In the 1990s, Mike Cox from the Friends of Waterloo Meadows co-edited and co-researched a book about the history of Katesgrove as part of the Katesgrove Community Book Project.
The late summer weather in my Whitley garden varied from warm to very hot indeed, with the occasional very wet day. The sun helped increase the numbers of butterflies, bees, insects and moths, of course. One of my photograph highlights for July was the vixen fox with a huge rat, striking a superb pose.
June was a very warm month; during the rainy days of mid-month the temperatures still held at a warm 20°C. On 1 June, the temperature reached 28°C and was the hottest day of the year so far.
You can celebrate Reading’s nature, as well as the people and groups who contribute to it, at a series of events across town starting in late July.
April temperatures in my Whitley garden reached as high as 30ºC and as low as -5ºC, the hottest and coldest ever recorded for that month; the average temperature for the month was 17ºC. We also experienced an afternoon hail storm at the beginning of the month that briefly covered the garden in what looked like snow.
Who would have guessed, on the first day of February, when snow appeared for a few hours, that by the end of that same month we would enjoy summer conditions with temperatures reaching 20ºC most afternoons?
Wildlife activity in my Whitley garden during January was good, despite the cold. There were no great surprises but there was a lot of activity. At the beginning of the year, I saw a female green woodpecker and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers, as well as a squirrel with mouthfuls of dry leaves clearly intended as nesting material.
Flocks of birds are a phenomenon that have always intrigued me. Watching how different birds go about it has fascinated me all my life. There are those obscure little flocks of twittering tits that flit about the hedgerows in winter, and there are those massive and spectacular starling murmurations that fill the dusk skies with choreographed magic.
If you see me at this time of year, I am usually not walking very fast – I am scanning the fields and bushes on my regular walks looking for the common whitethroat. From spring and through the summer there are quite a few of them scattered around Reading, skulking in bushes or patches of bramble, and singing their curious scratchy little song.
The first of this year’s public open days at the amazing rooftop garden above the Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) was on Saturday 7 April. There may be people in the RISC café on London Street totally unaware of the 200 square metres of Eden above their heads, and that many of the herbs and flowers from the garden are used in the café. They are missing out on something quite remarkable.
In the autumn of 1973 David Turner was told by a friend that there was a derelict detached house on the Basingstoke Road that had been empty for a few years and was up for sale.
I met the owner of part of Coley meadows many years ago, and he told me a fascinating tale of two aeroplanes colliding there. He described the area where he thought they had crashed, and for many years I kept my eyes open for any sign. When the Fobney Island nature reserve was being dug I had hoped to find some evidence, but there was none. I looked it up and found a news report; the crash happened on 4 November 1962. There was no detail on the actual location, so I asked a few of the more senior residents, but strangely nobody knew much.
When you hear a very loud, varied, flutey birdsong from your roof or TV aerial at sunset or sunrise in these early months of the year, then you will be most likely listening to a male blackbird. The juvenile first-year males sing in January and February and the older ones follow from around March. Quite why these sentinels of the natural world have such a boring name in English is hard to understand; there are plenty of other black-plumed avians. They are lovingly called merle in French and merl in the old Scottish dialect.
Sadly, there are few good places on Katesgrove hill to enjoy the westward view. The steep west-facing scarp of Katesgrove hill is the edge of a river valley, and at the bottom flows the river Kennet. The river carved the valley into Reading before it became a canal, and used to run riot over a vast area of low lying land between Southcote and Whitley. The valley south and west of Katesgrove is a couple of miles wide, suddenly narrowing as it passes through two hills, Katesgrove and Coley. From the top of Katesgrove hill the view over the valley should be cherished, especially when the valley is full of floodwater and the sun sets beyond.
If you are out on the local roadway or on the pavements grey and you are looking for an interesting walk or a peaceful place to visit, then just over the old Whitley borders across the M4 there is a beautiful church that is almost a thousand years old.