Revive the Wye

The second of these walks was led by Roger and Frances Wilding with Roger Lerry of the Chiltern Society Rivers and Wetlands Group. About a dozen people took part and we were particularly pleased to welcome a young family with their three children. We set off across the Rye to where a branch of the river runs behind the flats on the London Road on its way to Bassetsbury Mill. Lucky are the inhabitants of these flats with a view stretching from Keep Hill, around past the Dyke and on towards the Abbey grounds. The number of drinks bottles and cans, however, suggest it might not always be peaceful. Frances pointed out a plant growing in the river bank which is a member of the nettle family, Pellitory of the Wall.
It seems only a few years since a row of trees was planted between the children’s playground and the path from London Road opposite the Nag’s Head but the willows and walnuts are quite big trees now. Roger spotted that a walnut had been affected by a wasp gall which had left a lot of the leaves badly deformed with lumps and bumps. But the main topic of discussion at this point was the beautiful mass of Himalayan or Indian Balsam which has grown up this year all along the river. It was introduced in the mid 18th century as an ornamental plant like that pest, Japanese Knotweed. It too has become a problem plant. As it grows it swamps and overshadows many other (indigenous) plants which then die. Then when the balsams die back late in the year there is no longer the network of roots which help to support the river banks which then become subject to erosion. One school of thought is that the developing plants should be pulled out in the spring before they gain a hold. But at this stage these plants are smaller than the nettles, docks, etc and difficult to get hold of. Frances showed us two similar looking watercresses; the edible one is a member of the Cruciferae with flowers having four petals while False watercress is similar looking but the flowers grow on an umbel.
Anyone who remembers Pann Mill must still feel saddened that it was demolished all those decades ago. But the mill has been rebuilt by the High Wycombe Society, albeit in a less impressive building, and it once again produces flour at certain open days. Around it a beautiful garden has been created, by Margaret Simmons, which gets better and better each time I see it. Some strange creatures were noticed on a brick fence post. They were mauve with orangey spots and about 5mm long and we explained to the children that these were larvae which would become ladybirds. One of the young girls told us she liked ladybirds and was very interested in them. Roger noted that a clump of Himalayan Balsam was growing on the bank next to the garden. I wonder if it is still there.
Next stop was Wendover Way near the boathouse. We looked over the fence into the Abbey grounds and the lake fed, perhaps, by springs rising on the adjacent slopes. However there is a theory that the water comes underground from the river as it flows through, or mostly under, the town.
Then we walked along the Dyke noticing many coot chicks. Were they in danger? Lurking just below the surface we saw the long, menacing shapes of several pike. The Dyke flows out over the waterfall and Roger pointed out the cave which was blocked up many years ago. He told us that the river here was once a good place for crayfish but not any more due to another invader, the Signal Crayfish.
There was just about time to go over and look at the springs near the watercress beds. On the way one of the children found some ladybirds in the grass some of which were yet another invader, the Harlequin. We looked at the springs. Roger told us of a group of Muslims who were seen filling bottles with water here. When asked why they wanted this water they answered, “It’s simple. It’s holy water”. I remembered my late mother telling me how much she had enjoyed playing here and watching the crystal clear waters bubbling up through the gravel nearly a century ago.
And that was the end of a really enjoyable morning and I regretted not being able to have gone on the walk at King’s Mead earlier in June.