Now into Week 13 of Lockdown there is a growing sense of normality. Not that things are back to the way they were but Lockdown itself seems almost a normal thing to be going through. The recent relaxations allowing more exercise and, as of today, all shops can open, have given some sense of the normal in our lives, at least away from work. However, in reality there has been nothing normal about the past week. COVID-19 mixed in with the Black Lives Matter protests and the Government stating that there will be no extension of the Brexit transition period mean that this has been a week with few parallels in any recent decade.
National news aside, it was another pretty quiet week, really. Work again took plenty of attention but there has been time for leisure and relaxation – perhaps too much looking over my recent exercise stats. The amount of exercise I’ve been getting has slumped significantly over the first half of June and I need to get it back up again. Maybe it’s the relaxing of the exercise rules but I’ve felt less inclined to do much. However, it has to be said that the weather over the last week has been far from ideal with some rain and much lower temperatures at times.
One major reason to get out and walk has been the reopening of the Royal Botantic Garden at Kew. Just across the road from the flat, it’s almost like our front garden. Somehow I managed to miss this from last week’s blog. It reopened in Week 11 but we had to wait until the Friday for our first chance to get in. This week we went in for a post-work walk on Tuesday and taking a very leisurely stroll around the different parts of the garden, I have to say was the most relaxing walk we’ve had since Lockdown began.
On Sunday, we left London behind again and went for a walk along the Thames Path at Goring. Any chance to escape to the countryside is welcome but this walk was particularly lovely. I’ll do a blog post about this one separately.
As we edge ever closer to the summer solstice, I’m very mindful at the moment that while we’re all still in Lockdown to a significant extent, the seasons are moving on. I do worry now by the time we get to any sort of normal that the best weather may be over and the darkness of autumn will be quickly approaching. Despite Lockdown, we need to be making the most of the good weather and light evenings as much as we can, within the restrictions we have placed upon us.
This has been a week of memorable walks. The easing of the restriction on the amount of exercise we’re allowed to do, and how far we can travel to do it, has given us more opportunities to be outside in the continuing great weather.
We’ve been to Richmond Park a few times since the restrictions were eased but earlier this week we went for our first evening walk. The Park was much quieter than during our daytime visits and a little cooler too; quite welcome given the recent heat. We headed from Ham Gate to the lakes and back again, through the woods and open grassland. The deer were more visible than during the day time and were out enjoying the quietness in the last of the sun. All except one group of red deer which chased of a couple and their dog when they walked past too close to their one small calf. The Park had a much calmer atmosphere that evening, as the day was coming to a close and the light dipping behind the trees, we’ll have to go again and the evening might become our favoured time if the days become even busier than they presently are.
Last night (Friday), we went for a walk after our evening meal, in the last light of the day. The walk down to Kew Green, along the Thames and then back through the residential streets, was the quietest local stroll we’ve had since lockdown began but also one of the most memorable. The air had a bit of a nip as we left the flat but the air was still. The clear sky meant there was enough light to see and the glow from the west gave a sharpness to the scenes. At Kew Green, we walked around to the Elizabeth Gate entrance to the Botanic Gardens and saw a mother fox and her small cub running around the manicured grass and flower beds. Walking onto the river path, the enclosing trees brought darkness but it was just possible to see across the water and watch the strange flickering patterns the light breeze was making on the Thames’ surface. Back through the deserted streets we hoped to see more foxes out and about. At first a cat raised and dashed hopes but on the last street before the turn for the flat, a fox wandered across the road, stopped to look at us but soon disappeared into gardens as we approached.
Today, we left the city and headed a few miles west to Seer Green for a country walk. Only half an hour away from London but distant from any busy honeypot areas, within minutes of parking the car we were out in almost silent rolling Home Counties countryside. The first footpath we passed along was in the dip of a shallow valley of ripening wheat and the only sound was a calling skylark somewhere out of sight in the clear blue sky above our heads. As we continued our walk through the fields and woods, we came across a few people, but far fewer than we do on our daily walks in Kew, and there was so much more peacefulness in the countryside than the city. We crossed a couple of busy roads but there was little other activity and we spent much of the time listening to the birdlife as we walked. We stopped to watch a whitethroat claiming his territory from a high hedge perch and later stood as red kite circled and called above the fields sloping down into another valley. We eventually turned towards the car and passed through the village but even there it was quiet with very little activity going on.
Now back in the urban Kew, it is much less quiet with the passing traffic but also the more natural sound of the breeze passing through the London planes outside of the window. The chance of a wander around the countryside has fed my need for rural space and will hopefully dampen that yearning for a while.
