We've yet to start creating the film that this project will culminate in, but we have been filming and recording sound in the field, collecting footage, cultivating ideas and discussing themes as to what form the finished piece will take. As well as filming from the river bank, from bridges, and even underwater, there is one angle that we can't manage by ourselves, and that is from the air.
A few months back Ruth bumped in to Nick Allen (of Allen Aerial) as he was flying his drone on the riverside whilst filming Sudbury to the Sea in 2016, and asked him if had the capability of filming, to which he said yes. He was also interesting in capturing some images for us, so today he popped round with his business partner, and father, Phil, to show us how the drone worked and what kind of angles and quality was possible. It certainly was impressive kit and their knowledge and experience gave us confidence that they can contribute a unique perspective to the film.
After a cup of tea and a good look at the Ordnance Survey map to discuss where in the valley would offer great views (there is a lot of it!) we're all set to go and can't wait to see what they get.
Today we met with Mick, Angela, Barry and Simon, all committee members of the Colchester Piscatorial Society (est. 1924) who manage and fish many waters around north Essex, including a 3 mile stretch of the River Stour near Langham. They have an agreement with the Tolhurst family to maintain and use the land for fishing and were keen to show us the work that they have been doing recently to provide better access to the river and more suitable places for anglers.
We met at the Lowlift Bridge next to Langham Pumping Station, which Mick informed us used to be a Mill. In fact, lots of the pumping stations exist on sites of old mills, such as those at Stratford St Mary and Boxted. The bridge itself is relatively new (40 years old) having replaced the old brick built bridge that was destroyed when it was hit by lightning. Mick's knowledge of the area goes back a long way as he began fishing the river in 1958 and remembers that night well, having been on the river bank during that particular storm, in which he said that the rain came down 'like the sea in strips'.
We then walked along the river bank, at their invitation as the lands are private and open to members only (see http://www.cpsangling.co.uk/ to join), and conversations immediately began, which is of course why walking is such a good vehicle for learning. Simon and Barry have been hard at work clearing certain parts of the bank to make 'swims' for the anglers to fish from. They've also been making a consistent path as most of the area was inaccessible for many years.
In recent years work by the Environment Agency has done a lot to help improve water quality, and we could see evidence of structures that the EA had built a few years previous which have provided calm areas and sanctuary for fish to hide and mate. The anglers were aware of lots of different fish in the waters but in particular told us about trout, roach, chub, bream, gudgeon, perch and pike. Eel populations have also been climbing in recent years, which should help the small numbers of otters on the river. We also saw a fair amount of wildlife too including several large chub, lots of damsel flies, a dragon fly laying eggs in the river, moor hens, lots of butterflies, grasshoppers and a Kingfisher, albeit rather fleetingly.
There are lots of Cricket Bat Willows growing along the banks and Mick gave us an in depth explanation of the process used to grow wood to make cricket bats, which is evident along a lot of the river we have walked for this project. As we progressed the landscape became more flat and open and was referred to as the Higham Prairie, and the names of the swims reflected this. Here, the River Box, that we had been walking along yesterday, joins the Stour in an area that Barry said used to have a Trout Farm, which during floods added to the river fish stocks. The terrain here was also more gravelly, meaning different plants such as Burdock were growing here, where nearer the bridge there were more ferns and moss. Next, opposite a house on the river, the River Brett also joins the Stour behind a rather understated reed bed.
Further along, and after passing a small gate that we stepped over Langham Hall came in to view. The great great great (?) grandson of John Constable, also called John Constable once commissioned some aerial photographs from the Hall. Mick said that a huge crane was brought in to the grounds and from the top of it were taken a lot of photographs in order to understand where certain trees were in the landscape in comparison to trees in some early sketches made by the famous painter.
As we made our way back along the farm tracks from the Black Barn to where we began, a man in a car stopped to have a friendly chat with Mick, which turned out to be the tenant farmer on his way to check the combine harvester that we had just passed. It was evident that they had a good relationship, but this extended past a personal level. The society has had a long relationship with the various landowners and farmers, and by working together they all help to manage and conserve the varying aspects of the land and its wildlife enabling a very positive symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial.
We met with Rowena Macaulay in Manningtree to chat about accessibility in the landscape, which is something we are aware of in our project walks as we're only able to announce one of the six as accessible to wheel chair users. Rowena is the organiser of Jane's Walk in Colchester and Walk Colchester https://walkcolchester.wordpress.com a group dedicated to promoting safe and enjoyable walking, provide information about walking access and to aid protection of our green open spaces.
She met us outside the North House Gallery in her day wheelchair, but we helped her to fit a third powered wheel to the front turning it into a trike that could be driven along. It is always a trade off between manoeuvrability and stability, she said in regard to wheel chairs, but the combination she was using today certainly did a great job on the pavements of Manningtree and Mistley, as we proceeded along The Walls, which is a greensward alongside the River Stour. We discussed the project at some length, our backgrounds and history and what had led us to this place in time.
It was certainly a fragrant walk with the smell of malt permeating all of Mistley, and the high temperature of 29 degrees somehow helped to heighten the senses as we walked along. We passed an allotment, or so it seemed, perched on the railway embankment, and Rowena's wheelchair brushed against the lavender to release its scent to mingle with that of the sweet peas and fennel.
It was narrow here but the path was just wide enough for us to pass by. For a wheel chair user, or anyone with some kind of impairment, information is key. Each person's needs are very different so it is important to have enough information on as many aspects of the terrain, gradients, surfaces and barriers as possible, so that people can make up their own assessments.
So, we'll endeavour to supply this for our walk on 23rd July, and others as we walk in the areas ourselves, in order to help people decide whether they can attend the walk, which we certainly hope that they can. And of course, we'll try to answer any questions that you may have about the routes and paths that we will use in our events.
We arrived back opposite the gallery all too soon, but we did manage to plot our walk on a map using View Ranger, with some embedded live Tweets, which you can view here.