We are lucky in being able to walk our dog along the river bank. We have a choice of two, each being some 20 miles from us, but in opposite directions. They are however totally different.
The first is a main channel into Port for trawlers and container vessels from all over the world. The crews on deck wave at us and we make a note of the flags and ship numbers to look up when we get home. We can even follow their route and progress via the internet, seeing where they are from, where they are going, what they are transporting and how long their journey may take. Occasionally we see private yachts and cruisers out for a leisurely sail on a glorious sunny day. It’s unlikely to receive any wave as they bathe on their sundecks and socialise with their friends totally unaware of a couple and their dog walking along the river bank in the sunshine.
If the season is right, Canada Geese fly over in their hundreds to the breeding grounds in the Nature Reserve on the other side of the river, and on more than one occasion we have been lucky to see a lone seal bobbing his head in the ripples of the water.
The bank rises some thirty five feet above the water, with the river on one side and almost equally below, green pastures on the other. The dog is in her element as she is free to rush up and down the grassy slopes, showing no interest in the sheep behind electric fencing as they graze. Cattle are another matter and are left to roam, so we are careful to avoid the steaming cowpats littering our way and to keep the dog out of their direct line of sight. Young calves stay close to their mothers as they munch on the grass. Similarly, the dog stays close at heel.
Our destination is a bird hide some 2 miles at the end of the land strip overlooking wetlands. There we can sit and watch terns, eider, egrets, gulls, curlews and a variety of ducks at our leisure as there is rarely any other human presence. Little boats bob on the horizon, and all is peaceful and serene.
It will take us an hour to walk back.
In contrast, the other river bank is on the outskirts of a busy town and has a paved pathway either side. It is hoped to reopen the locks and thus get narrow boats up the canals, but in today’s economy, that hope is but a distant dream. Seats are placed every thirty yards or so, donated by families of a loved one passed, and giving respite to the weary who can enjoy the sights and sounds of Nature before them. The water is alive with mallards, moorhens, coots and beneath the surface we can make out a couple of trout as they swim gracefully downstream. We hear a rustle in the reeds and a river rat slips into the water quickly followed by her baby. They push their way to the other side and safety from the potential of an enquiring nose (though our money would be on the rat!). There have been sightings of otters further upstream away from the town, but that is not the way we go.
In the spring, young ducklings are in abundance, swimming frantically behind the adults trying to keep up. It is hard to believe that in only a few months, these tiny blurs of feathery down will be almost as big as their parents.
Notices warn of fines for not clearing up after your dog, but there are several bins allocated for this purpose along the pathways, so there is no excuse. A young black labrador is on the loose, splashing into the water and causing a ruckus. Water fowl flap in their panic to get away, but our dog, also loose, stands on the pathway and watches in fascination, making no effort to follow suit. She knows she must not, and is rewarded for it.
Another walker with two Westies on a leash passes us from the other direction. The obligatory human nods and doggie sniffs take place but there is no aggression and we each progress on our way. We cross over the river at the bridge, taking in the new construction of manmade overflow sluices that seem strangely alien to an otherwise landscape of green.
Walking back to the car, we pass a young baby asleep in a pram as a tired mother sits and watches a group of children happily feeding the ducks that waddle up onto the path, much to their delight.
At the other end of the river by the car park is an old flour mill dating back several centuries. It is very popular with visitors to the town as there are guided tours and if you wish, you can purchase a pot of tea and cakes made from the flour in the tea rooms adjacent to it.
Two rivers, two walks, two ways of life. Two ways for two people (and their dog) to spend a couple of hours.