29 February 2016
The bonus day of 2016 came with blue skies. If you are going to have an extra day in a year this is just the kind to have so CJ and I set out early to visit the swans and take advantage. It felt like a spring day and I smiled as I walked past gardens with quirky ornaments and blossom on the tree near Monks Walk.
The geese in the tree were glittering in the bright sun and the bank beside the slope at Riverside Park was a mass of daffodils. The river below looked calm and still. Further on things were anything but calm or still. A scuffle was going on near the jetty. One of the adult black swans seemed to be getting the better of a white one, chasing it through the water and pecking viciously at its tail.
Despite being the smaller of the two, the black swan, with his wing feathers fluffed up, was the victor and the white swan swam away. By the time we got down onto the jetty they seemed to have settled their differences and were all swimming happily together. A flotilla of other swans, seeing us, powered towards us on the sparkling water.
The black cygnets were there too, dancing in and out of the shelter of the jetty underneath us. CJ threw a handful of swan pellets and they fell on them, snaffling and slurping. Soon there was a circle of swans, both black and white, furiously gobbling at the pellets.
While the food lasted we were the centre of attention but, of course, they were finite and had soon been devoured. Now we had a whole load of swans and cygnets looking at us expectantly and no food to throw to them. Dirty looks were directed at us and one white cob, with a glint in his eye, seemed intent on photo bombing my pictures of the black cygnets.
After that petty squabbles began to break out. The black swans are certainly the more aggressive species and even the cygnets weren’t averse to taking on a fully grown mute swan. Even so, the mute swans seemed to be in a quarrelsome mood too, with the grown ups snapping at their offspring. Maybe it’s the hint of spring in the air.
Leaving the swans behind we climbed back up to the Triangle where the lovely metal signpost looks in need of a lick of paint. It has to be my favourite signpost in the whole city and I wish I knew who made it and how long it’s been there.
It was far too nice to go straight home so we passed behind the clock tower and headed up to Deep Dene.
“Perhaps the bluebells will be out,” I mused. “In the 1950’s this used to be called Bluebell Woods.”
“They might be,” CJ said, “there are enough daffodils so you’d think the other bulbs would be thinking it’s spring too.”
“If not, we might see some interesting fungi. There’s been enough rain lately.”
There were a few strappy green leaves near the gate but not a sign of any flower buds. Obviously the bluebells are far more sensible than the daffs and are holding on until it really is spring. We hadn’t gone far before it began to get muddy and I wondered if walking through Deep Dene woods had been such a good idea. The ground rises steeply as you head eastwards into the trees though and pretty soon the going got much drier.
“Last time I came through here there was a tree with something really strange going on on it,” I told CJ. “What it was is a mystery but it looked as if something had eaten the bark away and was devouring the inside of the tree, it looked like a relief map of something. I thought it might be ants or some kind of bee. I wonder if it’s still here?”
“Do you think you’ll be able to find it again?”
“Maybe? It’s not a very big wood after all, although when I was a kid and played here it seemed huge and scary. I’m pretty sure it was off the trail as it runs along the steep bank along Cobden Avenue.”
We set off in that direction, peering up into the bare branches of every tree.
We found a fallen tree I didn’t remember seeing before and another that had obviously fallen long ago and had rotted or been eaten away until it was just an odd, spiny skeleton. A squirrel taunted us by sitting stock still on a branch nibbling a nut then dashing high into the branches as soon as we got close enough for a picture. What we didn’t find were bluebells, fungi or the tree with the strange pattern.
“Maybe it’s been cut down,” I said.
“Maybe you imagined it,” CJ replied.
We followed the trail as it circled to the north and soon we could see a small pond in the distance between the trees.
“This was once the garden of a big house,” I told CJ, “and I think the pond probably dates back to that.”
“What happened? Was it bombed?” he asked.
“No, the house is still there on Midanbury Lane, you’ll see it through the trees in a minute. It’s flats now though. The last owner left it to the council and they turned it into a public park. That’s about all I know though because there doesn’t seem to be much information anywhere about it, not even the owner’s name.”
As we got closer to the pond we could see what looked like pieces of paper floating on the water. It turned out to be a lot of printed leaflets. CJ tried to fish them out with a stick but they were so soggy they sank as soon as he touched them.
“We need one of those litter picking tools,” I said. “It really annoys me when people drop rubbish like that. I don’t understand why they don’t just take it home.”
“Looks to me like someone got paid to deliver all these leaflet and decided to just dump them and take the money.
He was probably right but it didn’t make it any less annoying.
We left the wood by the back entrance on Midanbury Lane right next to Deep Dene House. CJ wanted to get a better look at it. Sadly, it’s pretty well screened from the road so all we got were snatched glimpses but we did stop to look at the old gatepost with the name inscribed on the algae covered stone.
Our Leap Year bonus day walk had not had the bluebells or fungi I’d hoped for and I hadn’t been able to find the odd tree but we did get a bonus surprise as we were heading home. In a garden on the way back we spotted grape hyacinths, the first of the year. They may not be bluebells but they’re close enough.
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