There could be a debate about whether the areas to the south and west of Worcester city centre genuinely qualify as urban: there’s a cathedral, a county cricket ground – once considered the most picturesque of all the first-class grounds – and the Severn meandering in a leisurely manner (today at least, if not always so) towards its confluence with the Teme. The Malvern hills are barely eight miles distant, and look closer.
We rarely drive to Worcester, or indeed to Malvern: for a day strolling the city, or a longer one walking the hills, the train is by far the preferred option. The walk from Foregate Street station to the riverside paths takes you right past the Cornish Bakehouse, purveyor of fine and varied pasties. Lunch is easily taken care of; all that remains is to choose from one of the wide selection of benches adjacent to the river. Stick to the cathedral side and any time from mid-morning on you’ll be catching the sun, if sun there is to be caught.
As well as the road bridge carrying the A44 there are two pedestrian footbridges crossing the river within easy walking distance of the city centre. The most recently constructed – just past Diglis weir on the southern side – added the final link in a pleasant, undemanding, circular walking route.
With the river low and slow-moving – consequence of an extended dry spell – a grey heron waded further from the bank than would usually be possible; repeatedly spearing and swallowing morsels too small to identify. There are some relatively new kids on this particular block – cormorants: there was a time, not so long ago, when they would have been a rarity this far upstream; these days they’re a fixture and their appetites are said to be prodigious by those who study these things. They will certainly be competing with the herons for food, possibly also for nesting sites. As of now, herons generally appear to be doing well; testimony to their adaptability and instinct for finding first water, then fish.
Speaking of which – fish that is – they could be forgiven a certain amount of paranoia: to further complicate their already hazardous existence, a kingfisher was patrolling a stretch of the river immediately south of the bridge. It was disinclined to pose for the camera – waiting part-hidden among the vegetation at the water’s edge. Seeing without being seen; not an easy trick for such a brightly-coloured bird.
Crossing the bridge and turning back in the direction of the city we found some of the plumpest wild blackberries we’d seen for a good few years; fully ripened and the size of large raspberries. Unfortunately a posse of hornets – the European variety, not the Asian ones which are the source of so much concern – had found the blackberries first. Risk seemed to outweigh reward, so we moved on. Last week in October and the hornets looked a long way from slowing down their activity.
There was still time for the day to throw us one final surprise: a decent-sized salmon – exhausted from the look of it – making a few tired attempts to climb the weir, never really managing to get fully clear of the water. Eventually we lost sight of it, partly a consequence of being distracted by the brief drumming of a woodpecker before it flew away.