The River Walk

The alarm was not a welcome interjection to my slumbers. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Just a further fifteen minutes or better still a whole hour? The early night I had promised myself did not materialise as I lay awake – eyes unfocussed. brain whirring like a massive data storage facility on silicon roundabout as recent events provided fodder for insomnia.

The alarm went off again – just fifteen minutes later – oh bugger it! – I’ll get up now.

I had been promising myself this day for well over a year. I needed to get up – yes, I was now 50 and yes, it would be more sensible to stay in bed and get some sleep but I needed to embrace the moment, treat this opportunity with reverence and wonder. I needed to get out of this bed now!

Breakfast was a paltry affair. I let the dogs examine the garden as I filled a cafetiere with strong coffee. My new small metal flask was soon put to good use as I recharged batteries for the camera and inserted them. It was 5.30am. Sunrise was 5.48am. I needed to get going.

Footwear was not obvious. I had originally thought about a pair of crocs. The same ones I used when restoring the gravel bed at Hellesdon water meadow but I thought these might be too flimsy. I wisely opted for an old pair of lace-up trainers which could be chucked away after use if necessary.

I said goodbye to the dogs, shouldered my rucksack and crept out of the front door. The sun was just giving the sky a blue glow as I headed towards Gunton Lane and the River Tud. I walked along the horse field where the Tud runs alongside the fish farm and
slipped quietly into the water. The coolness made me exhale until a new norm was achieved and I focussed on the task in hand. The old trainers felt firm on the riverbed. The sun had not yet made a full appearance but there was no point in delaying the moment. I swung the rucksack off my back and bent over to negotiate the first of several bridges. I scanned the timber and concrete construction for any sign of swallows nests just as I had done as a child down at station brook all those years ago. There were none.

I emerged from the bridge where the Marriots Way and the Tud intersect into a short stretch of the Tud. I knew would be deep. The substrate turned sandy and sucked at my footwear. I started to lose my footing as the depth increased. The riverbed disappeared into a dark morass and I rolled my shorts higher and higher in an attempt to remain dry and negotiated the bend. Roots from the majestic sweeping alders tried to trip me up. I passed the deepest part and entered a new narrower section with reeds and sedges on both sides and small shoals of chub that darted too and fro. The occasional larger chub would get separated form the shoal and loitered at the water’s edge until the last possible moment before hurtling past me towards freedom. How strange it must be to have your world invaded and at such an early hour. There must be benefits from my presence as I disturbed sand and invertebrates from the riverbed. I imagine breakfast has begun downstream!

river walk 1
The quietest time of the day was often the last hour before midnight. I may have just come in from the pub or if we were staying over, I was popping downstairs to make a bed time hot chocolate. Dad was always there. He was just ‘pottering’. Maybe washing up the remnants of someone’s supper or more likely laying the table ready for the following morning's meal. Cup, saucers, marmalade and porridge saucepan were all placed in a state of readiness for the morrow. It was often then that we would chat. Father and son. A world apart in terms of politics and attitudes but nevertheless two people enjoying the closeness of those precious moments. We might touch on some current event or occasion or perhaps just dote together over the dog. I miss those times.

The next section of the Tud is very familiar. When Rosie, our collie, was just a few months old we would walk up this shallow, stony section. Rosie would snap at the bubbles created by the shallow water careering over hundreds of protruding pebbles whilst I would kick at any areas of thick weeds that threatened to colonise the river bed and adversely affect the stony and invertebrate rich substrate of this beautiful chalk stream. A myriad of microhabitats that enabled the biodiversity of the river to remain rich and varied.
I recalled how, in deep winter last year, I had disturbed a pair of snipe from the water’s edge at this spot and watched, with bated breath, as a water rail made its way around the adjacent flooded pools seemingly oblivious to my presence. It was also here that in Spring I clasped by hands together in a pose reminiscent of Johnny Wilkinson and blew into the clenched fists to attract the first cuckoo of the year. The poor birds having arrived exhausted from Africa are often fooled by my mimicry and fly round and round in a tightening spiral until the game is up and they fly off in disgust to find a real mate. This mimicry may be the reason for the latest recorded cuckoo in the British Isles on 22
nd December 1954 in Milford haven in Pembrokeshire.
I wear a couple of thumb rings now and it took me a while to realise that they were impairing my ability to produce a facsimile ‘cuck – oo’ sound. I nearly removed the rings and dropped them into my pocket until I recalled the time in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire where as an eleven year old in an eager state to produce a noteworthy ‘Native American Indian’ call I had removed my brace and promptly lost it. The replacement cost mum and dad £10 which was a lot of money to them at that time.