I was going to finish with a point about easing lockdown too quickly but will leave that for now and stop here before I let the post end on a less relaxing tone. These walks have made a big difference to us, being able to be outside in nice places, both urban and rural, connecting with nature and bringing some peace and calmness to what still remain quite hectic weekday lives.
As lockdown continues, so does the startling good weather and this week it turned properly warm with temperatures up to the high 20s. The forecasts predict this will go on for the whole of the next week and into the weekend, continuing what has been the longest spell of good weather I can remember since the heatwave of 2018. We had a very brief hail storm on Saturday and a short shower when we were out walking just before that but that was all the rainfall we’ve had for weeks. It’s hard to believe that we’re still only in May and that summer has yet to start. Back at home, the weather has been good, I believe, but the difference in temperature this bit further south in Kew is marked. I’m sure many will be thinking the same, that if lockdown had occurred in the late autumn or winter, with the accompanying poorer weather and shorter daylight hours, these few weeks would have seemed very much worse to cope with.
With restrictions lifted on how much outside exercise one can do and the distance that can be driven to take that exercise, we have been outside more frequently and for longer. Walking, running and cycling have enabled me to keep a lid on some of the stresses of the past few weeks and the lifting of some restrictions means it’s easier to take the exercise I need for good mental health.
The nature of Kew and Richmond is also continuing to give me a lift. We have now made ‘friends’ with a crow who comes to our balcony to feed on muesli and occasional bids of bread we put out for him. We are not alone in feeding him, at least two neighbours in our block of flats are doing the same and we’ve seen him flying towards his nest from other nearby buildings with food in his mouth. We have also had magpies, great tits and robins feeding on the balcony but it is crow we seen the most. He lands on the metal table with a clattering, fills his mouth as much and as quickly as he can and then flies off through the trees, across the road and into his nest.
We have also frequently seen foxes in the street below the flat, both at night and in daylight. It’s also not unusual to hear them calling in the small hours or smell their presence as we walk around the nearby roads. We’ve seen them in full day time, walking along the road or jumping a fence; they seem bold and confident much of the time but also timid when people are walking nearby. It is perhaps these foxes that make the connection with nature the strongest, seeing quite large wild animal walking the very urban, if tree-lined, streets of Kew draws some connections with some of the wildest places I’ve been.
The Government appears set to announce further changes to lockdown over the coming week, perhaps enabling some limited meeting of households or even enabling us to travel to spend some time at my house. I’ve got so used to living in the flat here in Kew and to wandering the local streets, cycling the Thames Path and now, as of last week, visiting Richmond Park, that it may seem quite odd to be living somewhere else.
An eighth week of lockdown has nearly passed and in some ways I’m running out of things to say, or at least struggling to find the clarity of thought to put something meaningful on the page. Like many I expect, simply living with lockdown, all seems very tiring despite not having the daily commute and not having the added pressure of being a key worker. At the end of each day, I often feel shattered but we do go out and exercise as much as possible; to clear the head and to get some of those endorphins going.
There seems to be more uncertainty about the future than ever and as the UK Government seems intent on pushing out of lockdown, I think there may be reluctance amongst many to follow its chosen path. I’ve always loved driving but given the chance this week to drive a short distance to Richmond Park, there was some significant apprehension; I’m not sure why and it wasn’t just a passing feeling. Breaking out of lockdown is going to require people to get back to doing many of the things that they haven’t done for weeks and if I’m feeling nervous about something I usually love doing, I suspect many others will find some of their normal activities more challenging than they were.
I’m also finding it harder to separate work from home. I’ve tried to keep the two as separate as possible, clearing all work away at the end of each day, exercising straight afterwards to make an almost physical break between the two and I try not to think about work too much outside of work hours. I think working from home is great and I want to keep on doing so for more of the time when we return to more normal times. However, I need to do more to make the break between work and home.
I think the lack of a holiday isn’t helping. We were meant to have been on the Isle of Harris this week but, clearly, we have known for some time that this wasn’t going to be possible. Without any significant time away from work and home in the short to medium term, the balance of work and home may be even more difficult to get right.
I think many of us will now be getting to the stage where we’re finding it more difficult to find new things to keep ourselves occupied. I listened to a programme on the radio several years ago which suggested that time appears to move more quickly when we do fewer new things. We may remember new activities more clearly than the routine and the more new activities we do, the more markers in time there are and thus, time seems to move more slowly. When we just do the routine activities, time seems to pass more quickly as we remember fewer activities. Maybe the routine of lockdown, when our ability to do new activities is very much reduced, is merging time, making it move more quickly and making work and home almost indistinguishable. I certainly feel that the past eight weeks have flown by.
