Country diary: Rushing rivers and bright red berries

By Virginia Spiers
The River Tamar ebbing between mud banks and reed beds, Cornwall.
The River Tamar ebbing between mud banks and reedbeds. Photograph: Jack Spiers

On the eastern horizon, the distinctive asymmetric shape of Sheeps Tor is a navy blue shadow in front of sunlit Dartmoor. Off Summers Lane, glossy cock pheasants and drab hens forage on the trodden field of yearling bullocks. Rank hedgebanks show off this year’s prolific woody growth, and spangle and silk button galls stud the undersides of oak, in their cycle towards producing tiny wasps.

Strands of bryony’s red berries, sparse scarlet haws and the pink of campion brighten dull vegetation; shiny pennywort and hart’s-tongue fern gleam beneath the grey sky. Downhill, the sound of chainsaws has stopped after the felling of ash with dieback. Above Radland’s overgrown market gardens, puddles along the lane reflect a crisscross of bare branches, and downslope, the millstream rushes with water that rises beneath Viverdon Down. Laurel shrouds the ruins of the miller’s house (home of ancestors in the 19th century); the mill itself is now a dwelling, and the little outhouse, with internal niches for straw bee skeps, remains intact.

Beneath Nanie Rowe’s Wood, the sunken way is carpeted with orange beech leaves, and the stream is augmented with yet more water from Callington and the mining district of Kit Hill and Hingston Down. The water races beneath the regenerating woodland of former steep strawberry gardens, under Boars Bridge and towards the ruined weir of the National Trust’s Cotehele Mill. The weir washed away last winter during flooding, and now awaits extensive reconstruction before restoration of the hydroelectric generator and historic water wheel. Parallel to the woodland track, strewn with trampled husks of sweet chestnuts, the flow slows as it nears the tidal river.

On Cotehele Quay, opposite the burnished oaks of Ward Mine Wood, people stroll and gaze at the silt-washed vegetation of the newly created intertidal habitat. Between mudbanks and bedraggled reedbeds, the shining river meanders past Dung Quay with its shadowy limekilns and trees draped in fluffy clusters of old man’s beard, passing downstream between Braunder Wood and the emerald green of pasture on Boetheric Marsh.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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