A small pedestrian bridge lies ahead. If you lean over the hand rails, stare at the river bed and let your eyes accustom to the light you can see a host of small fish called gudgeon drifting around allowing their strange tentacled mouths to find food items by touch. At this point I met the only other person on this journey. I see this bearded chap most mornings walking his small black terrier and we often exchange a greeting. On this occasion I started to explain why I was walking up the river at sunrise but soon decided to just smile and say hello. I have seen him since and not a word was said about my strange behaviour that morning.
The river broadens as it flows through an avenue of mature alders. The water, only inches deep hurries over rounded pebbles. Predatory chub and trout wait under the banks waiting to accelerate out to lunge at an unsuspecting mayfly that has recently emerged from months as aquatic larvae to mate. The mayfly dips its abdomen into the water to lay eggs. If it gets it wrong the combination of a large surface area and the adhesive quality of the water surface is always lethal. I recall watching mayfly trapped in this way being taken by wild brown trout in Dovedale earlier this year. I took to timing the survival rates of the mayfly and estimated it in seconds. The Tud, like the River Dove runs clean and holds the necessary aquatic life to support these beautiful streamlined torpedoes. The latin name for the group of invertebrates that mayfly belong to is ephemera - 'things lasting no more than a day'.

Red bridge lies just ahead. It has great significance to me as it provided a lifeline when we first arrived in Norfolk with two small boys of 3 and 4 and I needed a place to take them, which was cheap and exciting. Red bridge was just that place. It’s a bridge and a place. A small area at the start of the Gunton Lane Recreation site where the river widens, Children paddle, families picnic, young folk drink lager cans in the long Summer evenings and dog walkers throw sticks for their canine pals. In terms of a Community space it is very well used and the Tud is at the centre of its activities. The draw of the clean shallow water tugs at something very basic in us.
And so it was with two small boys and a couple of nets bought for a quid a piece from the local post office that we paddled and fished our way through the first couple of years in Costessey. We caught tiny silver fish - small chub and dace. They look very similar when young with the shape of the dorsal fin providing a definitive identification. We watched common darters in the late autumn and lesser celandine in the spring. We watched the brown, muddy torrents after a storm and the clear, gentle trickle after a period of drought. It is at this point that I want to recognise the efforts of the groundsmen from the Costessey Parish Council that do such a fab job at cleaning the place up each day so that it starts new and fresh again the following morning.
If you ask anyone where red bridge is in Costessey they know where you mean. However the actual state of this iconic landmark is not really apparent until you examine it more closely. The gentle arch is a reminder of an earlier, less urgent time when giant shire horses would stomp their weary way back from the fields after a spring plough or an autumn harvest. Having spent years lambasting the American use of the word ‘fall’ to describe autumn I have decided, having visited Vermont, that it is rather an apt term for the physical gravity assisted phenomena of abscission – namely leaf drop.
However the logical conclusion would be to rename all four seasons as Sprout, Grow, Fall and Death. I think I will stick to the Vivaldi version of events.

Red bridge looks old and worn from the top. From the underneath it looks positively terminal. Long cracks run the length on either side and a large chunk of the roof lies, gently eroding on the river bed. I wonder how long the man renting the horse paddock at the end of the bridleway will be able to drive his van over. Certainly the Parish Council identified the problem some years ago and installed a new wooden footbridge. Probably after a risk analysis prompted them into action. The actual red bridge itself has been left to fate, as with earlier crossings.