I did work up the courage to drive to Richmond Park and I was so glad we made the visit. Having been limited to walking around Kew for weeks, it was a release to be somewhere new and in a place with wide open views across green space. We walked through the old oak woodlands and across the open grasslands, past the two lakes and along the currently deserted roads. We had some great views of nature as we walked including sand martins, house martins and swifts flying fast over the water, the herds of red and fallow deer, and even some of this years goose chicks wandering at the water’s edge.
Hopefully, with exercise restrictions lifted a little now, we can get out more and do some more new things to break up the time and help to make a greater divide between work and home time…and, maybe, I won’t find it do hard to write a blog post next week.
This week has seemed harder than the past few in lockdown. I woke up with a feeling of melancholy on Sunday and it was still there on Monday morning as I started work. Up to then, I hadn’t been feeling too bad apart from the first week, which I found very difficult to settle into. Speaking to colleagues, it seems that many have found the past week harder than others; maybe there’s a seven week itch in these things where tolerance starts to fray a little or coping mechanisms begin to weaken. Maybe it was more about people, including myself, finally accepting that we’re in this for the long haul and not even the new normal will be here any time soon.
The overblown talk earlier in the week of relaxing lockdown has been replaced by more sombre tones of small changes. However, just a little easing of exercise restrictions would be welcomed by many. It gives all of us without gardens or countryside (even if temporarily like me) to get out into some green space and connect with nature. However, those connections can be made even through an open window.
Sitting at my desk this week, I heard a familiar and very welcome summer sound. I looked up from my screen to see two swifts chasing each other over the Kew rooftops. The following day there were three and the calls have been heard intermittently ever since. They’re my favourite bird of all and their calls, as I must have written here before, lift my soul like very few other things can. In the winter, I yearn for that sound and I cherish every time I hear it. After all, the swifts won’t be here for long and in no time at all I will be left once more with many months of waiting to hear them again.
This week I also noticed as the darkness had fallen on another day in lockdown, the number of insects attracted by the street lights and circling in bright rays shining down towards the pavement. I wouldn’t say it was a startling observation but it got me thinking about how long it was that I had seen so many insect doing the same. That then led me on to consider whether the reductions in air pollution resulting from the lower levels of traffic might be be causing an increase in the numbers of insects. I’m no scientist but on my next long car journey it will be interesting to see if the number of insects picked up the front of my car has noticeably increased. Anecdotally, it seems that ‘fly splatter’ on cars has decreased over the past few years and any change in these observations over the next few months might be telling.
We have continued to go for walks this week and yesterday was a particularly memorable one. We set off in the morning and stopped at Kew Bridge to wait for the Red Arrows to pass overhead on their route from the VE Day commemoration flypast. They duly did and we went on with our walk and stepped down onto the shore of the Thames. It was a very low tide yesterday and we could walk almost all the way between Kew and Chiswick Bridges. Down on the short was the usual mix of swans, geese, ducks, gulls and herons but this time we came across some of the first young of the year with a gaggle of Egyptian goslings.
Even in lockdown, even staying inside, there are ways to connect to nature. Writing this post has lifted some of the gloom and I’ll go out for a cycle in a while, which will hopefully lift it further. I’ll have to see how many insects I get splatted on my sunglasses!
Now coming to the end of the fifth week of lockdown, the days seem to be merging and it’s becoming difficult to make marks in time to help judge the pace of the passing weeks. The weather has continued to be consistently lovely, more like earlier summer than mid-spring, making it even more difficult to tell one day from another.
Perhaps the easiest way to see time passing has been the surrounding flora. The first weeks still had a few daffodils in flower and the trees were largely bare. Then came the wisteria flowers, adorning many of the grand houses on the leafy streets of Kew. Now they too are fading and the strong scent diminishing, but there are more flowers coming forward to take their place. The horse chestnuts seem to be particularly spectacular this year with some almost hanging heavy with the weight of their flower candles. As I wrote last week, the emergence of the leaves across all the trees has been a daily note and most are now in full leaf. The changing of the trees from winter to summer has possibly been the most dramatic marker of the time passed so far.
A more subtle changing has been the ebb and flow of the tides; not each high and low, but the shifting of their timing. Two weeks ago on our daily outing we walked on the bare gravel bed of the Thames close to Kew Bridge, but yesterday, out at roughly the same time, the river was washing over the footpath. There is something rather untamed about the Thames in this part of its flow. It may be hemmed in by walls, banks and buildings but it refuses to be submit and with every large high tide it threatens to flow into the riverside properties. This dynamic of the river is particularly spectacular around Richmond where is cuts off the Thames Path completely as well as a building or two, and floods into surrounding fields.
