There 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.
It’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.