. Issuing from a park less than a mile away, the brook still managed to aggressively overflow, so the corporation sent in contractors to dig a meandering course and redirect the flow. Then they just walked away, leaving a pretty unsightly mess, which I presume they believed would soon grow into some kind of attractive wilderness. It didn’t.

Six years ago I started pushing willow whips into the sodden earth to add a little height to the reed beds that had indeed germinated, but the snaking brook quickly became a pond then a lake that now hosts a range of waterfowl including herons and egrets. Little or no attention has been paid to the area by the city gardeners responsible for it, and you simply can’t leave willow to grow and grow, not when they are next to a public footpath. Sooner than later heavy branches are going to come crashing down. They don’t call it crack willow for nothing!

So I’ve set myself the task of pollarding and coppicing, and building a solid winrow, an activity I can safely perform for a couple of hours each day by isolating off my section of the path. Despite blocking either end with felled branches and despite an alternative route that is anything but inconvenient, wouldn’t you know that some idiots still insist on forging their way into my exclusion zone.

But from a distance my work is clearly appreciated by those taking their legal constitutional in the wetlands. If I get away with it, I might just continue as I’ve started and sort out the whole darn place. One week on from the lockdown, seems I’ll have plenty of time for it.

A small gallery showing the growth before and after, and the winrow. It is very rewarding to see the young shoots sprouting. By this time next year (in time for the next Covid lockdown?) there will be willow whips ideal for bean poles and a conical sweet pea climbing frame.

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Walkin’ the Dawg

(2013-02-20 16-43-40)Canon Canon PowerShot A640 (2272x1704)For some months now I have been without a dog. Our lovely Border Collie, Suzi, had to be ‘put down’ (where does that dreadful expression come from?) when the pain of her arthritis and our pain at watching her suffer became too great. It was a merciful and gentle act that took place at home with her cradled in our arms. In dog years, she was ninety-eight and she was with us for seventy-seven of those, in and out of canoes, up and down mountains, proud of her buoyancy aid and panniers. Naturally she has left a gaping hole in our lives, but what I most miss is the early morning ‘walkies’, generally around an hour and mostly through local woodlands.

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You would imagine it isn’t difficult to maintain that routine dog-less, particularly in view of the benefits of starting every day with a therapeutic plunge into what the Japanese call ‘forest bathing’. But it has become all too noticeable that Suzi spurred us to put in miles that have now vanished from our weekly walking tally, and mind, body and soul are suffering as a consequence.

Of course the simple solution is to get another dog, but the one thing owning a mutt in the UK inhibits is international travel, particularly now that the dumb-arsed Brits have been suckered into leaving the EU. We are certainly ready to adopt a successor to Suzi, but have agreed to knock off a few foreign adventures first, making do with borrowing Elsa (another Border Collie) from a pal as often as doesn’t seem pushy.

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Returning to the fold of early morning dog walkers, I have noticed a sudden proliferation in ‘professional’ dog walkers, with their compartmentalised white vans (liveried with crass Disney cartoons and dreadful business tags like ‘Woofer-Walker’), their belts laden with more pouches than a Community Copper, and their wilting leaflets stapled to the first tree out of the car park. I have also noticed that the dogs they walk do not look happy dogs, but then I wouldn’t be too chuffed if I had to share my morning (and possibly evening) constitutional in close proximity to some loud-mouthed klutz who was up his own arse!

But what is it with people who own a dog but don’t stoop to walking their presumably beloved pet? Why get the beast in the first place? What do they do with them – pat them on the head when they come in from work, bung ‘em a bowl of Winalot and send them to their bed while Mummy and Daddy slob out to ‘Strictly…’ and a G&T?

Foxcovet.RaysF’crying out loud, get up an hour earlier and walk the bloody animal yourself! Get the exercise, smell the dew. I don’t care if it’s cold and dark, some of my most memorable ‘walkies’ have been in the ludicrously early hours, catching the sunrise, watching the mist burn off, glimpsing the badgers turning in for their ‘night’. Certainly Suzi never minded. The important thing for her was that she was with us, retriever of sticks, chaser of tree rats, and one of an exclusive pack.

