I walked up all of these today. #StepUpMountain 20th floor in Battersea's Somerset estate. #StepUpMountain

Why I took my 10-year-old son on a walk along the motorway

 

 

Earlier this week I worked with a small team to launch a website for the Greater London National Park*. The park is officially just a *Notional Park, but it is a serious idea and their are some very good reasons why the park should be created.

 

GSK from the canal, instead of the M4.

GSK from the canal, instead of the M4.

 

I appreciate that for many people the idea of London becoming National Park is unimaginable. As well as some of the technical complications, the fact London is so urban is highly problematic for some people.

 

Heavy industry.

Heavy industry.

 

In the popular and political imaginations parks are remote, rural and wild. When I explore London I can see the ‘wild’ all around me, both in the individual animals and plants that do not recognise human theories, categories and constructs, and those that not only survive, but thrive alongside, inside and around the buildings, infrastructures and cultures that we define as urban.

 

A stream for Poohsticks.

A stream for Poohsticks.

 

The words rural and countryside do not mean an absence of human influence or management, far from it. Even those British landscapes that look most wild have been shaped by farming, grazing of game and hunting of our island’s top predators to extinction.

 

An invitation.

An invitation.

 

It may be easier to have a relationship with nature if you live in a rural than an urban place, but that does not mean it is a more important one.

 

The first of a wave of bluebells. The shape of a motorway sign can just be seen in the background.

The first of a wave of bluebells. The shape of a motorway sign can just be seen in the background.

 

Driving into a city like London I think it can be easy for the eye to be drawn toward its bright lights and tall buildings. I live in Ealing, close to Boston Manor and Brentford. When driving into London down the M4 motorway you know when you are getting close to Boston Manor because the planes for Heathrow are stacked into the distance and descending rapidly to your right. Shortly after you drive under the Heathrow branch of the Piccadilly Line the speed limit drops to 40mph and you are lifted onto a flyover that elevates you over Boston Manor, Brentford and Chiswick.

 

Slowing down for the flyover

Slowing down for the flyover

 

Understandably most visitors that enter London this way see big buildings that form a gateway into the city. After seeing the headquarters of GSK, large elevated car showrooms and massive adverts, many people will then look further into the distance and get their first view of iconic buildings in the distance.

 

The flyover skyline.

The flyover skyline.

 

Much like a drive-through being an unhealthy way to consume your food on a regular basis, this fast-moving and skyline focussed entry into the city is an unhealthy way to view, think and make decisions about how ‘wild’ London is. This is a place of woods, waterways and historic parks. The roar of the motorway may be unavoidable, but it is pierced with the sound of bird-song, adventuring families and the rush of the River Brent and its tributaries.

 

A moorhen nests.

A moorhen nests.

 

Yesterday I took my son on a three hour adventure alongside the M4 to experience what all of the motorway traffic does not see.

 

Flying over Boston Manor.

Flying over Boston Manor.

 

Why? We went to explore the woods, fields footpaths, towpaths and tree-tops to see woodpeckers, heron, parakeets, coot, moorhen, swans, geese, ducks, gulls, rabbits, centipedes, horses, squirrels, grey wagtails, roach, busy ant nests, worms and much more.

 

A cute and its eggs.

A coot looks at its eggs.

A heron makes an escape.

A heron makes an escape.

A male mallard.

A male mallard.

 

As well as seeing all of these animals had time to try a couple of different rope swings that we found, play several game of Poohsticks and climb some trees.

 

Climbing for a better view.

Climbing for a better view. The leaves are coming!

 

Driving down the M4 or taking the tube into London, the woods and fields that surround you are on the periphery of your view, but this marginalisation is inverted when you are exploring off-road.

 

A glimpse of a Piccadilly line train heading to the city centre.

A glimpse of a Piccadilly line train heading to the city centre.

 

Our walk ended at Boston Manor, a Jacobean manor house built in 1623 that can be found in Boston Manor Park. You can see and hear the M4 flyover spanning the park from below, but driving above you would never know of its grounds including a lake, woods and ancient cedar trees.

 

Boston Manor.

Boston Manor.

 

The shadow of this part of the M4 is a rich place to explore. A meeting place of road, rail and canal, its human presence is clearly imprinted onto the landscape. But discover this place on foot and you will soon see its engaging natural histories too. The juxtapositions of motorway, city and wildlife certainly highlights and deeply contrasts their differences, but when looking closer it is clear that wildlives are willing to live more closely with people in our cities – if only we will let them.

 

Do you think London could be a National Park? If so, you can show your support for the idea here.

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