Monday, January 04, 2021

it's a bit parky out there

So this is basically The Lockdown Diaries part 2, part 1 being the preamble to the last post of 2020 which actually turned out to be the usual nerdy obsessing over blog stats and book-related trivia. 

One of the things that the rules dictate during the periods of more draconian lockdown is that you can go out for exercise, but that you have to do it from home, i.e. no driving to local beauty spots, still less hooning off to the Brecon Beacons to get up a mountain, more's the pity. So Nia and I have established a regular running regime, currently focused on the 4.7-kilometre round trip from our house which featured in this earlier post. In the three months since that post Nia's personal best for that route has improved from 28:34 to 26:42, which suggests to me that some time during 2021 or 2022 at the latest she will be slowing down to wait for me rather than the other way round. 

For trips out as a family of five a slightly different approach is required, and the best approach is to head for a green area and just let the kids explore and run about. None of the areas within walking distance of the house can measure up to the vast majestic splendour of the Siberian taiga or the Okavango Delta, but you have to take what you can get. As always if you're forced into a minute examination of your local neighbourhood to try to wring maximum value out of it it's surprising what little hidden gems can be found in close proximity to your doorstep. This list basically expands on the earlier one here which listed some parks and other green areas we'd discovered in Newport. Here's a few places we've been during lockdown:

  • The nearest area of proper wild-ish country to where we live is the green space on the other side of the M4, generally known as St. Julian's Park. There are a few obvious ways into this from where we live - the path from the top of Beechwood Road which goes under the M4 at the elevated section between junctions 24 and 25, the path from further up Christchurch Road which goes over the top of the M4 via a footbridge, or further along towards Christchurch village via the open space known as the Lookout (or possibly the Viewpoint, depending who you ask). Anyway, it's apparently crawling with interesting plant and animal life, documented on this official checklist. Personally I wouldn't know a devil's-bit scabious if I was pissing on one, although I do have the remarkable Seek app on my phone, which I was sceptical about but which turns out to be very good. Anyway, we've been over here a few times, including the walk below whose middle section involved, as all the best walks do, us bimbling around getting lost, blundering into a cemetery and eventually winding up at our intended destination slightly wetter and later than intended.

  • Less spectacular, but nearer the house, is an intriguing little diagonal slash of green in the middle of the area of otherwise fairly dense housing just east of where we live, marked on the Ordnance Survey map as Lawrence Hill. That's the name of the general area, not the green bit which I'm pretty sure isn't significant enough to warrant its own name. Anyway, if you walk along Christchurch Road to the bridge over the M4 you can cut down a footpath which brings you out at the top of this little area, and then walk back down it to get home again. The aerial view is a bit deceptive as it suggests you'd be able to gambol about all over; in fact the slope (downhill from the M4) is very severe and you can't really do anything but stick to the central path, but it's a nice place to spend 15-20 minutes if you just want a quick bit of fresh air.

  • Lastly, on New Year's Day we went out to explore the green area we'd spotted a few times off Aberthaw Road, just a couple of minutes from the house (and avoiding the steep initial climb that's required to get to any of the places up the back of the house). I had been here once before; as I recall I had the boy with me in some carrying device (probably the Baby Bjorn) and had come out for a walk in a desperate attempt to get him to go to sleep. I'd stayed on the roads most of the way and just cut into the park right at the bottom to do a circuit of Lliswerry Pond (the park as a whole doesn't seem to have a name). If you come into the park at the top, off Aberthaw Road, you find it's a much bigger grassy area than it appears to be from the road and quite a good spot for a run about. Lliswerry Pond, where we ended up, is apparently the flooded remnants of a quarry and supposedly a good angling spot, if hauling rancid mutant dace out of a muddy pond and then throwing them back is the kind of bag you're into. I recall being able to do a complete circuit of the pond on my previous walk (probably a couple of years ago), and Google Maps' satellite view still shows a complete path, but we found that a section of the path on the south side had been closed off in a pretty permanent-looking way, presumably either because of bank subsidence or because that corner's proximity to the main railway line provided an easy access point for feral youths wanting to cause mischief.

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