A cow rubs her head against the gnarled trunk of a dead tree in a partly flooded water meadow. The meadow is in Winchester, between the city and the Hospital of St. Cross. The cattle are British Whites, an amiable breed, that has to put up with any number of dogs being walked off the lead. I think the tree was a hawthorn, but I’m not certain. There were still with many small twigs that will blow off in gales. It offered a striking counterpoint to the flat wet green of the meadow.
The river that runs through this water meadow is the Itchen, one of the world’s most famous chalk streams. The chalk keeps the water very clear (but after rain the water often looks cloudy from agricultural run-off) and it is the home to many brown trout. I have watched them stationary in the stream, lying in wait for their prey at the weedy margins, only the rhythmic movement of their tails betraying their presence. It is a fragile environment, easily ruined, and wonderfully diverse when looked after. Apparently, John Keats was inspired to write his ‘Ode to Autumn’ while walking through the water meadow – I wonder what cattle he might have seen there.