|Spider's webs in the meadow|
Heading downstream again, I decide to try and stick with the stream this time rather than climbing back up to the meadow. The green marquee effect continues. Along the banks, areas of dead leaf-litter with no sign of greenery alternate with areas thick with very-much-alive nettles and other colonising plants. I guess it must be the amount of light penetration through the canopy that makes the difference. Many of the trees are clad in a fretwork of ivy. The stream itself is noisy with many little rivulets and mini-falls caused by the amount of fallen wood which has landed in it. In spite of which, the water seems very clear. I spend a little time looking hopefully for anything that might be living in it, but can't spot anything. A fat bumble-bee drones around me and I wonder what he might be looking for, because so far I haven't seen a single flower down here under the shroud of trees, but perhaps he's just come down to drink.
My progress down the stream is slowed by fences which regularly veer right down to the water and force me to cross and re-cross it. The fences are presumably to control the access that stock has to the water and walking along this part of the stream is obviously not normally on anyone's agenda. This a problem I've encountered before with trying to walk through the valley on a route which doesn't correspond with human pathways or ways of thought. Arriving at a particularly serious fence which coincides with a small, steep-sided tributary coming in from the hillside, I debate whether to cross the stream again or attempt to cross the fence. Someone else has gone ahead of me; there are scrabble-marks in the soil of the steep bank below the fence and a fairly significant dint in the bottom of the wire where something largish has pushed its way underneath. Badger, maybe? No helpful hairs on the fence to tell me. I consider trying to do the same, but decide that as I haven't got a thick fur coat and claws it might not be such a good idea. Instead I wade through deepish mud, cross the stream with the aid of a discarded tyre and move on to a point where a semi-collapsed alder tree has helpfully pushed the fence down to a point where I can step over it.
|Self-Heal (not vetch!)|
I've now arrived back at the point where the path from Trillgate joins the stream. Continuing on the eastern side of the stream through Down Farm land, I presently come across an old brick housing half-drowned in nettles and containing what looks to me like a non-operational ram. The sound recorder and I can hear water trickling down inside the housing but there's no movement in the mechanism. A brass plate attached to its corroded dome declares it to be a Blake's Hydram. I wonder how old it is and whether it would have provided water for Trillgate Farmhouse, which is just visible from here, prettily framed by the trees.
|Old ram mechanism|
Here's a spot where two alder trees growing opposite each other have forced it into a narrow squinch (is that a word? If not, it ought to be) between their roots and created a rapid and a waterfall. Further along is a major gap in the trees and the stream runs over what look like stone blocks. It's obviously been a crossing point for animals for some time - the banks are well worn down - and I wonder if there used to be a bridge, or a ford, which would explain the stone in the stream bed and the lack of trees.
Further along, another gap in the trees reveals where the racehorses are today, viz, in this field, but on the far side of the stream. Discretion being the better part of valour, I decide to walk further up the field in the hope that they won't notice me. Not really out of non-valour (honest, guv) but because being surrounded by racehorses, or doing a fast dash to the edge of the field to avoid being surrounded, isn't going to help my powers of artistic observation.
The upside of being forced further up the slope to avoid the horses is that I get a broader perspective on the stream in its surroundings. The fields on either side of the stream slope more gently from here on as the valley widens and I can see right up to the woods on the other side of the valley. I've stepped out of the secret world of the stream and back into the human world, where the network of fences makes more sense and human sounds of chainsawing and general activity are carried up to me on the breeze. Ahead of me, a rabbit's white scut vanishes into the hedge. (Once again, I'm seeing the wildlife back end foremost.) I can also hear the horses huffing and puffing on the far side of the stream; I suspect they know I'm here, but apparently I haven't done anything to arouse their curiosity.
The rest of the valley may be opening out but the stream is still running in a steep little gully and hanging onto its cloak of trees, only one tree deep on each side now, but still an effective screen so that unless I'm actually inside the line of trees I can't see what's happening by the stream at all. When I walk back into the trees to check, I don't seem to have missed much. The stream continues in its v-shaped gully, full of fallen wood, devoid of any sign of fish or other inhabitants. To my eyes, anyway. Something is happening in the trees at the end of the field, though - I can hear a lot of bird fussing noises, probably not caused by my approach because I'm still too far away, so possibly someone is trying to steal someone else's eggs or impinging on someone's territory. We humans like to think of 'nature' as calm and peaceful but in the course of my walks there always seems to be something to remind me that for the non-human participants it frequently isn't.
When I reach the end of the field, and the end of today's section of stream, because here it stream vanishes into another chunk of woodland and is crossed by a fence marking the boundary between Down Farm land and the garden of the other half of Steanbridge Mill. - which I have yet to get permission to enter. Before climbing over the gate back into Steanbridge Lane, I take a final sound recording. Debris has gathered against the fence, where the stream goes under it, creating another dam-and-waterfall effect as the water forces its way round.
I think this is what I'll take away from this walk for future consideration and/or inspiration - the way in which trees shape the stream and give it voice. Tree roots influence its route and its depth, forcing little meanders and narrow rapids; tree debris creates mini-dams, waterfalls and small pools; the thickness of the tree canopy dictates what can grow along its banks and (I guess) what can live in the water. It strikes me that without all the small obstacles created by the trees, the stream would run smoothly and almost silently and there would be nothing in the way of noise for me to record. As if to make the point, as I walk back through the section of woodland owned by the Fairgreaves', I'm struck afresh by how open and uncluttered their section of the stream seems compared with what I've seen elsewhere. I think the Fairgreaves do regularly clear it and remove fallen wood, and I'm guessing that's why the stream is a more even width and seems stronger-flowing. Is that also why lampreys flourish here?
I'd assumed a tedious walk along the lanes and the main road to get back to the Bulls Cross layby, where I left the car, but I'd forgotten about King Charles Lane, an old sunken track which runs from close by the lake straight uphill to the main road. I'm told it forms part of the route that the armies of Charles I took from Bisley to Painswick during the Civil War - hence the name. Today it's a demure tunnel of green, its steep banks overflowing full of ivy and wild garlic and mother-in-law's tongue and all manner of other things, the surface of the track faced with white stone. Too pretty to have much military cred now, but a much more satisfactory way to finish my walk.
Google map of this walk