There has a been much rain in the UK over the Christmas and the New Year, enough to cause floods and disruption. In the parts of Wiltshire I travel, the rain has manifested mainly as surface water on roads and in fields. I have travelled over Salisbury Plain taking photographs perhaps four or five times. It was a surprise, therefore, to find on this weekend’s trip two winterbournes in places I normally associate with grass and gorse and trees.
For those who don’t know, a winterbourne is a river or stream that rises in the winter, after the heavier rains – hence, winter-bourne. The word can be found in place names such as Winterbourne Stoke – which is, indeed, where I first realised the significance of the word, about 30 years ago, driving through the village in winter and for the first time noticing a stream there.
On Saturday, we went for a drive over the Plain, looking for landscapes and starling clouds and birds of prey. I thought to get to the Plain via the byway that leads from the tiny hamlet of Compton. However, this attempt was thwarted by a most spectacular winterbourne that was using the byway as its bed. This was the view that greeted our approach:
Further down the road, the byway cuts between banks two and three feet deep. I only risked going as far as the second telegraph pole, before turning around and coming back.
However, intrigued, we had to know what the winterbourne was like half a mile down the track, where it met the byway to Larkhill. So, we took to our heels, and drove Foxy to the byway above Compton, which also meets the Larkhill byway, and then down into the valley and the lower Compton byway.
The byway to Larkhill is here made up so that it is embanked; beneath the embankment runs two pipes.I had always supposed that during heavy rain the water would run off the sides of the slopes of the combe in the Plain, and that the pipes had been put in place for the purpose of draining away rainwater. I hadn’t realised that a new river might rise for a while, nor how forcefully and fast the water could flow in such a short distance from wherever its spring head might be.
What’s more, because the Larkhill byway is embanked, and the pipes only allow a certain quantity of water to flow through, the embankment acts as a dam, and has helped to create this brand new pond:
After admiring and photographing this pond, and this winterbourne, Lizzie and I set off on our usual slow meander around the byways. As usual, we had a particular route in mind that takes us a little deeper into the centre of the Plain, and where we stop for a cuppa — yes, sadly, we do take a flask of tea with us….
We normally stop near Candown Copse. This is on the side of another shallow valley or combe, the bottom of which is called, perhaps unsurprisingly, Candown Bottom. And, yes, this valley had also sprung a winterbourne. The photograph at the top of this post shows the bourne heading downstream. In this case, the valley is anyway where the brook called the Till rises, and then heads through Tilshead. This season, though, the rains have made the springs rise further up the combe. Again, the byway here has been embanked, and single pipe channels the water beneath it. Here, the new winter pond is more like a lake…