Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A wander down the River Wandle

In the spirit of embracing nature and adventure, I went on my first #microadventure the other day – a gentle 20km stroll along the banks of the River Wandle from Croydon (or rather Waddon) to the Thames in Wandsworth. 

The River Wandle at Waddon
The River Wandle has always held some allure to me. Not just because it’s a rather sweet river but because the past three houses I have lived in have all been in close proximity to its flow – Waddon, Wandsworth and Colliers Wood.

With water bottle in hand, a ham sandwich and a bag of nuts, I strode off, with my boyfriend’s parting words to be safe when passing through Mitcham. But there was limited cityscape to goggle at, as instead I trundled mainly through parks, only having to cross a few busy roads before nipping back into the sanctuary of muffled sounds and dappled sunlight filtered through tree leaves.

The river itself is quite quaint; a meandering chalk stream with willows bowing their heads at its banks, resembling a peaceful place of worship amid the hustle and bustle of South London.

It is also a river packed with history. It was once classified as an open sewer, while back in its industrial heyday, it was claimed to be Britain’s “hardest working river”, with more than 90 mills dotted along its banks. Some of these mills still exist in some form today. Beddington Mill, for instance, used to grind corn, and later tobacco. Now it’s being redeveloped into apartments.

As I walk along, lush vegetation (some of it weeds) carpets the banks, while ducks paddle by and white butterflies flit from green leaf to green leaf, as if to keep track of my journey. I stop for lunch in Ravensbury Park next to the mill, the traffic sound muted by the cascading water. It appears to be a favourite for drunks or teenagers, with half-empty beer bottles lying abandoned next to the benches. But a peace descends as I watch a white swan lazily sail upstream, its cygnets, still coated in fluffy, brown down, following behind.

The Wandle Trail is home to many types of wildlife, and walking along, deep in the local nature reserves, it’s hard not to imagine the story book The Wind in the Willows playing out here. The river is also famous for its fishing and, as I journey on, men sit in camping chairs with floppy hats, a hand holding a fishing rod, patiently waiting for a tug from a hungry trout. These fishermen have to have a licence and all fish have to be returned to the water and not eaten, but this does not seem to deter them.

The River Wandle enters the Thames
As Earlsfield approaches, nature starts to subside to tarmacked roads, exhaust fumes and Saturday shoppers. By the time I reach the great grey flow of the Thames I’m ready for a well-earned Pimms as I merge with the anonymous crowds.  

How to do it:

Length: 20km
Duration: 4-5 hours depending on speed and how much you stop to take photos
Difficulty: Easy but not all aspects of the trail are suitable for cycling or prams
Getting there: Catch the Southern Rail train from Victoria to East Croydon or Waddon train station. Or catch the tram from East Croydon or Wimbledon to Wandle Park tramlink stop.
Getting home: Catch the South West train from Wandsworth Town (goes into London Waterloo via Clapham Junction) or 15 min walk to East Putney tube station on the District Line.  
More information: Trail details and directions can be found at www.merton.gov.uk/leisure/visiting/attractions/wandletrail.htm  


    

Friday, 17 July 2015

Why volcanoes?

“Why volcanoes?” you may ask. It’s a fair enough question. So why indeed? Or rather, I might say, why not?

For starters, volcanoes fascinate me. The sheer beauty and power they have; that ability to go from gentle sleeping giant to lava-spewing monster and destroyer, all within an instant, makes them both scary and mesmerisingly beautiful at the same time. How can you not feel drawn to them?

At school, I was that kid who, for the science expo, always built a model volcano from used toilet rolls and paper mache, and then made it erupt (sufficiently stinking out the school hall) through the potent and explosive mixing of vinegar and backing soda, tinged red with added food colouring for lava-like effect. It was endless hours of messy fun.

This morbid curiosity about volcanoes even led me to contemplate becoming a volcanologist at one point but I failed to find rocks exciting enough at university to pursue this further. I may have grown up a bit but I now find myself being pulled by something of the child in me to explore this long-lost passion for volcanoes and embrace adventure in the wild.

“But what about mountains?” I hear you say. “Wouldn’t climbing 40 mountains by 40 make more sense?” Yes, but that is the whole point. Volcanoes aren’t mountains, at least not in the Everest sense of the word, with iced tips, jagged edges and a greater demand for technical skill. Sure some volcanoes on my list are over the 5000m mark so I will battle with altitude and walking on ice but, for me, volcanoes just don’t seem so ominous.

