I walk my neighbours’ dog Harry when I can. He’s about four I think, not the sharpest tool in the box, but quite polite and incurious as dogs go, and good undemanding company. We always head for the river. It’s said that the ‘ham’ in ‘Twickenham’ might derive from the old word ‘hamm’, ‘land in a river bend or promontory, dry ground in a marsh, river meadow’ (see Twickenham Museum’s fascinating website). This makes sense, as Twickenham lies between two rivers, the ripping coils of the Thames serpent to the south, the flightier, younger Crane to the north. It’s the Crane we go to, a stretch of it that runs between extensive 1930s housing developments in a series of reed beds and under the A316, the arterial road that turns into the M3 a couple of miles to the south west.
It’s noisy and there’s nothing distinguished about the landscape (I’ve written more about it here) but at this time of year the structure of the woods is suddenly laid bare – the flare of hornbeam, the stiff brush of poplar, the slender arching horsechestnuts – and the movement of the birds between them is thrilling.
Today there are powerful winds (poor Cumbria is taking a hammering from Storm Desmond) and as we arrived by the river the rooks and jackdaws hurtled over in great numbers like flakes of burnt newspaper or shredded black hankies, nothing like the purposeful squadrons I’d seen in the morning, heading north east over the house, but chaotic and unsettled. After about twenty minutes’ walk along the river we caught up with them near the Shot Tower, a dense crowd high up in the ash trees. There was much business being done, judging by the noise, which almost drowned out the screeches of the ring-necked parakeets that had assembled nearby. And then suddenly they left, blown on in a great noisy gust towards their roost. I was trying to record the racket on my phone, and I was lucky enough to catch their departure.