Wye walk? Why indeed? The Wye is the name of the river that flows through Hereford City and this post follows on from Urban Bimble – Part Three.
The Wye begins its 134 mile journey in the Welsh mountains at Plynlimon. It was on these wild, boggy slopes that Owain Glyndwr won his first victory against the English in 1401, during the Welsh Revolt. The river meanders down through Wales, into Hereford, back into Wales, past Tintern Abbey and Chepstow before ending at the Severn Estuary and flowing out into the Bristol Channel. Two parts of the Wye are Sites of Special Scientific Interest due to its importance as a wildlife channel, particularly for salmon, and the other habitats that it supports. It is popular with kayakers, anglers and walkers.
We shall be concentrating on the small part of the Wye that passes through Hereford City. We start our bimble at the Duck Pond; a rather murky pool full of debris, but popular with the ducks. Most of the ducks are the common dabbling duck known as the mallard. The name is probably from the old French malart, meaning wild drake. Most domestic ducks are descended from these. The female is a dull brown, so she can nest without being too obvious to predators, while the drake has a stunning shimmery green head and neck. The mallard drake has a reputation for being a rather unpleasant sexual predator, harrassing females and becoming notorious after a documented case of homosexual necrophilia, those of you who are not of a nervous disposition may read about it here.
For those of you wondering why ducks don’t get cold feet, it is all down to heat exchange. It has been calculated, by people cleverer than me, that mallards only lose 5% of their body heat through their feet. Heat will be exchanged more slowly if there is a smaller temperature difference between two objects. In a duck’s foot the warm arteries are close to the cold veins, so the warm arterial blood warms up the veins, whilst the arteries cool. This means that, overall, the blood in a duck’s foot is relatively cool – just warm enough to avoid frostbite, but cool enough to not be so different from the water temperature to lose much heat to it.
These ducks are kept company by the inevitable flock of pigeons, grey squirrels and, on this occasion, a moorhen. These are similar to coots but with a distinctive red beak, they’re members of the Rail family and have lobed rather than webbed feet. They tend to feed around the edges of water.
Leaving the waterfowl to their fowl water, we head to the cleaner flow of the Wye itself. We cross over the Victoria footbridge, pausing for views up and down the river. The camera shake is down to the bridge moving as people walk across it, but I’m sure it is perfectly safe! Looking left the river disappears along its course, there are a couple of swans in the distance. A walk down river will often reward you with sightings of herons and kingfishers.
Towards the right there are views of Hereford Cathedral, discussed in Urban Bimble – Part Two.
On the other side of the bridge are the King George V playing fields. George V reigned over the UK 1910 – 1936 and was the grandson of Queen Victoria, cousin to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany. The Russian Revolution and WWI were difficult times for the British royal family!
There are a large number of King George’s fields in the UK, after his death a committee was set up to find a suitable memorial. They arrived at this worthy aim: “To promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of playing fields for the use and enjoyment of the people.” There were 471 playing fields in total, they must all display the heraldic panel and they can never be taken from us.
In the next exciting episode we shall stroll leisurely along the river and learn about how a soggy bulldog became a musical inspiration and meet an old bridge. Meanwhile I shall leave you with a snippet of William Wordsworth’s musings on the River Wye, from “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, you can read this and more Lyrical Ballads here:
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft,
In darkness, and amid the many shapes
Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!