There is a programme on the television that traces the journey of three sacred rivers of the world. The River Nile starts in the highlands of central Africa, the Ganges in the Himalayas and the Yangtze in China. Congresbury River Yeo might not be regarded as one of the great rivers of the world, but it still has the same beginning and end. All rivers collect water from high land and act as the natural drain conveying the water back to the sea.
Water is critical to us all and without it there would be no life on earth. Rain is conveyed from the oceans in clouds and wind and when the clouds meet the higher land we get rain. We might complain about it, but we are fortunate to live in a part of the world that has an abundance of water. During the winter the Mendip Hills that form the backdrop to our Village absorb millions of gallons of water and thanks to the geology of the hills some finds its way into the caves and a lot fills the ditches and springs. The ditches and springs feed the Yeo.
Some of the water that finds its way into the Congresbury Yeo gets collected in Blagdon Reservoir. This in turn is pumped to the treatment works at Barrow and ends up in our taps. Fortunately, there is sufficient water left for the Congresbury Yeo to be a river. As I mentioned in earlier articles, there have been numerous occasions when the amount of rain falling on the Mendips has been so great that the river cannot convey it safely to the sea and we suffer from flooding.
This summer and autumn has been dry although there was a wet period in August. But September was the driest for years and broke all records. Because of the wet winter the ground remained saturated and fuelled the supply of water that has kept the river flowing and Blagdon Reservoir full. Some parts of the Country had thunderstorms and flash floods, but we remained safe and the repeat of the great flood of 1968 was not repeated.
Without the dramatic extremes of floods the River has been the image of a perfect romantic partner. Good looking, reliable and well behaved. The views along the river have been fantastic with the water trickling over the weir and making bubbles. In the past the river attracted lots of swimmers on hot summer days. It is now rare to see any brave villagers swimming in the weir pool. But, it is a favourite place for the dogs of the village to splash, swim and enjoy chasing balls and sticks.
There is a resident flotilla of ducks that know a good place to find a plentiful supply of bread and cake. Much to the delight of small children the ducks seem to be permanently hungry and never fail to appreciate what is thrown down from the Millennium Bridge. Some of the ducks would find it difficult to fly after feasting on the vast quantities of good food.
Over the summer months work has progressed at full speed building the new houses in Mill Lane. What was once Walters Cattle Feed Mill and more recently where Elliotts built temporary caravan classrooms has been a busy building site. Some of the new houses over look the river and have been built on piles that lift the floors above the predicted flood level. Over the next few months the first new residents will have a spectacular view of the river and fields looking towards Kings Wood.
In the water fish have been breeding and with the rich variety of insects that make up the biodiversity of the eco system they have grown fat on the abundant food supply. Although the river weed is cut by the Environment Agency the long strands provide good places for fish to hide and for anglers almost impossible to catch the fish. Fishermen are a stoic breed and need to have the patience of Saints. Occasionally, looking down from the Millennium bridge shoals of fish can be seen gathering in the shadows, drawn by the crumbs left by the ducks.
The Romans recognised that Willow Trees grew as much as 1.8 metres a year. Along the banks Willow Trees have been growing all year and in summer are in full leaf. As the days shorten the leaves are changing colour and starting to fall. They will soon hibernate and the skeleton shapes add to the beauty of the river.
Fifteen years ago thanks to the generosity of the Village trees were planted on the Millennium Green. Despite frequent flooding they have flourished and now enhance the splendour of this special place. It is hard to imagine the Village without the Millennium Green and the trees that compliment the river and the opportunity we all have to enjoy the river in the heart of the village.
As much as the river forms the focus of our attention when walking the banks, the wide valley makes the landscape even more attractive. Early mornings are the best time of the day to experience the mists that fill the valley and fields with grey cotton wool. Peeping out of the mist the tall trees and hedges give the feeling of times past and isolation well away from the busy village.
Walking along the river is always a good place to see the birds that like these conditions. Wild mallards breed in the reed beds. They are the first to nest in the spring and spotting the new ducklings is a sign that the spring has arrived. Although they have good broods and hatch as many as 12 they have many predators. This year few seem to have survived. Perhaps they are proving tasty meals for Otters who are said to be living along the banks. Regretfully, some escaped Mink have also caused casualties.
Autumn is a lovely time of the year, the colours and mists are punctuated by storms and high winds and rain. All part of the cycle of the year as we wait for the first frosts of winter when the river will again will play host to the hardy walkers and only the dogs will think about swimming in the icy water.