…. you are talking to inanimate objects at 4 o’clock in the morning. To be honest the title could be the start of a book on the life of a lengthsman in the winter, let alone a blog post.
I found myself this morning cursing a windlass that was doing exactly as it should, but in my sleep-deprived mildly addled state I just couldn’t get it to cooperate. Don’t get me wrong, the weather is fairly calm now, but keeping the water levels within the required tolerances (at Walsham that’s only about 2 inches ) is always a 24 hour, 7 day a week job. Over the last few weeks most sleep has been grabbed in 1 1/2 hour chunks ( if you can have a chunk of sleep! ) and it begins to take its toll. I always explain the life of a lengthsman and weir keeper as having a baby that never grows up. It is definitely not sleeping through the night at the moment. The rain hasn’t been that dramatically heavy but when it falls on sodden ground, it soon makes its way into the navigation. That means that my colleagues and I are constantly glued to the weather forecast and twitching our metaphorical and literal net curtains, to check the water levels and see if the weirs need adjusting to compensate.
That is not to say that sleeping in your clothes and having to leave your warm bed for the cold, wet towpath doesn’t have its perks. I get to see stars, sunrises and wildlife that I would otherwise miss. However tired and grumpy I get I still can’t help but smile at the sight of every kingfisher, heron and frosty morning. That being said, if you see a baggy-eyed sleepy woman wandering along the towpath, please be gentle with me!
Following Lucy’s decision to leave we have now been joined by Chris, who is the new Lengthsman at Triggs. He has grown up fishing here, so knows the stretch of water well. He has also been volunteering with us for a couple of years, alongside his day job as a groundsman and studying at Merist Wood. ( Not that i’m biased but as an ex-groundsman myself I know that he has all the skills he’ll need to do a cracking job! ) If you see him out and about please say hello and make him feel welcome.
This might look at first glance, to those who don’t know the river here, like a peaceful scene but it’s not. The water is moving pretty fast and the river is definitely what I call ‘angry’. Under normal circumstances the small 4 – 6 inch drop in water levels in front of the bridge would be more like 4 – 6 feet. The navigation is usually considerably higher than the natural river where it splits here. At times like this, the weir keeping part of the job leaves me cat napping when I can between trips to the weirs to adjust the water levels every hour or so, day and night. The change in water levels between the Navigation and the natural river usually creates what a lot of the local children call a waterfall, with all the associated noise you can imagine of living within 50 feet of it. When the levels are high like this, it is almost silent.
The river being this high does have some advantages. (I always try to find a bright side when there is one!..) Being up and about at anti-social hours means you get to see things that you might not otherwise. This morning it was a large group of Long-Tailed Tits in the forsythia in my garden that are usually just specks in the large oak trees opposite.
I will keep you up to date with what we are up to on the river, the wildlife that is around and share pictures of this beautiful place and its residents…. This waving male Banded Demoiselle Damselfly is one of my favourites.