A Norfolk river valley bathed in late autumn sunshine finds Pallenpool in a reflective mood

Late autumn sunrise

Last nights rain has left a familiar ‘on the nose’ residual – It is reminiscent of the aromatic and fragile layers of mist that rise above the meadows following an August downpour. Recalling those summer days suggests a certain longing and although this is true an autumnal walk is its equal.

Every morning I walk the few footsteps towards a waiting ‘imposition;’ the outhouse, all and everything finds its way here, strewn on its floor, worktops and dusty shelves are aspirations, mostly unfulfilled being hidden one atop the other. It is at once an intrigue of possibilities that quickly leads to distraction. This enduring daily ritual occurs as wellingtons, coats and jackets are all kept there as well as the dogs accoutrements.

At this time of year boots naturally see a lot of use, daily in fact, the rack holds a few pairs but invariably I always choose the same ones even though the strap adjustment sends me ever so slightly round the bend. I hasten the duffle and hat from a perfectly hewn Elizabethan hook nailed to the door; lifting the thumb latch the door opens with a weightiness and creak that sounds its age. On the other side are my collies waiting dutifully they appear rather bemused but patiently so. ’Are we ready’?’ I ask them, there follows the usual excitements, exuberant wagging of tails and the communicative howls of agreement. Finally we head off toward the sun and the meadows that lay invitingly below.

The meadows that lay invitingly below the rising sun

In the heat of summer the ‘vert-de-gris’ gateway to the meadows is wrapt from post to post as is the gracefully falling apart stile by its side – both thankfully become a little less conspicuous due to the once prolific bindings of ivy, elder and parsley dropping one or two of nature’s gears. This reveals summers torment – the cross words of nettles and brambles that without fail find a way to prick, puncture and sting – thankfully they are less so now and their armoury of intent is far more visible.

Perfectly framed

As the meadows before us open out into the view it is clear much has changed, of course the landscape is recognisable but the features that create and frame my bucolic scenes in summer are passing. The expanse of grasses once vibrant are not quite so and appear tired, their heads bowed in reverence as the sun (god) rises in front of them, their days drawing to another seasons end. The banks fulfilled in meadowsweet, agrimony and loosestrife through June to August are all but shadows upon the water, agrimony pleasantly retain their flower heads which although lacking in colour and scent are still subtly exquisite and appear as intricate burnt out paper works being held by invisible hands.

We have reached the marker that will take us away from the rivers side although the dogs are halfway up the meadow already; a well trodden cattle path with a gentle inclination up-ground towards the first of many spinney’s that settle the eye favourably and delineate the variety of paths one may take. After a quick retrieve of the dogs I stand to watch the blustery business of the west wind that blows with intent through the willows either side of the river, here it feels another country altogether.

On the rise

I have noted the winds indifference; it’s direction still bears westerly but has that unconfined zest about it which envelopes every part of me. The willows trailing fronds are harried and run through the reeds and appear similar in effect to moving ones hands through water with a circular motion. The reed is prolific and scales the gently rising bank from around two to three foot of marginal water. The river here pushes through a thin channel created by the willows spreading root system that over decades has collected all sundry that adheres to the silt deposits becoming what is ostensibly a raised underwater shelf. From the channels end the river spills out forming two beautifully restrained pools either side of main run, they create very little even now at autumns end, in summer there is no movement at all to speak of and may be viewed as glass topped islands. These pools provide a watery haven for chub and roach in any season so much so they act as prime heron larders, I have watched herons here with juveniles being taught the essential art.

The whipped westerly seems to me to be creating an impasse – this exasperation to the channels flow produces a steadying rolling boil of surface water at its mouth; it appears static but full with charged liquid energy. This, quite possibly is the last clement breath in a year nearing its end. But I remind myself that rebirth too will be on these warmer westerly and southerly winds in March.

The oak and beech predominate the woods and copses here and are showing the breadth of autumns virulent palette – gold, bronze and ochre all ablaze amidst a late autumn miracle. It is this the defining change in ‘abscission’ with all its inherent riches that opens a door to something beyond the everyday.

By way of waking me from reverie and a reminder that some things always remain the same, a blackbird sings out from the somewhere. I peer upwards passing over and then further into the heart of the oak hopefully to catch a glimpse of him, his song eventually leads me to a branch way up, he is in full song and sings his repetition with one or two musical flurry’s for good measure. His bright yellow beak as one with the turning leaves.

Oak & beech predominate throughout the woods

When all that is deciduous cast their summer covering to the floor it renders the once hidden and secret visible. The revealing forms can become otherworldly; a contorted bough, an elegant or lithe branch, the hedgerows with their masses of sinuous networks are all waiting to be discovered – for me they are as rewarding as in summer. The floor is laden with treasure too, acorns, beech nuts, sweet chestnut and leaves of varying colour all decaying beautifully, then there are ferns, sprawls of bracken, holy bushes and ivy that covers whatever offers purchase, this variety in green acts as a settling for the eye.

From the woods end we head down through meadows bathed in light and just beyond is the rivers return, there is a natural cattle drink here; a raised gravel bed that conveniently also provides a crossing from pasture to pasture; when the river swells to flood the plain these waters although relatively shallow and moderate in flow can gather a head of steam that courses through at a great rate.

The magic within

Walking beside a river will never pass without thoughts of fish and along these autumnal beats it’s roach that capture the imagination – there are many in these glides, and as the water cools their shimmering scales become more so and in my mind more pronounced because of it. They are not of an easy find however and tend to move through the glides and pools with regularity, it’s all down to patience when seeking them out. This in itself is never a hardship for the scenery alone is a worthy enough reason for getting out and having a speculative cast or two.

Roach can be found here

I am approaching the farthest point in my walk and already the shadows are laying long and low in front of me, a visual reminder that at this time in a years passing the hours of daylight are but a fleeting moment. My route from here takes in the wooden footbridge locally christened the Japanese crossing such is it’s detailing and overall aesthetic – in the summer months I stand on its crown peering down into the crystal clear water waiting for the large brown trout to hold above the broad riffle that runs under its darkening arch. Today I will pass without a look for it runs with the colour of iron. From here my course will take me to and through crows wood to the lane which wends its way to eventually return us three back at the cottage.

The wet air forms watery beads around my moustache it’s a sign; cooling air and fading light heralds the end of the day and dusk will soon be upon us; with it will arrive a ‘clattering’ a swirling of blackened shapes that wistfully rise, fall and wheel through the ether above the woods and meadows – Jackdaws – they fly from all quarters and congregate, chat, squabble and eventually descend to roost. The din too is something extraordinary and this mass of voices can already be heard out there in the distance; these birds are the choirs of autumn and the woods are their cathedrals. There is without any need for exaggeration hundreds and hundreds of feathered pilgrims towards the end of the spectacle. With the suns embers set low in the west apertures of soft saturnal light are created within the wood and as the birds find their rest these open windows disappear until the overall pitch is darker than the night sky.

Back at the cottage I light the fire, pour a ‘single’ and place it on an Edwardian suitcase I use as a table. With the dogs sprawled across the hearth I push back into my fireside chair and extend my well used walkers toward the comfort of heated flames. A first tipple from the peaty windswept isles is always so agreeable, the second is the palette leveller a third is goodnight. I begin to unravel the scrawls set upon the pages in my diary. Much could be remembered today without having to write at all but I always enjoy reading about the days gone by – I find it helps me along those paths when not in the landscape.

Writing & Images Pallenpool. North Norfolk Late November 2021