A path is beginning to form across a meadow. It borders a river and whenever I look down from the bridge over it I think of the words of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins about the Binsey poplar trees – ‘that dandled a sandalled/Shadow that swam or sank/On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.’ The trees here are willows, old, gnarled and leaning, graceful in their April green. This is a water meadow and I’ve seen it in December as a sheet of ice, acres of it. The river beneath the bridge is tranquil today in its barely perceptible flow towards the Thames. The field path extends from the old, closed road, towards the river and it exists because of an amazing clash of cultures, traditional and modern. A notice says: ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – CCTV’.
And then it says: ‘Dog walkers welcome’. CCTV – very modern. Anything NOT banned, definitely not modern.
In the distance an old man, alone, pottered in the sun, to the bypass from which this ancient road is sealed. I would have cycled further and greeted him but I decided not to interrupt his thoughts or mine. In the middle of this water meadow two lovers were entwined on the sunlit grass. By the waterside some children played. I have talked a few times to the man who once owned this field. He walked his dog there and fed the swans who nested in a horseshoe pond linked to the river. They’re not there this year. I subsequently learned that the meadow had been bought by an international celebrity who lives in a mediaeval house on the other side of the river. It was reported that he had bought it to preserve his privacy.
Not, it gratefully seems, privacy from ordinary folk.
I get the feeling I need not acquire a dog in order to follow the path to the river. I’ve often longed to walk by it. When I was a child I swam in just such a river in Devon and the old man who used to own this field said he had swum in this one, with his class from one of the town’s junior schools.