Avalon Marshes, Burns the Bread, coot, dendrochronology, heron, Natural England, RSPB, Shapwick Heath, Somerset Levels, Somerset Wildlife Trust, swan, Sweet Track
A few days ago, when the weather wasn’t as bitterly cold as it is now, a London friend came to visit me, and among other things we had a lovely walk on Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes, also known as the Somerset Levels. The whole area has been restored for wildlife after a century and more of being worked for peat. Natural England, the RSPB, and the Somerset Wildlife Trust each manages part of the Marshes. The visitor is rarely aware of who owns and manages what, and the bodies work together as part of the Avalon Marshes Partnership.
Another feature of the place is the existence of the Sweet Track, built by people living in the area in 3807 BC or 3806 BC. How so precisely dated? By the science of dendrochronology, reading the tree rings of this wood beautifully preserved by the acidic bogs.
We walked for about two miles each way along the River Brue, straightened and canalised as part of the draining of the Levels centuries ago. To our left was the river, to the right marshland.
We walked as far as, and examined as best we could, a new hide being built,
opposite this view beyond the Brue
before turning back and along a track
to an old one, called Noah’s Hide. We stayed there for quite a while, enjoying big landscape views and smaller more intimate sights, bordering on voyeurism once or twice.
We were disappointed that no pair was formed from the three Great crested grebes we saw. Their courtship dance is wonderful to see, as they bow and weave in perfect mirrored harmony on the water.
When it was time to return to the car and home, we congratulated ourselves on the weather which had certainly been better than forecast, and felt that the exercise we had done amply justified eating the Eccles cakes we had bought from Burns the Bread earlier on in the day.