Monday, 06 July 2020

Enjoyable and educational riverside walk that’s now possible again

Enjoyable and educational riverside walk that’s now possible again

THE predicted, ferocious wind came and horrendous it was too with thunder and lashing rain thrown in for good measure.

We stayed indoors for the duration. Fortunately, our trees sustained no damage but hundreds of branches and twigs decorated the roads and pavements the morning after.

Our birds were largely sensible too, nothing to be seen on the wing apart from some crazy gulls and a maniac red kite, the avian remainder hunkered down in the bushes.

Somehow the little devils managed to chomp through a vast amount of seed provided in our feeders unseen.

It is much calmer this morning. I feed our resident robin with a small handful of suet sprinkles.

Rosemary and I drive to Henley Rugby Football Club and park before crossing the busy Marlow Road on foot and heading towards the river.

Some shapely plane trees that form a clear avenue stretch north and an atlas cedar stands proud on the way to the riverbank. As we stroll along, I gain a contrasting view of the land that I know from across the water. Underfoot the turf is waterlogged.

A broad sheet of water plays host to a large flock of black-headed gulls searching for earthworms as they emerge from the flooded soil. A pair of herring gulls takes note and looks on.

Daisies are coming out in profusion on this classic water meadow. We tread and squelch along the designated path alongside the beautiful line of Henley Reach.

A little further on a string of holm, or evergreen oaks, forms a neat row to our left. As we move towards Fawley Court we pass a large stand of alder carr (woodland on waterlogged soils dominated by alder trees), again to our left.

Centuries ago woodland like this would have been a common sight on the floodplain. Now only a few patches remain and those that do (as in this case) have a kind of primeval feel to them.

Today the woodland is filled with a charm of goldfinches voicing their “ticklelit” notes. Among the meadow plants is false fox-sedge (Carex otrubae), a common component of damp, alluvial meadows.

A wren darts about within and makes a tremendous amount of noise. I love our second smallest native bird. They build the most fascinating nests of moss and grass distinguished by a neat side entrance.

Long-tailed tits construct a similar structure, the chosen building material being small feathers, spider’s webs, moss and lichen. Both birds prefer deep cover to raise their broods. Alder and osiers are dotted along the river’s edge, some with dramatic shapes. The landscape is simply lovely.

We encounter another small stream that joins the main flow. A narrow pedestrian bridge takes us across this new stretch of water. A lost glove (or is it a human hand!) lies below at the bottom of the rivulet. We pass through a small tunnel adorned internally with both old and recent scrawlings.

The path towards the next inlet is, frankly, a bit ridiculous. Some blue cord attached to sticks delineates the right of way. Within this silly arrangement the ground has become disastrously muddy so, like any sensible folk, we simply walk around it. Enough said.

We cross the long-awaited replacement bridge and continue on our way past Fawley Court.

The floodplain takes on a wilder aspect. We pass some red stemmed dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). Planes, horse chestnuts and Austrian pines are added to the picture.

There is a meadow full of last year’s flowering plants laden with seedheads and capsules. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and purple-loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) are plentiful, sedges and common reed all about. Beyond, a withy of osiers (Salix viminalis) and behind more alder carr. This will be such a beautiful place come summer.

A pair of red kites engages in an entertaining, tangled playfight above.

We stop at another footbridge just short of Temple Island. The entrance is flooded and I feel like a complete idiot as I’m yet again wearing my lightweight summer boots so we turn back.

It has been an educational and enjoyable walk, the scenery jaw-droppingly wonderful, and, apart from a strong, gusty wind, memorable.

Vincent Ruane

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