Open Field

Words about the natural and the human.
See also my blog at

Low Land (2): Iffley Meadows, South Oxford

I don’t often do a full circuit of the Meadows. Most often, my route is down the riverbank with my family to the Isis pub/café.

Iffley Church

(So many of these images are in winter.) The door of the church opens, and a child enters the gloomy space.

Low Land (1): Iffley Meadows, South Oxford

This piece has built up accretively, a handy but accidental way of writing about flood meadows.

Open Field

The more I think about the countryside, the more machine-made it seems. But I still feel something irresistible urging me out there.

Rain Pleasures

Never mind snow – rain transforms the sensory world with the same force, which some people insist on calling “magical”.


Hanchurch is a word covered in pine needles.

The Green of East 14

I’ve done a lot of exploring in London. Sometimes it’s led me down some dubious roads. At others I’ve turned a corner into a blaze of visions historical, social, beautiful.

Of Place (1)

The painter Paul Nash (1889-1946), the Wittenham Clumps, and place. See for most of the pictures mentioned.

Of Place (2): The View from Folly Bridge

My own “place” is not far away, and on the same river as that of Nash, the Thames (see "Of Place (1)"). As the Abingdon Road approaches Oxford city centre, it crosses a bridge.

Tree Cover

The sound of rain on our coats is enveloped by the sound of rain in the trees, which is itself soon enveloped by the great noise of the river in the valley bottom.

High Water (1)

Just after the solstice, dark still comes down hard in late afternoon, and the ribbon of the towpath is barely visible at first.

High Water (2)

A sequel, two days later. I take the river way again. In the meantime water has consumed our garden for the second time this year, but it’s still a long way from the house.

Wren Writing

A late summer evening, when night was pushing the last indentations of heat from the air, the sinking dark was speared by an insistent call. This is my first “real” memory of the wren.

Paths Back – Behind St Clement’s Church, Oxford

Traffic noise is always a given in Oxford. So much of the place is not-quite-city, not-quite-country, not-quite-suburb. At the foot of Headington...

Bank and Lowe

When I’m walking, I watch the landscape change around me. I try to read its past in its present shape. Sometimes there’s a line of trees that used to...

Sound Quality

“He laughed like the most serious child I ever knew, telling me the story about the country where everyone was deaf.” – Ilya Kaminsky Walking across...

Mount Edgcumb Barrow

On top of the burial mound, a puss moth. It lay between the long grass stems, white against yellow, furry among the clean lines of the plants. In the...
Gold cherry

Mornings and After: Port Meadow

There are other places I love at least equally, but I’ve rarely seen the sun rise over them. When I was at university I followed each all-night “...
Gold cherry

Necropolitan Journeys

In the road tracery of my old A-Z Tower Hamlets Cemetery is a green fingerprint. It has its own cross-tracks of dotted lines indicating paths, but...

Water Ways

Dust on my shoes, heat. Figures approaching, disappearing. These are my main impressions of London’s artificial waterways. I know best the stretch of...


There was time to look at the leaves before the rain arrived. It was one of those days when we should have listened to the weatherman – showers, he...

The Climb – Parc Carmell, Barcelona

The city has peaks, as the distance does. In the north of Barcelona, Parc Carmell backs onto the famous Parc Guell. In early November it was still...

Of Herons

A heron is a bird made for rain. I say this as a metaphor, but then I think of the one I saw today, on a pier of the oldest bridge on the...

Built on Sand

It was a weekend of rituals. Guy Fawkes’ Night as ever combined the ancient practice of bonfires with the recollection of seventeenth-century “...

River Music – The Ravensbourne

el agua siempre encuentra su camino – Victor Rodriguez Nuñez, thaw/deshielos Back along the Ravensbourne – that was my plan, although part of me was...

High Water 3

The floods came again, worse than last year (see High Water 1 and 2 ). For a couple of weeks we watched the puddles in our long garden gradually...

Spring Green

Revenants, dragon’s teeth – the earth is haunted by spring flowers. Each January, as if in green recreations of that scene from Carrie, fingers...

Frog Spring (1)

Thirty. Or thereabouts. I tried counting heads several times, but every few seconds the surface would froth with legs. A new frog-constellation would...

Frog Spring (2)

This year the water might become a slurry of waving tadpole tails and nibbling mouths, stripping the pond sides of algae. They’re starting towards...

A Silence

I am going to keep things like this. --“Hawk Roosting”, Ted Hughes One of the compensations for my work journeys to Canary Wharf is the walk to...
Gold cherry
Story of the week

A Guide

I cannot paint What I then was. --Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey Walking is such an integral part of my perception of the world that it’s hard to point...

North Shore

On the map the causeway out to Holy Island is like an unspooled line of tracery from one of the Gospel pages produced there. Once the car joins it,...

Cup and Ring

“Stop the car,” I said, folding the map. “I thought we were going into Wooler,” said my wife. “I know, but stop here.” So we pulled in on a gravelled...

Borrowed Time

The river seems different when everyone else is working. One spring lunchtime my wife and I found ourselves looking for something to do – our...

Cezanne on the Pennine Way

“his fortitude held and hardened because he did what he knew. His forehead like a hurled boule travelling unpainted space behind the apple and behind...

Green Lights

It happens more often than I intend, that I’m walking out of Oxford down the Abingdon Road near midnight. A friend once called the walk “the most...


"Think of this. A sword is like a bird. If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it - too lightly and it flies away." from Scaramouche (1952) It's...

Hilly Fields

The clue's in the name, but I didn't expect the hill. It may have been a result of planning the route on the plane of my ancient A to Z 's pages, and...

Walker in the Storm

The thunder mutters louder and more loud With quicker motion hay folks ply the rake Ready to burst slow sails the pitch black cloud And all the gang...


