Urban Meets Wild Along London’s Capital Ring

Feature Article – Written for ‘New Nature‘ Magazine, 2018. Original here.

The word ‘rambling’ normally conjures images of countryside strolls or forest trails, far from the haze and havoc of the city. Sure, strolling around London can be nice, but it’s not exactly your top pick for a 7-mile weekend wander, is it? Well, it just might be once you discover the Capital Ring trail like I have.

The Capital Ring is a 78-mile walking route that forms a complete loop around London. It’s divided into fifteen walkable sections of between four to nine miles long, each one easy to conquer in a few hours. The trail links together London’s finest – and sometimes obscure – natural and cultural sites, from sprawling parks and ancient woodlands to garden cemeteries and heritage-listed buildings. Included in the Ring are popular green spaces like Richmond Park, Walthamstow Marshes, the Great North Wood, the Welsh Harp Reservoir and the Grand Union Canal, amongst other surprising delights.

Section 1, Woolwich to Falconwood, starts south-east of the city at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, adjacent to the River Thames. You’d be forgiven for feeling a bit sceptical at this starting mark. Though it has an interesting industrial and military history, Woolwich isn’t exactly the leafiest area of London. But as you follow the striking ‘Capital Ring’ signposts along the trail, you’ll soon find yourself walking through beautiful green spaces like Maryon Park and the ancient Oxleas Wood, and past fascinating cultural sites like Charlton House and Severndroog Castle. You’ll begin to understand what the London Walkers Forum did, back when they officiated the trail in 2005. Our capital is a wonderful thriving ecosystem, and walking is the best way to experience it.

If you’re keen to explore the Capital Ring, you don’t have to start with Section 1. Part of the beauty of the Ring is that each section begins and ends near a Tube or railway station, so you can take your pick. When I first discovered the trail with my boyfriend, we began with the section that was closest to where we lived – Section 12, Highgate to Stoke Newington. Shortly into the journey, we found ourselves ambling down Parkland Walk: a former railway line that was abandoned during the Second World War and has now been turned into London’s longest nature reserve. It’s a fascinating example of urban meeting wild, and ignited our love affair with the Capital Ring.

Since then, we’ve completed eight of the fifteen sections and often invite friends on the walks with us. Meeting at the pub for a pint is a fun way to catch up, but trail walking is a healthy alternative, offering a big dose of nature and plenty of conversation stimuli from the sites along the way. And of course, you can still celebrate with a well-deserved pint at the end of the walk!

Of the eight sections we’ve completed, we’ve had some clear highlights. Section 11, Hendon to Highgate, takes you through the ancient oak and hornbeam woodlands of Highgate Wood and Queens Wood, alive with over 72 species of bird, grey squirrels and even a few bats. Section 12, Highgate to Stoke Newington, finishes in Abney Park Cemetery, an eerily glorious garden cemetery that’s also a nature reserve. Where life and death intertwine, it’s striking enough to warrant a visit all on its own.

Section 7, Richmond Bridge to Osterley Lock, is a beautiful riverside walk that we enjoyed on a late-summer’s day that passes through Syon Park and finishes along the Grand Union Canal. And Section 13, Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick, introduced us to the Middlesex Filter Beds. The filter beds were built in 1852 to remove impurities from the River Lea, but were turned into a wildlife reserve in 1988, now hosting more than 200 species of plants and birds like the reed warbler and the green woodpecker.

But don’t just take my word for it. Whether you’re a London local or an upcoming visitor, spend a half-day exploring the Capital Ring yourself. You can download PDF maps from the Transport for London website that provide step-by-step guides to each of the sections, including interesting ‘Did You Know’ tidbits along the way. Or, ditch the guide and let the signposts lead the way (though I’d recommend having the guide as a backup – some sections are more clearly signposted than others).

While city landscapes often lead us to believe that civilisation has replaced wilderness, the Capital Ring trail proves otherwise. So many sites along the trail are examples of nature being reclaimed, protected and celebrated. The wild world merges with the urban in beautiful and fascinating ways, reminding us that cities can be a part of nature, not always a separate or opposing entity. And when we take the time to explore and enjoy these trails, we’re a part of it too.

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Rambles, Sage and Fairies

Hello from the hopeful side of winter!

