18 March 2018
“I’m not walking up Woodmill Lane,” CJ said, once I’d presented him with all the options.
He had a point, even without snow it’s a steep and seemingly unending climb to the Castle at Midanbury and an even steeper descent on the other side. Despite the cold, he didn’t want to turn back yet either though so we crossed the road and kept going along the river.
There were less people and more birds on this stretch of river. One poor greylag was walking gingerly through the snow probably wondering why he’d flown north for the spring. My feet were toasty warm in my stout, fur lined boots and I couldn’t help thinking the feet of the poor greylag and his duck companion must be frozen.
On the far bank, near the activity centre gate, two swans were well camouflaged amongst all the whiteness. From this distance it was hard to tell if they were adults or juveniles. At this time of year most of the adults are usually off somewhere building nests. Hopefully none have actually laid any eggs yet. Keeping them warm amid all this snow and ice would be a difficult task.
We marched on, too cold to stand and watch them for long. By now our fingers and noses were tingling. Each breath became a miniature cloud as it left our warm bodies. The stark beauty of the snowy park was worth the chill though and both of us were smiling as we rounded the river bend.
Our smiles grew even wider when we spotted the strange ducks ahead of us, close to our bank. Getting a closer look at them didn’t bring us any closer to identifying them though. Even a second googling session when I got home, armed with my new, far clearer photos, left me none the wiser, although they do bear a resemblance to Saxony ducks.
Part of me thinks these strange ducks may be a product of some interbreeding between the mallards and the lone white duck on this part of the river. Such things are not unheard of. In fact mallards are not fussy at all when it comes to mating. If they are Saxonys, it begs the question as to where they came from?
Still puzzling over the strange ducks we walked on towards the bridge. In autumn the row of liquidambar trees make this one of the most colourful stretches of the river. Today, in their leafless state, with their branches highlighted by snow, they were almost as camouflaged as the swans had been earlier.
Then the bridge came into view. Mansbridge is always a welcome sight, it’s a pretty little bridge in any weather, today though, framed by the snowy trees and the almost black water, it seemed especially lovely. The glint of water across the path near the final bend wasn’t quite such a welcome sight. It’s not unusual for the path to flood at this point but, from a distance, we couldn’t tell if we were looking at water or ice.
The flood turned out to be mostly water, icy at the edges. After some discussion we decided to try to cross it, keeping as far from the bank as possible. Unfortunately, this was where the water was deepest. We managed to negotiate the large, partly frozen puddle without incident but the cold seeped through even my fur lined boots and seemed to have turned my feet to ice. At this stage we hadn’t really decided whether to climb Gaters Hill and head for Cutbush Lane, cross the bridge and go through Monks Brook, or return the way we’d come. The blocks of ice that used to be our feet made a descision of sorts for us.
Getting warm was now far more urgent than getting home and I knew just the place. We bypassed the little stone bridge and, following the line of the old road, walked under the big new road bridge and headed towards the White Swan Pub. The remains of the old road can be seen here, with its surprisingly narrow pavement following the line of the riverbank.
As a child I remember regular Sunday trips along this road in a little green Hillman with my dad or Pappy. We’d drive to Bassett Green to pick up and drop off my Nannie, who always came to us for Sunday dinner. At night the pub was lit by a string of fairy lights running along the eves. The lights twinkled and reflected in the river. It seemed a magical place, like something out of a fairy tale, to my four year old eyes.
Today it was just a pub but the sight of the open door was very welcome. Inside, the roaring fire and the coffee to warm us inside and out were doubly so. Descisions about how to get home could wait.
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