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Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol

Arnos.7.One of the most enjoyable promenades a city walker can make has to be around the urban cemeteries that largely came into existence during the Victorian period, particularly if a respectable chunk of the graveyard has fallen into disrepair and been overrun by nature. Aside from the joy and tranquility of escaping the noise and eye-clutter of the urban environment, a wander around last resting places is a stroll through a people’s history of the locale, as expressed not only by the dedications engraved into the memorials but the very nature of the architecture of headstones, catacombs and obelisques, and the bric-a-brac some authorities still allow relatives to leave for the departed. By the mid-20th century, many of our town cemeteries were full to capacity and legislation to permit cremation was passed to provide an alternative, so the history is a snapshot of little more than the 150 year transition from Victorian to Modern via two world wars and various colonial conflicts. It is a period that marked the rise of the middle class, the entrepeneur and professional, and they weren’t going to leave their mortal coil without making sure people remembered them through the grand monuments they left behind. That the plot next door was to be occupied by a mere commoner or worse, a paupers’ grave where cadavers were stacked one one top of another was beyond their control.

Possibly the most evocative urban cemetery outside of London is the 45 acres of Arnos Vale in the heart of Bristol, particularly if visitied on a crisp and foggy winters day. Tumbling down a hillside, it is a beautifully ramshackle and  neglected place, laced with muddy desire lines and winding paths, teeming with wonderful woodland plants and wildlife, and studded with fascinating memorials. Grim though it is and looking a lot like a steam-punk version of The Iron Giant, there is even an early furnace in the bowls of the café that I recommend starting with, just to get you in the mood!

Find out more here.

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Neat Street Ideas

MiniBrash
Spotted on an estate in Sherwood, Nottingham, is this miniature brash pile at the foot of one of the many lime trees lining the avenues (known as ‘the Dales’). The adjacent garden featured a lovely ramshackle corner of chopping-block-sized trunks, sculptural logs and rotting wood meshed together by English ivy and bristling grasses. Somebody knows their bugs and loves their birds.

You can never have enough rotting wood lying around in the city, particularly brash piles that provide habitat for a greater variety of tasty insects than a single large log or pile of  the same. These are the handy take-aways for local bird life, and the idea of an inconspicuous little pile like this at the foot of the tree that provides all the building materials is brilliant. It can’t have taken any longer than five minutes to build from the mess of twigs and tree litter found at the base, materials that would otherwise be crushed out of existence or swept away by Man or flood. It’s hard enough for a bird to survive on our city streets, so anything that helps…

On this avenue it is evidently working. In the handful of minutes it took me to walk it, I heard or saw blackbirds, sparrows in abundance, pigeons, doves, tits galore,  magpies, robins, a sparrow hawk, tree-creeper and woodpecker.

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Guide Stoops of Derbyshire

E13.GS2Anybody who has walked the moors of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire (in them, rather than round their edges) will appreciate how easy it is to get ‘turned around’ on a dull day offering poor visibility. In bad weather, when you can’t see a hand in front of your face, they can be treacherous, though these days steering as straight a course as possible will see you to a tarmac road and feeling safe within a maximum of two or three hours of walking.

As recently as a hundred years ago, crossing the moors by anything other than a valley road was a tricky business, even following tracks. The earliest road signs appeared as a result of pressure from cycling organisations in the 1880s and any way posts that appeared where cyclists didn’t ride were locally knocked-up, painted wood constructions with short lifespans. In the sandstone regions of the Midland’s moors the solution was tall stone pillars engraved with the nearest town facing your direction of travel, and maybe a three-fingered pointing hand.

