It's a very warm afternoon, probably the warmest of the year so far. It's only a week since it was freezing cold and definitely winter, but this feels like the first day of spring. I'm on land belonging to Slade House in Summer Street, Stroud. Slade House is a handsome Georgian manor house, reputedly built by the owner of the Vatch Mills, and most of the land along here was once part of its estate. All that remains of the estate now, apart from the garden of the house, is a narrow slice of land sloping steeply from Summer Street right down to the Slad Brook, and adjoining the Wades Farm field where I stopped after my last walk. The owner of Slade House has just given me a brief tour of the area and I'm about to start exploring on my own.
The Slade House land is part field, part scrub, with a bit of woodland by the brook. The fields form a steep hump between two gullies which run down to the brook, even steeper than the humps and bumps of the Stroud Slad Farm fields. From the top, almost level with Summer Street, there's another amazingly different view up and down the valley. As we walked down the hump, the owner showed me a couple of big badger setts. He also regularly sees deer here.
|View from the top of the hump|
The birds are determined to get in on the act. While I'm trying to record the sound of the stream at this point, a burst of high-volume song from a robin in a nearby bush almost drowns out the water noise. I can see the wall of the garden on the opposite side of the brook where I stopped my previous walk, and I can also see that the garden on the other side of it is a mass of snowdrops. It's odd, looking into gardens from this angle, like looking into a dollshouse where the side opens up, or a stage set. Or like peering into other people's gardens as you're rumbling past in a train and having a sense of getting a view you're not really supposed to see.
|Good branch for kingfishers?|
|Old ladies gossiping|
There are signs of a manmade structure in the stream here, the remains of a low wall sticking into the flow, and old bits of brickwork toppled into the stream nearby. Perhaps an old outflow? Or it may be more evidence of the old mill workings.
Following the stream, I quickly come to the edge of the wood, and a wire fence. This is not, in fact, the legal boundary, which according to Ian is somewhere else, closer into the wood, but this is the practical boundary, stopping animals in the fields from coming into the wood and down to the stream. Interesting thought: a legal boundary is a line on a map, a practical boundary is where something has to happen, or stop happening. Here is another part of the practical boundary, the further of the two gullies which define the hump. This one is now the outflow of a storm drain which takes water away from Summer Street above. From the end of the gully is a shallow channel running across the flat land by the stream and down to the water. It's currently dry, but surrounded by a rash of crisp packets, sweet papers and other crud brought down from the street above, a reminder of how close 'civilisation' is.
Time to go home. I walk back up the line of the storm drain, picking my way through the undergrowth. The gully becomes quite deep in places, almost a miniature gorge, and higher up it has water in it, which somehow disappears lower down. At the upper field boundary is the spot where it starts, with a big pipe projecting out of the ground. But given the steep hump-shape of the ground, I'm betting there was a stream here long before the storm drain was needed for Summer Street.
|Evening light on the valley|
From the top of the hump, pausing to take in the view of the valley again, I'm struck by the realisation that I'm standing on a different sort of boundary - the precise line at which the valley stops being entirely countryside and starts to get involved with the town. From this vantage point, it looks very stark - to my right, I see nothing but fields, to my left, houses creep out to meet them, and in front of me is the leading edge of Uplands, where they join. It isn't quite like that in reality, because there are three or four more fields between here and Stroud on this side of the brook, currently out of my sightline, but from here on, the influence of the town is going to be felt.
Google map of this walk