The Mid-Yare valley is an intimate and special place. It lends itself to linear journeys and no more so than in late autumn on a blustery day when the westerly wind blows us, and the fallen leaves, along in its path. Having left a vehicle at Limpenhoe we started the walk from the car park of Strumpshaw Fen, the RSPB reserve. It is an oasis of biodiversity and hosts some spectacular species of wildlife. Today we wanted to eschew the company of others and have the valley to ourselves.
The first little treasure is what I have named the Buckenham Loop. It is a short stretch of country lane accessible by a level crossing at each end and we walked it as the sky grew more leaden and the wind began to increase in speed. A few hunched Rooks gleaned the tailings of the stubble field, the harvest as distant a memory as summer itself. On the right the flood plain in the form of Buckenham Marshes on this bank of the Yare and Claxton Marshes on the other side.
Wigeon Drake and Duck
The impetus of the autumn migration is beginning to grow and in a few short weeks the ubiquitous whistling of Wigeon will fill the air as they cram the dykes and fresh marsh and turn this area into a refugee camp for this and other species of ducks and geese.
Wigeon on Buckenham Marshes
We crossed the railway line again and climbed the hill. On the left is the theatre in which the one of the greatest natural shows in this country, the corvid roost, is performed. Unfortunately there is only one evening performance every day, with no matinee, so all was quiet apart from a few Jackdaws and Rooks, resting like ballet dancers after morning class, taking sustenance before the big show.
The path past Buckenham Church, almost engulfed by surrounding woodland, led to a walk through a network of quiet narrow lanes with hedges on both sides. These were modern hedges consisting of mainly Hawthorn and Field Maple, staggered double rows and some plants still wearing split tree guards from their days as feathered whips. This regimented look makes the lanes seem as if they have been canalized. My favourite hedge species, Spindle with its dayglo pink fruit with equally vivid orange seeds, was conspicuous by its absence. Historically, its hard, cream white timber was valued for making spindles for spinning and holding wool and the fruits, baked and powdered, used to treat head lice.
Among the adolescent hedge plants stood a mature oak, so large that it seemed self-conscious. It sported a beautiful hornet nest on its trunk, a masterpiece of wood pulp and saliva, like a brooch. A perfect example of commensalism: a nursery for the progeny of the insects yet doing no harm to their host.
The lanes were wearing a covering of dry fallen leaves which rustled under our footfalls like wrapping paper on Christmas Day.
They led us to footpaths a few metres above the valley floor. I never fail to be amazed by the width of the flood plain and the comparatively small size of the river. From the top of the two valley sides is around 3 kilometers and one has to look back in time to understand the disparity. The valley is a window into the past itself. Around 10 000 years ago the vast ice sheets of the last great glaciation began to melt as the climate warmed. The raging torrents of melt water tore through the countryside, propelled by gravity on their way creating massive valleys and depositing vast quantities of sand and stone high on what became the sides of them. What we see now are the fossilized remains of the work of these prehistoric rivers.
The paths led to the riverside and a walk past the anachronistic sugar beet factory, as if some giant piece of Brutalist sculpture had been dropped in to this soft landscape.
Cantley sugar beet factory
The scrub along the riverbank yielded the highlight of the walk – a Lesser Redpoll, yellow bill, with a speckled and streaked brown body and a small scarlet flash on its brow. It was a last islet of colour in a growing sea of grey tones as the rain began to fall.
All too soon we climbed out of the valley, following a path lined with Corkscrew Willow. This is not a native species and must have been planted many years ago but its presence is not incongruous and enhances its surroundings.
The rain became more insistent as we hurried to the village hall in Limpenhoe and our transport back to the start. The valley began to be subsumed by the low cloud and my focus turned to the road ahead.