The owners of Steanbridge Mill, Dr and Mrs Fairgrieve, have not only agreed to let me walk through their garden, but Mrs Fairgrieve is to give me a guided tour of their section of the stream. The first thing she does is to point out, from the vantage point of their back fence, a large flattened sunken area between big banks in the field behind. This used to be the holding pond for the mill, apparently, and still fills up with water during wet winters. I missed it entirely when I was walking in that field, partly because was distracted by the attentions of the horses and partly because I didn't know I should be looking for it. Now that it's pointed out to me, the feature is very obvious, and I probably ought to have spotted it because we have something similar behind own cottage, which served the old Vatch Mill. There were many mills in this valley in the past, of course, making use of the two streams, but so far their traces, if any, haven't been obvious to me on the ground. The garden of Steanbridge Mill is the far side of one of the banks that encloses the old pond and Mrs Fairgrieve admits to some nervousness about the bank eventually giving way.
The main stream now runs through a narrow ribbon of woodland which the Fairgrieves own, flanked by farmland on one side and Steanbridge Lane on the other. We follow a path through the wood to reach the small lake at the far end which all Slad thinks of as the village pond. Here, after proudly pointing out a clutch of teenage mallard ducklings which she has been keeping an eye on, and a fox in the field opposite which she accuses of taking one of them, Mrs Fairgrieve leaves me to my own devices. I'm already delighted by this little section of stream and woodland so I retrace my steps, more slowly, to get to know it better.
After trying to take pictures and videos of the lamprey (with indifferent success) and making a quick sketch, I leave him to his stone and settle down against a tree to do some drawing of the area itself. The word 'secret' has kept coming into my head to describe this stream, and on the last walk I found myself talking about children's dens and that sense of being pleasurably hidden from the outside world. It's even more so here, because the fields and the road are very close by, and there's a fair amount of traffic, but the road is hidden from me by a steep bank, and I can catch only glimpses of the fields through the trees, so that I have a sense of being in my own little bubble of watery beauty while the rest of the world passes close by, but unaware.
Walking back up the stream towards the pond, I find several interesting holes in banks and ground. Holes fascinate me nearly as much as animal footprints. I feel I should be able to tell who dug them, and why. I always hope they are signs of small mammals (or even large ones) and not merely dog-scrapes. These are smallish and might belong to voles or similar. Or not.
Google map of this walk