There is a system of water meadows about 20 miles NW of the town, locally, and perhaps nationally famous, for the birds that live on the water and among the reeds.
It’s not comparable in natural beauty to the system of lakes where I spend the summer (and which I write about repeatedly), but the wildlife is more varied, more copious, and more interesting. It makes a good day out for the kind of person who likes wandering in the country seeking new forms of beauty.
Apart from a failed attempt to walk there from the nearest town, many years ago, when we misread the map in some way I have never understood and got lost in the middle of nowhere without water, and a couple of times when I have reached the lakes on the bike but not explored anything, neither of us had ever been there. It’s a strange thing not to have seen in 12 years but now we have made up for it.
The water is not interesting, at least, not in autumn. In spring it’s probably much more colourful and fresh. Now it consists mostly of mad and dried rushes. But there are birds everywhere, and that’s what you go to see.
There are several miles of wooden walkways out across the water to the small islands in the middle, and they take you through the main nesting areas without disturbing the birds. At least, they don’t look disturbed by the people constantly wandering past, and taking photos of them. There were storks, nesting in the higher tress, and occasionally stretching their wings to take a turn around the lake. Last week I went to a place that is full of storks’ nests, and they had already left for Africa to spend the winter. I don’t know why these were still here. There were colonies of brilliant white heron-type birds, ducks of various kinds, flamingos, mostly white, and a large group of younger birds mottled with black. Only one was genuinely pink. They don’t get enough carotene in their diet to get a good flamingo colour. There were geese by the mill and a small water snake trying to hide from something that hadn’t noticed it was there. A beaver rolled around on its back, disappearing under the water and popping up again at regular intervals.
There are many mills on this part of the river, most of them ruined, but one is well conserved and used as a museum of all things milly. The floor is mostly glass so you can see the water channels and the sluices that drove the wheels, and a collection of equipment from different periods is exhibited and explained.
But it’s the outdoors which is fun, watching the birds do their thing on a sunny autumn day, as though they were alone, or do they take an interest in their public, watching us watching them?