Connecting with the river, July 2017

Blog post 1/9/7 (after it has taken a month for broadband to be installed at home)

Sunrise beside Glastonbury Tor. Photograph Robert Bridges.

The month begins grey and damp once again, and I wonder whether grey, damp summers were a feature of the post-Roman time. The birds are no longer so loud and insistent now that they have mated and nested, and they seem to have become a backdrop in the distance. After a few days it looks like we’re going to have consistently summer weather. A warbler just downriver does start up one morning, and the other way there’s a squeakier bird, possibly a lark; all very laid back though, a few birds flitting about but quietly, the occasional fish making itself known, but briefly.

There’s a loud sudden sound from nearby – a coot? – something that’s nesting in the riverbank, though I can’t see it. The river is quiet and still, but the longer I sit beside it the more I am aware that there’s lots going on. When the sky is grey it’s like a warm blanket rather than cold and wet; it’s warm, and day by day it does begin to get sunnier. The growth of reeds, lilies, and general foliage is still getting fuller. A family of swans sails slowly by on their way upriver – a pair of white parents and seven near-full-grown signets, still grey – when they get to the place where reeds have grown most of the way across they have to push themselves through the narrow gap that is left.

It is half way through the month before the weather really becomes hot and sunny for a few days. I spend a delightful afternoon on the Avalon Marshes, taking time to sit in a hide and watch the birds going by and the reed beds spreading themselves around the waterscape. It was noticeable that both flora and fauna are very similar to what I see every day beside the river here, though on a larger scale. It is perhaps this that gives me the impression that the slow, quiet river can look so much like a lake at this time of year.

By now there is a definite feeling of summer weather, at least some of the time. The birds provide a background chirruping more than an unavoidable mass of sound; the river is moving steadily, still fairly full though calm and persistently quiet; small insects move around seemingly aimlessly. A duck in the nearby rhyne is hidden by the foliage but making a loud noise about something. As I sit and get quiet myself I notice more sound from the birds – the young ones must be growing up quite fast – and there are splashings in the river from the fish. Every time I take sufficient time for this I notice that there’s plenty of life going on.

Still humid air brings a feeling of portent; perhaps, I think, a huge thunderstorm is on its way. No, the sense of something impending is still there the following day when there is a thick mist and the dampness of an overnight shower. It fades though, and the weather pushes and pulls between summer sunshine and damp greyness. One day (the start of a hot summer’s day) I am excited to see a small silver fish jump right out of the water to grab an insect. The insects, when one of their number is taken from below the water, get in a panic; but they can’t help staying near to the surface.

‘Was that a kingfisher?’ I ask myself, as something flashes by and skims along just above the surface of the river, going upstream. It disappears very quickly, and leaves behind a cloud of surprised swallows, skuttering every-which-way. Then there’s a small bird, maybe a warbler, hopping about in the reeds just a couple of yards from me. This is the height of summer, though already there are hints of autumn: a chilly morning and steam rising from the water. The swallows dancing around are very active. Sometimes they sit quietly on the telegraph wires but now there’s a feeling that they are preparing to set off somewhere.

The last day of July provides a beautiful sunny morning, though with plenty of dew on the grass – the mornings are getting later. Someone appears with a camera on the other side of the river, taking pictures of the Tor I think; then he asks if it’s OK to take one of me, so here I am, nicely recorded, sitting on the riverbank and writing in my notebook: