A wet dawn progressed into a sunny, bright day. A good day for a stretch and to re-visit a too-long-neglected area of my local patch.
From the centre of town, a causeway runs, perpendicular to the main street, from busy road to quieter river. Originally the Tudor approach for the now ruined Cowdray House, the raised path today is popular with local towns people and dog walkers, and still provides a safer route when winter rains fill the low flood meadows either side. The damp fertile soil of these flood meadows is enriched and hoof-hollowed by summer grazing of cattle, but by this end of the year the cattle have been taken to drier pastures and already chill water glimmers between the rush clumps. A barn owl used to hunt here, but it has been many years since his ghostly apparition has bothered the voles that squeak between the rough grass and tussocks.
Despite the plastic bottles, cans and crisp packets that huddle beneath the squat bridge halfway along the causeway, and the varying volume of the traffic from the main road and adjoining car-park and bus station, the Cowdray Meadows are often rich in wildlife. Multi-stemmed willows, linden trees with baubles of mistletoe in their crowns, and sepia-tinged alders crowd the meadow margins and shade the bank-sides of the River Rother that borders the north and eastern ends, often lending its waters to the seasonal floods. Beside that squat bridge, a small scattering of willows grow with their feet in the meadow floodwaters, the rushes maturing taller and ungrazed between them. Stonechats are a regular sight here in the winter months, but there is no sign of them yet. I remember an early morning, when the sun shone low between these trees on a pair of roe deer browsing. Today it looks perfect for unseen snipe and woodcock to shelter, and probe the mud with their long beaks, but I wouldn't like to wade out through the rushes to encourage one to break cover, and it doesn't seem fair to flush them anyway.
As is my habit when walking this route, I stood for a while leaning over the stone walls of another, bigger bridge, this one allowing me to watch the waters of the Rother rushing underneath and listen to it singing. I had not realised how much rain fell overnight, but the swirling brown waters were testament to the amount of water rolling of the hills and fields upstream.
From here, the path drops down off the causeway, along the edge of the meadows and around the base of a small hill. Atop this hill, under the roots of gnarled chestnut trees are the remains of a Norman castle which has leant its name to the mound; St Anns Hill. Other steeper paths climb up this hill away from mine which runs following the river, and lead over the top back into town. Russet foxes sometimes slink through the woods, or sunbathe on the low stone castle walls on quiet afternoons. This afternoon, jackdaws and grey squirrels quarrel over crevices and rain-worn holes in the trees. Great giants of fallen trucks rest on blankets of chestnut cases, lulled asleep by the soft "hoo" of stock doves. Blackbirds chattered in alarm from the bushes, swooping low across the river. On the opposite bank, the polo lawns roll away to a fringe of woodland and distant chimney pots, its velvet green dusted with white specks of gulls.
I felt like I was walking through the image in a stained glass window, with the way the sunlight shone through the leaves overhead. Chestnuts and sycamores, glowing golden hues.
My path soon veered away from the main river, wishing it well as it gurgles and hurries on its way, and I followed backwards in the steps of its tributary along the old forgotten wharf, towards home, leaving long shadows to finger across the Cowdray Meadows, and the Jackdaws to their squabbling and chattering above the ruins on St Anns Hill.