This part of London is a rather lovely place to be during the lockdown and there are many in much worse positions than us, many have no access to outside space and little greenery around them. However, despite being surrounded by green and water, it is still an urban environment, with a concentration of people and activity. The noise may be much less than normal, with fewer cars on the road and much less frequent planes passing overhead but I do miss the more open green and quieter spaces of the countryside. Perhaps even more so, I’m starting to yearn for the really wild places I like to visit and with two trips already cancelled I’m starting to wonder when my next trip away from urban life will be.
As a write this, there’s a chiffchaff calling from a nearby tree and blackcap singing in some undergrowth across the road. As long as they and others keep on singing, they will provide a link between me and those more wild places.
After I wrote my first lockdown diary post, I realised just how quickly the first three weeks appeared to pass and since then the time hasn’t slowed down at all. Now a week on from that post and four weeks since lockdown begun, I can say that I have now settled into the pattern of life that Coronavirus has put upon us. I found the first week quite stressful but I think the calmness of a much quieter, slower pace of life has made it easier, but so has the weather.
After a spectacularly lovely Easter weekend, with unseasonably warm temperatures, things returned to a little more normal this week, albeit with plenty of sunshine and occasionally warmer weather. After so many months of poor weather, this prolonged period of bright sun and blue skies has made life much easier. Just the feeling of warm sun on the skin is enough to raise the spirits. The clear skies have also made the daylight last longer; maybe it’s being down in London rather than Cheshire but, even taking account of the clocks going forward, there seems to be so much more light now we are in mid-April and it’s certainly lifting the spirits.
I’ve tried to continue from the last few weeks in letting nature into as many of the waking hours as possible. I might be stuck in the bedroom working for many hours from Monday to Friday but the room has a big window I can look out of and see trees and the occasional bird as each day passes. Looking out of the lounge window gives a feeling of living in a tree house; the second floor flat looks into the trees lining the road and across into those in Kew Gardens. One of the interesting aspects of being locked-down is that there is only a small amount of scenery to look at, so we’ve seen more clearly the emergence of the leaves on each of the nearby trees. We’ve seen different trees emerge at different stages and we’ve even seen over the course of a day the leaves emerging slowly from their bud cloaks. The view from the lounge is dominated by horse chestnuts, limes and London Planes, with the last two being slower than the first to come out. In fact, the chestnuts are now out in flower with some smothered in the white candles.
The birds have also been a good distraction too and we’ve over 50 species in the past fours weeks, which is more than I ever expected. However, it’s easy to see why there’s so many to see. The mixture of gardens, including the Botanic Garden itself, and the River Thames provide a rich diversity of habitats and the quieter road and air traffic makes the birds easier to hear. However, the dawn chorus seems quieter here than at home, partly because we sleep on a side of the building away from the Botanic Gardens but we’re planning to get up early one weekend to heard out to the Thames path for a dawn walk to hear the dawn chorus at it’s fullest.
The above paragraphs make it seem like my period in lockdown isn’t so bad and, really, it isn’t. I can’t complain too much, when others are having a much worse time. I’m sure for many, each week of lockdown has seemed endless; those working in hospitals, people living alone and those who are sick, and I’m very lucky that my job means I can work remotely and I have a very nice area to spend some of my free time outside.
It seems a bit late to be starting a lockdown diary but, oddly, I don’t really seem to have had the time over the first three weeks. Life has already settled into a pattern where weekdays are filled with work, albeit with longer lunches, and the evenings provide time for a daily walk or run, some cooking and eating, and then a bit of relaxation before bed. Having spent whole days in front of a computer screen writing or on video calls, spending more time at a screen writing a blog doesn’t feature high on my list of things to do in the evenings. However, despite all the terrible things happening right now, I still find time to look at nature and, feeling generally a bit helpless about the situation in general (I’m not a key worker), I thought at very least I could make some effort to write a few blog posts.
I arrived at my girlfriend’s flat in Kew the day we both came out of self-isolation and the government called the lockdown that evening. As I travelled down from my home in Cheshire, I knew that lockdown was very likely to happen and that I could have to stay in London for the duration. The decision was really a non-contest between my own home comforts and being with Sarah.
I can’t say there aren’t things I’m missing; the flat’s balcony is a great space to lift the prospect of cabin fever but I miss my back garden, I should have brought a few more clothes with me and I would have loved to have one of my bikes down here – Sarah’s may have to be brought out as a stand in.
