Sunday, 14 February 2010

Another peaceful cruise across the Leam valley

What makes England a very special place is that there are few extremes of beauty or size or nature, but that much of the entire country is extremely pleasant. You never have to walk far from any point in the land to discover a landscape worth admiring; it's a land of history, of varied geology, mellow topography, and interesting asides and corners. Every spot has a tale worth hearing; it's England's patina.

So the valley of the Leam - a river not even known by most who live anywhere but Leamington Spa - is a low, weak valley, edged by fragments of old woodlands. The wide flat valley is indistinct, broken up by the inconsistent lines of large fields and the ghosts of old railway lines.

Even in winter, this is a landscape worth seeing. Those forested shards lie like a dark smudged haze along the ridges and among the reedy beds of the streams. Skittish sheep and lambs forage in pale green sharply ridged fields. Red brick farms decay every day, dripping slowly back into the soil below. Men in boiler suits search for something with perky Jack Russels. A harrier hovers discretely and expectantly nearby; a greenfinch shivers among the thorns and bare sticks.

We break the still waters at Calcutt and motor south, through the locks. Healthy couples walk, wrapped against the damp, watching us pass by. We turn at Wigrams and nod at other boats: it's the curt, acknowledging nod of winter boaters. Faces wrapped against the light northerly breeze, gusting to nothing, and hands tightly gripping the tiller or mugs of tea.

Our gang of eight work their way through slabs of bacon sandwiches, chipped mugs of Liptons and exchange old facts: did you know that boats heading for London pass each other in opposite directions here?

My favourite farm, a handful of shattered outbuildings and a raggedy house lie alongside the water, fronted by the ugliest collection of corrugated huts, overgrown huts and barns. Lower Shuckburgh church looms behind by the road.

Too soon, we sweep across the infant valley, the Leam a glittering trickle below and the old railway beyond. North Star returns again to Braunston, where we were so annoyed by the marina earlier in the year, and on towards the padlocked locks. So to the end of the day.

8.1 miles, 3 locks

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