About this Blog

This blog reflects our twin interests in walking and natural history, especially botany.

"Ich wandle unter Blumen

Und blühe selber mit ..."

Heinrich Heine

Walking is important to us as a way of being in direct touch with the environment, experiencing species and habitats in their ecological and historical context. By walking between different flower sites we experience the character of the general countryside, getting to know as much where flowers are not as where they are. Walking allows for the serendipitous - chance encounters with animals, meetings with local people, unexpected species - which enrich the experience.

We set up this blog to share a variety of mainly day-long walks centred on "iconic" flower sites and locations of rare plants, where these are publicly accessible. The accounts include descriptions of the routes taken, key plants seen, other wildlife encountered, and anything of general environmental or historical interest. All the walks allow time for looking around (some flowers need searching for), photography etc, and usually include a half-way stop for refreshment at some suitable establishment. The walks are seasonal, depending on the flowering/fruiting times of different species, although one cannot hit the peak time for all species seen on one walk, and the best timings will vary from year to year. Lengths vary but the walks may be anything up to 12 miles or more, so an early start is recommended.

A certain knowledge of our flora is assumed, but those less familiar should be able to identify most of the plants mentioned with the help of one of the good field guides - Blamey, Fitter and Fitter Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland (A&C Black) or Francis Rose The Wild Flower Key (Warne) - although occasionally recourse may be needed to more technical tomes such as Clive Stace New Flora of the British Isles (Cambridge) or the specialist volumes published by BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) on grasses, sedges, umbellifers etc.

While examining plants it is interesting to note the galls, leaf-mines and fungi (rusts etc) that are often specific to particular taxa. For galls we use Redfern and Shirley British Plant Galls, for leaf-mines http://www.ukflymines.co.uk/ (which also includes lepidopteran and other mines), and for fungi Ellis and Ellis Microfungi on Land Plants, although this is a technical tome rather than a field guide.

Our completed walk around the coast and borders of England is described on http://www.coastwalking.blogspot.co.uk/ and our current walk around the coast of Wales is on http://www.coastwalkwales.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 29 August 2016

London: Barnes to Hammersmith

16 August 2016
All day

From Ravenscourt Park tube-station we walked north up Ravenscourt Road, under the railway bridge, immediately turning left along an alley leading to the Park itself.  On the way we started registering the usual London "weeds" including Annual mercury Mercurialis annua and Guernsey fleabane Conyza floribunda.  In the park a plane Platanus x hispanica, isolated from the neighbouring avenues of trees, stood out for its very broad trunk and low height.  We measured the bole at 8.8m, which is a remarkable size, especially as the tree is said to be only 120 years old.  The story is that it was hit by a bomb in the London blitz in World War II.  It would seem that the blast removed the upper part and branches, so that the tree responded by putting on extra girth as well as sprouting new branches after being effectively pollarded.  It is certainly a notable and unique tree. 

The Ravenscourt Park Plane

More casuals were added to the list, such as Black nightshade Solanum nigrum and Wall barley Hordeum murinum.  The southern part of the park is plain grass, but the northern section has some gardens and lakes (with Canada geese), while there is a good range of planted tree species of different ages. 

Ravenscourt Park lake

A recent addition is a carving made from a dead tree stump in 2012 by Shane Green representing basketball in celebration of the London Olympics, topical on this day as the Rio 2016 Olympics were in progress.


Just outside the park at its NE corner stands The Oak pub, named after the tree that gave rise to the district name "Acton".

The Oak (not Quercus robur)

Unfortunately we could not find any surviving native oaks Quercus robur in the Park - there were plenty of oaks but all aliens - Turkey oak Quercus cerris, Evergreen oak Q. ilex, Turkish hazel Corylus colurna, and Red oak Q. rubra.  The last comprised a group in the SW corner, reached by passing an example of Turkish hazel Corylus colurna, which has remarkable large nuts surrounded by laciniate sepals and bracts (unfortunately the nuts are not very good to eat).

