Then there was the river walk, along the full length of the old course of the Brue and the Axe. Suddenly it was just two weeks away and up to the last minute I felt unprepared, but it went very well.
After five days walking along the river I arrived home with quite a sense of achievement, but also a feeling that this will require a big process of integration. I promptly went down with an unpleasant head cold, which has forced me to take it easy for the last few days, and to remain with myself and not much contact with other human beings. My best means of achieving such integration is through writing, and so far working to complete my book about The River has been very encouraging; I hope the finished result will be available by the autumn.
Here an extract, arriving in Bruton:
'Beyond the dam, the river by now is getting gradually wider, and (on average perhaps, it’s difficult to tell with so many rocks and pools) deeper. This brief section must be the prettiest part of the whole of the Brue, with overhanging branches and the cool protection that the water receives from trees and bushes growing beside it, sunlight reflected on the barely rippled surface, and the gentle lapping of the clear moving stream around slabs of rock, shingle banks, and occasional pieces of driftwood.
It is a shock then when this comes to an abrupt end with a well-heeled modern housing estate built down to the river’s edge. Its name – can you bear it? – is ‘Bruelands’. A prominent sign tells us that we are in a ‘designated public place’ and that ‘you may be arrested if, when asked by a police officer not to do so, you consume any intoxicating liquor in this area’. I don’t drink and I don’t wish to be disturbed by drunks, but I find this notice offensive; usually such things appear only in churchyards. ‘Liquor’, you will see, is spelt in the American style.
In the old days, of course, it was only people who couldn’t afford to live elsewhere whose houses were down near the river. In the seventeenth century one of Bruton’s half a dozen water mills was built upon this particular site, but nothing so picturesque now. I walk on by and look for something better; much of Bruton, after all, is wonderfully stone-built and late medieval. Once I am past the outer defences of ‘Bruelands’ I arrive in a town that is the best I could expect as the first stop on my way along the river.
I retrieve the waterside at St Mary’s Church and Church Bridge, and the ‘Riverside Walk’ (built as an MSC Community Programme in 1987) does a reasonable job of guiding the visitor past Bow Bridge. This is a 15th century Packhorse Bridge, so called because it was built with very low parapets so as not to get in the way of horses’ panniers. The annual Packhorse Fair still takes place every June, with stalls and entertainments along Lower Backway near to the river. There are four bridges in Bruton, the third being a modern wooden footbridge that leads into the park, and the fourth Leggs Bridge at the western end of the town. This last is a disappointing 1930s construction with a main road (the A359) roaring across it; something with a name like ‘Leggs Lusty Bridge’ must surely have a longer and interesting history, but not much is written about it. There was once a triple-arched stone bridge – perhaps the great flood of 1917 got the better of it.
The High Street is more or less parallel to the river and much higher up – very sensibly, since in days gone by Lower Backway was quite frequently flooded. The High Street’s architecture is perhaps Bruton’s proudest boast, with a mixture of styles going back at least 500 years. And the town’s most recent attraction is a statue down by the river that had only been installed for a month when I was there. Perhaps I should have taken more notice, apparently Bruton people like it a lot. It is a man sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper. No, I must have imagined the newspaper. Some years ago when I lived in Salisbury a friend who was a local press photographer perched me on a bench in the park next to the river, reading a newspaper. When the river was in spate, as it was, the artificial concrete-surrounded ponds in the park overflowed, and the adjacent benches were marooned. It produced an amusing picture and I made the front page of the ‘Salisbury Journal’. In Bruton, however, floods have been abolished. Perhaps the statue-man was reading a book, in comfort. I’m sorry I can’t remember.