Recent outings and activities...

Three Days and Four Nights in the Borders

Ten of us met at Chingford Mount on Monday 28th January for a 09.30 departure to Melrose, in the Border Region of Scotland.

melrose scott mem 190129 124739252artThe Scott memorial, with Jenners Department Store, where we had lunch.After the inevitable interchange at London Gateway, our main coach eventually got us to our hotel at Darnick, near Melrose, after 8pm – a somewhat long journey time. Having been regaled by some somewhat sexist jokes and some rather dubious facts about places of interest by our driver during the journey, the evening meal was welcome.

Although having been renovated since our last visit in 2016, the hotel nevertheless was rather less than warm. Decent enough overall, though, and the self-service breakfast the following and subsequent mornings was good.

So – the first morning. After breakfast we had opted to join the included coach excursion to Edinburgh. There had been melrose from castle 190129 131119739 artThe Pentland Hills from Edinburgh Castlesome snow in recent days, and if not snow at least a heavy frost overnight. The views from the coach were somewhat obscured by heavily-tinted windows, making the day seem more dreary than it actually was. Edinburgh was cold and damp, though with no actual snow or rain. We paid an extra £8 per person for a guided coach tour around the city, which gave us a good overview, and then walked up the Royal Mile to the castle. The same excellent piper was busking in full dress at the same point as last visit. We walked up the Royal Mile, and we walked down the Royal Mile. We had a snack in a cafe, and caught our coach back to the hotel.

melrose piper 190129 130803168artWednesday dawned – eventually – minus 5C. cold and brilliantly bright. Some of our group had decided on an optional coach trip whilst five of us began a walk towards Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford, about 2 miles away. The route – into the village of Darnick and along a little-used country road – was lovely, with a nice frost, pleasant views and no traffic. We paused at a barn to pass the time of day with some cattle, and left them feeding on some of their out-of-reach foodstuff. A bit naughty of us perhaps, but they were happy.

Reaching Abbotsford House, the staff of the visitor centre seemed pleased to welcome a group of visitors to boost their small winter numbers. There is an excellent display of the life of Sir Walter Scott – who had the house built in Scottish Baronial style, and the grounds laid out, in 1824. It bamelrose across tweed 190130 095910830artView towards galashiels from Darnicknkrupted him, but added to his novels in consolidating an image that persists now and is what people around the world expect of Scotland. There is also a nice cafeteria, which, as you will imagine…

Although the house itself and the walled garden is not open at this time of year, the grounds and their pathways are, so we walked around the outside of the house and made our way to banks of the River Tweed, heading back to Darnick by a riverside path. Ken left us here to catch a bus into Galashiels, his childhood home, and the rest of us passed under the road-bridge over the Tweed – where we immediately encountered some difficult terrain. The Tweed is a large river, and subject to erosion of its banks. Hence footpaths may be made and lost. And at least at the lower levels where we were, they had been lost. A steep and hairy climb up to higher levels brought us to a better path and from then on the going was relatively good. The day continued bright, and the low temperatures meant that the ground was firm, although not particularly slippery.

melrose abbotsford 190130 105846547artAbbotsford House, home of Sir Walter ScottThe attractive route was enhanced by sightings of the incredible little water-bird – the Dipper. These are somewhat like a black-and-white Robin, fly above the water surface like a Kingfisher, and bob up and down on rocks waiting for an opportune moment to jump into a fast-flowing stream, or river, to swim under the water, or even walk along the bed, using their wings as propulsion. They feed on small water creatures such as crustaceans or insects. We sighted a few Goosander ducks flying along the river, with an occasional Buzzard overhead.

Nearing the access lane to the hotel, we decided that the walk was so pleasant - and that we had only walked about 4 miles - we should carry on towards Melrose. This added another  3 miles or so to our walk, and enabled us to visit the small town and have a nice stop for a snack at a cafe. The butcher/pie shop was not yet offering the dawn haggis-hunting opportunities as per last visit. Too early in the season, perhaps?

melrose mistyfrost 190131 095333239artA frosty start to Thursday morningWe walked back to the hotel via the slightly longer, but considerably quieter, back road, passing Darnick Tower, a 15th Century peel tower, which is a fortified style of house common on the borders of Scotland and England.

