Autumnal Ambles

I love this time of year. The nights are drawing in, there’s the faint smell of bonfires in the air, trees are starting to flame and the pavements are littered with golden brown leaves and spiky conker shells. There is still plenty of warm sunshine around, and there’s no need for a coat just yet; it’s the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors, with nature putting on its final glorious show before the barrenness of winter arrives. Despite the joy Autumn brings me, I have been feeling a bit hemmed in of late; I don’t go out after school much because I have lots of work to do, and due to not growing up here, I don’t really have any local friends. I miss London dreadfully, I can’t deny; even though it’s only half an hour away on a train, it’s not the same as being in the middle of it every day, with everything on my doorstep. This weekend, thanks to a slight lull in my workload, I was able to get sucked back into the maelstrom of London life, and off I went to visit my old flatmate in her new digs in West London.

I don’t know West London at all; I’ve never lived there or known anyone who has lived there, and I haven’t needed to go for work or any other reason, so it’s a region that has remained largely unexplored. Having spent some time there this weekend, I have now fallen in love with it, and can’t wait to discover more. Verity, my old flatmate, loved getting to be tour guide for once (she grew up in Scotland, so guess who used to be the annoying London know-it-all in our relationship?!) and took me to her favourite spot in London – Hammersmith Bridge. A beautiful cast iron construction going over a narrow stretch of the river between Hammersmith and chi-chi, rural, villagey Barnes (basically West London’s Hampstead), it’s a gorgeous bridge to cross as it makes you feel like you’re in the Wind of the Willows or some other idealised vision of British countryside life. The river is lined on one side by trees and woodland, and on the other, by lovely Victorian houses with second floor balconies overlooking the water and pretty little pubs and restaurants where you can sit outside and watch the boats go by. ย  I could hardly believe that I was in London at all. Arriving on the other side, we took the riverside path, which wound through a lovely section of park with overhanging trees in their blaze of autumnal glory, to Putney, where Verity now lives. As we walked, we passed Harrods’ old furniture warehouse (now flats), a street full of wonderful boathouses where local people keep their boats to go out rowing on the river, and so much lovely architecture that I didn’t know where to look after a while. The peace and quiet was astounding, and it was so relaxing to always be in sight of water. It never ceases to amaze me how diverse London is; just a few tube stops away from the thunderous, hectic crowds of Oxford Street is a lifestyle more akin to that I saw when on holiday in Norfolk this summer than that of the typical Londoner. If I had a spare few million pounds to buy a nice flat with a river view at Putney, I’d be there with bells on!

Today, back in the countryside, I was feeling the familiar pang of not being in London; normally, on a London Sunday, I’d take the chance to go and see an exhibition without the usual crowds, or have a potter around the shops. I miss being able to do that. However, I’m not one to wallow in self pity, and after a cup of tea and a read of my excellent book (Guard Your Daughters is just as good as Simon promised) in bed this morning, I got up raring to go and have a day out in the fresh air, exploiting what the local area does have in abundance – namely stunning views across the Downs, lovely country walks and National Trust properties galore. As it was sunny with blue skies, Mum and I decided on Emmett’s Garden, which is just down the road and has six acres of formal gardens, woodland and lawns, all set on a hill with gorgeous views across the surrounding countryside. We had a lovely two hour stroll, wandering off into some neighbouring woodland as well as exploring the gardens, which are just starting to display their autumnal raiments and are glinting with all sorts of shades of red, gold and amber. The woods are carpeted with crunchy leaves already, and we found lots of conkers and pine cones that never fail to take me back to my school days and the joys of the nature table, as well as the anxious rounds of vinegar soaking and freezing and nail varnishing that we went through to ensure conker fight victory in the playground!

