Friday, 10 July 2020
THE rain is incessant, relentless. Down it pours, day after day, and depressing it is too.
Rosemary and I want to plant new things in the garden but the weather conditions render our ambition redundant. We yearn to get out and about but it is just too wet, windy, dark and grim.
The rain temporarily eases and I step outside. A bumblebee is doing the rounds of our hellebores gathering nectar and performing some pollination in return. A grey squirrel raids a hanging grain dispenser then shoots off through the trees when it spots me. I envy its agility.
I spot a brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), then another. I don’t like them. They are not, as their Latin name suggests, from Norway but from the Far East.
Real pests, they were first recorded on our shores in the early 1700s. They breed with alarming speed, spread Weil’s disease or leptospirosis and will chew through electrical cables that can and do start house fires. I’m determined to eradicate them as soon and as humanely as possible.
Next morning the rain has let up at last so I can take on my overdue planting duties. Cowslips and native bluebells meet the earth as they escape the confines of the (unfortunately) plastic pots that they were grown in. I use my gloveless fingers to feel a connection with the soil as I insert and spread the plant’s roots. Above greenfinches twitter, jackdaws “chack” and our bold robin follows my every move, a new gardening companion.
In the early evening male common frogs (Rana temporaria) have begun croaking in our pond. They sound like little revving mopeds. I find this amphibian chorus somewhat amusing.
We drive to Henley to look at the river. The level is extremely high again at Riverside. Marsh Lock is a no-go area, the approach along the lane flooded. The Thames may rise even further. I hope not.
We then head to Sonning. The surrounding fields are inundated, water lapping at the roadsides. We’ll need to plan where we can go on our next excursion.
Several days later the weather forecast indicates that if we want to get out then today is our best bet, the rest of the week looking decidedly dodgy.
We decide to avoid any muddy woodland bridleways and instead choose to revisit a portion of floodplain with some reliable paths that lead to the Thames.
Arriving at Henley, we cross the old bridge and turn down a now unflooded Remenham Lane, head to Aston and leave the car by the Flower Pot pub. We enter Ferry Lane, now clear of water, and make our way towards the river.
As we pass the last cottages to our left, we encounter a small flock of comic-looking guinea fowl. They move like over-fat chickens and are obviously meant for the table. I will never get over their funny countenance.
Further on the next field is largely under water. Two mute swans graze on the lush grass, carrion crows sit in the tops of swaying trees beyond and red kites wheel about expertly in the windy sky.
A blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spinosa) is in full flower, a charming sight with its simple white, fragrant flowers.
As I admire the fissured bark of a fine old field maple (Acer campestre), Rosemary alerts me to a flock of small birds ahead as they cross the lane right to left, bush to bush. They are bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) and quite a lot of them too. A neat little finch and winter visitor, they closely resemble chaffinches but can be easily told apart by their white rump and dark back.
A plantation of tall hybrid black-poplar (Populus x canadensis) swing in the breeze, their heavy, strong trunks rising from a mini-swamp.
We gain the lane’s end and Rosemary feeds some feisty mallard ducks. The path to our left that leads on to Hambleden Lock appears sodden and slippy so we turn back to the cottages that we’d passed minutes before and turn right along a footpath that takes us north towards the lock through open country over a solid, broad path.
It’s incredibly windy, the sky looks foreboding and, just as we meet a huge old oak tree, we’re caught in a brief hailstorm that was not predicted.
The hail stops and we move on. A sublime line of silver birch is lit up by a burst of sunshine, the trunks a brilliant white against a dark backdrop.
Before we pass through a small, waterlogged wood, two large black and white birds fly low above the ground in the distance and promptly hit the deck. I can’t identify them and I’ve forgotten my binoculars.
Inside the marshy wood, which provides a windbreak, a lone coot explores between the tree trunks.
We visit the lock and weir. The river is powerful and fast but smells great. The old walnut tree by the lock-keeper’s house stands firm and delightful little pink cyclamen shine on the small lawn. We turn back.
As we re-enter the wood, Rosemary informs me that it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. I wonder why.
As we move on, I notice some movement in the water to our right and all of a sudden the surface seems to boil like a scene from a movie and then erupts as hundreds of small fish leap into the air in an attempt to escape the jaws of a hungry perch or jack-pike. I advise Rosemary not to go for a paddle.
As we near our lunchtime destination, 70 or so wood pigeons and carrion crows are spooked and take off in a turbulent mass. Strange.
The Flower Pot is welcome relief. No sooner have we ordered our pints and food than the sun comes out again brighter than ever.
Through the window I spy a gang of house sparrows hopping through a hawthorn hedge. Within a minute they are all hopping the other way. They then repeat the process. What kind of game is this? A blackbird seems as perplexed as we are.
I’ve eaten so much that Rosemary cajoles me into walking it off and finishing our day with a brief stroll towards Culham Court.
The sun shines and it is so clear that it is possible to see for miles and miles.
Across the river a black cloud is tipping it down with rain. A mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) hops about on the slope ahead and pheasants stride about.
Then it happens again but worse — another hailstorm that lashes us with little white bullets that sting our faces and necks. We return to the car and head home.
So much for weather forecasts.
09 March 2020
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