But perhaps I’m deluding myself. I’m no spring chicken any more. A trek up Mt Ararat (5,137m) in Turkey (volcano number 10 on my #40by40 quest) isn’t going to be the equivalent of a hop, skip and a jump. And the chance of being swallowed by one of these fire-breathing giants is something my mother would want me to consider. But, you know, that’s what makes it all the more attractive and exciting.

And anyway, why climb mountains that everyone else has already climbed (we all know at least one person who has achieved Everest base camp, if not the summit) when I can do something slightly different? Isn’t that the whole point of a quest? For me, the challenge of putting my body, but also my mind and spirit, to the test of scrambling through wild jungles, cloud forests and over alien rock formations just to look at Satan’s bum hole (40 times) seems like a challenge that’s up for grabs.  

Of course, I could just be crazy. But then life would be boring, wouldn’t it? 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The quest is on

Sure sitting in a cushy office and working the nine-to-overtime drill provides a degree of stability and routine, not to mention financial security, but there are downsides. For one, it can give rise to complacency. It’s easy to perhaps find yourself no longer challenged or you become comfortable with the situation – even if it’s not what it’s cracked up to be – just because you might be scared of change or can’t be bothered with the extra effort that comes with challenge and growth. In the end you’re at risk of becoming bogged down by the daily grind of it all. You become stagnant.

The thing is you may not even realise until you find yourself pondering life. Are you happy? Who are you? What makes you tick? What have you achieved in your life? What do you regret? What is your potential? What are you capable of? What can challenge you to find this out? It’s the making of the all-too common identity crisis. And what’s more, it doesn’t have to strike when a milestone birthday is looming. A wedding, a breakup, a death: all of these can trigger a bout of anxiety and self-doubt and the realisation that life is too short.

As I sat on an empty commuter train home after being the last to leave the office (again), the setting sun already cocooned in the blanket of night, I found myself pondering. These exact questions were worming their way inside my head. They unsettled me, repeating over and over like a dishwasher stuck on a cycle that can’t click off, only to start again. But worse than that was the fact there was an ugly great void where the answers should have been. I didn’t like that. Not one bit.  

And so a plan was concocted. Quit my job. Go freelance. Visit or climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40 – a feat to be achieved within five and a half years.

This was by definition a comfort-zone buster of epic proportions, not to mention a savings-swallower. But the choice was simple: stay stuck in a job (albeit great with great people), content with watching the minutes, months, years go by and dreaming of the perfect life or actually making change happen, finding myself and seeking my full potential? I chose the latter because the things I could learn, people I could meet, and stories I could share (and hopefully be paid for – a journalist has to make a living you know) promised to enrich my life in ways not achieved through a Google search term.

And so, the quest was on.   


The Volcanoes*

1. Mt Teide – Tenerife

2. Mt Vesuvius – Italy

3. Stromboli – Italy

4. Mt Etna – Sicily, Italy

5. Mt Eyjafjallajökull РIceland

6. Thrihnukagigur volcano – Iceland

7. Ponta do Pico – The Azores, Portugal

8. Nea Kameni – Santorini, Greece

9. Avachinsky Volcano – Russia

10. Mt Ararat – Turkey 

11. Jebel Sirwa – Morocco

12 Ngauruhoe – New Zealand

13. Mt Taranaki – New Zealand

14. White IslandNew Zealand

15. Mt Fuji – Japan

16. Sakurajima volcano – Japan

17. Mt Aso – Japan

18. Mt St Helens – USA

19. Yellow Stone National ParkUSA

20. Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkHawaii, USA

21. Piton de la Fournaise – Reunion Island, Indian Ocean

22. Nevis PeakSt Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean

23. Ambrym volcano – Vanuatu

24. Krakatau – Indonesia

25. Ijen Volcano – Indonesia

26. Sinabung volcano – Indonesia

27. Mt Bromo – Indonesia

28. Mt Semeru – Indonesia

29. Mt Rinjani – Indonesia

30. Mt Agung – Bali

31. Mt Pinatubo – Philippines

32. Cotopaxi – Ecuador

33. Arenal Volcano – Costa Rico

34. Pacaya – Guatemala

35. Lanin – Chile/Argentina border

36. Villarrica – Chile

37. Masaya – Nicaragua

38. El Misti – Peru

39. Mt Kilimanjaro – Tanzania

40. Nyiragongo, Virunga volcanoes – Rwanda/Uganda/DRC


* These volcanoes may be subject to change depending on circumstances such as travel advisories or seismic activity that recommend against travelling to the volcanoes or the surrounding areas