This short film is an armchair stroll around what are called ‘guide stoops’. At six minutes thirty, it is a little longer than necessary but the wonderful original music composed by Duncan Ward has made it worth adding a postscript about the modern ‘companion stones’ recently created by local artists. Duncan composed the piece in memory of his grandfather, who enjoyed nothing better than stomping around the moors. It’s called Greenhurst Way, the name of the street where his grandpa lived.

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Welbeck Holloway

 

SandstoneRoots.lowresA holloway is a footpath or trackway that time has worn down until its bed is dramatically lower than the surrounding land such that it is now flanked by sizeable banks if not small cliff faces. Frequently carved into an escarpment and usually indicative of an historic thoroughfare, the agents of erosion will have been animal hoofs, feet and the steel tyres of cartwheels plus, of course, run-off from downpours. In wet weather and during thaws, many become appreciable streams. In storm conditions, I have struggled up holloways that were indistinguishable from local brooks in full flood. Due to their narrow width, few have been paved for modern traffic, though Holloway Hill in Godalming is a a fine example of one that is asphalted. If wide enough to take a tractor, as in the case of the local holloway near Hartswell Farm on the minor road linking the A6097 to Edingley, they are generally private farm tracks widened by agricultural plant. More often than not holloways have become narrow strips of wilderness – tangles of brambles, nettles, bracken and dead wood, impenetrable unless you have a machete handy – and often look like a chaotic hedge row from a distance. Of course these thickets remain functional thoroughfares, but for nature rather than us lot.

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By virtue of the sandstone much of the county sits on, Nottinghamshire has a number of holloways worth seeking out, though to stumble across them is more rewarding. One certainly worth the extra effort runs southeast of Welbeck Estate’s strangely named South Lodge (which isn’t south of the estate). Boasting a wonderfully gothic display of tree roots and a gallery of inscribed graffiti, it carries what is now know as the Robin Hood Way but has much longer been known as Drinking Pit Lane, for some unknown reason. Presumably once an extension of Broad Lane to its west, the bridleway carves through the soft rock of Busaco ridge (named after the 1810 battle the Sherwood Foresters were engaged in during the Peninsular Wars) and heads off towards Clumber Park, past a ruin that once was a forester worker’s cottage.

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While you are there, it’s worth having a poke about South Lodge, where people still live, so be discreet. The fifth duke of Welbeck, one William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinct, a triple barrelled aristo, aka the Marquis of Titchfield, was a bit of a recluse and something of a fruitcake. He built a warren of underground tunnels, hollows, apartments and even a ballroom beneath his estate. If he travelled anywhere, it was often in disguise and always in a curtained carriage. Let’s just say the man had issues, but you will see one of the grand entrances to his subterranean world between the two wings of the lodge. The woodland is now owned by the county council after an appeal for the rightful owners in the Sixties failed to produce any claimants.

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Mushroom Foraging

ParasolMushy.12017 has been an exceptional year for foraging. We are now in the tail end of autumn and the mushroom season should be coming to an end. But where I pick my dinner, it seems they just keep on raising their curious heads, demanding to be plucked. We’ve been eating Parasols and Shaggy Parasols ( macrolepiota procera and macrolepiota rhacodes respectively) for a good three months now, and they’ve been more delicious than in previous years, possibly because this year the rain has fallen in this country at all the wrong times!

Some of the tufts on the cap will wash off, but it's not imperative you remove them. They're edible.

Some of the tufts on the cap will wash off, but it’s not imperative you remove them. They’re edible.

Quite rightly, the Brits are very cautious about foraging for mushrooms, entirely because the tradition and ability to identify the safe varieties has been lost. If you find a woodland that’s been cleared, it will probably be the Eastern Europeans who are enjoying the fruits of the harvest. Those I meet laden with produce are continually surprised at our refusal to trust anything not packaged in a plastic tray and clingfilm, and sold through a supermarket. Yet edible varieties aren’t that difficult to identify if you forage with an excellent handbook like the Collins Nature Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools. And there is a failsafe – when frying them, if the oil turns yellow, chuck ’em!

