|View from the church field gate|
Almost a month since I last managed to fit in one of these walks, due to general busy-ness, so I'm feeling seriously deprived and looking forward to this one. This is the first walk I've been able to do without getting in the car first, since the entrance to the field is ten minutes up the road from us. The church field (so called because - ta-da! - it belongs to Holy Trinity church, Slad) is a curiously L-shaped field running steeply down the hill below the church and wrapping itself around the gardens of the houses on the Old Slad road. It adjoins the Steanbridge estate on one boundary, and farmland on all the others, except for a gate at the apex of the triangle which goes out onto the main road. It's this gate I'm now heading for.
The thing about the church field is that it isn't grazed or managed, except that the grass gets cut annually, which hasn't happened yet this year. It's used occasionally for village events, such as the newly-traditional Easter Egg and Bonio Hunt (children and dogs welcome), but its steepness saves it from fetes worse than death or other more genteel activities. Last time I saw it, which was from the Steanbridge estate boundary, it was elbow-high in nettles and other vegetation, so although it's warm and dry today, I'm wearing wellies, jeans and a thickish canvas top, and feel somewhat overdressed.
|Wild carrot seed heads|
The view from the top of this field across the valley towards Swift's Hill and the hamlet of Elcombe is one of my favourites in the valley, particularly on an atmospheric morning like this one, when the opposite hills turn blue and seem to float on the mist. Most of the view is fields, with a dark line of trees below me marking the path of the stream. A great squawking of magpies from one of these trees heralds the eruption from the tree canopy of a big buzzard, calling mournfully. The field boundary away to my right is a fold in the land running down from the big hairpin in the road and hosting a small stream, audible but not visible from the road, which I mean to try to find today. From up here, the church field looks like a large, shaggy and somewhat unkempt animal with flowers caught in its fur.
The path - which is more like a sort of green ramp - follows the curve of the field round underneath the gardens of the houses above and peters out close to a clump of trees which bulges out from the northern boundary. Now I've been told that somewhere in these trees are the remains of an old silk mill from the days when this valley was part of the great British textile industry. Silk mill? I doubt that silkworms were cultivated in Gloucestershire, so I guess the silk was imported in its raw state for finishing here. I can't imagine the economics of that but presumably there were some.
Exploring the bank in more detail I find no more signs of man-made things but some beautiful big trees and a barbed-wire fence, on the other side of which the old watercourse I walked up on my Steanbridge estate walk is clearly visible. Turning downhill along the fence I seek out the stream, following an animal path that eventually disappears with a flurry of scrabbled-up earth under the fence which closes off the stream in both directions. Following the example of the unknown animal, I manage to roll under the fence in order to get close enough to the stream to record its placid burbling. I'm inside the usual stream-shroud of hazels and willows but I can't follow the stream bank here because of the fence, and because the tree cloak is augmented by thorn bushes, so I have to return to the grassland, outside the trees, avoiding nettles which, in some cases, are over my head. The nettles are popular with tiny snails, if not with me.
This stream-and-ditch arrangement continues almost to the edge of the field and the main stream is really quite small here - it's amazing how much it varies in size along its length. Just beyond where the two finally meet, I can now see where the tributary trickle, the one which comes down from the hill by the bend in the road, joins the main stream. This little tributary winds in and out of this field and the next, where a huddle of young heifers are watching me. When I amble over to say hello to them, they stick their noses through the fence for a closer look, whiffling curiously. I can't resist their liquid eyes and neat, blunt noses so I stay to make a few scribbly drawings of them, probably providing the most excitement their day will offer.
My aim is to walk the final boundary of the field by following the tributary back up to the road, but this is easier said than done as it's well hidden in a melange of blackberries, brambles, nettles, hawthorns and general plant mess and I keep having to depart from it to avoid being ripped to shreds. In the end, I give up and strike back across the hill towards the gate, wading effortfully through long, tussocky grass punctuated by scabious and cow parsley (aka wild carrot), arriving back at the gate hot and out of breath and feeling like I've covered a much greater distance than I have.
Google map of this walk