Monday, September 08, 2008

On the Blackwater

Some equipment needed testing, and that testing required a large body of water. So it was that on Sunday afternoon, I went a-boating on the largest convenient river. Pushing my dinghy clear of a deserted launching ramp, I allowed the current to take us. The air was perfectly still, and so Briongloidin rode swiftly downstream in complete silence; the river waters were very dark, rich peaty earth swept from hillsides by a sodden summer. Recent floods have left their mark: mudstains on leafs, a clear line six feet above the current water level.

Soon, a bend in the river erased all sight of the little slipway and the town behind, and I drifted alone, savouring the space and the silence. Really alone, too - around me lay nothing but broad and empty river, and beyond that, densely-treed banks, in full summer leaf - and no house, no field, no road to break the illusion of an escape into the wild.

I was not alone for long, though: the current took me quickly and silently within 30 feet of a fallen tree snagged on the bank, from which a small dark face gave me only the most cursory glance - Neovision vision, commonly known as the "American mink". In this part of the world, he is an interloper - but I was glad to see him, especially so close - close enough to glimpse the sharp little teeth so much regretted by local fish and fowl.

The river soon asked me to chose between the main channel and several intriguing braids split off by islands; aware that the river depth was marginal for motoring, I kept the main channel, and marked them for future exploration. The few signs of human activity that I did see were mostly negative - like bank where several wrecked cars had apparently been used to re-enforce the mud.

From Blackwater

My turn-around came just upstream of a very striking cliff, whose sheer face turned the river sharply to the right; the cliff-face was heavily ivied, by the tallest ivies I've ever seen.

As I turned, I spotted an intriguing tributary entering the main stream from the north bank: a hundred metres or so from the main river, a strange-looking road-bridge crossed a small river to meet a very elaborate gate-house which appeared to have strayed quite a few thousand miles from its architectural roots.

From Blackwater
Onion dome, far from home

Back on the main river, I tugged the outboard into life, and moved back upstream, passing close by what I think was Lutra lutra, the Eurasion Otter - much bigger than the mink, and an animal I've wanted to see ever since I read Gavin Maxwell's "Ring of Bright Water"; if it really was an otter, then it was only my second-ever sighting.

My final contact with the wild came as dusk approached and the slip drew near: a very brave and skillful flying display by Martins (Sand or House?), swooping in low dives to touch the river, then soar away- not a manoevre which they can afford to get wrong.

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