Exmoor – Sunday 2nd November 2013

IMG_1645There is a river pool that I love to visit on Exmoor in the autumn and winter months.  It lies on a stretch of the Barle where the river hurries downstream from a hamlet. It pushes its way under a swinging gate and then, pausing for 25 metres or so, it puts its hands in its pockets and has a saunter. A bit of a think. It kicks its watery heels around one bank of the river, and loiters, its chilly currents caressing the submerged rocks, feeling for what might lie beneath.

IMG_1639It’s around this time of the year in fact, that those currents stir the autumn leaves, and might well tickle and tease the flanks of a salmon. They lie here sometimes, yawning and resting in the gentle flow. I don’t know how long they stay. Perhaps this is their final destination, for there is a fine gravel bed in which to introduce their young.

For hours they will lie, resting over a slab of flat rock, facing downstream in an upstream eddy. Then, with a sway of their tale, they saunter across the pool to the small rocks over which they triumphed on their upward journey in rain-swollen waters. Next they circle to face back upriver, building up speed, before releasing themselves clear of the water for a brief, tail – ‘thrumming’ moment, climbing skywards.

So often it has been the ‘swishy’ release from the river’s surface that has caused me to look up from my picnic, just in time to see the dark grey torpedo slap back beneath the silvery shimmer of the pool. There’s always a splash. Sometimes with plenty of spray. It’s impressive, powerful and probably fuelled by bottled-up frustration as they prepare to spawn.

We can visit a river and watch, but it’s the waiting that brings us the rewards – the treasured moments we may witness as nature lives its life. I’ve made so many visits to this pool over the years to see the fish.  Water permitting,  I have a chance to see them at the end of each year. But they’re easy to overlook, because their favourite place is right under my feet.  Literally.

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Along the Dart on an autumn day

IMG_00000541 copyI spent a lovely autumnal day last Sunday walking along the bank of the river Dart upstream from New Bridge with Philippa. We parked in the car park, crossed over the bridge and followed the path that is for a time, part of the Two Moors Way. We were hoping to crunch some autumnal leaves as we walked along. Indeed I have been reading some lovely blogs recently on the very subject of leaf crunching. But I’m afraid the leaves we trod on simply flattened into submission beneath the soles of our boots. In the damp and shady environment of the woods that follow the river’s course, they weren’t dry and brittle, but moist and malleable.

The first thing I had done after completing my walk round Britain last month was to return to Dartmoor with my sister and walk this very same path. We are both keen fishers and wanted to see if we could spot any salmon moving up the river ready to spawn over the winter. We didn’t see any salmon, but watched wild brown trout rising to flies. A wonderful sight. I think anyone watching us would have been slightly curious though. We always wear polarised sunglasses and hats to cut out the glare on the surface of the water so we can see into its depths, and we adopt a stealthy, semi-hunched approach by the water. It might appear to an onlooker that we are ‘up to no good’, creeping around the undergrowth in our shades so our faces are partially hidden, crawling up to the water’s edge remaining as silent as possible apart from the clicking of our knees and the odd grunt as we attempt to straighten up behind a tree, rock or bush. But it’s fun. Good, innocent fun.

So a couple of weeks later and here I was again. The river was carrying a little more water, but there was still no sign of any salmon. It’s quite possible that the main run has already taken place, and they are now further upstream getting acquainted in the gravelly sections of the West Dart and her tributaries. I will have a further explore in a few weeks time.

But our day gave us a dose of autumn. Cooler air, oak and beech leaves starting to turn. Nothing major mind, just a subtle tonal change from green to browny green. We inhaled scents infused with damp, mould, bark, mud and an occasional waft of moorland mizzle blown down the steep valley from higher ground.

We heard long tailed and blue tits, robins and wrens. The robins were chirruping in their throats, light and delicate, pottering from branch to branch. Yet these same birds would later revert to their ‘tsst… tsst… tsst’ as the light began to fade.

IMG_1631We ambled past Bellapool Island towards our picnic spot at Sharrah Pool. It is, justifiably, a sought-after resting place and we weren’t alone when we got there. A family of five, mum, dad and three sons were settled in for lunch. The children were in wetsuits exploring the pool with a snorkel and mask. Great fun. I might one day summon up the strength to do the same with a camera and see what lies beneath!

So we kept going for a few hundred metres more, picking our way gingerly over the slimy boulders for the last part before settling by a waterfall, looking down a pool where I’m sure salmon would lurk, resting on their way upstream.

IMG_1628As I sat there munching my lunch I realised that in a few weeks time this view of the woodland valley will have evolved into a winter scene. There will be fewer leaves on the trees, more water in the river and if the weather rumours are true, heavy snow on the ground.