When my health was a little better, I used to spend a lot of time walking along the banks of the Avon: usually starting from the Stratford Greenway car park; but, sadly, it’s been a while since I was last there.
However, with the weather so utterly glorious and warming, I could not resist my old stomping ground, today: so parked up, and set off, expecting the footpaths and cycleway to be crowded with like-minded souls. On the whole of my two-hour walk, though, I encountered no more than half-a-dozen people – and two of these were navigating a narrowboat through Anonymous – or Gordon Gray – Lock!
In fact, the whole atmosphere tended toward the indolent and balmy. The breeze was gentle (although extremely welcome, when it appeared, sporadically); the river lazy (with the ducks just drifting along as it flowed south-west, treacle-like and unhurried); even the birds in the trees were content to stay hidden – although their various songs (including my first cuckoo for many a year!) provided a wonderful, permanent accompaniment to my wanderings.
The only creature – and they were plentiful, but camera-shy: always perching just out of reach of my lens; or flitting away from me, just as I thought I had one in focus… – busying itself – and in large numbers, too – was the banded demoiselle, calopteryx splendens, with its dark thumb-printed wings: mostly shimmering turquoise males; but occasional coppery-green females appearing briefly, before returning, camouflaged perfectly, to the wonderful proliferation of grasses, shrubs and flowers. (When I was little, knowing only of the fruit, and associated jam, I called these stunning insects “damson-flies” – only realizing my verbal misstep many years later!)
I don’t think I have ever seen the banks of the Avon so verdant. The pathways currently show little evidence of human passage: with cow parsley and nettle leaning in across the barely-defined tracks, rendering the mixture of cracked, dried earth, and occasional muddy trap, almost invisible. Somehow, this made my walk all the more exciting: feeling – because of the absence of other folk – like a lone explorer, finding my way in the green wilderness, under perfect wispy feather-clouded skies.
Starting from the car park, I traversed the river just south of Lucy’s Mill, using the footbridge; then followed Shakespeare’s Avon Way to the lock, near Weir Brake; crossing back over at the increasingly rust-ridden Stannals Bridge, before heading back to Stratford on the Monarch’s Way.
Even in deepest winter (and deepest snow) I have encountered more dog walkers, joggers, and fellow travellers. But today, it felt as if I had the river and banks to myself: my own personal paradise.