 

Parasol Mushrooms before they open out.

Parasol Mushrooms before they open out.

I have a preference for Parasols because they are scrummy fried with a few onions and garlic, but equally excellent in stews where they soak up flavours and are chewy, reminding me of the beef I ate before turning veggie. For somebody like myself who is colourblind, they are also so easy to identify. Remove the stalks, give them a good rinse (and you can squeeze them like a cloth to wring out the water) then chop. If you pick them before they open out, when they are shaped like a fat sausage, they can be stuffed and baked. Otherwise, go for the open ones that have brilliant white gills underneath. They’re at their freshest.

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Little Ironies

One of the many delights of walking are the little ironies one sees and sometimes photograph while on the hoof. Below are a few of my recent smiles that kept me buoyant while my tootsies were throbbing…

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Recommended Read No.1

There are 1,001 books on walks and walking, but you don’t need to plough through very many before it becomes evident that there are less than a dozen classics authors reference or quote from time and again, when they have a mind to. Pump a ‘Ten Best…’ enquiry into your search engine and you’ll find a few lurking among the raft of recommended titles that, quite honestly, don’t deserve to sit on the same shelf, but I would like to occasionally draw attention to titles that never make the lists, despite being superb reads.

So imagine one day you set off on your favourite local walk only to find, half way round, your way is blocked. A bunch of foreign nationals are building a whole new village of ugly blockhouses and dumping the crap that generates into what used to be a lovely little valley rich in wildlife. Based on a proclamation made over 3,000 years ago recorded 2,000 years ago in a book that contains as much fantasy as fact, the aliens claim ownership of the land, regardless of the legal rights of the actual owners and your public rights of way, not to mention that they happen to be in your country illegally, according to the highest court on the planet.

No-go for Palestinian hillwalkers

No-go for Palestinian hillwalkers

As fast as a house is completed, people from their nation are moving in. Their sanitation system has yet to be sorted and raw sewage now flows into another dingly dell you cherished. With only half the village occupied, human waste is already overflowing into the first lovely little valley. In time you realise this is happening all around your town. You are being surrounded by foreign strongholds, your footpaths are disappearing, you can’t get out. Like lawyer-turned-author, Raja Shehadeh, you feel increasingly trapped and time has whittled your anger down to despair and now defeat. But you refuse to lie down and can still make your voice heard. You write Palestinian Walks.

Illegal settlements that despoil their own Biblical landscape

Illegal settlements that despoil their own Biblical landscape

Shehadeh takes us on seven sarhat (plural of sarha, literally meaning ‘aimless stroll’) outside his home of Ramallah and waxes lyrically on the beauty of the barren hills and verdant wadies, the old shepherds’ bothies (qasr) and shambling walls built from fossil-encrusted boulders – the landscape of the Bible that Western authors like Mark Twain and Thackeray found so boringly desolate. That in itself is telling, as are the lives of the people Shehadeh knows who have farmed the hills for generations. But overlaid is the sad and harrowing story of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, its seizure of Palestinian land and the despoiling of the highlands with concrete settlements, dead straight military roads, no-go areas and The Wall.

The beautiful arid landscape of the Jerusalem desert

The beautiful arid landscape of the Jerusalem desert

It is a fascinating, humbling read that induces anger and astonishment at the audacity of the international crime while making you deeply appreciative of your own freedom to walk and breathe in the British countryside. Shehadeh is a human rights lawyer who tried to fight Israel’s land grab using their own marshal laws in defence of his Arab clients. Time and again he lost in their courts, and he was always going to, but the loser Shehadeh most expresses fears for is his cherished Palestinian landscape.

Ironically, the Zionists who claim the land is theirs by divine right are turning the Holy Land into a social, political and environmental hellhole that stinks of shit. Meanwhile the international community sits on its hands or, in the case of America, throws billions of bucks at the fundamentalists’ cause.

* Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh (pub: Profile Books)

 

 

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