Tigers in the bushes

Jersey Tiger Moth Underside tiger in the undergrowth

Lee Tiger and friend Jersey tiger moth

It’s been a while since I blogged, one way and another. Most recently (since June 22, I think), I’ve been laid up with a dodgy back, unable to cycle, sit or take public transport. After the first week the severity lessened, and I’ve been able to take shortish daily walks to local parks where I’ve become pretty obsessed with the variety of wildlife populating S E London.

Most of all, I’ve been noticing the spread of the beautiful Jersey Tiger Moth, Euplagia quadripunctaria. I’d never seen one before, and now I’ve seen 10, all within a short distance of the local railways. They were formerly regarded as a South Coast species in the UK, but a population is thought to have established itself in the Devonshire Road nature reserve in 2004, and they seem to have spread from there. There is a suggestion that they have spread by the railway, and the locations of my sightings would support the hypothesis.

Other London sightings:


North by Northwest

“I am but mad north–north–west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

Heron nest at Manor House Gardens

We saw no hawks today, but we got a good view of ‘handsaws’ – or hernshaws – young herons, and a bird the sight of which might have given Hamlet reason to doubt his sanity – parakeets.

Monk parakeets, to be precise. 21st Century London boasts thousands of parakeets, but the vast majority are rose-ringed parakeets, with a sprinkling of co-roosting Alexandrines. Only in one isolated spot – Mudchute Park on the Isle of Dogs – can you find monk parakeets.

These birds were the object of our ride today – a quick spin from Catford to Greenwich via Manor House Gardens, then through the foot tunnel and into Mudchute Park. We didn’t know exactly where to look for the parakeets, but went to the City Farm, and there, in a tree above the pygmy goats, opposite the Gloucester Old Spots and Light Sussex chickens, we caught our first glimpse of them.

monk parakeet
Monk parakeet at Mudchute Park

It was the first of many. Unlike rose-ringed parakeets, who nest in tree-holes, monks build vast communal nests of twigs which they deliberately cut from trees with their secateur-like bills. They were building very assiduously today, and we got lots of excellent views of their behaviour on the woody banks to the south of the farm.

As we left the park, Molecule Man noticed some memorials at the edge of the allotments to the east of the farm. They were rather poignant personal tributes to local people including air raid wardens Johnny Hills and Frank Bernard Kemp, who were killed when their shelter received a direct hit during the Second World War.

Memorial in Mudchute Allotments

By this point, evening was drawing on, and we’d worked up a thirst, which we slaked at the Gun in Coldharbour, then cycled home, pleased to have got another “tick” for the “London Borough Challenge” (Tower Hamlets).

I have a backlog of trips to write up – a ramble up the River Lea, taking in parts of Waltham Forest and Hackney, and a walk from Highgate Wood to Shoreditch, along the Holloway Road in Islington. But that will have to wait until next week – I’m off to Lisbon for the weekend.

Bom dia!

View our route at bikely.com

Death and Dabchicks in Hackney

My mission for March was to visit Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest. I don’t know any of these boroughs well – I’ve cycled the length of the Regent’s Canal, and walked part of it. I’ve skirted the southern borders of Islington and Hackney, been to the dogs at Walthamstow, and skated at Lee Valley, but that’s about the extent of my experience.

It’s not easy to decide on a starting point for these trips into the unknown, but I have a bit of a fascination with cemeteries. It may sound morbid, but it’s not really. London’s cemeteries provide refuges for wildlife, and were planned as park-like open spaces. I do love the cemetery clichés of mournful angels and crumbling headstones, but there’s more than that – the names provide a window on the population history of the area, and each cemetery shows distinctive local styles of stonemasonry.

Abney Park’s disused non-denominational chapel.

Traditionally, London’s premier cemeteries are known as the “Magnificent Seven”. The only two I hadn’t yet visited were Abney Park and Highgate. I’ve always been slightly put off by Highgate’s “Theme Park Death” marketing, though I do hope to visit it soon, but Abney Park seemed like the ideal starting point for a stroll through Hackney.

another satisfied customer

Abney Park was designed as a cemetery, park and arboretum. It was London’s first fully non-denominational cemetery, and as such attracted many protestant non-conformists, including General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. Its twentieth century history is the familiar tale of overcrowding, disuse and re-birth as a nature reserve, and today it’s a popular place for locals to stroll and walk their dogs.

We saw quite a variety of birds, including goldcrests, and heard woodpeckers calling. There were plenty of interesting memorials, but the light wasn’t especially kind to us until just as we were ready to leave.


We headed north and west through the heavily Orthodox Jewish area of Stamford Hill. The houses could be in any part of suburban London, but it felt quite exotic – people of this ethnic / religious group are uncommon in our area.

We joined the footpath by the New River near the West Reservoir, came out by the Castle Climbing Centre and meandered into Clissold Park, where we watched a dabchick furiously diving for food. It’s amazing how much time they can spend underwater.

Canoe Storage by the West Reservoir.

The light was going, and we had a concert to go to, so we cut west towards Islington, and down through Highbury Fields before a well-earned pint at the Cock Tavern at Highbury Corner.


All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon’s walk. We know we’ve barely scraped the surface of Hackney, and will surely be back to explore more fully, but I’m beginning to link up some of the areas of North London in my mind now.

See our route at bikely.com

The Kingdom by the Sea

“England, of course, resembles a pig, with something on its back. Look at it. It is a hurrying pig; its snout is the south-west in Wales, and its reaching trotters are Cornwall, and its rump is East Anglia. The whole of Britain looks like a witch riding on a pig, and these contours – rump and snout and bonnet, and the scowling face of Western Scotland – were my route.”

Paul Theroux The Kingdom by the Sea 1983.