Anyone who reads my blogs will know I love the countryside and outdoors and the prospect of being locked down, and locked down in a city in particular, goes against my basic nature (as I’m sure it does for most). Despite having loved being a student in Birmingham for four years and subsequently having worked in Manchester for over 20 years, cities are not my natural habitat and I like to spend as little time in them as possible. However, Kew is not central London and I have found that, whilst it’s not exactly rural, we are surrounded by wildlife and a lot of green space.
Kew is in the centre of a large loop of the Thames, which is a short walk to the north and to the east of us. We are just across the road from the famous botanic gardens, we can look over the wall from the second floor flat, but now it is closed to the public it blocks the route to the Thames to the west. Kew Green is also just down the road, on one of the routes to the river, and it brings openness to the area with its large park surrounded by lovely old houses with wisteria growing up the outside of many.
However, being Kew, it’s not just big garden across the road that has plenty of attention paid to it; so many of the residential gardens are lovely too. In fact the whole area is lovely and looking particularly so now. The roads are lined with more big old houses and terraces, and the occupants clearly all (or nearly all) have green fingers with the gardens seemly competing with each other to be mini versions of their famous, larger counterpart. The streets themselves are also almost gardens themselves; I don’t think I’ve ever noticed so many street trees and at present hundreds are out in blossom.
The past three weeks, whilst being the start of lockdown, have also seemingly seen the real start of spring. After many months of miserable weather (it almost seems to have been horrible since I left my three-month stint on Ramsey Island at the end of July), the sun and warmth have finally broken through. This week particularly has been very warm with temperatures up in the mid-20s at times and the sun has been out so much of the time. This appears to have kickstarted the trees with their leaves really bursting out all across the area.
The warm weather has enabled us to have the windows and balcony door open much of the time and that has let the natural sounds into the flat. The man-made sounds are less than usual with the roads much quieter and the planes going overhead on the flight path to Heathrow almost come as a surprise as they are so few and irregular now. The bird calls now float into the flat and I have to stop to listen every so often as the call of a green woodpecker or the song of a blackcap comes through into the rooms.
As I’m not a key worker and all I have had to do is shift to working from home, which is what I do at least a day a week anyway, I can hardly complain about the situation I find myself in. We have plenty of food and drink, we can get outside of the flat and can go for a walk or run each day. The traffic and planes are much quieter and spring is growing to its peak. There are so many people in much worse positions than us and under so much more pressure and anxiety. However, its not all plain sailing and I know just what a terrible situation the country is in at present, the stress of the collective situation we find ourselves in hasn’t completely passed me by but letting nature in is surely one of the best ways to cope with it all.
As we are paused in our lives, hunkered down indoors, outside nature isn’t following us. The weather appears to have turned, from the seemly endless months of gloom and rain, to the past week which has been bright, cloudless and, occasionally, almost warm. The world is starting to react to these longer, lighter days with the earliest spring flowers coming and going, and the trees showing the first signs of leaves breaking out from their buds. The ground is drying out from the winter downpours and grass is coming into its first flushes of vibrant green.
The birds are also reacting, with the residents building up their choruses at dawn and dusk, waiting for the spring arrivals to increase the depth of the music. The blackbirds, thrushes, robins, wrens and dunnocks will soon be joined by the warblers, redstarts, flycatchers and cuckoos, bringing greater intensity to the wave of calls washing across the fields and through the woods.
The Glaslyn Valley always seems to be later to react to the coming of the new season, the plants and trees staying in their winter dormancy while other areas are well into their growth. However, we have noted the biggest sign of the coming of spring, the arrival at the top of that copse on the rocky outcrop in the wet meadowlands; the first osprey has landed in her nest and awaits the arrival of her parter.
Under current circumstances, I have no idea when I might been able to travel from my Cheshire home for my first shift of the protecting that osprey nest. For the duration of the lockdown, however long it lasts, I’m living in Kew, across the road from the famous botanic gardens, with a view over the wall from a second floor flat. Whilst there are no ospreys to be seen out of the window, we have our own nest to watch; a pair of magpies are setting up home in a tree only a few metres from our balcony. They’ve been noisily constructing their shaggy nest over past weeks and now seem to be getting on with the business of mating. We assume very we’ll only see one at once as the eggs are incubated.
Whilst Kew doesn’t have the rugged views of the Glaslyn’s natural landscape, it does have it’s visual charms. At present the cherry blossom is out and many of the streets are lined with trees slowly shedding their white and pink confetti petals.