The Atolls of Acton


As well as the lovely parts of London, I get to frequent some pretty grotty ones too. The area around North Acton station is what one might call post-industrial, a soulless collection of cheaply constructed, thoughtlessly designed warehouses with an unloveable countenance. Those that have not already been demolished to make way for bland new apartment blocks and university buildings will be bulldozed in the path of HS2, the new high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. I doubt anyone will mourn their passing.

Mosses and lichens, Acton, February 2016

I’m a firm believer that beauty can be found in the most unpromising situations. Crossing an ugly, featureless bridge over the Central Line tracks, I spied, glinting in the rising sun, a miniature landscape of lushly vegetated islands surrounded by sparkling reefs, adrift in a murky sea. It was as if I were looking down from a light aircraft, on the approach to a Pacific island paradise.

Mosses and lichens, Acton, February 2016Each mossy island had a mist of melting frost hovering above it, tiny droplets of water waiting for the feeble winter sun to disperse them. Silvery encrustations of lichen spread like ice across the cold stone, flaking away in the middle to create glittering atolls in an ocean of concrete. It was nothing short of magical: a little piece of heaven in an industrial hell. I carried on my merry way with a mossy spring in my step and thoughts of a tropical holiday on my mind.