Bedraggled ten-year-old t-shirt

In 1999, MM and I attempted the most clichéd journey in Britain – the End-to-End. We started at the ‘wrong’ end, John O’ Groats, planning to cycle to Cornwall in time for the Total Eclipse on August 11.

I say ‘planning’, but in reality, our plans were rather poor. I injured my knee on the first day, but we stupidly continued, making it worse day-by-day, until we had to bail out and take the train for large chunks of the route. We did get to see the Eclipse – well, as far as that was possible through the thick black clouds – but have always planned to go back and do the trip ‘properly’.

Carn Brea, Cornwall, England. August 1999.

So ten years on, we’re giving it another bash – starting at Land’s End this time. We haven’t got a date yet, and we’re yet to figure out routes, distances, time-frames etc, but it’ll almost certainly be soon after the end of MM’s summer term.

One thing is certain, we both need to get fit and make some proper weekend cycle trips before then.

Camden Crawl

Fish Bar

There are London boroughs that are vast blank sheets of paper to me. Enfield, Redbridge, Bexley… I know virtually nothing about these areas, and almost any trip into them will be a completely new experience.

Then there are the boroughs and areas I know very well – the City, Southwark, Lewisham and so on. There, my challenge is to find pockets that I haven’t explored. I’m sure there are streets within a mile of my house that I’ve never walked down – Rob Winton’s blog on walking all the streets of SE23 is an object lesson in how much there is to discover in your local patch.

And then there’s Camden. Notoriously diverse, it stretches from Hampstead in the North via the gentility of Belsize Park and Primrose Hill, swirling through the chaos of Camden Town to Bloomsbury.

I know parts of Camden pretty well – MM works at Birkbeck, and I’ve had courses at Hampstead and at various locations in Bloomsbury, but the central swathe – including ‘Camden’ itself – I’ve skimmed by only briefly.

So for my Camden challenge, I took Birkbeck as my starting point, and headed north until I was half-tired, and then back south. I had no special sights in mind. No museums, cemeteries or nightspots. Just a winter afternoon stroll to make the missing links between places I knew.

I was in a mood to be distracted by minutiae – the patterns formed by drain covers, tiling, shop lettering, architectural details, urban decay and encroaching nature.


My memory card came home full of these (see my flickrset), along with the predictable Camden clichés – the Black Cat cigarette factory, the Roundhouse, numerous tat emporia, diverse graffiti, and…

Mornington Crescent.

Mornington Crescent

Enfield Chase


Valentine’s Day – champagne, chocolates, a single perfect rose, candlelit dinner à deux – or a tube trip to Cockfosters to explore the London Borough of Enfield with Mondoagogo

No contest!

I know virtually nothing about Enfield, so this was a true voyage of discovery. Mondo suggested a visit to the Museum of Domestic Architecture and Forty Hall, and with no suggestions of our own, Molecule Man and I were happy to go along with this.

We took the Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters Station – a rather lovely synthesis of concrete and brick, with a Hopperesque diner.


station diner

A small parade of shops had a great array of lettering and signage – a bit of an obsession for all of us, while a potentially dull call centre along the main road redeemed itself with a graceful curve, making a surprisingly fetching photograph.

Oh you

Cockfosters Call Centre

The entrance to the Museum of Domestic Architecture was slightly tricky to find, but this small museum is well worth a visit. One of the things I love about museums with a 20th Century emphasis is the potential to bring back memories – “my mum had one of those…” But my favourite photographs from the museum were abstracts of the fixtures of the museum itself.

Light at MODA

Next, we hopped on a double-decker to make the trip to Forty Hall – like something out of a Jane Austen novel transplanted into suburban North London. It boasted some wonderfully ugly carvings, and engaging displays of 20th century childhood pursuits, advertising ephemera, ceramics of variable quality and assorted kitschy tat.

Forty Hall

The Borough of Haringey was on our February Borough Challenge list, so we got a bus to Wood Green, changing at Enfield Town. It was a bit dark by the time we got there, so I’d like to go back for a more comprehensive photo-stroll, but I managed to grab a few shots of the tube station, and got mildly admonished for my pains by a London Transport employee.

Wood Green
Wood Green Tube Station

Finally, we got the tube back to Central London. Soho was heaving with romantically-inclined couples – we had entirely forgotten it was Valentine’s Night. We found a table at Café Em’s, decked out with primly closed daffodil buds and heart-shaped balloons with an unfortunate resemblance to comedy breasts.

So all in all, an interesting jaunt for Valentine’s Day – but I’m still waiting for my flowers and chocolate.

London Borough Challenge

One of my favorite flickr groups is London by Londoners. As its name implies, it is confined to those who live or have lived in London, and it attracts many of London’s best flickr photographers.

A recent discussion in the group suggested a challenge to photograph the 32 Boroughs of London and the City of London within the space of a year:

London Borough Map

February – Camden, Haringey, Enfield
March – Islington, Hackney, Waltham Forest
April – Tower Hamlets, Newham, Redbridge
May – City, Barking, Havering
June – Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley
July – Southwark, Lewisham, Croydon
August – Lambeth, Merton, Sutton
September – Wandsworth, Kingston, Richmond
October – Hammersmith, Hounslow, Hillingdon
November – Kensington and Chelsea, Ealing, Harrow
December – Westminster, Brent, Barnet.

Disappointingly few have taken up the challenge, but I enjoy having a framework to encourage me to get up and explore parts of my city I’ve never seen. I may change the order around in coming months, but in February, I tackled Camden, Haringey and Enfield, and in March, I’ve visited Islington and Hackney and have a few more days to hit Waltham Forest.

I will be using this blog to chronicle my travels.