England

About the middle of August, when walking by one of the locks on a disused canal in the Ock Valley, I saw a man engaged in a very artistic mode of catching crayfish. The lock was very old, and the brickwork above water covered with pennywort and crane's-bill growing where the mortar had rotted at the joints. In these same joints below water the crayfish had made holes or homes of some sort, and were sitting at the doors with their claws and feelers just outside, waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for something to turn up. To meet their views the crayfish catcher had cut a long willow withe.

In the upper Thames valley, both in May and autumn, one of the prettiest sights is the great hedges which divide the meadows. In spring, those above Oxford look as though covered with snow, and in early October they are loaded with hips and haws, just turned red, with blackberries, elderberries (though the starlings have eaten most of these), with crab apples, with hazel nuts, scarlet wild guelder-rose berries, dog-wood berries, and sloes. Except the fields themselves, our hedges are almost the oldest feature with which Englishmen adorned rural England.

A movement is on foot among various societies interested in the preservation of outdoor England to take measures jointly for the protection of the beauties of the Thames. The subject is one which attracts more interest yearly, and the time has now come when the nation should make up its mind on the subject of such splendid properties as it possesses in "real estate" like the Thames and the New Forest, with especial regard to their value for beauty and enjoyment. It would be unfair to expect too much from the Thames Conservancy in this direction.

Is it true that our fountains and springs of sweet water are about to perish? A writer in Country Life says "Yes," that in parts of the Southern counties the hidden cisterns of the springs are now sucked dry, and that the engineers employed to bring the waters from these natural sources to the village or the farm lament that where formerly streams gushed out unbidden, they are now at pains to raise the needed water by all the resources of modern machinery.

One winter an unusual number of peewits visited the flats near Wittenham and Burcote, and remained there for several months. One or two starlings which haunted the house in which we stayed, and slept in their old holes in the thatch, picked up all the various peewits' calls and notes, and used to amuse themselves by repeating these in the apple-trees on sunny mornings. The note was so exact a reproduction that I often looked up to see where the plover was before I made out that it was only the starling's mimicry.

On September 16, 1896, after a period of very stormy wet weather, I saw a great migration of swallows down the Thames. It was a dark, dripping evening, and the thick osier bed on Chiswick Eyot was covered with wet leaf. Between five and six o'clock immense flights of swallows and martins suddenly appeared above the eyot, arriving, not in hundreds, but in thousands and tens of thousands. The air was thick with them, and their numbers increased from minute to minute. Part drifted above, in clouds, twisting round like soot in a smoke-wreath.

Just before hay-time, the crowning glory of the Thames-side flats is given by the flowers growing in the grass. Their setting, among the uncounted millions of green grass stems, appeals not only by the contrast of colour, but by the sense of coolness and content which these sheltered and softly bedded blossoms suggest. The meadows which they adorn are best-loved of all the fields of England; but they would never be as dear to Englishmen as they are were it not for the flowers which deck them. The blossoms and plants found in the tall grasses differ from those on lawns and grazing pastures.

In Wittenham Wood, which in our time was not spoiled, from a naturalist's point of view, by too much trapping or shooting the enemies of game, though there was plenty of wild game in it, the balance of nature was quite undisturbed. Of course we never shot a hawk or an owl, and I think the most important item of vermin killed was two cats, which were hung up as an awful instance of what we could do if we liked.

    "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden."

There is always some rivalry about shooting different woods on adjacent properties, and the villages near always take a certain interest in the results. Visiting our nearest riverside inn to order luncheon for our own shoot that week, I found about a dozen labourers in the front room, with a high settle before the fire to keep the draught out, sitting in a fine mixed odour of burning wood, beer, and pipes. Sport was the pervading topic, for a popular resident had been shooting his wood, and many of the men had been beating for him, and had their usual half-crown to spend.

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