Viv Rimmer led the walk on Wednesday 18 January. The original plan had been a circular walk along the Kennet and Avon canal, starting from the Cunning Man at Burghfield, followed by a loop back through the gravel pits. But after days of rain, the Kennet continued to rise, so that by the preceding Sunday, the pub garden was under water and the restaurant was forced to close. Thereafter, the river level slowly dropped and by the morning of the walk, most of the car park had dried out. The remaining small lake was covered with ice and there was a hard frost, but the sun was shining brightly in a blue sky. A Mistle Thrush and a Wren were singing and a Rabbit was feeding in the bottom of the hedge. The walkers set out along the canal towpath, heading in the downstream direction. After a short distance, the towpath passed under a bridge which had rope marks worn into the stone from the days of horse transport, and graffiti dating back to the 1860s carved into the stone. A little further on, a small flock of Greylag Geese were resting on the towpath. They reluctantly took to the water. Further sightings included Mallards, Canada Geese, Cormorants and a Jay. Below Southcote Lock, the canal and river rejoined. A flock of Redwings were moving through the bankside trees. The fields to the south were mostly under water. The walk continued downstream along the towpath until it reached a stretch where the water was flowing over the bank, across the towpath and down into the fields beyond. The water was too deep for the footwear of those who were not wearing wellies, so everyone turned round and retraced their steps to Southcote Lock. A low branch on a riverside Ash was colourfully coated by yellow, orange and grey lichens and darker green moss. The Alders across the water were dark purple in the sunlight and willow branches were orange and red. After crossing the narrow Milkmaid’s Bridge, the group started out northwards along the track towards Southcote, but the water soon became too deep for the people with walking boots. So everyone turned round again, recrossed Milkmaid’s Bridge and headed back upstream along the towpath, passing the pub and continuing westwards. Robins sang from both banks, joined occasionally by Song Thrush and Cetti’s Warbler. The towpath crossed via a footbridge to the north bank of the river. A Hazel by the bridge was covered with yellow catkins but there were no signs yet of the small red flowers. The grassy pastures to the north were crossed by small channels and pools of floodwater. A flock of at least 40 Lapwings and a smaller flock of Starlings were down in the grass by a pool on the far side of the fields. Several Red Kites and a Buzzard circled over the fields, a Raven called, a Mistle Thrush was spotted down amongst the grass and a Grey Heron flew in. Above Burghfield Mill, a weir separated the river and canal. Flow in the Kennet was fast and turbulent, but the still water above the canal lock was covered in ice. Soon after, the group turned round and headed back to the pub for lunch.
Pictures by Fiona Brown