I wanted to see the winter floods along the valley. To see how high the water had risen and which trees had blown down. It was a cold, bright day with an evil North wind. A Big Coat day. The heater in the Land Rover was surprisingly effective and the drive to Petworth was quite comfortable. Except for the condensation dripping from the bare aluminium roof.
The view across the valley over my favourite gate at Riverhill was missing something. The clouds were impressive but the South Downs were obscured by a haze. I climbed back behind the wheel and for the umpteenth time, resolved to fit side steps. I explored the lane leading down to Fittleworth which revealed a spectacular view across the arable fields bordering the foot of the Downs. The clouds were moving fast and the suns rays raced across the fields. I stood in a sheltered corner for about an hour, warmed by the weak sunshine. I took over a hundred photos as the landscape changed from ‘bright green fields’ to ‘dark snow clouds’. It was only 2:30pm but felt like dusk.
I drove to Coultershaw Bridge and was surprised at the river level, the fields around Kilsham were all flooded. I paddled in the water but it was too dangerous, hidden ditches and wheel ruts barred my way to the fish pass. I didn’t need Wellingtons full of icy water. Any late departing sea trout had an easy journey to the estuary.
At Rotherbridge I looked upstream to the West, most of the landscape was under water. Several Alder trees were stacked alongside the river and the debris under the bushes had been washed away. I tried to imagine how the flood would reshape the sandy river bed. I wondered if the newly established Starwort would be ripped out.
I walked slowly towards the New Riffle through the fast flowing water. There were no signs of fish or ducks. I watched the river being cleansed by the floodwater. Branches, plastic bottles and weeds were on their way to the sea.
Rain or snow looked likely and the light was fading. I turned and splashed back to the bridge while I could still see where to tread. I stopped at The Badgers for a pint and to get warm before the journey home. It was reassuring to see the river, I will go again when the water level has dropped.