Breaking the confines of the town centre, we took two small walks on successive sunny Wednesdays, in and around Crow Nest. On the first of these, we set off quite a bit later than planned, due to mislaid keys. Ambling down quiet streets to the main road, we waited to cross at the zebra. An impatient driver beeped us; obviously frustrated at having to slow down from 100 mph on the clear stretch!
On reaching the canal, we turned left. Some waiting and weaving was required to avoid loiterers and cyclists. In the almost-empty park, Japanese cherry trees blossomed pink beneath a blue sky. Towards the station, dandelion clocks dominated the verge. Men loitered around roadworks on the access road and clambered noisily on the roof as refurbishment continued. We had to wait again for people coming the other way, detouring onto undergrowth as a man dithered with his phone on the Sustrans path.
Finally, he shifted leaving us free to examine mysterious signs on posts, small white and yellow flowers, and sandy stretches near the water from which stunted garlic grew.
Surrounded by greenery, we continued at a leisurely pace to the end of the path, noting long shadows cast by tall trees on the tarmac and further ruination of the shipping containers.
Moss continued its relentless quest to obliterate the graffiti, with artistic effect. Just before the site of the old Walkleys Mill (Still odd to see flattened), we turned sharp right up to the green railway bridge and followed the path skirting the bottom of Crow Nest wood.
At the station again, large dislodged stones had scattered on the flood-damaged road. Past the stoneyard, the towpath looked clear when a pair of joggers almost ran into us under the next bridge. I was annoyed they hadn’t stopped for us. The next stretch housed several moored barges. We waited for a woman strolling with a pram on other side of the gate so we could re-enter the park. We made for the central pitch to avoid weed smokers huddled on benches, not adhering to ‘social distancing’. At Blackpit Lock, we ran past more loiterers, deciding it might be less hazardous to return home via Holme Street.
The following Wednesday, lattice-like clouds scattered across a deep blue sky in the bright afternoon light. I had become anxious about socialising between different households on the street below, with children running interminably hither and thither. To avoid them, we took the larger steps down to the road, greeting a neighbour at the end of the terrace over her garden wall. On the other side of the main road, we climbed straight to the top of Crow Nest wood. On the way up, we stood aside a couple of times, first for a couple then for a straggling family group. As we passed the noxious dead tree, on the steep climb, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my bad ankle, making me keen to reach the flat.
At the top, sheep with lambs so brand new they shone white, grazed in a meadow, fenced with barbed wire. Further on, last year’s beech nut husks clung onto spindly twigs. Bluebells had started to emerge while the brook had almost totally dried up. From the top we could see the quarry was equally arid. From the top we could see the quarry was equally arid. A pair of women waited for us and I thanked them heartily; it made a change for us not to be the ones who paused.
A rather steep end section of path led down onto the wider track. As we turned right to Wood Top farm, we heard bleating and hoped to see more lambs. Instead, we came across a field of goats with offspring – no kidding!
On Wood Top Road, we again had to stand on the verge a couple of times for other walkers, using the opportunity to take pleasure in a squirrel jumping between high branches and resplendent native white cherry blossom.
After the episode of the previous week, we deemed the park safer than the towpath. However, the plethora of non-essential activity made me wonder if we’d chosen wisely. Several people sat around on benches and grass; kids skateboarded and cycled with gay abandon; teenage girls made videos for tick-tock. Near the lock, a dog rushed canal-side making the geese scatter and squawk with fear. It made me jump too!