A quick little update on my latest writing endeavours:

15ec9b_4cf5015e875c4549a5108ba9eb8e4ca7~mv2_d_2480_3508_s_4_2I recently published a short article about the Capital Ring walking trail in the February issue of New Nature Magazine.

This is a wonderful online publication that showcases young nature/wildlife writers and photographers. I thought it would make a great home for my thoughts on the Capital Ring, which is a 78-mile long walking circuit around the outskirts on London. This trail is split into fifteen sections, and over my two years in London, I’ve now managed to walk nine of them. I’ve been amazed at the convergence of urban and wild along these trails, which was what I wrote about. You can read it on page 18 of the magazine here.

CaptureI’m still blogging regularly for Dragonspace, a magical little shop on Granville Island in Vancouver that I used to work at. Their online store has really taken off, attracting visitors from all over the globe. I’m writing fortnightly about subjects like fairies, Pagan rituals, the power of burning sage, dragons in pop culture, and a few other mythical and metaphysical subjects. You can keep up with them here.

I’ve also been commissioned to write some children’s short stories for educational resources, and I’m really enjoying it. I forgot how fun and challenging writing for kids can be, but it definitely puts me in my element.

Nature and magic are fast becoming my writing specialities.

I’ll be on the hunt for more commissioned writing opportunities over the next few months, so please feel free to drop me a line if you have a project you think would be a good fit! (It doesn’t have to be about nature or magic – I’m also interested in culture, entertainment, history, travel and more!)

Until next time,

Kahli xoxo

 

 

 

Books about trees, chimpanzees & National Parks

Hello…I’m here again…dropping in to talk about books and nature, my two favourite things.

I often go through reading phases – a memoir binge here, a YA-fantasy roll there – and my recent inclination has been towards books related to nature and animals. Since moving to England I’ve become a certified rambler; someone who takes walks through green spaces and the countryside for no reason other than to walk and enjoy the scenery. I’m not walking a dog (sadly), I’m not going anywhere, I’m not looking for anything. It’s literally just walking. Be it in one of my favourite London green spaces, like Hampstead Heath or Epping Forest, or a day trip to a countryside walking trail like the Chilterns or the Coast, hanging out in nature has become one of my favourite English pasttimes.

Second only to reading of course. So it makes sense that lately I’ve been reading a lot about nature.

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It started with a trip to Daunt Books in Hampstead before a late summer picnic on the Heath. I normally have a long to-read list that I try to stick to in book shops, but every so often an unknown title just jumps out at you. Fredrik Sjoberg’s The Art of Flight‘ was one of them. I wouldn’t even call this delightful tome strictly a nature book – it’s undefinable really, a tangential mash-up of memories and stories ranging from the author obsessively researching the life of a US National Parks artist and a forgotten Swedish entomologist, to his thoughts on hoverflies and earthworms. Sjoberg is self-deprecating yet thoughtful, with hints of a Scandinavian Bill Bryson about him. And this book reminded me how lovely it is to read someone writing passionately about the eccentricities of nature.

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Then there was Jane Goodall. I’d recently learnt about the wonderful Masterclass programme, a series of online courses taught by industry legends, e.g. Film Making with Martin Scorcese and Writing with Judy Blume. When it was announced that Dr Jane Goodall herself would be teaching a Masterclass on Conservation, I signed up straight away. To fill my time before the class started in September, I bought Jane’s ‘Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey‘ memoir on audiobook to listen to. I love audio memoirs narrated by the writers themselves, and this one didn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I connected with Jane’s story as if it were spiritual scripture. Not only is her journey incredible (she had minimal academic or scientific training before being sent to lead the first ever study into chimpanzee behaviour), but her attitude and philosophies on life are so inspiring. A staunch nature and animal lover, Jane is a passionate, kind and determined woman who’s also gentle and balanced – she gives critics time, she strives to understand, she’s forgiving. Her musings are the perfect blend of science and spirituality. Jane Goodall is my new idol.

