23 November 2015
For all my plans to walk down to the river every day until I spotted the black swan cygnets I hadn’t been back once since the beginning of the month. This was mostly down to terrible weather so, when I looked outside this morning and saw blue skies I knew it was time to have another look for them. Maybe this time I’d have more luck. Those sky and the unseasonable warmth made it feel quite springlike, a feeling compounded when I spotted blossom on a tree near Monks Walk. For a moment I thought I’d entered some kind of time warp and it was actually May, then I remembered seeing this same tree flowering last December too. Either it’s a magical tree or it’s totally confused by the weather.
There were several swans lurking by Cobden Bridge but none of them were black. Two swans followed me as I made my way along the path and, although their snowy white feathers were beautiful, I couldn’t help being disappointed, especially when I reached the jetty and the black swans weren’t there either. If I hadn’t seen the photographs I might have thought someone was pulling my leg and there were no black swan cygnets at all.
Still, it was sunny and I was in the park so I might as well enjoy it. Near the bend in the river the bare twigs of the tall poplar seemed to glow in the sun and nearby what looked like a crab apple was covered with small fruits, reminding me of Christmas baubles. How could I do anything but smile?
The river by the reedbeds was as calm and flat as glass, reflecting the sky, the reeds and the leafless trees. Two children were making a game of throwing sticks into the water as I passed. Around the corner Iris seed pods had burst to reveal bright red, berry like seeds. Nearby, fat round mushrooms were sprouting on a rotten tree stump. There may have been no cygnets but there was plenty to see.
With no leaves on the trees behind the reedbeds I was able to get right down to the water’s edge. This gave me a view of the river I’ve rarely seen along with a closeup of the swaying reeds. Most of the trees along the river are now bare although some have a few leaves still clinging on. Near the mill bare boughs snaked across the muddy sediment, making me wonder how they ever survive with their roots permanently under water.
The mill was all peace and serenity with gently tinkling water and the usual complement of gulls basking on the roof. All around skeletal trees reminded me how beautiful they look once the leaves have fallen. The advantages of a month of almost non stop rain was clear in the brilliant green of the grass and, above, the thin layer of cloud rolling in contrasted dramatically with deep blue sky.
Across the road seed had been spread on the path and a mad dash was on amongst the ducks and pigeons to gobble it up quick smart. At this stage I knew any chance of seeing black swans was long gone so, rather than carry on to the White Swan, I decided to head off along the edge of the park to River Walk. The narrow path was green with algae after the November rains and soon I emerged by the Jubilee Water Fountain, erected in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The fountain was donated to the city by Sir Samuel Montague and once had a water cup and copper crown above the pretty fish scale roof. Sadly the cup is long gone and the crown has been bent beyond recognition.
There was fun to be had kicking through the fallen leaves along River Walk. Something about a thick cover of crispy brown leaves seems to turn adults into children, or is that only me? Beside the path the boggy ground between the trees was an alien landscape of blue green algae. When I reached it, the trail behind the park was mud covered with slimy, slippery leaves. My boots slithered about on it and I wondered if this was such a good plan after all.
The alternative was turning back along the river or a long, boring walk through the streets of Townhill Park. Neither seemed very appealing so I soldiered on. As a reward I spotted some interesting looking fungi on a rotting stump beside the path. They were small and scaly but I haven’t been able to identify them. Somehow I made it to the fallen tree without ending up on my bum or my knees. It was a surprise to see it still in exactly the same place it had been the first time I walked this path. It was a tight squeeze to get past and a surprise to find no fungi have taken up residence as yet.
Another tree had fallen but had become entangled in other trees and somehow not hit the ground. The huge trunk listed at an alarming angle, the rootball lifted but some roots still stood strong. Whether a tree can survive like this is a mystery but, if ever a tree deserved a chance, I think this one does for sheer tenacity alone. There was an eerie beauty to the silent woods and I was almost disappointed to emerge into the gorse at the edge of the playing field.
The trees on the edge of the field had branches like ink blown drawings and the sky behind was a layer of dramatic, brooding cloud backlit by the sun. Like the park, Cutbush Lane was strangely quiet. In fact, I’d hardly seen another soul since Riverside. I wasn’t sure where everyone had disappeared to but I wasn’t complaining.
A little way along the Lane the gates to the Gregg School were open and a couple of workmen were making repairs. They ignored me as I passed by, too busy to even notice. Somewhere inside those gates is another of the boundary stones I’ve been hunting for but, as its private land, there’s little chance to go inside and poke around. I was thinking about this as I ambled past the high fence, the view inside obscured by trees and, for some strange reason I decided to stop and peer between the railings and branches. What made me stop at that exact spot is a mystery but I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the boundary stone, as clear as day, right beside the path on the other side of the fence. Of course I tried to take a photo but, although I know it’s there and can just about make out the grey shape of the stone with an green stripe across it in the centre of the picture, it’s really just a blur. Still, I suppose I can technically tick off one more.
Walking up the final stretch of the lane towards the village I felt a strange mixture of pleasure and disappointment. I’d come out to see black swan cygnets and failed abysmally but I had found another boundary stone, even if I couldn’t take a proper photo. Some you win and some you lose, I guess.