An extremely gentle 4 mile (6.5 kilometre) circular walk, March, cloudy and cold. With lovely son, an unexpected school closed day. Wahay.
We have a strike day; this is a sign of the times. For me up north it used to be a snow day, those fabulous snow-quiet then raucous days when we waited, cold and in silence, hoping the school bus wouldn’t show up and school would be cancelled. When it was, we yelled and shrieked and ran off for a snowball fight or sledging down the hill. My son’s school closes because the teachers cannot afford to pay their gas bill. But a day off is a day off so we go local, to Gunnersbury Park, where I learned everything I know about horticulture and gardening at the RHS college and we can do some nature lessons.
As the spring equinox approaches, we’ve had the earliest bulbs for a while. The parade begins with snowdrops in January, next my own favourite, delicately painted iris reticulata and then the blue clumps of crocuses and muscari. Already in Gunnersbury Park we are in narcissus season, and we know Spring is here. They are popping up everywhere, even the brasher daffodils. We’ve come to see life and it’s everywhere.
There’s a thunderous thread of busy road we have to negotiate from the station before we enter the park. This end looks its best in mist and frost but today the air is cloudy and cool. We meander through the woodland walk along the park’s southern edge and are delighted to hear an enthusiastic woodpecker drilling overhead, but cannot spot him.
I’m told it has been a manor and park for hundreds of years, but it is mostly known for once being the property of the Rothschilds, that famously uber-rich banking family who owned most of the home counties. It was they who converted the clay pits into an ornamental lake which is now fenced and unloved. It is clearly a wildlife haven though, as people are kept out by some ugly tubular fencing and I sincerely hope the tower folly is full of bats.
We cross over the grassy parkland and everywhere the trees are bursting into life, the fresh green and white of the cherry plum, the caterpillar gold of the hornbeam catkins, things are fizzing into life. Son finds a glorious fallen tree trunk for us to sit on. It’s satisfyingly huge, grey and slidey and makes a comfortable perch on which to sit, and ever so slowly, creepingly slide off again. We have joined the sit club, and not too soon. Sit club, I recently discovered, is the kind of club that I never knew I was a member of, for people who like to simply sit and look. We were born to be members, I could make myself honorary chair ofsit club, which seems like a position worth having. Anyone can join, who is prepared to sit and enjoy, and as proof if proof were needed, take a photo of their sit.
I wonder about starting an offshoot, the lie club, but it sounds sinister so I keep it to myself and wait for drier, warmer weather. Eventually we wander on and make our way over to the round pond. This is a delight in the summer, and son and I participated here in the sport of extreme duck feeding. For a modest fee you can hire a pedalo and scoot about the pond feeding ducks at the break neck speed of no nautical miles per hour, and I strongly recommend it.
Sadly it’s too early in the season so we feed the ducks from the safety of the bank and enjoy the underwater acrobatics of the tufted ducks. Clearly this walk is going to need some reining in from its high octane thrills so we head off to the cafe stall for sustenance, sitting by the old orangery, admiring the chaenomeles (flowering quince) and the earliest of cherry blossom. In truth this is what we need, back at home we have builders and no bathroom. At home we have a portaloo, the kind you lift heaven and earth to avoid at rock festivals, trust me we need this genteel gentleness.
I’m delighted to see the Gunnersbury Museum, housed in the Rothschild’s former residence, is open and free to visit so we trundle in. I’m even happier to discover a display of film-making celebrating the area’s contribution, Ealing studios and its famous comedies, The Ladykillers, The LavenderHill Mob, Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets. They even have Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
It’s an ecclectic museum celebrating local industry and achievement, with some nods to how the grand house would have been back in the day. Sadly the toy room was occupied by a class of schoolkids so we couldn’t have a mooch round there.
We leave and take a look at the old orchard and kitchen gardens. The magnolias are coming into flower, a sure sign of warmer weather. In their native China they symbolise nobility and were the preserve of the emperors. They are a very ancient tree, you can tell, and were around when the dinosaurs hoofed about the planet. They pre-date the bees so they were pollinated by prehistoric beetles, and are still pollinated by beetles now.
We start to make our way back, past the old stables, the lost tennis court and across the meadows, all the signs of a once grand estate, musing on the layers of history that pile up around you, if you have the time to slow down and look for it amongst the signs of spring. The seasons are turning, seasons into years, and years into a crumbling old parkland and museum. I’m telling you that toy room is wasted on the young.
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More walks in this area
None needed. Gunnersbury station is on the district and overground. Assuming they’re not on strike.
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