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After I finished, I needed to find something even slightly comparable to replace Jane’s soothing voice speaking to me as I walked my morning commute from Hampstead to Paddington. Listening to an audiobook about nature was so appropriate for that walk, which takes me through gorgeous Primrose Hill and along leafy Regent’s Canal (sorry tube commuters). I’d heard rave reviews about Helen Macdonald’s ‘H is for Hawk‘ for a while, but to be honest, I didn’t quite get them. Surely a book about falconcry was a bit…niche? I decided to give it a go anyway, buoyed by the fact that Helen herself narrates the audiobook.

I was wrong. ‘H is for Hawk’ is so much more than a book about falconry. In essence, it follows three interwoven narratives – Helen’s journey through grief following the death of her father; her attempt to train a goshawk named Mabel; and her fascination with British writer T.H. White’s book on the subject, The Goshawk. The latter element seems a bit jarring, especially the parts where you jump back to the 1950s into White’s life as a writer, academic and man struggling with his identity. But somehow – I don’t quite know why – it works. This book is fascinating. The sections in which Helen finally comes to terms with her grief were most hard-hitting to me, having lost my own father. And ultimately, she rejects her desire to become wild like the goshawks. She grows to appreciate that community and civilisation are a thing of beauty too, and that nature shouldn’t be the ideal. This was also a good lesson for me to learn. Thank you, Helen.

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Now, I’ve got two books on the go. One is a physical copy of ‘The Long Long Life of Trees‘, which I picked up (from Daunt Books again) after reading a recommendation in my favourite Facebook group ‘The Ancient and Sacred Trees of Sacred Britain’ (honestly, I don’t know how I have a boyfriend). Each chapter of this book is an absolute delight, delving into the folklore, history and science of Britain’s favourite trees, like the yew, the cherry, the holly, the oak, the cypress…you get it. It also inspired me to download this wonderful app from the Wildlife Trust that will help me identify the trees I come across in my walks.

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And my new audiobook listen is ‘Autumn‘ by Ali Smith. Despite the title and cover, this isn’t really a book about nature, but it’s still an appropriate companion to my morning walks, as the orange-gold leaves fall around me and my time in England draws slowly to a close. It’s been called the first post-Brexit novel, and certainly has some sadly relatable scenes. Others are a bit of a mess for me to wrap my morning-fogged brain around at 8am, but still, something about it just ‘works’. And I’m looking forward to ‘Winter‘.

 

There’s just something so comforting in retreating to the natural world, given the tangle of times we live in these days. Ancient trees have seen many-a political parties rise and fall, rolling hills have bore the footprints of cultures from all over, and animals like chimpanzees show us the dark and light parts of humanity in a more basic form. Thanks to Helen Macdonald, I’ll be careful not to idolise the idea of becoming truly wild too much, but I will continue to enjoy a tale or two that bring me closer to Mother Earth.

Any titles I should add to my ‘to-read’ pile? Let me know!

Kahli xoxo

 

 

The Arcade

For the past few years I’ve been working on the first book in a young-adult trilogy, inspired by my favourite place in the world – The Southern Gulf Islands in Canada .

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These islands – “strung like a shimmering necklace between the mainland and Vancouver Island”, if I can steal the Lonely Planet description – have such a unique vibe and special place in my heart (my family have a house on Galiano Island). Not only do they offer stunning landscapes of beaches, bluffs, lakes, and forests, the islands attract communities of artists, free-spirits, nature-lovers and independent thinkers. On Galiano for example, you won’t find a commercial supermarket, but you will find a bookshop and artisan galleries. The island culture therefore feels concurrently caught in the past (rustic and pastoral) and a step ahead (free of the constraints and boxes of the modern world).

My book ‘The Arcade‘ uses the spirit and beauty of the islands as inspiration, but it’s still very much fictional. It’s an environmental-fantasy story that follows a group of island teens as they reach adulthood, grow curious of the world outside their small peaceful realities, and take on the external forces that threaten to endanger their utopian home.

I think it’s time we started talking more about environmental issues in young-adult fiction, given the uncertainty of our future on this planet (there are many things I could reference here, but the latest on the Arctic seed bank is particularly pertinent).

The first book is finished now and I’m currently seeking an agent, but thought I should start getting this idea out into the world, to see if anyone’s interested in knowing more or beta-reading for me. I’ve also just made the Pinterest board that I’ve been using as inspiration for the past year public.

The Arcade on Pinterest

Please get in touch if you’d like to chat about The Arcade!