The following morning, Thursday, after breakfast, seven of our group left the hotel for a walk on another cold and frosty morning. Unlike the previous day, there was no brilliant sunshine, and instead a cold mist gave an eerie light to frosted trees, particularly as we walked down the footpath from the hotel grounds to the Tweed. On the river bank, tall grasses and the left-over seed-heads of umbellifers were grey-white with hoar frost. We soon saw our first Dipper of the day, standing on a nearby rock and giving us a good view before flying away upstream. The tributary stream that I had videoed yesterday afternoon after the ice had melted was now almost ice-covered. We were walking, with Ken as leader, towards Melrose.

melrose uphill 190131 111516194artTrekking uphill towards the Eildon HillsMelrose is a small town by the River Tweed, noted for its 12th Century partly ruined abbey, once a Cistercian monastery. Before entering the town, we had a look at the Chain Bridge, a narrow pedestrian suspension bridge giving acces to the village of Gattonside on the north bank. Pausing to look at the abbey, and for a toilet stop, we continued along a slightly higher path some way from the river and overlooking the river’s flood plain - which stretched away as flat as anything from the Fens - to the village if Newstead, which is reputed to be the oldest continually-inhabited settlement in Scotland.

From Newstead it was uphill, passing under the A6091 road which was built on the line of the old Waverley Route, the railway line from Edinburgh to Carlisle which closed to passengers in January 1969. Beyond the road the land becomes rural, and trends upwards to the slopes of the Eildon Hills.

Our footpath between field hedges eventually merged onto a tarmacked road, but one essentially closed to through traffic. This was the original route between Melrose and Newtown St. Boswell, but being superseded by the opening of the A6091. To our right – although we did not visit it – is a plinth with information about Thomas the Rhymer; we turned left to visit the memorial stone and tree where the famous incident with the Fairy Queen took place. With questions such as “Famous?” and “Who?”, a possibility, perhaps have a look at the article I wrote onto our website in 2016 and reacquaint?   (click here)

melrose eildon 190131 113735421artThe Eildon Hills from Bogle BurnThere was occasional Sun getting through the mist, but it was still very cold as we walked down the road towards Newtown St. Boswells, crossing the somewhat worryingly-named Bogle Burn on the way. On the road – with no traffic apart from once or twice a farm vehicle – the walk was a pleasant experience, enhanced by the views and something I have never experienced before – real fairy dust! This phenomena was tiny, twinkling drops of frozen moisture falling through the air. Lynne had seen it before on ski-ing trips, but never in Britain.Eildon farm settlement was noisy with many House Sparrows as we passed, before entering St. Boswells.

melrose cobwebs 190131 124942artFrosted webs on the bridge supportsThis was a larger town than I had expected, and at least on the edge that we entered, a bit industrial-looking. We had joined by then the Borders Abbey Way, and its signposts directed us underneath the A68 main Edinburgh road. Our footpath was by the Bowden Burn, another Tweed tributary, and the route pleasant enough but obviously well-used by local dog-walkers as well as Borders Way trekkers. Underneath the high road-bridge, a tree covered in hoar-frost, just like a Christmas decoration, encouraged a lot of photographs. It isn’t far to the Tweed from there, but the path goes upwards more than we expected, with a series of steps to assist. Eventually it drops down again to a spot where there is a pedestrian suspension bridge across the river. There were fine and frosty views towards Dryburgh on the far bank, and closer – on the supports of the bridge itself – some amazing formations of frost on cobwebs.

