Caught by the River


29th October 2017

Kevin Parr escapes the fog and goes in pursuit of some seasonal fungi

The cloud came in on Sunday, shortly after Storm Brian had blustered off to the East, and it has sat stubbornly ever since. It seems intent on staying until the weekend and possibly beyond, but over the years we have got quite used to coping with the grey.

I do miss the view – the ridge opposite the cottage where the ravens have been playing or the sweep of scrub where the kestrels hunt. But more than that I miss the openness; the space.

Staring at a screen all day is easily tempered with regular breaks to watch the clouds race or the sparrows squabble. We live in an almost eerie quiet, tucked away in a cul-de-sac among the hills. No passing traffic, no overhead flight paths. Just the bleat of sheep and cluck of chickens.

It is important in such a place that things aren’t perfect, or else we would never leave, and we knew when we came that the area was renowned for fog. Nevertheless, the shortening days are tough enough to cope with and after too many hours of gloom I was beginning to suffocate.

The road to the coast is an obvious escape route. Chesil is only ten or fifteen minutes by car, but sometimes the contrast is too severe. After sitting for an age in an ashen bubble, the sheer enormity of the sea can be overwhelming, and I feel like one of the pheasants in the lane, freshly released, wondering quite what it’s all about.

Instead I headed north, to the meadows a couple of valleys over. There a stream has cut deep enough and for long enough to bring the folds beneath cloud level. It was still dull, but the trees were solid once more and the air less oppressive. I paused briefly to watch a peacock butterfly dance between the falling oak leaves, and then headed out across the open pasture.

A lone hawthorn caught my eye, heavy with berries that cut contrast to the green of the ground, but it was at my feet where the true treasure lay. There were plenty of little toadstools whose names I couldn’t even guess at, but among them, though, were the hats of witches and the first of this season’s waxcaps.

My interest in fungi is fundamentally based on their edibility, and I have learned all those species that I might want in my basket alongside all of those that might put me into one. In between are many thousands that exist as not a threat or food source, and I am prone, rather ashamedly, to overlook them.

This afternoon, however, I happily muddied my knees and lost myself among the Hygrocybes. Indulging in a damp world of explosive colour and slippery form. And as I later drove myself back up into the cloud, I realised that I had found exactly what I needed.


Watch Kevin Parr and Garrett Fallon as they fish for tench in the last days of summer (via Fallon’s Angler).

Kevin Parr on Caught by the River