We enjoyed our walk so much that we’ve made plans to come back in a couple of weeks with better shoes (ballet pumps aren’t great for walking in muddy lanes, I have discovered) and a map so that we can find our way from Emmett’s over to Toy’s Hill, which is a fantastic vantage point from which to view the Kent countryside, and is also, funnily enough, where my mum went into labour with my sister back in the summer of 1979! The National Trust website says that there is a lovely walk you can do across Toy’s Hill, which celebrates the life of Octavia Hill, Founder of the National Trust, taking in the church where she was buried and the countryside she worked hard to save, and you pass by Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s former home, on your way. So that will be our next adventure. Having such a lovely time locally today made me think that maybe living out in the sticks isn’t as bad as all that. There might not be all the cultural life and retail therapy I had come to take for granted, but there is more to life than museums and shops and restaurants, and I am actually enormously lucky to have acres of beautiful countryside and historical villages and other places of interest all here to enjoy, largely for free, right on my doorstep. If I’m not careful, I may even grow to love it enough to never want to leave…

42 comments

  1. A great post which does justice to a lovely area. Btw Hammersmith Bridge is heart-stoppingly lovely when lit up on a clear night too.

  2. Thanks for taking me with you. I love England so much and wish I could visit. Since that is not possible, going with you on your treks is wonderful……….

  3. Aaah my old part of London. I used to live in Brook Green just between Hammersmith & Shepherd’s Bush. Enjoy your west London visits & autumn.

  4. I’m getting to know Hammersmith Bridge very well. I’m currently living in Roehampton and feel a surge of incredulous joy every time I cross the bridge coming back from central London.

    I’m also enjoying the beautiful autumn weather, and I picked up my first conker this afternoon. Now to be initiated into conker smashing!

    It sounds like you’ve had a really lovely weekend. I really enjoyed Guard Your Daughters, and I’m glad you are, too.

    1. Kate, what are you doing in London?! That’s a surprise! You lucky thing living in such a lovely place!

      Oh yes, you need to have a conker fight with someone!

      Thanks – oh isn’t it wonderful? So glad you’ve read it too!

      1. I’m doing a PGCE at the University of Roehampton. And yes, I’m really lucky to get to live here. It’s beautiful!

      2. You’re teacher training too! Amazing! If you ever fancy meeting up, let me know!๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I’d love to meet up! I’m currently swamped in schemes of work and lesson plans (as I’m sure you understand!), but it would be lovely to get to meet you. We can talk books and students!

  5. What a great picture – that sky! Also, your description of this time of year is beautiful, and the word “bonfires” just made me realize, with delight, that I’m actually going to be in England (on a work trip) for Bonfire Night this year, yay! (I was over last November for work, too, but just afterwards.)

  6. Oh, Rachel, I love it when you take us on your adventures. Between West London and your lovely countryside, I feel as if I’ve been on a journey myself and needing to pull out Wind in the Willows yet again. I know you miss you London, but, it is nice to see you exploring as well. Good for you.

    I have been reading you, Rachel, just not as much time to comment as much as I would like right now. Off to play with the grandkids again this week and just knowing it makes me ask how your darling nephews are doing.

    1. Thanks Penny – you’re so lovely, and I’m glad I could give you the pleasure of going on such a fun journey!

      So pleased you’ve had plenty of time to visit the grankids, Penny – I always read you too, but rarely have time to comment these days, so sorry about that. My nephews are wonderful, thank you so much for asking – I get to see them much more often now and they are really growing up into little men! It’s so lovely to be able to be a real part of their lives now I’m so close by.๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Wow! I missed about 99% of London even tough I’ve been there 7 or 8 times. Maybe someday …….

    Just read the new Pat Barker, Toby’s Room. You MUST read it ASAP especially as a major part of the tale takes place in Sidcup! It is not necessary to read Barker’s book immediately preceding this one in order to appreciate it. I am starting on that book tomorrow.

    By the way, it is way cool that you are a recommended blogger on Persephone’s site. You go girl.

    1. Hahahaha! But there is no part of NYC you don’t know!

      I know, I’ve read it – it’s great, isn’t it? I had quite the shock reading that! Let me know how Life Class is because I read bad reviews so didn’t bother getting hold of it.

      Thanks! I know, isn’t it lovely of them?! x

  8. Your first photo gave me a slight shock — I was brought up in one of those houses overlooking the river, and in fact owned it myself for a few years after my parents died. It’s actually hidden in the picture just behind the tree. The houses are 18th century rather than Victorian, or at least mine was, supposedly originally built about 1713 and rumoured to have been lived in by one of George I’s mistresses, brought over from Germany, though I’ve never been able to discover if there’s any truth in that. It’s been altered a lot over the years of course. I still stay there often as it was bought by a friend of the family who still lives there. It is a heart-stoppingly beautiful place with the views of the bridge and the river.

    1. WOW Harriet, how lucky you were to grow up there! Thanks for giving me that info, I didn’t actually walk past them so didn’t get a good look to tell the exact periods of the architecture. How wonderful that you have lived on that stretch – what an idyllic and beautiful place. You lucky lucky woman!

  9. If you plan to visit Hammersmith again, do try to fit in a visit to Kelmscott House where William Morris used to live, about five minutes west on foot from the Bridge.

    Interesting fact o’ the day. William Tierney Clark, who designed Hammersmith Bridge, also built the Chain Bridge in Budapest.

    1. I had no idea Kelmscott was there, Bruce, thanks for telling me that! I’ll be sure to visit as soon as I can. And for that info about the bridge – you have educated me today!๐Ÿ™‚

  10. And I love this time of year too – the days are getting longer, there’s a promise of warmth in the air with outdoor barbecues beckoning! LOL! Actually, I do love autumn too – my favourite season really, except that it’s followed by winter.

    Glad you are starting to enjoy the country. I do live in a city but it’s not a big one and I have no desire to live in a big one – not even London or New York. Great to visit, but smaller places are the thing I reckon.

    I did love your old flatmate getting to be the tour guide!

    1. Isn’t it just perfect? I love it. I also love winter, though – I am definitely more of a cold than hot weather person, I must admit!

      Thanks – smaller places certainly do have their charm, and I’m starting to realise that. I’m a mover rather than a stay-putter so it has made me think about where I might consider living in future. I do have a hankering for York, so maybe I might end up there one day!

      Ha, yes – so did she!!๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I lived for a short time in W London, R. Rather liked it. Holland Park, Portobello Road – bargain crates of fruit at the end of Saturday, etc. Yes autumn’s a lovely time. You can feel the year coming to an end and yes – rain and gloomy dark is coming! – but its lovely watch nature enact it.

    By the way – grab it while you can, or download it and use it when you want an easy thirty minutes in the classroom๐Ÿ™‚

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n60lt

    1. Lucky you, James! Wish I could afford to live in that neck of the woods! Thanks so much for that link – I shall listen to it this afternoon!๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully I can find a way to shoehorn it into a lesson!

  12. Rachel, I really hope you write a book one day! I want to read it๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve said this before, but I just love your writing. The way you bring everything to life so vividly is incredible.

    It looks like the countryside around you is absolutely gorgeous! As long as beautiful walks like this are possible, there’s no reason to feel down๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it in all kinds of weather.

    I think I went to a pub in the Hammersmith, by the water area. It was so lovely and the atmosphere was relaxing, so far removed from the buzz of London (but not really that far haha). I really can’t wait to visit London again and immerse myself in everything! To me, it’s the most amazing city in the world๐Ÿ™‚

    Have a fantastic week, Rachel!

    1. Thank you Lucy, what a lovely thing to say๐Ÿ™‚ If I ever have time to write anything other than this blog, I will certainly try!๐Ÿ™‚
      Yes the countryside here is wonderful and I am doing my best to appreciate it more. I’m glad you got to see Hammersmith – it really is lovely. And I hope you’ll be back soon!
      Thanks – hope you are enjoying California!๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Hello luv, as a Brit Ex-Pat in exile here, across the pond you echoed my sentiments
    exactly! Missing London, and goings on! Thank you, so very much, for sharing the beautiful pictures!
    With a cup of tea, (real PG Tips-LOL) and some not so proper crumpets, I could almost smell autumn in the air!

  14. Wonderfully timed post, Rachel! I’ve been googling ‘hidden gems of London’ trying to find areas or attractions that are off the beaten path or new to me. Thanks to your posts I had a terrific time at Thomas Carlyle’s during my last visit and Greenwich is a definite for this trip. Have you been to Denis Severs’ House?
    Oh, and another thing, I’m hardly going to feel sorry for you when you can be in London in half an hour. Desperation, longing and whinging are for sad people like me who have to spend weeks planning a trip to London and empty our savings account to do so! Do feel free to share another hidden gem or two, please and thank you!

    1. Seconding Denis Severs’ house – we went when they’d just put up the Christmas decorations – another world….

  15. “If Iโ€™m not careful, I may even grow to love it enough to never want to leaveโ€ฆ”
    Living a little recklessly isn’t so bad.

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