Winter, walking, water and birds

Last weekend I set off with a friend to walk a stretch of the sea wall around Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water, known to locals as ‘the Backwaters’. It was one of those glorious, crisp days with radiant blue skies, a subtle whirr of wind but nothing more, and calm water, with just the hint of a ripple when birds took flight. The tide was high, but there was still all variety of winter waders on display. Huddles of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail seemed completely oblivious as we passed them in the distance. To tread these paths is to tread the boundaries of the wild in the area, a major avian refuge. It’s something that I smile about when I think of wetlands. It’s difficult for human development to touch them directly, even if human influence has enormous influence indirectly. Nevertheless, this is a place where we are visitors, not residents, not like the birds.

The sound of Hamford in winter is largely of cackling Dark Bellied Brent Geese, traversing the flat land and seascape from water to fields of young cereals. There is everything that they might need in this landscape and even though part of me winces at the thought of them tucking into the wheat and holding back any benefit from that early growth, part of me also feels incredibly fortunate to have them on my home patch. During the walk we come across hundreds of Brent, in groups of various sizes. Once there was a pair that seemed to be deep in conversation as to whether they should come or go (excuse the anthropomorphism). They stayed.

When people walk, especially walking a dog, they tend to be creatures of habit, adhering to firm boundaries. One could tell when we were reaching the village as the instance of walkers increased dramatically. It was almost as if we had stepped across a magic line outside of which people would not advance.

”Morning”, so said each man and woman we came across, usually couples, but the occasional single walker as well.

The experience of walking with somebody or by oneself fundamentally alters the experience. Of course one can walk together in silence, and that can be fine, but it remains a very different format. Walking to think, walking to get somewhere, walking to see something or simply walking for walking’s sake are all different.

The Shelduck is one of the smarter waders around, with its iconic plumage clear from a distance. These were plentiful on the walk, especially as we approached more open water, yet still near to the islands.

Wet feet were inevitable as we crossed the walking ford to the other side, passing an old converted granary. Lunch was calling and we moved from an avian world to one that was more familiarly human; a return to convention.


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