I suppose the same could be said of Dad. We knew he was ill - his kidneys, prostate and heart were all dodgy but it would take a proper internal inspection to declare that the situation was terminal. Life without him is strange. I feel his presence all the time and can capture vivid moments of mundane intimacy with ease but what motivated the man is something I find harder to grasp. He appeared to be a man of limited requirements. He rarely bought new clothes only visited the doctors and ate little. Well actually, given the chance he would eat a lot more but mum controlled his intake very strictly. I suspect his carbon footprint was very small with the majority of carbon dioxide coming from the weekly visit to the local fish and chip shop. His world view was heavily constricted and he was happy with that. He was fantastically clever, gained a first class degree in electrical engineering during the war years and went to work on a host of civilian and defence projects. However he was never happier than when feeding his aviary birds or doing the crossword. I often wish I had inherited those genes that would enable me to be more content with things as they are than the genes I have inherited from mum which drive me on to find out new stuff and create new challenges. Maybe this will ease with time but looking at mum now I see the desire to embrace the moment is as vibrant as ever! Would I have it any other way - no! But I suspect that I was as much a mystery to dad as he was to me.

I glance back at red bridge then continue wading upstream against the gentle push of the water. The horse pasture is absolutely delightful. I have to negotiate a low-slung alder, which blocks my path – it's boughs heavy with leaf. The river has become narrow and fast. I remember, one time, observing a tiny jack pike only 10 inches sat motionless in shallows. A stiff rod like creature of muscle, nerve and teeth, its senses tingling in anticipation of an unsuspecting dace or chub travelling through this section and into its waiting jaws.
That was three years ago. He may well be a 20-pound monster by now or succumbed to the cannibalistic nature of a larger pike.

The river is so narrow I could almost step across. The banks are high and rich in purple loosestrife and yellow ragwort that are vibrant in the early morning sun. Naturalised golden rod also stretches high competing with loosestrife and phragmytes for the nourishing sunlight. Crystal clear water ahead as small dace head upstream and dive for cover in the dense weed that sprouts from the floor. The resident ponies have registered my presence in their domain and, ears erect, they express their disapproval by cantering around in ever decreasing circles in a frantic dance intended to ward off any potential threat. I am sorry I have caused them distress and continue westward at a pace before some unexpected hollows bring me up short and I abandon once and for all the prospect of having any dry clothes at the end of this adventure!

We had watched Mitchell’s salvage and reclamation yard grow since our first days in Norfolk when we found ourselves in a rented bungalow on Gunton Lane. It was an unadopted road; only 100 metres in length, but it sported ten tiny bungalows, two major construction businesses and three speed bumps – the last of which was the most vicious. The residents of this stretch of Gunton Lane were very proud of their tarmaced road and its speed humps. They had after all forked out a considerable sum of money to have this fine surface laid. The stretch outside our rented accommodation remained a dirt road as our stereotypical landlord was too tight to have his eight metres done with everyone. I will never forget that first morning back in August 1998. The 7.5 Tonne lorry we had hired to move us from Yorkshire was parked on the drive – its contents spewed out into the three bay bungalow June had found on her last foray to Norwich. Our boys of 3 and 4 had found their bikes, complete with stabilizers, and were settling into their new environment by cycling up and down the tarmac road. At this point our neighbour appeared – a short stocky man with a wavering eye – to tell us that the noise of the boys bikes would wake up the older people on the road. This was all done in a broad Norfolk accent.

We subsequently found out that

a) There aren’t many older residents
b) Older people don’t sleep well – this is a fact!
c) He is actually a lovely generous man
d) Most Norfolk folk have a Norfolk accent!

Mitchell’s moved the main part of their business to Oak Street after a couple of years and the traffic down our road decreased. The river Tud runs along the back of their yard and this is where I am at the moment – thigh deep in water, tripping over panels of old shed roves which have been slung or perhaps more generously, slipped into the river. I consider removing them but there are too many. This is a job for the river police – The Environment Agency – the saviours of small tributaries like this. Sadly this is not happening for the Tud, as you will soon find out.

A salutary tale about our miserable landlord. When we finally left the property for somewhere light, airy, dry, mould-free and ours (well a 90:10 split with Nat West in their favour!) – we asked for the return of our security deposit – what is referred to as a bond. Our landlord – the tight ****** retained £30 of the bond – he actually wanted £50 but we argued the toss with the letting agent– for cleaning the cooker that was “dirty with bacon fat”. There are few certainties in life – death, the pope being catholic and Carlsberg not being the best beer in the world and lastly that June Sewell has the cleanest kitchen in the world – we were also vegetarians at the time! It was a sad way to leave a house which, although had many downsides, was the focus of our first few months in Costessey.

