A bridge that divides.
Border country, and in my mind
I’m so close to the edge.
But fly-strewn water fills my mouth,
and drowns all possible words.
Cold pellets of rain beating a tattoo on the gore-tex fabric of my coat. I stand on the old sandstone bridge that that links the villages of Holt and Farndon. The River Dee, her belly swollen with water from the Welsh hills and her surface a soupy brown, flows by almost reaching the top of the stone arches. Scenes from Graham Swift’s Waterland play out in my mind.
I had planned to follow the English bank of the Dee north towards Aldford, retracing in reverse a previous walk when I photographed many of Farndon’s plotlander chalets. But the riverbank is flooded and the footpath is inaccessible, so I cross the bridge and pick up the path on the Welsh side of the river.
It was on the other bank that Gwil and his brother told me they’d found an impromptu coffee shop a few weeks before: an empty wooden chalet with a sign telling anyone passing to come inside, help themselves to a drink and leave a donation in the honesty box if they wished. I wanted to see this for myself. It sounded like one of Lesley’s ventures and her old chalet, which I think she still owned, was round about where they described finding the coffee shop.
The river glowers and threatens. Here on the Welsh bank a lower lying meadow over to the left of the footpath is flooded: a newly-formed shallow lake. Wild fowl sit and bob mindfully upon its surface. It occurs to me that with one shrug the main flow of the river could breach its banks and link up with this lake. I shiver as a sudden breeze blows icy droplets of rain into my face.
Beryl’s family had a chalet somewhere along her on the early 1950s; she was just a girl at the time. The meadow used to flood every winter then too. But the summers were dry and she remembers rowing upstream to a spring near the riverbank where she could collect fresh water. Beryl lives in New Zealand now but this place lives on in her memory.
After a mile or so the path comes to end at a bend in the river where the track is engulfed by the pop-up lake. Two chalets sit marooned on an island between the waters of the lake and those of the Dee. There are two vehicles outside the further of the two chalets and it appears to be occupied. But the nearer one is seemingly empty and abandoned, its structure gradually slipping back into the earth from which it sprang.
That’s the way it is: life includes a lot of empty space. We are one-tenth living tissue, nine-tenths water; life is one-tenth Here and Now, nine-tenths a history lesson. For most of the time the Here and Now is neither now nor here.
Graham Swift – Waterland