From the vaults: A short walk on (and alongside) established tracks (25/03/2012)

When time is limited, one of my favourite shorter walks is alongside the Severn between Arley and Hampton Loade; in particular the stretch between the Severn Valley Country Park and the railway station at Hampton Loade; there is a path which closely shadows the line of the preserved railway without ever straying far from the river itself. This being the weekend of the spring steam gala, combined with some unseasonably warm sunshine, both the path and the line were a little busier than is usually the case.

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There was a time when the Gresley A4 Pacific Bittern would have spent its days hauling express services the length of the East Coast Main Line. It is pictured with a rake of authentic and restored coaching stock, moving at a more leisurely pace through the south Shropshire countryside.

I’m more likely to come here midweek, when the place is invariably quiet and often deserted. The strip of woodland which runs between the riverbank and the railway is a prime nesting area for a variety of birds and is particularly busy right at the moment. It is home to what must be some of the most aggressively vocal blue tits to be found anywhere; they seem to be quicker off the mark than other varieties when it comes to establishing territory – colonising the nest-boxes with all the efficiency of middle-class parents annexing school places.

Along the river itself there are a number of regular kingfisher beats; nothing being guaranteed obviously, but with a better than average chance of spotting one. Even more pleasing for me is that the locality seems now to have become another stronghold for raven – one of a number around the edge of the west midlands. Raven sightings were rare until very recently and there are encouraging signs that they are following the buzzard in becoming no longer just ‘a bird of the west’. It will be even better if they can be joined in the area by red kite, which are now being seen in parts of north Worcestershire.

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In what might be a scene from Oh, Doctor Beeching! a member of the Severn Valley Railway staff carries out final checks before a Bridgnorth-bound service departs Hampton Loade.

The fact that woodland extends on both sides of the line contributes to a feeling of walking through, rather than around, the woods. Many of our local woodland trails tend to follow the periphery of the tree line and my own preference is for walking among the trees rather than skirting their edge.

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Canoeists making the most of an unseasonably tranquil river, and [Below] A fly fisherman enjoying its equally unseasonably low level.

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