I was surprised to find the waterway in such a state considering the joyous meadow I had just encountered. The soil banks were steep and vegetation was sparse because of the trees that shrouded the river with a blanket of closely knitted foliage. I blundered into hidden objects and did my best to remove boughs that threatened to block the flow of water. I soon gave up as the blockage was more entangled than I had originally thought and clambered over. I slipped the rucksack off my back once more to negotiate the bridge to Rogers farm and entered a broader shallower river. A river with a firm pebble bed and the promise of kingfisher, grey wagtail and possibly otter. The alder and hazel had created a straight tunnel some eighty metres in length down which kingfishers could travel at high speeds between feeding and nesting areas. I bet they never stop to observe the old tractor which lies abandoned at the side of a field but maybe they nest above the old car tyre which lies half buried in gravel and sand. This is also the site of the proposed development in Old Costessey. Sixty two new homes are planned for which we have no need. We have the eCostessey development – unfinished. The Hampdens – unfinished, Fairfield Park – unfinished and Queen’s Hills – unfinished. All unfinished because there is no demand for new homes at this present time so the builders have stopped work. So why is this unwanted, surplus to requirements development going ahead? Quite simply because our Government has put forward housing quotas and Norfolk Count Council have not me them – its as mad as that!

One hundred and twenty metres of prime old hedgerow will be removed denying wintering thrushes of an important food stop on their long journey. My friend Adrian has been monitoring the movement of birds through the Tud valley from his house next to Gunton Lane and his skill and experience have highlighted some incredible facts. In any one autumn as many as 10,000 redwing and fieldfare pass along the Tud valley from East to West as they leave the cold, foodless areas of Scandinavia in search of sustenance and warmer climes here in Britain. They teem across the channel in their hundreds of thousands and many use the Norfolk river valleys as a guide on their journey West. They arrive exhausted and hungry after their crossing and Norfolk provides them with the fat stores they need to complete their journey. There are many other birds that rely on this area – not least Woodcock which use the small woods and hedgerows in the Wensum and Tud valleys to spend the Winter. I counted up to twelve in a short stretch along the Wensum two winters ago.
A high pitched urgent cry fills the sky as a pair of hobbies playfully circle in the air. I know Adrian saw a family group of five together last week. This may be the remnants of the group that are still hanging around the area where they were hatched out, picking up the life skills they will need to for their long migration South is a couple of weeks time. We have seen hobby every year at Gunton Lane. These elegant falcons are kestrel-sized but have long scythe-like wings which helps them hunt swallows, house martins and swifts. I watched one in action last summer from my Garden on Jerningham Road. The swift was able to perform such tight, fast arcs through the air in an attempt to evade the hungry predator but the hobby was persistent and had its reward. We suspect they nest somewhere along the valley probably nearer to the Wensum at Old Costessey as I have seen them displaying at the back of the allotments in Old Costessey several years running. The two river valleys are interconnected at this point with wildlife moving with ease between the two using a thin, green corridor of fields and hedgerows. This corridor is now threatened by the new development.
Dad always had an interest in birds. He would point out buzzards in Wales on family holidays and finches in the garden on the feeders. He could tell you how many goldfinches visited and whether this was up or down on last year. We took this to a whole new place. All three of us children have a massive interest in birds and wildlife. We have seen tigers in India and brazilian mergansers in South America. We have crossed the River Kwai ( not its real name but where the film was made ) in Sri Lanka and spent hours on the beaches of Norfolk watching skuas and gulls. I don't think Dad could have had any idea that his gentle interest in the motion of nature would spawn such a passion in his three children. I think he was proud of us but he never really said much.

A machete would be more use at this present point in time than a camera and a pair of binoculars. I know I am close to the Norwich Road because of traffic noise but as yet I can’t discern the bridge. My tussle with a tree trunk and years of accumulated flotsome is short-lived as I climb over the obstruction. The eCostessey development comes into view. The road bridge on the Norwich Road is of a beautiful yet simple construction. The buttresses and double arch confuses me a little as only one arch straddles the river. The other seems a little redundant. Perhaps the designer was forward thinking unlike the planners involved in the M25 project. At least I can get my bearings again even though it feels strange, rucksack in hand again crawling under the bridge I have crossed in a vehicle so many times. I am regretting carrying the small fly rod I have in the rucksack as it increases my height and restricts my ability to fit nimbly through small spaces. Nimble I am not and small spaces there are a plenty.
I then reflected on the reason for some urgency in this journey up the River Tud.