The final half-mile or so from the bridge to our destination – Dryburgh Abbey – was proving to a few of the group to be a half-mile too far, and when we reached the entrance to the abbey some decided to give it a miss and head straight into melrose abbey 190131 133216817artDryburgh Abbeythe nearby hotel to rest and get warm. The rest of us paid our entrance fee and had a look round the ruined building and its grounds. Then we all repaired to the hotel, had a meal and ordered a cab large enough to carry all of us back to Melrose. That walk was 6 miles, plus - for a couple of us - the extra mile between Melrose and the hotel at Darnick.

melrose entertainment 190131 223011364artThus ended, apart from our evening meal and Scottish-themed evening entertainment, our three full-days at Melrose. It was a 5am or so rise for us the following morning, for a 6am breakfast and 6.45 coach departure. The weather forecast for the journey home was not promising, and the promsie was fulfilled by overnight freezing of surfaces and snowfall particularly from the Newcastle/Sunderland area southwards. We endured a 7-mile tailback on the A1, due to ice on the road, and thus arrived back at Chingford at something like 7pm. From there, of course, we had to make our respective ways home.

Thanks to Jenny for suggesting and booking the holiday, and to all of the group, who made it such a success:

Jenny, Eileen, Fozi, Fred, Jinan, Ken, Lynne, Marian, Marilyn, Paul

Paul Ferris, 6th February 2019



Tate Britain, the National Gallery, and more

Eight of us met at Tate Britain on a cold but dry Saturday January 19th. We were there to see the Burne-Jones exhibition, although a couple of us baulked at the admission cost and just went round the rest of the Tate. There was the usual grumbling that the admission automatically assumes you are a 40% taxpayer and adds on a couple of pounds, requiring you to say, in a clear voice, that you do not want to have it under Gift Aid. It makes you feel cheap, which I suppose is part of the plan, but really, isn’t the gallery satisfied enough with the extra 25% it gets under Gift Aid? I would happily agree to Gift Aid if it does not cost me any more than the already high admission charge. Ah well, back to the exhibition...

efog tate 190119 135429artBurne-Jones was one of the last of the Pre-Raphaelites and worked a lot with William Morris. He produced and designed works for tapestries, paintings, stained glass windows, and so on. It was a surprise to see so much work – there were 7 rooms full of his work – and it took us more than 2 hours to get round. All of us agreed it was a wonderful exhibition and felt a bit mollified about the cost (Sorry, last time I shall mention it). Meeting up with the others who had toured the rest of the gallery we then adjourned to a nearby pub for lunch.

It was now 3 pm but we had not finished. We walked to Trafalgar Square, noting as we passed the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall how many protest groups were stridently demanding freedom, liberalism, justice in various countries from the Democratic Republic of Congo (when a country has to include Democratic in its title you know it is anything but) to Balochistan (look it up, I had to). The police were out in force to cope with the groups.

Dave wanted us to see the Rachael Maclean exhibition in the National Gallery (free this time – sorry, I lied!) There was a thoroughly entertaining video and examples of her art. A lot more colourful and bright compared to Burne-Jones. Coincidentally, Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen was on display in an adjoining gallery and was well worth seeing.

Exiting the National Gallery in the gathering dusk a few were planning on going to Stratford to watch Stan and Ollie, a film about Laurel and Hardy. A full day indeed! The rest of us went home.

Brian Unwin, 20th January 2019

The Parkland Walk, Saturday 5th January. Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace.

Just over 10 years ago I stood outside Finsbury Park Station, at Station Place, to meet nine other Epping Forest Outdoor Group members to lead them on a 5 mile walk along a disused railway line.

On Saturday, on a somewhat grey day, I again met with members of the group, this time for Lynne to lead 15 of us over the same tracks (tracks – get it? Railway line?) Well, actually there aren’t any tracks and the old Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace railway, after years of decline, eventually closed to all traffic in 1970 after which the tracks were removed. In 1984 much of the route was re-opened to pedestrians and cyclists and became known as the Parkland Walk.

Thparkland 190105 110301746artWalking - and chatting - the Parkland Walke walk is effectively in two sections. The southern section begins at one of the entrances to Finsbury Park itself and leads – gradually trending uphill - as far as the Highgate tunnels. These tunnels are not accessible to pedestrian, and indeed since I lasted visited have even been bricked up. This is for safety, but also – and importantly – to protect the various species of bat that have made them their home.

