Last night, the rain pelted down last night on the Dargle but I (Preven) was snug and fast asleep in the comfy bed at Old Kilgobbin Farm, exhausted after a tiring but exhilarating day of climbing up and down the indigenous secret forest and stream.
Morning inevitably comes, mist envelops us and mushrooms have appeared mysteriously on the lawn.
Mike is there to pick us up and convey us to the drop-off point where we ended yesterday. Penny has other plans and we make a slight detour to see the old St Andrews Church. The Dargle is steeped in history and stories and we imbibe some of that lineage as we visit the old cemetery shrouded in mist.
This eerie start to our day foreshadows the events to come almost immediately (but how were we to know that?)
We get to the tennis courts and then duck behind them to follow our meandering river. We reach a small waterfall and rocky pool
and we decide to conduct the days MiniSASS tests where we find a damselfly – not as rare as the elusive stonefly yet still a good find.
Soon as we are done we decide to head into the river itself as the banks are steep and the river is shrouded with large bamboo trees. In order to see what is happening to the river we wade into the shallow murky water.
The bamboo beckoned to us like the ghost of a wronged, deceased loved one (who was either unjustly murdered or for whom we forgot to buy flowers.) The river disappeared under its dense canopy and the wind rustled the bamboo leaves mournfully. I promise you, if there where holes in that bamboo and if I heard the sound of panpipes I would have run in the opposite direction. But spurred on by our fearless leader Penny, we trudged ahead. This could well have been the last picture you would have seen of the brave yet too trusting river walk team.
After many years along rivers, I think twice before trusting alien plants without proper work permits. In fact many of these aliens have swallowed up indigenous invertebrates and unsuspecting birds. This is why most areas that alien plants infest are devoid of bird, plant or invertebrate life whether on land or in the river. True story, I promise, although you can’t actually ask anyone because all the witnesses have been eaten. Please believe me.
The river walk team it seems, was to be another casualty and Pandora bravely volunteered to be the first. She casually sauntered next to the roots of the bamboo trees. Those long tendrils that looked like the dreadlocks of an earth giant.
I was also reminded of the snake like tendrils that captured and ate one of the unlucky cast members of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Tim Rice would have provided appropriate music to this misadventure but at the moment all I could manage was a muffled squeak of alarm. Pandora ignored my squeamish cries and proceeded to stroke the roots of the tree. Pandora is the water nymph of the team and delights in exploring the underwater river world, talking to cows, and now, it seems even petting invasive aliens??!!
Of course, the bamboo tree did not eat her. People eat bamboo not the other way around. But I hope you will appreciate, dear reader, the murkiness, eeriness and general dark horror of wading in a river for more than a kilometre with no sunlight and only evil looking dreadlocked roots peering at you. Especially as there should be a 30m natural buffer zone along the banks of rivers where there is no kikuyu, no plantations and definitely, no bamboo.
After some scaling fallen logs and bashing away dead bamboo we emerged on the other side.
It was a torrid affair and I was glad when it was over. Soon after we escaped from the bamboo tunnel we encountered snares on the river that would have led a few stray animals to their death. The mood therefore did not brighten, nor did the Dargle’s insistence on copying England’s weather in the height of summer, lift our spirits.
The river began to do strange things. Winding its way like an obese snake that has just eaten a cow, the river moved between the overgrown kikuyu bank. I walked beside it as we passed through farmsteads and lush pastures. Another day in the country, what a privilege and a pleasure. We truly live in a remarkable country – one with vistas unparalleled.
We also found a remarkable tree which we decided to embrace – banishing the rumour once and for all that we are not tree huggers.
The river walkers plodded on, the darkening clouds threatened ominously. Up ahead in a distance an abandoned cottage loomed. Its innocuous seeming façade perched on the side of the hill, peering over the Dargle.
The river walkers felt a strange compulsion towards it. Penny most of all, felt strangely pulled towards it and we had to hold her back from running into the abandoned cottage. She pleaded with us muttering strange oaths about ownership and “her precious”. I felt the hairs stand on the back of my neck when Pandora said all of a sudden that she would like to own the cottage too. I turned to her and whimpered that actually Penny wanted it first. She said in a combative tone, “We’ll see about that”. Fearing losing my river walk team to a haunted house I tried to change the subject to no avail. I would be lying if I said that I did not also feel the quiet tug of the cottage, that old age romanticism that calls to unwary travellers. I was also afraid of the stories that the house walls could tell. Penny seemed excited about the prospect of listening to walls talk, I on the other hand was shaking in what little was left of my boots after rock hopping and wading through four kilometres of river. I managed to steer the two possessed river walkers away from the cottage by promising them we would come back and speak to an estate agent. They looked at me with mistrust but eventually accepted grudgingly, casting furtive glances at the cottage that seemed to be smiling at us.
Sadly the rest of the walk began to deteriorate as fast as the Dargle river itself. We were inundated with alien trees from all walks of life; the ugly bugweed,
the quaintly titled Indian shot canna, the massive uprisings of Ghost gums,
the dance on the woodland floor of the wandering Jews, the thorny bramble and the persistence of the very Scottish thistle, to name but a few of the plants that lined the river banks and blocked our path.
It’s not a land battle I’m afraid. This morning the river walk team remarked upon the fact that the entire ecology from river to land to sky is one eco-system. When one part suffers, all do. The river suffers the most from the vampiric behaviour of the aliens and the invertebrates that used to inhabit it waters have long gone. Sometimes, to be fair, they brought us sweet treats as Penny braved the thorns and harvested the tasty berries from the bramble bushes.
The grass and flowers grew taller as we passed the alien invasion (it never really passes actually, just lies dormant until they can attack and envelop you again).
We were so very grateful to catch a glimpse of our beloved Inhlosane, trusting her gaze would keep us safe.
We passed through large benign looking farm fields
and pits of fire close to the stream banks.
Crossed old stone walls built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII
admired attempts to clear the riverine buffer zone of thirsty invasive vegetation,
lingered by enchanted rock pools,
despaired at the nutrification of the dams,
and walked by beautiful boy bulls who lived in luxury on these green fields before heading to the slaughterhouse.
We found evidence of dragons long extinct
and puzzled over the dragon-like engravings on the rocks – perhaps left by a previous river traveller to warn us of something?
After a very long day that began with rocky horrors and ended with placid bulls, Doug Burden (of DUCT fame) came to our rescue and saved our rump steaks by picking up a very grateful river walk team -muddied and tired, but a little wiser.
- Kilometres covered: 8 km
- Fences conquered: 11
- River crossings/wading: 6 river crossings and about a quarter of the way in the river itself!
- Friendly faces on the way: Craig the farm manager who, although he did not know about our journey, pointed us in the right direction to the farm boundary
- Preven’s sanity: almost gone
Postscript: As I finish to write these words, the rain pelts down again on the roof, sounding like Diwali in Chatsworth. Outside the mist is closing in and the sky has turned an inky black. Your eyes take a minute to adjust to the darkness but it does not get much better. All you can see are phantasma in the shape of the trees and the moonless black of the Dargle does not abate.
Well, I can hardly say I was surprised really. What else can you expect from a valley that hosted Jack the Ripper. I mean, he runs away from Scotland Yard and could have gone anywhere, instead he comes to reside in the place he feels most at home: the Dargle. Coincidence? I think not. Good night dear reader, I will now proceed to bolt the barn doors and dive deep underneath the covers.