Kahli xoxo

 

 

 

I Said I’d Chill Out This Year…

…and I have. Kind of. My focus for 2017 was meant to be working hard in my new day job, enjoying London, spending time in nature, and finding an agent for my recently finished YA novel ‘The Arcade’.

I’ve been doing all those things. But I’ve also taken on two small writing projects on the side, because I can’t help it! Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Blogging about magic
Back when I lived in Vancouver in 2011-2013, I worked at a shop on Granville Island called ‘Dragonspace‘. It was, and still is, a dragon shop. That is, it sells dragons and other mythological, esoteric, Celtic and fantasy-related items. I love that place. I still think about it all the time, and it will always be a second home for me. So when my old friends there contacted me and asked if I’d want to write the blog for the recently launched Dragonspace website, I had to say yes! Writing these kinds of features does not feel like work at all, and I can’t wait to do more. You can read what I’ve done so far, and check out our beautiful inventory, here.

Road-tripping, in fiction and real life
I’ve written a ‘social story’ for LongShorts, a digital platform featuring stories told through a social feed by fictional characters (as if you were reading the characters’ Twitter feeds). My story is aptly called ‘Road Tripping’ and is about three unlikely road companions traveling through Western Canada and the troubles they’ve left behind. You can read a preview here, and the whole story via the app. I’m in the process of writing Part II at the moment.

I also went on a real road trip last weekend to the Jurassic Coast and Cornwall. We went fossil hunting along Charmouth Beach, drank until 2am in a campsite bar with Cornish locals, spent Easter Sunday at the famous Roskillys Farm eating as much clotted cream ice-cream as we could fit, admired the turquoise waters of St Ives, visited the breath-taking Tintagel Castle of Arthurian legend, and had lunch at Rick Stein’s bistro in Padstow and then saw Rick Stein himself in the deli! I think when you’re an ex-pat in London, you always feel pressured to see as much of continental Europe as possible, but England has so many treasures itself and I love discovering them. They might not be as exotic, but they’re delightful.

Agent Hunting
I’m still seeking an agent/publisher for ‘The Arcade’. It’s the first book in an intended YA trilogy, and is a low-fantasy story with environmental threads. It’s set amongst a network of utopian islands (modelled off the Canadian Gulf Islands) that come under threat from a sinister outside force. More info readily available to anyone who might be interested!

Meeting New People
Tomorrow, I’m hosting my first attempt at a London Meetup group, focused on Walking + Storytelling, at Hampstead Heath (my favourite place in London) – details here. 

Reading
And finally, I’ve obviously been reading a lot. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels truly transformed me, and taught me how honest and jagged good writing can be. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle had me obsessed and reading in coffee shop lines for weeks. Ruth Ozeki’s ‘A Tale for the Time Being‘ and Eden Robinson’s ‘Monkey Beach‘ taught me so much about atmosphere and location as character. And Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids‘, Joy Harjo’s ‘Crazy Brave‘ and Bill Bryson’s ‘The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid‘ – all starkly different memoirs – had me absorbed in varying experiences of youth, privilege, and art, and gave me an unsettling realisation of how times have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.

All in all, I feel at peace, frequently creatively inspired, and more comfortable in London week by week. More to come soon.

Kahli xoxo

My Pursuit of Green Spaces

I normally only blog about books/writing here, but I wanted to share my second big love today – nature and the outdoors. I’m no Katniss, and I probably wouldn’t survive a night out in the wild alone, but moving to a big smoggy city like London has made me realise how much I crave being around trees or general leafiness.

Luckily, London actually has an amazing range of green spaces within a commutable distance. I’ve been trying to discover as many ‘green’ day-trips as I can. These are my favourite places for woodland walks and field frolics so far (travel distance is from where I live in inner-east London, via public transport).

Hampstead Heath – 40 mins

Hampstead has a wonderful literary history, which originally attracted me to it, but its heath and woods and fields are prime terrain for ‘wandering aimlessly’. I went for a long ramble the other day and found Kenwood House, an old country manor with a history stretching back to the early 17th century. The whole area is perfect for jogging, dog-walking and just sitting back with a book, too. And John Keats’s house is just nearby if you fancy a visit…

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Richmond Park – 1.5 hours

Two words – wild deer. You do kind of feel like you’ve stepped into another world at Richmond Park when you spot your first lot of deer – both Red and Fallow kinds wander the space freely. My first sighting was of towering antlers poking out from the grass under the shade of tree. These guys were very handsome. Even at the height of summer, it’s easy to find a secluded spot amongst trees to picnic and feel like you’re lost in the woods, when really, the quaint Thames-side town of Richmond is just a walk away.