Land between histories, mead made by water - look carefully at the land (climb over barbed wire first): grasshopper, harvestman, wasps, the flies...

Floodplain (2)

When I first started writing this piece, it turned into a poem. I circled around, wondering if I was finished with it. Now it seems to have returned...

Floodplain (3): Hogacre and On

On the far side of the sportsfield I'd reached at the end of the previous piece is Hogacre Common, a community-run eco park. I'm there quite often -...

A Sort of Pilgrimage - Glastonbury Tor

We'd forgotten about the Tor. It had faded into the grey zone of "life before child" - all the more so because the gap between our trip and our...


A kestrel hovering is a marker on the sky. Perhaps one thrown arbitrarily, or perhaps an “X” for treasure. Either way, the map of the clouds is...

Low Water - The Draining of Regents Canal

I’ve written before about walking along the Regents Canal, but I was drawn back there again when I heard that it had been drained. Not the whole...

Twenty-One Tumuli

The start point was determined by family history. My wife’s grandma had spent many years living near Brighstone, and so indirectly prompted we had...

Night Journey

Whoever hasn’t is still waiting - Niyi Osundare, Waiting Laughters I don’t live near enough any standing stones or barrows to have tried this yet...

A Globe of Birds

The lakes were ridged and pathwayed with ice. Its edges broke through the night-colour below the surface, and disrupted the otherwise pristine...

Somewhere Not Quite Known

Some places have a feeling about them – “mystery” isn’t quite right, but there is a sense, even on the clearest day, that it’s impossible to see...

Three Liberations

When I looked out of the pub window, the night had transformed. Earlier, the sky had been clear, but for the faintest vapour of cloud. Around the...

Spring Not Yet Out

As I write, spring is a suggestion, an absence. A few sunny days have slipped into memory, and what’s present now is grey, with a spatter of rain in...

Bomb Shelters

Just north of Greenham Common (see "Spring Not Yet Out") is Bowdown Woods, a longer-established nature reserve. This was where we had meant to come,...

Lights in the Sky

the first whisper of stars is that faint thing that candle sound too far away to read by when you walk outside leaving the door ajar and smell the...

Two Hours

I go out at five o’clock. The idea of staying inside by the windows overlooking the lake is very tempting, but it feels as though there was more to...

Under Water

Here’s a walk without the natural – in a way. The book Underground London gave me various ideas for lunchtime walks as far away from Canary Wharf as...

Down the Track

Everyone had cancelled, again, so I went for a walk. Night wasn’t far off, and rain kept flushing from the uneven clouds. I didn’t take a map, I didn...

A Short Climb

I’m not very good at being in groups, except at the edge, looking out or in. A cousin’s wedding had returned me to a place almost outside my memory...

Ants, Ants, Ants

Is one ant an animal? It seems to be one. Formally speaking it may be a member of the species Lasius niger , the common black ant, which lives in my...

Park Views

Some routes become so familiar it’s hard to see them as they really are each time I walk them – every visit is overlaid by all the visits before...
Gold cherry
Story of the week

Wild Venice

Wild Venice Peter Ackroyd subtitles his book on Venice “Pure City” – which to an English imagination initially seems very strange. Surely Venice is...

To the Bank

“Inaccessible” is far too strong. “Awkward to get to” is more like it. It’s a quirk of the map to show so many lines of communication around a place...

Three Times

1. A bit of time was buried under Oxford’s Westgate shopping centre for 40 years. In the shoppers’ break between the demolition of one mall and the...

Walking Interval 1: North Greenwich to Cutty Sark

The first of a chain of lunchtime walks from one of London’s most ostentatiously “new” areas to the site of the Roman London Bridge.

Walking Interval 2: Cutty Sark to Canada Water

The second of a chain of lunchtime walks from one of London’s most ostentatiously “new” areas to the site of the Roman London Bridge.

Walking Interval 3: Canada Water to London Bridge

The third of a chain of lunchtime walks from one of London’s most ostentatiously “new” areas to the site of the Roman London Bridge.

Colouring the Fields

I always pause before signing online petitions. It’s so easy to put you name to something, it could become a reflex, and I would end up supporting...

Heron Haunting

Mist on water always makes me feel pursued. Crossing Iffley Meadows during a chill sunset, I never stop glancing toward the river, where silvery...

Deer in the Garden

It was as though a brushful of red-brown paint had been dropped on the grass. Then, as it moved in the winter sunlight its shape resolved, and it...

Opinions on Pigeons

Until recently I never had much time for woodpigeons. They always seemed quite puddingy, birds that galumphed and little else. Once, in the garden, I...

Badger in the Light

It’s like a lamp in the dark field. Not an electric bulb, but a silver flame, always changing shape, pulsing and shifting. But the source of light –...

Summer on Port Meadow

The river ran a ring of ice around my ankles as I stepped out of the thick air and onto the spiky soil of the riverbed. On the far side, the plane of...

Ragwort Life

Ragwort has established itself in a straggling patch of our garden, mixed in with long grasses and a few other flowering plants. Its seeds must have...
Gold cherry

Beech Lines

It’s a sight that encompasses many years, to look up the height of a tree from the root bole to the point where the twigs and leaves are splayed...

Four Raptors

Inevitably, it was a red kite. It still strikes me as amazing that such a big bird should be so common a sight over Oxford these days. This one was...

Hinksey Hill Wander

It was a fresh autumn day, the air cool but green still in the leaves. We had crossed the ever-fumy A34 at the South Hinksey footbridge, and soon...

Seasons of Hinksey Pool

The last swim in Hinksey Open Air Pool, south Oxford, before it closes for the winter is always a bittersweet experience. For those of us who swim...