After an aborted walk from Cefn Gorwydd down to the Irfon, we ended up in Builth at the mouth of the Irfon where we had previously walked, through the riverside park. But this time we walked on upstream beside the Wye as far as the railway line (another connection to Llangammarch). It is a lovely walk shifting from field into wood, but it is the river that is the star, a wonderfully powerful flow surging through rapids and protruding rocks. The abundant no fishing signs and little fishing huts only intrude mildly on the wildness.
It is getting cold and bleak. Fierce winds and heavy rain batter our house on the ridge above the rivers, but occasionally the sun puts in an appearance as it did this morning so I struck out early for the river. It was very full, a fierce current carrying everything before it and the little streams and ditches which flow into it are now also running freely and in places make navigating the path difficult. As the sun began to appear above the Epynt I looked down onto a grassy bank by the river and to my astonishment saw the headless body of a large salmon. It looked so unlikely and yet so very obviously real that I hardly knew what to do. Eventually I clambered down to the place and inspected it, there were a few entrails scattered around and the severed head. The main body of the fish was entirely untouched and completely fresh. I immediately thought that it must be an otter who had, perhaps, been disturbed -- I had previously seen a dog walker coming from this direction. Fortunately I had a bag which was just about able to carry the fish and I staggered home with my find. Showing it to assorted neighbours I was told that it was common otter practice to remove the head and barely touch the main body of the fish.
So by this act of grace we will be having a celebration with our neighbours tomorrow night. Keeping it to ourselves seemed unfeasible!
The snow has arrived. Earlier in the week I thought the mountains had disappeared, but they had only turned white... later half an inch of snow covered everything and the wind was chill and bitter. Today we drove to the spa at the Lake Hotel where my wife swims and uses the sauna. It is close by the river, a little way on from the ruins of the old spa and is very swish, looking particularly incongruous at this time of year when the surrounding area is at its most rough and brutal. While my wife swam I walked back along the river where the path grows increasingly muddy and wet. The river is one great churning torrent of green water and so monochrome compared to the delightful, variegated river I first encountered. I wonder where the dippers go to?
The dippers are still here. Walking by the river late this afternoon, just before the light disappeared I saw two dippers together on the beach where the stream enters the river and was able to take my best photographs of them so far. Approaching them too close one flew off and the other flew just across the river. I suppose I should've crawled on my belly like Ray Mears but I'm afraid it was far too wet and I didn't fancy getting smeared in mud from head to toe! Then when I returned a dipper was still there. Obviously when the river is full this beach is still a possible hunting site for them, when most of the other little beaches and stones have disappeared.
We went up to Pwll Bo in Cwm Irfon and repeated our walk. This time no sunshine but only heavy gray clouds and we were both struck at how full the river was and loved the pounding energy of the streams as they tumbled downhill into the river. Later, we surprised a Goosander and it clattered off downstream. Mallard, Dipper and Goosander seem to be the most common river birds on the Irfon. No sign yet of the Kingfisher which was probably badly affected by the two previous harsh winters which, so far, shows no sign of being repeated. It has turned very mild for Christmas.
Christmas approaches and my discovery of the salmon by the river has been initiating much discussion of salmon behavior. I have been told of other instances of people finding salmon by the river but more normally they have a chunk bitten out of their neck. Other people have told us stories of cock salmons fighting and knocking each other out of the water. It is remarkable to think of the full-scale warfare that is going on under the green surface of the Irfon. Tennyson comes to mind.
The year draws to a close and the weather is dark and wet and the rivers rising