The Guardian Country Diary: a small wild place by the side of the canal

There’s a hole in the wall. We hope they never get round to fixing it.

The wall is the retaining stonework of the canal bywash, a bent offshoot from the canal down which tumbles overspill from the lock pound (the reach of water impounded between the two lock gates). The hole opens on to a French drain that runs down through a tangle of undergrowth to a pond. There is a duck house in the pond. Earlier in the year I watched a leggy young moorhen teeter carefully out of the duck house door like an infirm old gentleman stepping out on to the verandah on the first day of spring: is it here? Can I come out now?

This – a sloped rectangle of wetland and bright-greenery beside the stately old Leeds-Liverpool – is our newest nature reserve, a community patch with barely the footprint of a couple of semidetached houses, hewn and shaped from unpromising scrub by hours of volunteer labour. The pond is at its heart. No: the pond is its heart, its life-source. As we slosh through a wet summer it’s good to spend a little time reflecting on water as a vibrant and vivifying thing (even as we wring it from our socks and curse our canvas trainers).

Back up at the canal lock, the old timber of the lock gates – which smells like a Constable painting looks – is hung with drenched and glossy plant-life, as if for a festival. I’ve watched a frog bask in the shallow-running water of the bywash, its small body an infinitesimal warp in the ripples. Then down the water goes, through that lucky flaw in the Georgian stone, over the soaked roots of elder and hawthorn and sycamore, to feed the pond – and here are damselflies and swallows, mallards and moorhens, pondskaters dancing on the surface tension, sparrows scrambling like reed warblers among the bold yellow iris flowers.

There’s nothing here, today or most days, to make me grab excitedly for my field guide. It’s sometimes a calling point for the kingfishers who work these intercutting waterways. I can be sure of robin and wren song, of the laboured flight of jays overhead. There’s always a song thrush wailing its mad jazz solo in an overhanging beech (and I can never quite pick it out among the branches). It’s just a small wild place, between the canal and the cricket field, the railway line and the old bakery. Small, and wild, and wet, and leapingly alive.

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