Thus, at this point, pedestrians are diverted onto a stretch of pavement walking along the Archway Road, passing the entrance to Highgate Northern Line Station, and then shortly in the City of London-owned Highgate Wood. After only ten years I was mildly disturbed that I couldn’t remember entering the wood at this point, until – looking back on the route that we had taken then – I realised that I had diverted slightly to include nearby Queens Wood.

parkland 190105 110548318artNot much point waiting for a train here anymore... Crouch End StationThere is one of those convenient and welcome park cafés in Highgate Wood, and we paused there for a while to take in the ambience, and some food and drink.

Leaving the wood, the temperature had taken a distinct drop, and we did too, dropping down – by way of a stairway – to regain the railway route in its northern section. We soon found a convenient tree alongside the track where – as ten years ago – the more adventurous (or fit) members of the party had a swing on the old tyre. I didn’t participate, this time.

The railway route exhausts itself at an entrance to Alexandra Park. But of course park paths take over and we made our way to the extensive terrace with views to the east and south-east of the City, the Docklands complex, Shooters Hill, the Stratford development and even Ilford. Ilford, by the way, looked like a somewhat broken pyramid, with the twin-towers of Pioneer Point helping to form the sides. I couldn’t really see my rooftop just to the left, but it’s true that if I cross my road onto the Flats I can – visibility permitting – see the transmitting mast of Ally Pally. Oh, and the Epping Forest ridge was clearly visible, even to what was probably where some of us had been when 2018 became 2019 – Pole Hill.

parkland 190105 130950821artEFOG members potentially looking sillyWe descended from the heights down the slopes of the park to cross the railway footbridge at Alexandra Palace station, where most of the group repaired to The Starting Gate pub for more refreshments. A bit further walk followed, to catch our transports home from Wood Green station.

Thanks, Lynne, and all the others on the walk. Looking back to the ten-year-past walk, I see that I was the only group member that did that one and this one.

There is a photo write-up of that expedition on our website here.


Paul Ferris, 5th January 2019

On this walk: Lynne, Ann, Brian, Cathy, Chris, Fred, Ian, Jenny, Ken, Kathy, Paul, Phil, Sue, Tony, Trevor.

And ten years ago: Paul, Ann L. Cliff, Duncan L., Gill L., Maz, Pam, Peter, Prue, Susan W.


Parkland Walk - Take 2

Fifteen of us turned up at Finsbury Park station on a cold but dry Saturday in January 2019. Led by Lynne, we were going to do the Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace.

The route is an old train track and the gradient was therefore gentle, just a gradual rise as we climbed towards Highgatepklnds 190105 110621 brian artThe Spriggan. Skirting the edge of Finsbury Park we then headed Northwest along the rail track. The first impression was that we were on a running track, joggers coming past every few seconds. We were a big group and so filled the path but everyone was considerate on both sides until we stopped at a disused railway station where a woman with her dog aggressively carved her way through. Ah, well. A bit further on was a high retaining wall and we would have walked past but a local suggested we look up and there was a larger than lifesize gargoyle - a Spriggan - coming out of the brickwork.

We stopped at a café on the Walk which Kathy informed us was, and may still be, a cricket pavilion (there was a door marked "Visitors dressing room") for a cuppa and something to eat. Very pleasant and we could imagine it would be full in Summer.

Moving on, we neared Highgate and Kathy suddenly realised that she was looking at the back of the flats where she lived as a girl. The Walk was not there at that time, nor the trains. A hundred yards or so up the A1 Archway Road and we plunged into Highgate Wood. It claims to be an ancient woodland but it did not feel like it to me. pklnds 190105 142103 brian artAt the Starting GateEpping Forest by comparison feels much more ancient. Heading towards Muswell Hill we came out of Highgate Wood, passed by Cranley Gardens where the murderer Nilsen clogged up his drains with the remains of his victims, under the Muswell Hill road and into Alexandra Park and its palace. The exhibition hall was empty (we sneaked a peep) but the BBC signs were up. The building still looks unloved but no doubt Haringey Council has higher priorities for their money.