I have lived in Costessey for well over a decade and knew nothing about Norwich or its suburbs in the aforementioned rental property. Once the children were enrolled in the local nursery and friendships of both the adult and infant variety were established we were wed to Costessey for better or worse. So this delightful area of Norwich became our home and playground. The place where we walked the dogs, went fishing, watched wild birds, identified invertebrates and contemplated eating wild mushrooms. We ate with Gary and Ruth, I allotmented with Paul, We worshipped with Michael and Joan and drank with Gary and Gill and became part of Costessey consciousness.

It is amongst the water meadows and marshy edges where old drainage ditches make navigation almost impossible. Where the Tud meets the glorious Wensum and both flow majestically through Medieval Norwich that I fell in love with this area. An area I know by day and by night under sun and moon and stars. Where roe deer feed and tread and where water rail squeal. This is the area I call the Hellesdon water meadows and is where I discovered the life blood of the Tud and its importance. It was this experience that drove me to find the story of the Tud before it reached the Wensum and where I am at this very moment thigh deep in its waters.

I had planned to do this walk last year - sometime around the summer solstice so that I could enjoy several hours of uninterrupted sunshine before life gets going but for some reason it didn’t happen. However a small handmade sign covered in plastic and stapled to the wooden uprights of the pedestrian bridge at Gunton Lane brought me up short and hastened my actions. The sign said in bold letters ‘PUBLIC INQUIRY’it needed to be bold or I would probably have never seen it. The section under the title showed a confusing map and stated something about housing development and the river Tud next Tuesday. This sounded serious. I had a few plans for Tuesday. Although it was my day off Dad had just been admitted to hospital and I was due to spend some time with mum. His present hospital bed turned out to be a mere twenty metres from his final resting place but I didn't realise this at the time. I decided to turn up for the start at 10.00am, show a bit of support and leave an hour later but I was not prepared for what happened next.

Shallowbrook Lakes is a well known venue to anyone interested in fishing and more importantly Carp fishing. People come from miles around to erect dark green tents and load multiple fishing rods with a plethora of lovingly prepared and presented baits to entice the monster carp. The lengths these men ( and lets be frank its mainly men – women have far better things to do with their time) go to. If carp are really as fussy as they say then the army of fishermen that make up Britain’s favourite sport have only themselves to blame. Years of training in specialized diets have produced gross specimen carp which appear to be more choosy about what they eat than an average teenager. What’s wrong with the humble maggot?

I pass the car park and come to a fabulous bend where the water runs really deep and fast. A wonderful wide bend on which to trot a small float just as we did all those years ago in station brook in Desford. Each minnow that bit was caught on small cheap rods and a black prince reel – which incidentally still sits in my fishing basket (actually my brother's basket). Such beautiful simplicity - a small goose quill float, hand painted with a balsa body. A size 16 hook and a bloodworm from Dad’s compost heap. How Dad laughed the first time he took us fishing on the Grand Union canal. My float spent more time dangling from the hedge than it did in the water! Eventually the float hits the water and soon disappears – so begins a lifetime of innocent joy. The fuel of a fully functioning human being. A creature that readily accepts its place in a 14 billion year old universe. I wonder where the joy is in remote sensors, remote controlled ground bait vehicles and scientifically prepared baits. How does a bend in a river evoke such strong feelings?