Turkish hazel

We left the park southwards via side streets towards the Thames, but first had to surmount the massive barrier of the dual-carriageway Great West Road.  Fortunately there was a subway a hundred yards to our left.  The verge along here was interesting with abundant Dwarf mallow Malva neglecta, plus Vervain Verbena officinalis and Pellitory-of-the-wall Parietaria judaica.

Dwarf mallow, Great West Road

Having crossed the GWR and put the deafening drone of traffic behind us, we found ourselves on the Thames embankment, here called Upper Mall.  This is a popular weekend and summer walk (at least when the sun shines), as evidenced by such facilities as the Caribbean-tinged Rum Shack.

Unfortunately, there were no coconut palms, flamboyant trees or frangipani along here, although there was an exotic display of passion-flower Passiflora caerulea clambering over one garden wall.

The bankside vegetation was the usual Thames community of Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicara, Gypsywort Lycopus europaeus, Marsh yellow-cress Rorippa palustris, Red valerian Valeriana dioica, Buddleia Buddleja davidii, Hemlock water-dropwort Oenanthe crocata, Alder Alnus glutinosa, Hairy Michaelmas-daisy Aster novae-angliae, Yellow corydalis Pseudofumaria lutea, Water mint Mentha aquatica, Wild angelica Angelica sylvestris (with leaf-mines of the fly Euleia heraclei), Shaggy soldier Galinsoga quadriradiata, and Oxford ragwort Senecio squalidus.  Walls and pavements also yielded Mind-your-own-business Soleirolia soleirolii, Snow-in-summer Cerastium tomentoides, and Mexican fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus.

Thames-side vegetation of purple loosestrife, water mint and wild angelica

Pied wagtail and mallard enjoyed the water, which is part of a classic Thames rowing stretch and we were often passed by singles skulls and fours of young people, training no doubt with the next Olympics of Tokyo 2020 in mind.  The island of Chiswick Eyot divided the river into two channels along this reach.

A training four along the Thames, with Hammersmith Bridge obscured by modern buildings in the background.

We left the embankment at Church Street for a brief diversion to Hogarth Lane, which meant passing the GWR again, although this time it was a flyover and we had to negotiate a large roundabout beneath it.  The road verges were again interesting because of the presence of the coastal Lesser sea-spurrey Spergularia marina, well-established presumably because of the application of road-salt.  A few steps along Hogarth Lane led to Hogarth's House, where William Hogarth once lived.  Being just after noon, this property was open (entry is free), and we were able to visit the walled garden (invisible from outside) where there grows an old Black mulberry Morus nigra, somewhat reduced from its heyday represented in an old photo and propped up on crutches, but still bearing fruit abundantly.

Black mulberry, Hogarth's House

We returned to the Thames embankment, where the path led us through "Dukes Meadows", an area run by a local community group since 1998.  It used to belong to the Duke of Devonshire, who in 1926 constructed a long tiered promenade and bandstand overlooking the Thames, in imitation of Edwardian seaside resorts.  It presumably had a great view over the river but now this is obscured by tall trees that have grown up at the water's edge.  It is now a rather desolate public park.

Dukes Meadow

There is a row of young planted European white elms Ulmus laevis, whose leaves in some cases had the tall club-shaped fig galls of the aphid Tetraneura ulmi.  Otherwise the only botanical interest was along the riverbank, with Drooping sedge Carex pendula, the gross alien Himalayan blackberry Rubus armeniacus, Hop Humulus lupulus, Midland hawthorn Crataegus laevigata, and Black horehound Ballota nigra.  Leaves of a sycamore were attractively patterned white by the powdery mildew Erysiphe platani

Midland hawthorn

Hop in flower

Mildew patterns on sycamore leaves

We reached Barnes Bridge, which has a walkway beside the railway line, so that we could cross the river to Barnes Bridge station, observing a cormorant in the Thames below.

