On this damp, chilly October day it isn’t difficult to imagine walking with ghosts through Loynton Moss. Emerald moss clings to Victorian canal bridges and fronds of bracken drip onto gravel towpaths. Breath rises in icy plumes, though the sun shines far above these steep embankments. The boggy nature reserve is tucked away in west Staffordshire. Lorries roar past and cars speed through tight country bends between Telford and Stafford. Once there was a boating lake here, where men dressed like Conan Doyle or Richard Hannay fished for carp and tench, or stalked through reeds with hunting rifles. This was a mere, formed from a glacial kettle hole left behind by the Ice Age. There were dozens of these tucked away in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. They were a good size (reports of Loynton Moss estimate a size of five football pitches as recently as the 1920s) and vital to the local economy as a provider of food, feathers and latterly sport. Many were drained or filled as agriculture became more mechanised in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As vegetation grows and falls and becomes peat in the reed bed it gradually takes over the lake. So now Loynton Moss is grass and reed. It is looked after by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and is a vital wetland site for bird species such as curlew and reed bunting. Each year volunteers cut away the reeds to prevent the site being taken over by shrubs and dried out. Tucked away on an information board in the moss is a wonderful black and white still of a man dressed like Bertie Wooster, sat in a boat with a spaniel. You can close your eyes and hear ragtime jazz drifting from the boathouse. Even the name Loynton Moss could have been taken from Wodehouse – a lawyer employed by the formidable Aunt Agatha perhaps?