Descending towards Wood Green we stopped at The Starting Gate for a pint and, in some cases, a bit more to eat (chips, cheese and gravy - it didn't entice me). A very nice pub. We more than doubled the number of people in it but I suppose Saturday afternoon is a quiet time.

Suitably refreshed and with a visit to the loo, we departed for Wood Green and home. An enjoyable day.

Brian Unwin, 5th January 2019

New Year at the Pole. January 1st, 2019

Somewhat surprisingly, nine of us turned up to celebrate the beginning of 2019 – even though I’d done my best in promoting the event to confuse people and to suggest that it would be a foolhardy mission.

Well, - apart from myself, of course – seven hardy fools from EFOG attended, and even my friend Sue who isn’t even an EFOG member. Most of us assembled – eventually – in the designated meeting-place at some time around or after 11pm and after ascertaining that the couple whom we had been waiting for were ascending from an alternative starting point, we began the long and dark haul uphill to reach the summit.

Pole Hill is something like 300ft A.S.L, and our starting point was just 200ft. Rudimentary mathematics (of which I am not part, nor do partake, nor am particular to) would indicate (apparently) that we had a 100ft climb ahead of us, which in non-brexit terminology (note the small ‘b’) is 30.48 metres. This – by the way – is an unlit and un-signposted route, and as at least two of our party had neglected (forgotten) to bring their obligatory torches was accomplished with – surprisingly – no incidents apart from slightly muddy footwear.

We reached the Pole after about 15 minutes of almost totally non-arduous uphilling, to find that it was still dark, not yet midnight, and still 2018. We also found the two rebel go-it-alone-from-another-starting-place EFOG members. Kathy and Brian’s names will not be mentioned.

There were other – less definable – persons up there already. We had been beaten to the Pole. There was also at least one dog. It was possible to make out London in the distance to the south-west, and with the help of a pair of binoculars even to see the London Eye, 10.5 miles away.

Although two other EFOG members who had proposed to come hadn’t been able to, Lynne had brought some mulled wine along, so – even without Pam’s intended contribution – we were able to have a pre-2019 celebratory drink, and I was forced to give my traditional rendering of ‘The Owl’.

And then one of the by-then multiplicity of shadowy figures that had assembled began a countdown to 24.00, or 00.00, or 2019. Naturally, with somebody going “ten, nine, eight...” etc. nearby, it was impossible to hear the chimes of Big Ben ten miles away. Still, we all cheered and said “Happy New Year”, and shook hands and hugged and kissed and that, and of course that led to fireworks.

efog fireworks pole hill 2019artFireworks at New Year, viewed from Pole Hill (but not this year's photo)

Probably Chingford and Stewardstone are in mourning or suffering from economic depression, or just depression or S.A.D., which is sad, because compared to previous years I would say that there were less local fireworks. But then think of the environment! However, the display that we could see from around Westminster, and other places, was sufficient for us to realise that an event had or was taking place.

After standing around a bit, wondering what to do next, I made a walk-leader’s decision (somewhat based on others’ suggestions and the fact that others were deserting the Pole anyway) that we should attempt to find our way down. I have always found that going down is harder than going up (I’m talking about hills here, not psychology), but the going was firm, and our route took us to where we needed to go. That is, back to our cars, or in the case of Sue and I (with a little help from Amina who gave us a lift to the bus-station) to our buses.

You don’t have to pay on the buses on this particular night – which is a bit of a let-down if you don’t have to anyway – but on the other hand at coming up to one o’clock in the morning buses aren’t that frequent, though we managed to get two late and Happy New Year’y buses to Wanstead. That’s fine for Sue, who lives there, but there are no buses from Wanstead to Manor Park, so a bit more walking was involved for me. Luckily, the night was mild, and even though cloudy there was enough light to see by. The walk across Wanstead Flats at 1.30 in the morning was without incident and I arrived home to find it was 2019 and not quite 2am.

Paul Ferris, 1st January 2019

Paul, Sue, Amina, Parviz, Lynne, Ken, Diana, Kathy, Brian.