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Epping Forest – 1 hour

Epping Forest is an area of ancient woodland between London and Essex. I’ve gotten lost in here a few times before, once stumbling upon Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge from Tudor times. The forest covers around 2,500 hectares, so you can definitely spend all day walking, cycling or riding along the wooded paths. It’s no wonder the forest was once called ‘the lungs of London’.

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Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood – 45 mins

We visited these woods on the day before Halloween and they were aptly spooky. It was very misty that morning and the shaded pathways were cloaked in silver fog, conjuring images of witchy gatherings and ancient rituals. These oak-hornbeam woodlands are said to be a part of the original wildwood that covered most of Britain about five thousand years ago.

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The Chiltern Hills – 1.5 hours

We explored this lovely area last weekend. I’d read that the Ivinghoe Beacon was an easy hike close to London, and there are a few different trails of varying levels you can take to reach the beacon. We did the Ridgeway Trail, which took us through vast green fields and butterfly reserves, past friendly sheep, horses and Belted Galloway cattle, over tall hills and through stunning orange forests. When we reached the top of the beacon, I marvelled at the beautiful English countryside around us. Apparently these trails have been used by merchants and soldiers for centuries, and it’s easier to feel transported to different times when you’re on the peak of a mountain or beacon.

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I’m excited to explore more of the lush green world around London. I just discovered the Capital Ring walking trails, which look like an awesome way of seeing a bit of everything without going too far out.

If you have any of your own recommendations, feel free to comment!

Kahli xo

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

I’m Still Here

I may have fallen off the blogging wagon since moving to London, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been active! Since arriving here back in March, I’ve been trying to take advantage of this crazy creative kingdom, and its equally intriguing neighbours across the sea.

I spent the last five months working for an events company that brings together executives from the broadcasting and digital entertainment industries all across the globe. It was an enlightening work experience for many reasons, but I particularly enjoyed learning about the rising importance of social influencer marketing, broadcasting from space and digital imaging via NASA (!!), and the future of technology in cinematic storytelling. I’m understanding more and more how “creativity-technology-business” is an interwoven triquetra. I used to only focus on the creative side, but that’s changing.

I’m also volunteering for the Book Bus, a literacy charity that I’ve loved and followed for years (I even blogged about it back here!). I met some of the team at the London Book Fair back in March, and that led to me helping out with their communications. I’m currently writing stories for the monthly newsletter and blog. I love hearing the tales from Zambia, Malawi and Ecuador about books and storytelling bringing communities together and inspiring change.

Writing-wise, I’ve been writing web copy for a few London-based start-up companies. I was not prepared for how huge the start-up community is here, as we don’t really have one in Brisbane. But it’s a fun community to be a part of, and as a writer, I get to help develop the tone and style for a growing web presence, which is exciting.

I’m also getting close to finishing the first draft of a novel. It involves utopian islands and an environmental evil, and that’s all I’ll say for now.

Over the last seven months, I’ve managed a bit of traveling. We road-tripped from London to Stonehenge-Bristol-Bath-Forest of Dean-Brecon Beacons National Park (in Wales). I loved Wales so much that I went back to Cardiff for a long weekend and cycled the amazing Taff Trail, which took me to THREE CASTLES, through forests and countryside, and essentially into another world. I’ve also hopped over to France a few times – around Normandy, Alsace, and Savoie, plus Paris and Bordeaux. Worked in Amsterdam, and played tourist in Copenhagen and Barcelona. This is why we Aussies flock to London, right?

I’ve been inspired to blog again as this is the first week of my life that I’ve been able to dedicate full-time to writing and editing. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I really hope it’s this! I’m always looking to chat about opportunities – writing, editing, events – so drop a line if you’re interested in collaborating.

Until next time (which hopefully won’t be another seven months away…oops…),

Kahli x