I have been out beating the bounds again…and getting thoroughly lost! One evening I headed out hoping to pick up a lane that would bring me out down river from our house, so as to complete a southerly loop of the parish boundary. Looking at the OS map it seemed fairly simple so I didn’t bother checking street names and of course took the wrong one.
The choice was between Tan Lane and Water Lane. In hindsight the correct choice was fairly obvious. I know which one all of you would have chosen, making the quite understandable assumption that Water Lane might lead to some water and the nearest bit of water might be the river. Oh no, none of your logical thinking for me! I chose Tan Lane and ended up in an industrial estate; a really big industrial estate where all the names are a variation on a theme and all the units look the same. I discovered all sorts of niche products are manufactured just streets away from our house, and some so niche I had to google them when I got back!
It was some consolation to spot many of the plants I’d learnt about on the city wall wildflower walk, making their home in cracks and crevices all over the place. There was one particularly comic prickly lettuce who seemed to wave enthusiastically at me as I passed it for the second time. At last I made my way out of the labyrinth and found myself on the western bank of the canal. My aim was to join the brook that upstream forms the western boundary of the parish. After it leaves the parish it flows through the industrial estate, coming out alongside the canal and wiggling its way through reeds and marshy land until it reaches the estuary.
After some to-ing and fro-ing along the canal towpath I at last found the footpath I was looking for, veiled by overgrown vegetation. A laminated planning proposal flapped against an old fence post. The footpath is due to be scrubbed out in only a few months time to make way for a new train station to service the industrial estate. Scrambling through thigh-high nettles the path was clearly not in use any longer so I could see the sense but it did make me wonder what errands had caused the path to be formed in the first place.
Leaping the railway track and crossing a bridge the path brought me out on the far side of the brook and I headed upstream. I know this section of the brook quite well from childhood. I remember seeing it from our car window whenever Dad would take us into the industrial estate on the hunt for car parts. I can see it in my mind’s eye, trickling miserably down an enormous concrete flood basin. Opinions on flood risk management seemed to have changed since then because the brook is barely recognisable. The rough shape of the concrete basin is still evident but it is now bursting with grasses, reeds and wildflowers. In the dusky evening it was the most enticing array of olive and mossy greens, bronzes and golds.
Now, technically I wasn’t following the parish boundary anymore, in fact I wasn’t in my own parish at all. But who’s going to let a technicality get in the way of a good walk?! So I struck out to the southwest, leaving the brook and following a deep lane with a cobbled channel down one side in which ran a mossy spring. This lane is called Clapperbrook Lane and I’d been wanting to walk along it for ages. Clapperbrook Lane is super old, probably Iron Age. Bounded on either side by ancient walls and the windowless ends of old thatched cottages. It is narrow, dark, green and very very beautiful. If fairies live anywhere it’s in Clapperbrook Lane. As its name suggests it once led down to a clapper bridge and in aerial photos from the 1940s it is surrounded by farmland. This parish used to be a rural village on the outskirts of the city and its centre still feels very village-like. There’s the old church, the village hall, the school and lots of cottages jumbled around the central crossroads. But the coming of the industrial estate in the 50s and then the tacking on of various housing estates has changed it considerably.
Making my way through the village, admiring the many beautiful front gardens and trying to ignore a looming black raincloud, I crossed a busy road and met the brook again. This time I was back on home turf, in the valley on the far side of Roly-poly hill. Quickening my pace along the field edge I experienced that funny summer storm light you sometimes get. Do you know the kind of thing I mean? Where it is all dark and black directly above you but in the distance the golden sun is setting. Its long rays reach into the dark and catch the edges of the fat raindrops that are just starting to fall, making them glint and wink.
I left the footpath when it met a lane. The lane crosses the brook at a ford, with a little metal bridge for pedestrians. The brook swings out wide after the ford forming a tranquil pool with a shingly beach. The water reflected back the dark canopy of trees that shroud the spot. I could hear the rain hitting the canopy but beneath there was only the gentle drip, drip of the odd raindrop trickling down between the branches and plopping into the pool. In the growing twilight I turned for home, heading up Roly-poly hill and down past the allotments.
As you can see from the picture, I am currently drawing vintage bottles!