Chalk rivers run, clear to the sea
Today, as I write, the sun, is blazing down on Shiddenfield. The common basks in the heat like a snake as it winds round the houses whispering and hissing in a dry breeze. Bracken crackles and spits its seed heads into the future. The grass has burnt to a sierra crisp. It crunched under my feet when I set off to deliver the parish magazine. Only the bracken fronds retain a dark sea-green hue. Never walk barefoot or barelegged, I was warned when I first moved in. For here be adders. Their glorious vivid skin invisible against the golden strands and ferns, a sudden deadly spot on a hot still day.
This morning I walked the common. I walked in boots and jeans despite the heat, as I now fear the infected bite of tick more than the bite of a serpent. I made my way across ancient gravel tracks and then moved warily out and onto the grass. Some kind soul had mowed wide paths through the bracken so I had no need to be apprehensive . The ferns have grown to six feet or more and dwarf me. I felt as if I were swimming through cool green currents, following the twist of the hill and down to where a small collection of cottages have washed up and taken root. I pushed the magazines through their letter boxes and then followed a small tributary of the River Sticks back to home.
The coolest place to be on a hot day is by a river. The coast is never so tranquil. Hampshire's great chalk rivers run clear to the sea, overhung with trees, their roots curling and clutched into banks. Ducks turn into fish as they upend themselves and cruise the waterbeds searching for food. Their refraction in the water causes their feathers to look like smooth scales as the reeds slide past them. Dark shadows shade the water . Train your eyes against the tricky reflections in the water and you will see a beautiful creature; a sedentary cousin of the salmon, spotted green and gold. The brown trout lies still, facing up stream, mouth slightly open, filtering food that floats in the water. During the day he is motionless but visit the river at twilight and he will explode. Flying out of the water in a cascade of silver, he leaps for the insects he sees hovering above the surface. In the tricksy light his fins spread like feathers. Metamorphosis in our physical world.
A perfect end to a summer's day.
The brown trout is native to the rivers of England. The rainbow trout has been introduced to lakes for fishing but inevitably have escaped. All the fish are gorgeous. Stockbridge is a perfect village to spot these fish. Part of the River Test flows through the High Street and the trout swim with it. They have learnt to wait under bridges for visitors to feed them. Its great fun and Stockbridge is full of interesting shops and eateries.
In English myths and legend, the trout takes a back seat to its close relative the salmon. In literature however he takes a starring role and inspired many classics - from The Complete Angler to the spoof BT ad that spawned its own book - stand up J R Hartley.