Lamb or mutton

IT WAS ONE DEGREE Celsius and a bright sunny December day when we made our third visit to Bushy Park. When we arrived at about 9.30 am, the car park near the Pheasantry Café was almost empty. On this trip, we decided to walk along the long waterway that leads from the Diana Statue to the Leg of Mutton Pond. The stream flows through several ponds, which were partly covered with a thin layer of ice. Gulls and other waterfowl stood on the ice, there bodies being reflected in its mirror-like surface.

The watercourse is part of the man-made Longford River, which I described recently (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/09/20/diana-and-the-deer/) as follows:

“… King Charles I (reigned 1625-1649) ordered the building of a canal, the Longford River, which carries water for 12 miles from the River Colne (a tributary of the Thames) to the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. The man-made waterway, designed by Nicholas Lane (1585-1644) and dug by hand in only 9 months in 1638-39, flows through Bushy Park, supplying water to its numerous water features. The water is drawn from the river Colne at a point (Longford near Slough) whose altitude (72 feet above sea level) was great enough to ensure a fast flow to Hampton Court Palace, which is only about 13 feet above sea level.”

On an 1867 map of Bushy Park, the river is named ‘Queen’s or Cardinal’s River’. In the past, the Longford River has been known by these names as well as the ‘New River’ (not to be confused with the canal with the same name that carries river water from Hertfordshire to Islington) and the ‘Hampton Court River’ (https://freejournal.org/4020246/1/longford-river.html).  The river enters Bushy Park and divides into two main streams about 1.3 miles west of the Diana Statue that stands in the midst of a circular pond. One of the streams flows south into the grounds of Hampton Court Palace and the other flows east to the pond containing the statue. Some of its water is diverted to flow through the park’s attractive woodland gardens, which are separated from the rest of the park by a fence erected to prevent entry by the deer that roam around Bushy Park. From the statue, it flows eastwards through the Boating Pool, the Heron Pond and then to the Leg of Mutton Pond. From there, it flows under Sandy Lane and enters the Thames east of it, having travelled the last stretch beneath the ground.

The Boating Pool does not appear on the 1867 map. When we saw it today, people were propelling noisy radio-controlled toy boats across it, much to the dismay of the waterfowl bathing in the water. I did not spot a heron at the Heron Pool, but I did see cormorants perching on the Statue of Diana to which some Christmas hats and tinsel had been added. On my first visit to Bushy Park back in about September, I did see a heron on the edge of the round pond in the middle of which the statue stands. Although I saw no herons during my latest visit, there were plenty of gulls, geese, ducks, swans, coots, and moorhen on all three ponds that punctuate the Longford River.

The Leg of Mutton Pond, when seen on a map or from the air resembles the conical lump of meat, which rotates in front of a grill and from which shavings are sliced and put into ‘pita’ bread when ordering a Turkish döner kebab, rather than a leg of mutton. The pond tapers far less than most legs of mutton. Bushy Park is not the only place in London with a Leg of Mutton Pond. Other examples can be found on Hampstead Heath; near the Dollis River in Totteridge; in Barnes; in Richmond Park; and in Wanstead Park, there is even a Shoulder of Mutton pond.  

Mutton is not frequently eaten by people of European heritage living in the UK today. It is not so easy as lamb to find in shops. The consumption of mutton in the UK declined many decades ago. Tracy Carrol wrote (https://localfoodbritain.com/surrey/articles/forgotten-mutton-slow-food-worth-the-wait/):

“In Victorian times, mutton was the food of kings and paupers alike, yet things started to change when New Zealand and Australia found themselves with too many sheep as a by-product of the thriving wool industry. Once refrigeration came into being in the late 19th century, the solution was obvious – ship the meat to Britain to feed its hungry and growing population. This was the beginning of the end for British mutton and by 1925 lamb was beginning to appear more and more on our menu. It may not have had the depth of flavour of mutton, but this younger meat was more reliable, even in the hands of the careless cook.”

It is the depth of flavour of mutton that makes it a far better ingredient of curries. Providing one cooks it slowly and for much longer than lamb, it becomes a tender flavoursome meat, and the curry gains a rich flavour, rarely attained by using lamb. Given that mutton prevailed over lamb when long ago ponds were named, it is not surprising to find ponds named after mutton, rather than lamb. In fact, a search of Google or its maps for a ‘Leg of Lamb’ pond or other body of water yielded no results.

Given the ‘way back’ position of regular mutton-eating in the timeline of British food history, seeing the ‘Leg of Mutton Pond’ on the map of Bushy Park made me keen to see this venerable pond. Our walk from the car park to it was truly worthwhile. When we returned to our vehicle, the car park was almost full, as was another one close to the Diana Statue. So, if you wish to enjoy Bushy Park at its best, try to get there early in the morning, well before 10 am.

Watching

It gives me great pleasure and sense of wellbeing watching the ducks, moorhens, geese, swans, seagulls, and other fowl, swimming in or sitting close to the water bodies on London’s parks.

Sometimes, I have spotted rarer birds such as herons, cormorants, and pelicans (in St James Park). Golders Hill Park in northwest London used to have flamingos. I do not know if they are still there.

I often wonder what the birds think about the humans, who come to visit them, that is if they think at all. Are we good company for them or simply an occasional source of welcome food waste?

It does not matter to me whether or not they think, so long as they are there to give us all a pleasurable experience and that they are enjoying life in an avian kind of way.