We are very much into winter now. There has been frost this week, though not today, and the trees are almost bare, though some are still hanging onto their leaves in the face of the weather.
|Oaks glowing in the sun|
I enter the field close to a significant hairpin bend in the road. It slopes steeply and is currently well soaked and squidgy with recent rain. There is the occasional flower - small dandelion-relatives - still hiding in the grass, which says something about how warm this autumn has been, I guess. As I squelch my way down to the stream, I disturb a deer lurking in the trees by the water and a squirrel or two. The stream runs along the bottom in quite a steep little cleft. The owner of the field reckons that it's only half as full as it used to be in earlier years. He says he used to see water voles and other wildlife down here which he thinks have now disappeared because the water level has fallen. Higher up the valley, some parts of the stream run in a much flatter bed and give the impression that it couldn't hold much more water than currently, but just here, it's obvious from the shape of the banks that it could be a lot deeper, and has been in the past.
|Steep banks and low water|
Half way along the field and by the stream is an old stone building - a barn, I think, though round here there's always the possibility that it's a bit of ex-mill. It does have some curious winding gear sticking out of one side of it and there is old machinery lost in a clump of brambles behind it. On the other side of the barn the fence has moved and it's possible to get down to the stream. The opposite bank is steep, sandy and sharply cut-in, like a miniature cliff. Most of the stream doesn't really have the kind of bank you can imagine water voles living in, but just here it does seem possible. And indeed, there is a small hole down by the water, though I very much doubt it belongs to a water vole. No 'lawn', for a start. What else makes holes by the stream? Rats? Kingfishers? My list of UQs (Unanswered Questions) grows longer.
|Lover's knot in hazel|
From here on, trees grow only on one side of the stream, allowing more greenery to spring up on this side, including something which looks a lot like watercress but probably isn't, and the occasional clump of irises. The stream is bridged by a fallen branch from a willow which is so straight that at first glimpse I assume it's a pipe of some sort. The illusion is helped by the hollow noise the stream makes running over and under it. Noises are actually in rather short supply this morning - pausing to take in the general atmosphere of this field, it seems to me that 'quiet' about sums it up. Not much noise, not much activity, unless you count the traffic. I've heard very few birds and seen very few insects. No spiders, slugs, snails or anything. Even the squirrels seem to have gone to ground. Winter dormancy reigns - even the plants by the stream give the impression of having battened down the hatches until spring.
The end of the field is marked by a very definite red brick edifice, the wall of someone's garden. Beyond here, the stream is flanked on this side by houses - the first tendrils of Stroud reaching up into the valley. The wall looks old and extremely solid, topped by a massive ruff of ivy (well, better than barbed wire) but down at its base is a small hole. I like the thought of some little animal industriously setting out to undermine this great barrier for its own purposes. There's been evidence all up and down the stream of how unimpressed the rest of the mammal kingdom is by our human boundaries. They just patiently set about finding a way over, under or through them.
Elated by my heron encounter, I get brave enough to shimmy under the barbed wire for a closer look at the stream in the earlier part of the field. Down here, throwing up multiple stems seems to be the order of the day for trees - they are all at it, even the hawthorns. I remind myself to look up - it's so easy to go around seeing only the bottom halves of trees, failing to appreciate their full height and the complexity of the canopy - and am rewarded by a spark of brilliant colour as a jay flashes away from a branch above me.
I'm glad I persisted with the fence, because from this side of it, I can now see that there's a small tributary stream running into the brook. From the other side, it was very thoroughly hidden by a group of sagging and half-collapsed willows, their limbs gnarled and rheumaticky-looking. They have no leaves, but I'm pretty confident that they are willows because of their fantastically heavy-duty bark, like flock wallpaper writ large. This small stream winds down the field crossing and re-crossing the field boundary with blithe disregard for human fences. I trace it back to a tiny trickle of water not far below the road. By now the afternoon is getting short on light and warmth, so I decide to call it a day and go home for tea.
Google map of this walk