Thames north from Barnes Bridge

We continued south then along the other side (south bank) of the Thames, adding Ivy-leaved toadflax Cymbalaria muralis and Trailing bellflower Campanula poscharskyana on the walls and, beside the river, Pale persicaria Persicaria lapathifolia, Indian balsam Impatiens glandulifera and Hybrid black poplar Populus x canadensis.  We walked as far as Mortlake Green, where we made a slight detour to the "Green" itself, a small park with only minor trees, including an odd cherry that was presumably the result of grafting.

We continued to Chiswick Bridge, where we re-crossed the river and returned to Barnes Bridge on the other side.

Mortlake Green from Chiswick Bridge

Back at Barnes Bridge station we went north and left the river east along the High Street, at the end of which is green space beside Station Road leading to Barnes Common.  On this section we recorded Wild clary Salvia verbenaca, Hedgerow cranesbill Geranium pyrenaicum, Black mustard Brassica nigra, Bristly oxtongue Picris echioides, Horse-radish Armoracia rusticana, and Green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens.  Crossing a stream we entered Barnes Common at its NW corner and immediately came across the flattened, keeled spikelets of California brome Ceratochloa carinata, which is now common along the Thames in London and as far as Oxford after escaping from Kew.

California brome

The common is very acid grassland, now much scrubbed over, still with plenty of broom Cytisus scoparius, but not otherwise of great interest at this time of year.  After some exploration we left the common at its northernmost point and walked up Rocks Lane to Queen Elizabeth Walk, which took us to the London Wetland Centre.  This is a man-made park from old gravel diggings and so the flora is mostly planted (e.g. Butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus and Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata), but some might also have invaded - Marsh woundwort Stachys palustris, Water dock Rumex hydrolapathum, Common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica and Hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum are all possibly native.

Marsh woundwort, bogbean leaves (and a moorhen)

Some inhabitants of bare ground, however, were almost certainly natural invaders, taking advantage of the disturbance: Stone parsley Sison amomum, Common cudweed Filago vulgaris and Small nettle Urtica urens.  The centre is, however, focused on its bird life and visiting parties, with overtones of a small zoo or wildlife park and all the facilities that go with that.  There are bird-watching hides beside the large lakes, but there was little beyond the common native water-birds to be seen at this time of the year - herons, coots, moorhens, and mallards. 

London Wetland Centre


Apart from Emperor dragonflies and raucous Ring-necked parakeets, without which no visit to a London park is complete these days, we found most interest in displays of captive birds and Asian short-clawed otters, with lots of photographic opportunities.

Short-clawed otters

White-naped cranes

Juvenile mandarim duck


Emperor geese

As closing time approached we made our way back to the entrance and continued east on Queen Elizabeth Walk to the embankment of the Thames once more.  We walked north towards Hammersmith Bridge, seeing more California brome and adding further records of aliens and garden escapes: Tomato Lycopersicon esculentum, Least yellow sorrel Oxalis exilis, the introduced hairy variety of Black nightshade Solanum nigrum schultzii (now common in London), Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Common Michaelmas-daisy Aster x salignus and Pelargonium x hortorum variety 'Nano Apple-blossom'. 
Pelargonium x hortorum

To these could be added a row of fine planted Grey poplars Populus x canescens, which have distinct blackish lenticels dotting their grey bark. 

Grey poplar

Above us loomed the vast former warehouse that used to be Harrods Furniture Depository, now turned into flats, as we came into sight of Hammersmith Bridge and the shell of Riverside Studios under reconstruction, overtopped by a huge crane. 

Former Harrods furniture store

Hammersmith Bridge

Riverside Studios

Crossing the bridge, we ascended Queen Caroline Street for a meal at The Gate restaurant before catching the tube at Hammersmith.

Garden at The Gate (and the ironwork gate)

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