Sunday, September 14, 2008

Water Meadows

I have been visiting Salisbury, England for a number of years. One of my favourite walks is across the Water Meadows that stretch from Salisbury to Harnham. In the early 1600s, the local farmers created a series of irrigation ditches so that they could flood the meadows depositing silt and preventing frost so that the grass grew more quickly in the spring and the soil was richer, hence more crops and larger flocks of sheep.
It is still a peaceful place to walk, and there is a lovely view of Salisbury Cathedral made famous by John Constable.
The meadows are also home to a wide variety of birds and animals. I was fortunate enough to see a water vole nibbling on some greenery in the middle of the stream. Ratty, in the Wind in the Willows, was actually a water vole.
At the far end of the water meadows is the Harnham Mill. It was a paper mill from 1550 onwards, although it is now a hotel and a pleasant place to have a beer and a sandwich. The earliest parts of the building date from 1250.
I was delighted to discover that Amiens, in northern France, also has a large area of water meadows and market gardens (Les Hortillonnages) that are irrigated by a network of canals. Many centuries ago, the marshland was converted into a huge garden extending over 300 hectares. Many of the plots are still market gardens, while others have been converted into residential idylls that can only be reached by traversing your own bridge.

There's a wonderful walk along the towpath from the centre of Amiens. And, like Salisbury, you have an excellent view back over the river to the cathedral. There are also boat tours, and there's a lakeside park which would be a pleasant place to enjoy a picnic lunch (Les Halles in Amiens is a covered market open daily).

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