12 April 2017
This week seems to be all about errands and today was no different, not that I was complaining. This particular errand, to drop of a birthday present for Philo, involved a rather lovely walk. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, there was a light breeze to keep me cool. What more could I ask?
When CJ heard where I was heading he got the whiff of coffee at the Swan Centre and was putting his shoes on before I’d even unlocked the door. Down by the river the swans were still thin on the water, mostly last year’s cygnets, some with a few dark feathers still clinging here and there. Three black swans were lined up by the bank, whether these were adults or youngsters I couldn’t tell. Hopefully all the mute swan adults were hidden away somewhere sitting on a nest.
Near the reedbeds the bright new leaves were beginning to unfurl on the oak tree. In fact all the trees were wearing their new spring clothes and there was a hint of green at the base of last year’s raggedy old reeds. We peered at them intently as we passed, hoping to spot signs of nesting swans, but we saw none.
Around the bend the park keepers were mowing. The smell of fresh cut grass was a wonderful sign of spring, as was the blossom on a tree on the far side of the playing field. CJ noticed a huge bird circling over the playing field.
“What is that Mum?” he asked. “Do you think it could be a hawk of some kind?”
It was a strange looking thing, far bigger than anything I’d seen before and I couldn’t identify it at all, at least not from such a distance.
“Perhaps we’ll see better when we get a bit closer,” I said.
We walked on, noting that the daffodills around the entrance to the foxholes were mostly over. The huge round leaves of butterbur had taken their place, hiding the ankle breaking holes even better than the strappy daffodil leaves had.
As the path twisted towards Woodmill we got a closer view of the far side of the park and the mystery of the circling bird was solved. It wasn’t a bird at all but a large bird shaped kite being flown by a man and his two sons. No wonder I couldn’t identify it.
“That must be the best kite I’ve ever seen,” I laughed.
“I wonder if it confuses the real birds?” CJ said.
At Woodmill a couple of swans were bobbing about near the far shore along with a few gulls. The butterbur were massed on the bank here too. They seem to appear almost overnight, just as the unusual pink flower spikes are wilting away. Sadly, we missed the short lived flowers this year.
Across the road the river was completely devoid of swans. The three cygnets orphaned back in 2014 are usually found along here, at least I think they are the same swans, it’s hard to tell now they’re fully grown. Perhaps they have found mates of their own now and are off somewhere building nests? A few ducks were swimming around aimlessly, quacking and squabbling. They were all males as far as I could see. Perhaps there will be ducklings here soon? Further along we saw a few greylag geese.
Pretty soon we’d reached Mansbridge. A large tree beside the path has been cut back brutally right by the spot where the worst of the floods happen. Hopefully it will survive. Time will tell I suppose. It seems to me we need more trees here to soak up with excess water with their roots rather than less.
On the other side of the bridge we headed towards Monks Brook. The new leaves on the trees made a calm green tunnel for us to walk through but, below them, the first of the Himalayan balsam flowers have begun to appear. In a week or two they will be taller than me and crowding in on the path. It seems there is no stopping them. The poor little celandines will be smothered, along with any other native flowers that try to compete with the balsam for space.
A flash of purple at the base of a tree made me think of late crocuses for a moment but it was actually purple toothwort, a root parasite that is especially fond of willow and poplar trees. It is the only member of the broomrape family and is so pretty it is often cultivated as a garden plant. This too is an interloper, introduced from Europe and naturalised by the early 1900’s. Thankfully they don’t seem to harm the trees and are not invasive.
Near the toadstool carving we found the nodding heads of Leucojum, or spring snowflake, and flowering sedge, two more native wetland plants endangered by the spread of the Himalayan balsam. In years to come these may be rarities along our riverbanks.
We were getting closer to the blue bridge by this time and the fences of nearby houses were visible behind the trees, intruding on the illusion of wildness. There was blossom to make up for it though and a butterfly flittering in front of us. It stopped just long enough on the leaves of a purple dead nettle for me to almost get a decent photograph.
Right before the bridge the riverbank is bounded by a wall and, on top of this, in the crevice between the bricks, white deadnettle had taken hold and were flowering. The railing of the bridge framed a lovely tableau of spring wild flowers, bluebells, dandelions and deadnettles. A gardener would be hard pushed to create such a pretty grouping as Mother Nature.
Beyond the bridge we passed the boggy ground where a Tudor manor house, The Grange, once stood. The house was built in the fifteenth century and belonged to St Denys Priory. It was said to have once been the home of Richard Cromwell and was certainly owned by the Dummer Family and Lord Swaythling. It was used as a home of recovery for soldiers after World War I but, after a fire in 1964, it became derelict. It was demolished in 1974. On such boggy ground I can’t help thinking it must have been quite a damp place to live.
Soon we’d reached the gate but, before we passed through, I stopped for one last photo of white comfrey flowers. The next part of our walk would be mostly along busy roads. It was the part I was least looking forward to but even road walking can be interesting.