A summer’s day in March
It had been forecast: the clear skies and steep climb in temperatures; but the thing about forecasts is that there’s generally only two sorts: lucky and wrong! So we dressed for March and hoped for April. In the end, what we got was more like May going on June.
From the car park, deserted at our relatively early start time, we descended quickly through coniferous woodland; mature natural woodland, not densely-packed plantation; the trees sufficiently spaced to allow light to reach the forest floor and for walkers to move comfortably between them. A path took us down to a crossing point on the Severn Valley Railway and then to the bank of the river beyond; the sun was just clearing the trees as we emerged onto open ground and immediately the effect was noticeable. Within a few hundred yards a layer had been shed and wouldn’t be needed again.
Slightly removed from the water’s edge runs a secondary path; the earth soft enough to register a print, firm enough to retain its definition. We picked up deer tracks, followed them quietly for some distance, but the visitors had apparently arrived and departed before us. There were clear impressions of badger tracks, their droppings and those of probably a number of foxes. Evidence of things unseen (to use yet another of those resonant phrases borrowed unashamedly from elsewhere).
We were treated to one of those occasional sequences which are, I suppose, among the many rewards for simply being out and about. It began by following the movement of a pair of dippers working the shallows around an area of partly-submerged gravel: our attention was diverted first by a great crested grebe then quickly again by a tiny diving duck, impossible to identify against the glittering background of the river, before finally being interrupted by the momentary, electric blue flare of a turning kingfisher.
The river level was low enough for genuine rapids to tumble and race in places where, in times of spate, there would be little more than a slight disruption in the water’s surface; if even that. We switched to the opposite bank for the return trip, using the footbridge at Arley, which always puts me in mind of the one spanning the Tummel at Pitlochry, being painted green and with a tendency to bounce as you cross; although the Arley bridge is supported rather than suspended. And the Severn rarely, if ever, runs as clear as the Tummel.
There was a brief moment of guilt as we inadvertently disturbed a large crow about to swallow a succulent-looking freshwater mussel. Hopefully the bird remembered where the meal had been abandoned and could return to enjoy it in peace. Climbing away from the river and back towards the car park the path was alive with the activity of wood ants, moving with great purpose across the warm ground.