Autumn is here already, it seems. There is a chill as the sun falls. At dawn the grass is slick with dew. Woodsmoke drifts in the air and Vs of Canadian geese swoop into land, waterskiing with a swoosh across the flash.
The marshes are a special place all year round, but there is something magical as summer gives way to autumn. Doxey Marshes is a nature reserve hemmed in by the M6, the West Coast Mainline and Stafford town centre, but somehow nature thrives here. Last night, as rain spattered the old railway line that cuts through the marsh, frogs hopped towards the River Sow by the dozen. A heron watched over a dogleg in the river. Rabbits bolted into the scrub at the sight of a Jack Russell.
You can spot squirrels, geese, rabbits, frogs, toads, foxes, pheasants and heron without any effort. Intercity trains speed by and truck headlights dip and rise on the horizon. A churchyard on the hill overlooking the flash is crowded with forgotten Victorians – the Elijahs, Uriahs, Ezekiels and Bithiahs coupled with the Staffordshire names of Boon and Sharratt and Mottershead. There is a stone monument, almost forgotten in a tangle of scrub and yew, to commemorate the fire-dead from the town workhouse.
A new estate is being built in the distance, but this thin tract of swampy land still divides. There is an ancient footpath lined with pollarded willows. Each attempt to drop hardcore and gravel sinks slowly beneath the muddy, cress-speckled waters. The marsh is loved by joggers, dog-walkers and birdwatchers and a man who leans for hours on the crossbar of his bike. He trails cheap, pungent aftershave. I don’t know who he wears it for.
It’s the untamed marsh that makes me think. You can see where hawthorn has been planted and dug its gnarled, twisted roots, like an old man’s veins into the sandy, pebbly soil. There are ruins of an old dairy farm and a tumbledown cottage and outhouse. The gatepost (above) was cut and planted by someone. Who knows how old it is? It feels rough to the touch and if you pick with a thumbnail if comes away in chunks like a tuna steak. I wonder how many frosts and sleets and mists and blazing suns this gate has felt. People have been born, taken exams, married and died. But it’s still here, almost unnoticed and unseen.