For once the towpath was deserted. It was not surprising on this cold wet January afternoon. One man and his dog did a slow shoe shuffle past me as we maintained our social distancing, although the dog didn't seem to know the dance. Not a lot to see or record in the way of wildlife activity this afternoon as I continued up the towpath. A wren flew right across in front of and into the bushes, a pair of goosanders spooked from 100 metres flew off with frantic flapping wings, skimming over the water and away over the next lock. A pair of moorhens plopped in the water, from their grazing on the towpath,and chuffed across the canal to the reed beds.
On Coxbank the chill wind blew across the fields as I gazed towards the misty hills of the Sandstone Ridge escarpment. Once more a timeless scene turning back the centuries. Now no one ventured out or challenged the path of mud and ice where myriad boots had left their mark. On firmer ground with mud covered boots my walk continued, cosseted by the winter silence. But then before I reached Lock1 I saw a familiar friend. A friend I had seen a number of times before since last summer, in the same place once again and all alone. Swimming with such grace and dignity came the Lonesome Swan.
A number of times before I had seen this swan and each time it approached me as if to pass the time of day, seeking out company. So we commented on the state of the weather, the effect of Brexit and the FA Cup results (noting how "the Swans" had a good win on Saturday).
It isn't often I have found swans so friendly. In the past when encountering them on the pathway I have given them a wide berth for they have a reputation for being feisty. But this swan seemed to want my company (or was it just cupboard love?). I promised next time I would bring some bird food.
So strange was the encounter of just me and the swan, it seemed like one of those special moments when a human being makes a contact with a wild creature. In my human way I could not help but give the swan a name – "Larry the Lonesome Swan"; or should that be "Laura"?
Male and female swan look very much alike – the difference is in their "blackberry". That's the name of the black knob on the face that Mute Swans have. The male's is slightly larger and protrudes slightly more and they also have slightly thicker necks. I looked closer – yes, Larry was definitely a Larry or "cob" as a male swan is known (a good quiz answer that!) The name "Mute Swan" is really a misnomer, maybe because they are so often experienced making silent progress across the water. Admittedly their cousins the Whooper and Berwick Swans are much noisier, But listen for the the "hoomph" sound as Mute Swans fly past.
Larry seems to be a resident bird not one of the migrants from other parts of Europe that come to winter with us. So why is Larry alone? A mile up the up and down the canal are flocks of Mute Swans grazing in the fields. Perhaps this swan is the surviving partner of a pair that were in this part of the canal in the Spring of last year. It is known that, while swans may not suffer bereavement as we would, they do go through periods of mourning if they lose a partner. For swans generally pair for life and remain in the same area. Perhaps he is guarding his patch, hoping a new lady love will come by.
So bizarrely, in these times we are going through, nature, as it often does, is echoing life. Maybe this isn't just a sentimental thought but a realisation of our inter-connectedness with all that is around us.
Maybe then if you are walking that way you can give Larry a cheery greeting. You may even get to pass the time of day with our Lonesome Swan, especially if you are on your own and have some bird food in your pocket.