The main hall at the Costessey Centre was full and overflowing. I arrived at 9.55am and managed to squeeze in at the back. The hall of full of locals,agitated and excited at the prospect of a conflict. At the far end the formal elements of the inquiry were straightening their reams of paper and dangling their cuff links. The central table at the centre was occupied by a lone woman. Inspector Christina Downes – the executioner. She was straddled on either side by the opposing sides – just like the teams in a game show. But unlike a game show where the contestants can win a holiday in the Maldives or a new car. The prize on this occasion was the survival of a delicate and important ecosystem.
There was an undefinable quality to the atmosphere. The masses feeling that force of number would win the day. Many were not sure why they were there but had been cajoled along by family or friends. Everyone was itching for a fight but just needed someone to identify the opponent. After some confusion over the use of the microphone, Christina – known as ‘Madam’ to both sides, explained the purpose of the enquiry. Over the next hour legal jargon was piled upon yet more jargon as both sides set out the case they would bring before the inquiry.
I was now in utterly unfamiliar territory. I had lost my sense of direction and without any obvious landmarks waded past horses, cattle and a wood. A wood? I thought I had explored every stretch of woodland within a five mile radius as a possible site for a wild camp or for badger setts to watch. The trees were all of a similar age which reminded me of the poplar woods planted by Swan Vestas in Suffolk to supply their need for matchwood. These woods are the summer home of a rare and exotic bird called the golden oriole. Numbers of orioles have slipped as the poplar woods are replaced by cheaper imports from abroad. I last heard the call of a male oriole in the Loire valley whilst camping at Neung-Sur-Bevron.

The wood has a two dimensional quality with a tall thirty metre canopy and a low herb layer, made up predominantly of nettles. After another twenty metres I emerge into glaring sunshine and when my pupils have shrunk appropriately, I can make out the outline of houses on Valley View Crescent and Farmland road. These short steep roads branch off Grove Avenue as it heads towards the high school. I know them well having helped my youngest son negotiate the snow and ice on his first ever Sunday paper round. Thinking about it, I don’t ever remember receiving any of his Christmas tip money!

Back to the river, I half expected to hear the splosh of bank voles dropping into the water accompanied by a stream of bubbles. A familiar sight and sound from my childhood back In Leicestershire. The last time I saw a bank vole was five years ago on the River Ant. I have, however, seen a mink on the Wensum more recently and thereby lies the problem. Mink eat bank voles. I remember the headlines on Tuesday 11th August 1998 as 'Animal Liberation Front' campaigners released 6000 mink from a fur farm just outside Ringwood in Hampshire. They said it would be an environmental disaster and so it has proved to be. My brother recently trapped three mink on a farm in the Cotswolds. The only sign that mink could be in the area was the lack of cygnets and ducklings this year.
The biggest surprise of my river walk came as I rounded the next bend. Banks of closely mown grass, a shingle path, a white wicker fence and a small log cabin greeted me. It was like a scene out of 'little house on the prairie'. The river had been carefully managed through a series of short weirs. Two gardens had river frontage at this point. I pulled a dead brown trout out of the water. It was fresh and probably a pound in weight. A good speciment. I recalled taking a book about fishing in Norfolk out of the local library some years ago and being amazed that the Norfolk record for dace was over a pound in weight and had been caught in the river Tud. This dead trout was evidence indeed that the river is alive and well and capable of producing good specimens. I wondered if there were bigger fish to be had?
There was no-one around to challenge my presence but I waded quickly up the mini-weirs. I would imagine that trespassers are few and far between here. The river narrowed again. It seemed in a hurry as if it was eager to get beyond the playing fields and golf course of Old Costessey. The banks are steep and lined with lush vegetation. Demoiselle flies flick their irridecent green bodies in the sunlight and the rushes are so dense that I end up reed surfing to negotiate them. Nettles line the upper bank. I have made nettle string with my mate Jim and been astonished at the strength of the fibres. The nettle is a versatile and much maligned plant. You can eat it, infuse it in tea, make wine from it and now braid it. Its importance as a food source for various caterpillars and other invertebrates is unmeasurable.

An hour into the public inquiry and many of the spectators are bored , bemused, confused and restless. The majority are of retirement age and sixty minutes of legal waffle was more than they could handle. Time for a nice cup of tea is all they could focus on, particularly when it was apparent that Christina would not hear any views from local residents until the following morning. I realised that my time was limited and that I had something I wanted to say. I interrupted ‘Madam’ and asked when people with a contribution to make could speak bearing in mind I was at work the following day. She was very gracious and allowed me some time after the short recess. I gathered my thoughts and spoke about a recent article that my friend Adrian had written outlining migration passage along the Tud valley and the importance of the hedgerows in providing their stop-over larder in light of the 120m that would be lost to the development. I also mentioned some of the breeding birds I was aware of in my capacity as a recorder for WVBS – Wensum Valley Bird watching Society. I hoped I had saved the day. I hoped my small contributiton would tilt the balance in favour of the status quo – the present balance between the demands of the people of Costessey on this tiny tributary and the capacity of the river to constantly regenerate.

