A late winter walk in Combe Valley

Watermill Stream, Combe Valley on misty winters morning
Watermill Stream

Living on the edge of a coastal town, you’d think that my focus would be the sea and, for a while after I moved here nearly twenty years ago, it was. However, always simmering below the surface was a longing to return to the landscape photography that I loved. Fortunately, a little bit of exploration led me to discover the other side of coastal living and the beautiful countryside that surrounds us here.

Combe Valley Flood Plain
Comber Valley Flood Plain

As an introduction to a place that I photograph regularly, I’ll try to paint a brief picture of my local landscape. A two-minute walk from my front door transports me into another world, that of a valley with a natural flood plain, nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It’s made up many habitats, including ancient woodlands, reedbeds, fen, a river fed by two streams not to mention the beach area and farmland.  Here all manner of birds, animals, butterflies, moths and of course wild flowers can be found.

Prehistory is imprinted throughout too, with dinosaur footprints and a submerged forest found on the coastal shore. On farmland, evidence has been found of Roman, Saxon and Medieval settlements. The more recent past can be seen through remnants of a demolished viaduct (a victim of Beechings cuts) together with the building of a road that tore a scar through the western edge. Separating the valley from adjoining farmland and woods to the west and north, this road caused major upheaval and distress to wildlife and humans alike.

Mist rising on decoy pond, Combe Valley
Mist rising on decoy pond

Life in the valley is slowly recovering from this most recent incursion of man and machine and is returning to a place of peace, a haven for wildlife and those of us who love walking there.  As a natural flood plain, for 3 or 4 months of the year the main paths are often under water and this year has been no exception, with some areas a metre deep. Last week, desperate to visit and with a few dry days behind us, I took a four mile morning walk with my partner along a manmade greenway, one of the positive outcomes of the recent road build in this very wet winter, to soak up some of the sights and sounds of the still flooded valley, as well as scout a few images for a project. 

Combe Haven river and flood on misty winters morning
Combe Haven river and flood

A sharp, dawn hoar frost had given way to blue skies, the heat of the winter sun burning off the ice and frost, creating steamy mists rising from ponds and the river. The morning dew and retreating flooding released a wonderful earthy fragrance of petrichor rising from the soil. Alder catkins were a rich burgundy and tightly formed, contrasting with the bright yellow of Hazel catkins, or lambs’ tails as they are known, which were backlit and shimmering in a gentle breeze. Swollen, they were getting ready to burst with pollen that would be carried by the wind, in search of tiny red female hazel flowers.

Three Bridges, Combe Valley in flood on winters morning
Three Bridges

Birdlife filled the air – a grey heron and a small white egret, hunting and flying slowly and purposefully together; a flight of half a dozen lapwings, their presence announced by a ‘peewit’ call, swooped over the water and a skylark sang in full voice. I heard great tits calling to attract females to their territory in a small copse and a round, English robin, flew all the way along the leafless winter hedgerow, from shrub to shrub, serenading us at each resting point as we walked. 

Combe Valley in flood

Part of the joy of landscape photography for me is just wandering an area, listening and watching as seasons change and I have to admit that, after a winter of reflection and rest, I was transfixed by all the life stirring on that morning, spring is not far away. Here are a few images from the walk that I hope will bring a sense of the stark, late winter beauty of the valley that I call my ‘happy place’. Do you enjoy nature and have a local happy place – I’d love to hear about it.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you for taking me on a walk to your happy place, Lin. I need to check and see why I’m not notified when you post something new since I subscribed. Maybe you know why, but now that I know, I can come find what you post. So many beautiful scenes of your world. I’m most in love with the last image of large old trees near the water. Thank you. I look forward to watching spring unfold in your world as it will in mine.

    • Thank you for your lovely words Elaine, I am blessed with such a variety of landscape here. Our ancient trees in the UK suffered after so much was cut down over the centuries for shipbuilding and then fuelling the industrial revolution but even small areas like this valley are being far better cared for now. Those skeletal old trees fascinated me too, silhouetted against the mist they stood out more ..I hadn’t noticed them before but will watch their transformation over the year
      It’s a bit of a puzzle about your subscription as you’re not on my subscriber list – I can only think that the WordPress gremlins were hard at work when you subscribed. If you try again I’ll have a look and see if you get added to the list.

      • I subscribed again and hope it works this time. If not, I’ll ask my website provider for help. This post shows me that your site already saved my name, email and website, so I don’t know why I don’t get notifications. Computers bring us together and make us a bit crazy.

    • Thank you Aladin for your generous words. I’m very lucky to have such a beautiful haven so close to hand…have you got a ‘happy place’ in nature that you visit regularly?

        • Oh wow Aladin, I just looked up Teutoburger Wald – it is beautiful…I would say a photographers delight and so much bigger than anything left in this part of England. How lucky you are to be close by. Our area of the Weald has been decimated over the centuries, and we now have the smallest amount of woodland in Europe. Fortunately we have pockets of ancient woodland that are cared for, much loved and very much needed!

  2. Your post really brings Combe Valley to life! Thank you for sharing your fabulous photos and wonderful nature descriptions. I like the way you invite the reader to join you on your walk. I’ve learnt a new word ‘peewit’ today.

    • Thank you so much Sarah, I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. Here’s an interesting fact – ‘Peewit’ is an alternative name for a Lapwing, so called because of the two syllable ‘pee-wit’ type call it makes.

  3. Beautiful description and photographs of our valley. Would you be interested in being involved with the Friends of Combe Valley photographic competition this Year? contact me for details.

    • Thank you Julie – we are so lucky to have the valley on our doorstep. Regarding the photographic competition I’ll drop you a line and look forward to hearing more about what is involved.

  4. I can imagine an intake of breath as each scene unfolded before you Lin. Beauty does that to me – I can scarcely believe my eyes sometimes. Thank you for sharing your happy place with us. I have a few, a variety eg sea, forest, home.

    • Thank you Susan – there are so many beautiful places in the landscape further afield in the UK, such as the Lake District or the Scottish Highlands, what they call “photographers honeypots”. Yet, by exploring more locally, I’ve found I connect to and appreciate the beauty here so much more. My eyes are opened to those little hidden gems…so I understand one of your choices being home, although I can imagine you have some absolutely breath-taking happy places over there away from home too!

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