I can’t believe it. I’ve been back in my home town for more than five weeks, and I still haven’t been out on the bike. Too bloody cold! The unusual weather in Hong Kong, which I complained about in Haywire, is being replicated here in Britain, although clearly the culprit here is not El Niño. Equally clearly though, it seems to me, the two phenomena are connected.
I may not have been doing any cycling, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. I’ve been out for a walk around my home town every morning, whatever the weather, although I won’t cover more than 5–6km if it’s raining. There is usually plenty to see and hear as I walk the town’s ‘green’ footpaths, quiet residential streets and even quieter country lanes.
The first ‘checkpoint’ on my walk is Thacka Beck Nature Reserve, a small wetland area on the northwest fringe of town. Thacka Beck is an artificial stream that was created in the fourteenth century to provide the town with a water supply. It connects the River Petteril to the north with the River Eamont to the south, and at one time it split the town in two, but nowadays it is completely covered over apart from one very short section.
The wetland area is essentially a buffer zone that was built to ameliorate the potentially catastrophic flooding that used to occur all too frequently in the town centre. Ducks are a common sight here, and the occasional moorhen can also be spotted:
There are also four cows that have been left to graze the marshy area around the central pond:
I have mentioned these animals mainly because they do not appear to belong to any of the common breeds found on British farms. It would not be surprising if they did turn out to be exotics though, because there is an agricultural college a mile or so down the lane, and you wouldn’t believe the strange-looking sheep I’ve seen in some of the fields.
The other day, all four cows were making extensive use of the sign that proclaims that the nature reserve was constructed using funds from the European Union:
This one had what I can only describe as an excruciating itch in its right cheek, which it didn’t seem able to alleviate, although that didn’t deter it from persevering. I thought that the scratching looked painful.
Leaving the nature reserve behind, my route takes me under the railway, but on one occasion a few weeks ago I’d just passed under the bridge when I heard a very striking birdsong. I managed to make several recordings, and although it was very much a case of point and hope, I also took a photograph that was at least good enough to help with identification (if not much better).
An unidentified songbird (click to play):
I sent the photo and recording to a friend, who prefers that I don’t mention his name. He suggested that it was a mistle thrush, an identification that I was able to confirm on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website, which provided an audio clip. I’ve since noted several on my walks, often in the same tree, at the same time, but this bird has never been back.
The route then leaves town to the north, following a series of quiet country lanes, before doubling back across the town’s golf course and through a short wooded section…
…to reach the edge of the built-up area.
Most of what was farmland to the southeast of town when I was growing up has long ago been developed for housing, and this process is continuing, but there is still a pleasant path through the fields that avoids current developments:
On several recent occasions, I’ve encountered this small group of sheep, which appears to have become trapped in this area after forcing its way through a spring-loaded gate. These individuals are remarkably calm and relaxed given how close I was (I couldn’t get any further away).
It even has a traditional stone stile, although this one is a tight squeeze:
I had been in the habit of heading back through town shortly after crossing this stile, but this morning it occurred to me that if I kept going until I reached the River Eamont, I’d find a public footpath along the north bank. Here are some photos taken from this path:
Although this isn’t the end of the walk, there is no option, once the next road has been reached, but to head back into and across town. And that’s enough exercise for the day.