Dad was more circumspect about change than me. My childhood in Leicestershire was a rural one. We were given free-rein of the local fields and orchards. When I say free rein - this was from our perspective. I suspect the local landowners would have a different viewpoint! We spent whole days in these fields and were intimate with 'The 29 steps' and 'The conker wood'. As new developments arrived and the orchard where I would watch starlings nesting in old pear trees was ripped down I felt part of me die inside. It was spoilt. Dad however appeared to embrace these changes and chatted on with people form the 'new estate' as he walked the dog and built up quite a social life for himself around the dog tracks of Desford. I admired this capacity of his to accept things - even unpleasant things - and to move on.

I have encountered a slight issue with some barbed wire. Barbed wire usually signifies ‘keep out you pinko, lefty, communist, right to roam, landless peasants’. Or to me 'there is something inside worth seeing - come on in!'. On this occasion it was there to allow cattle to drink the cool, clear, rushing water without allowing them access to wander up the river. I considered the prospect of negotiating the wire, mud, willow branches and water and made the sensible choice. I rarely make ‘sensible’ choices so this was unusual for me and as it turned out probably the wrong decision. Access back to the river from the field was blocked by a wide verge of tall nettles and a steep bank. These are not issues which would normally phase me so – despite my shorts – I ploughed through the nettle self defence mechanism, fell down the bank and pitched into the river. My legs were a mess – punctured by thousands of silica strengthened needles packed with formic acid and histamine. My camera received a dose of river water and despite extensive drying out has a jammed shutter and last but not least my lovely iphone has a crack in the screen. Forget sensible!
I removed the SD card from the camera into a dry pocket and subsequently found that the pictures were intact. Note to self - take a dry bag next time.
I forgot to take my camera to Dad’s funeral. It did not seem like a priority at the time but I was grateful that Uncle David had a small compact digital camera with him as we now have a record of the event. I wrote a simple tune which I played on the fiddle.
I’ve called it DWR which stands for Dennis William Reginald - his name. My brother Dave gave a fantastic address. It was a letter to dad which highlighted in such a gentle way many of his quirks and mannerisms. It reminded us of his love for crosswords and old sports jackets. His ability to fix things which were broken but also to procrastinate about mending them when it suited him. His legacy lies in his gentle calm manner, his love of nature and the values of respect and decency that he has hopefully passed to his children.

I contemplate these things as I notice the beautiful spotting on the back of a brown trout just ahead in the clear shallows. I find myself wading across the back of someone’s garden – a fairly ordinary but well-positioned 1970’s build. I glance across but there is non-one in the kitchen window so I make my way over the last section of barbed wire and into the central concrete tubular section of the road bridge at Old Costessey Park. I am wet to the waist, very cold, covered in nettle rash with a piece of non-functioning electronic equipment hanging from my shoulder and a bleeding knee but I am very very happy. It has taken me three hours to walk the relatively short distance from the point that the Tud reaches the Wensum to Old Costessey Park but it has been a journey of great significance. It has allowed me the time I needed to reflect on my Dad and the impact that this wonderful river has had on me. I have now got a better understanding of what we will lose if we allow the Tud valley to become developed.

I read in the Advertiser this weekend that Christina Downes has reached her decision. The development will go ahead. I also read that John Newby – a local resident – is putting together a Tud valley management group with the intention of preserving the river. Hooray for John Newby and Costessey Parish Council but shame on Natural England and Environment Agency who appear to have abandoned the Tud. There are many levels of protection for the River Wensum with much of its length being a designated SSSI ( Site of Special Scientific Interest). We must give a similar level of protection to Tud before our legacy to our children is a collection of old pictures and stories about how it used to be. My next adventure is to eventually follow the Tud to its origin so I have yet more business with the river. I also intend to draw and sketch the sections I have already covered. The more time I spend with this river the more I realise there is to discover.
Hobbies have the last word. Just as I am completing this tale a family group of four passes noisily over Jerningham Road and head towards Bowthorpe
Thank-you Dad – you have left behind more than I realised.

Pete Sewell
September 2012