Monday, 25 August 2014

A Day Of Water

When I woke this morning I knew I needed to go to the River.

We live in a landscape where water is never far away. The fields, woods and valleys around us carry a myriad of streams, bournes, brooks and rills, all conveying water to the Test as it snakes its way from its source up at Ashe down to the sea at Southampton Water. Sometimes, this water is less apparent: during dry times the Bournes dry up and empty out, then they become only minor indentations in the powdery ground, mere hints and impressions of streams that once were. But they spring back to life soon enough after a fall of rain and during wetter seasons they are always visible. Outside our house there is a small brook that gurgles: frogs sit in it in the Spring time and call to one another, and when I am spending time with the Willow it forms the backdrop to all the other sounds that I can hear.
 
I have always been drawn to Rivers. As a child I often rode across the fields to where the local Water wound slowly down to the sea. My pony and I would splash about or stand quietly under the trees as the water flowed around us. This summer, I have renewed my acquaintance with our River, spending time along his banks observing the water Voles and the kingfishers and the bats, as well as all the other small creatures that live their lives alongside his.


 
I like the ancientness of Rivers; that sense that while all else ebbs and flows, the River goes on; eternal, always flowing forwards, sometimes calm, occasionally, when provoked, raging. Whenever we go anywhere I am aware of the River that belongs to that place and the spaces that he flows through. Here at home he is the Test, in Salisbury he is the Avon, and in Winchester the Itchen.

It was the Itchen that I knew I needed to see today. M, L and I put on waterproofs and warm clothes and drove along the rain-drenched motorway (which was kicking up spray and glowering darkly at us all the way, so none of us felt very welcome along it and all of us knew we wanted to come home by a different road) to reach the ancient medieval streets of Winchester. We parked just down from where the River flows along the old city walls, recalling how the last time we all went that way together he had burst his banks and was swirling and flowing and curling angrily, reaching out to reclaim the land beyond the channels where he normally flows sedately enough.




That time, back in February, it was as if he was reminding us that he flows inside those channels only because he chooses too. His position there was decided for him by the Romans, who diverted his natural flow away from the city centre into a space they considered more manageable. 



There is further evidence of control along the banks where metal and iron have been welded into lines constructed with one ambition: to hold back something that is liquid, seeping and flowing....



Today, the river was peaceful, singing along while the rain fell steadily, no sign of imminent raising up and flowing-over as before....





Although there are places where he foams and spits, areas where he is forced to constrict into smaller channels...





Here, where the water churns, you get a sense of the power that is in this River, a power that birthed two mills......





 ....the establishment of an entire city......


......and the creation of a Bishop's Palace on his banks...




Winchester is a city founded on Water. A hundred years ago, its Cathedral, which had stood for a thousand years, was sinking. It owes its survival today to the actions of a deep-sea diver named William Walker who worked underwater every day for six years to underpin its foundations with bags of sand.




Although it is a Water City, much of the water is now tucked away; hidden, managed, kept discreet. You have to know it is there to find it. My brother in law's grandfather had a shop on the high street years back and Matt remembers him telling him how he would lift a man hole cover up on the street outside his shop and go fishing. The River still flows the length of the high street, deep beneath the road, although you would never know it.
There is also in Winchester an area called The Brookes. It is known as 'The Brookes Shopping Centre' but the real provenance of the name comes from the water that ran through the streets in that section of town for hundred of years until it was redirected into culverts that now flow under the tarmac and the pavements instead. The Brookes is depicted in historical drawings as a poor area of town, a place known for its water-born diseases and poverty.


In secret places throughout the City you can still find glimpses of the River today: hidden streams that flow past houses, behind doorways, beneath roads, under tarmac and concrete, beside walkways so public that no one ever notices what it is they are looking at.



 


There are plants and trees growing there, life begot by the waters, like this Hemp Agrimony bursting out of the walled bank....



And this Willow growing on a small island next the road, its toes curled into the waters....


There are houses lining the banks of the main river, a medieval jumble of rooves and buildings with gardens running down to the water's edge, some of these green and verdant and stuffed full of rambling flowers, others fenced off behind bricks and mortar to keep the rising waters back. In these, doorways open up on to the river and I like to imagine people coming out through them at night to watch the river in the moonlight, or else slipping into a boat and paddling off downstream on some water-born adventure.....



Animals seem less afraid of the waters and many make their home on them. Can you see the Grey Wagtail in the shot below? It is incredibly well camouflaged so you might need to enlarge the pic. Even I'm struggling and I know it's there!
 

People in town were covered up and sheltering from the rain. Umbrellas warding the water off....


Grey skies were a portent of more water yet to come, but not enough I think to encourage the River to burst his banks this time....



I came away feeling sated, and pleased to have seen the Itchen in his cloak of rain. I think I must get down to the Test before long and catch up with the voles before winter sends them deep underground to sleep off the cold weather till spring arrives.


CT :-)

18 comments:

  1. I surely loved this stroll !
    I think I may have told you I lived in England three years when I was younger and since then it has alway had a spot in my heart . I loved my stay there and all the charm and beauty of the country .

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    1. It is a beautiful country with many different faces. There's always something of interest to see, some wild, untouched part, if you but look for it. Glad you enjoyed the post, Willow.

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  2. A lovely post and I enjoyed learning a little about Winchester - looks like a place I would like, hope I can visit one day!

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    1. It is a beautiful and ancient city where you can reach out and touch the past- lots of old buildings and ancient streets dotted with mature trees and wide, green spaces. The Downs and Chalk hills that surround it are worth a visit too- especially the flutters.

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  3. Beautiful series, CT, and excellent storytelling as well. Thank you for sharing and I'm glad I visited. Take care -

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    1. Thank you. Casey. It is good material to work with- it writes the post for you in many ways.

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  4. Winchester is a beautiful city isn't it, so nice to take a walk with you. xx

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    1. It is a lovely place, full of history xx

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  5. A lovely post. I've never been to Winchester so it was really interesting to read all about it, thank you
    xxx

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    1. We're lucky to have it not far away. Such a beautiful city xx

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  6. A really interesting post - a beautiful city and river. Have never been so it was lovely to share your walk with you :)

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    1. Thank you :-) It is an interesting place- I love all the history and how accessible it is.

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  7. Lovely to see a different view of Winchester. I love the story about the fishing! Thank for thinking of us last week and your sympathy. Hope Poppy is making a good recovery. Give Teddy and Poppy an extra hug from me. Sarah x

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    1. I love the fishing story too- it seems so unlikely that there would be a big river flowing just beneath the surface of a city. Am thinking of you, Sarah x

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  8. Tis the sea that draws me me dear but your love of rivers may temp me to other courses x

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    1. Ah yes, the sea- all those moods and tempers. Rivers are like the sea in miniature, I sometimes think :-)

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  9. A lovely walk with you CT which I have enjoyed. I had to enlarge that image to see the wagtail and even then it was difficult. Love the image of the people with umbrellas under the trees.

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  10. Thanks, Suzie. I couldn't believe how the wagtail merged in with the stones. Really hard to pick it out. I like that picture of the umbrellas beneath the trees too :-)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x