A summer wildlife walk in Parbold
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 July 2019
To launch our new series marking the turning of the seasons, Jon Flinn takes an early summer walk around Parbold
A long, long time ago there was a popular song called 'If you knew Susie (like I know Susie)' and the wood pigeons perched above the canal in the centre of Parbold are singing it today.
The ten syllables and the distinctive phrasing of the song are so identical to the pigeons' tune it's impossible to believe that the 1920s hit wasn't inspired by wood pigeons somewhere (it's not just Parbold pigeons who sing it, I've heard it everywhere from Exmoor to Dumfries and Normandy, and, if the theory about how the song was written is right, American pigeons sing it too).
The wood pigeons' refrain fades as it's carried along the canal by a breeze which is sending ripples down the length of the water. It's late May but still chilly and a reminder that the lazy days and languor of high summer are yet to come - but neither are we in the first flush of spring.
Along the tow path the cow parsley and May blossom - a white infused with pink - are beyond their best and even the purple of an isolated rhododendron has lost its vigour. The moment is caught between seasons but there's plenty happening still. Comfrey, with its blue flowers busy with bees, has exploded along whole stretches of bank and on the water a lone mallard chick is charging up and down, changing direction with the randomness of a wind-up bath toy.
Adults drift by, but at a distance on the other side of the canal, and make no apparent effort to communicate with it. A flotilla of other baby mallards paddles by too but they roundly ignore the frantic chick and just sail on.
The chick is still at it some minutes later as I finally continue along the tow path, hoping that reunion will happen soon. Ahead there's a flash of blue in the corner of my eye as a jay swoops down from a telegraph pole into a field sloping away to the right. It's more sheltered here and stretched across the water is a film of dust and seeds which have fallen from overhanging trees or been blown from the fields above.
The land opens out now the houses and their canalside gardens and barbecue areas have gone. There's the occasional narrow boat moored to smart-looking decking on the far side but these too disappear as the canal skirts its way around the lower reaches of Parbold Hill.
Up ahead a runner rests on the stone bridge that carries the path over the canal and up to the railway. We stand together for a moment, both struck by the sound of a song thrush above us. It's impossible to ignore. Broadcast from the very top of a tree on a nearby fringe of wood, the song cuts through the non-descript chitter chatter of the smaller birds. They're outclassed on every front - volume, clarity and complexity of song.
Climbing the hill after crossing the railway there's a faint but sweet smell of wood smoke coming from an unseen fire. The path cuts in front of a house and drops down through a small wood. Climbing over the stile is like entering another world. Sounds of distant traffic and garden machinery are shut out as the path drops and rises but this is just a warm up for the even greater otherworldliness of the more extensive and dramatic Fairy Glen a couple of fields on.
Inside the Fairy Glen wood, the path follows the stream uphill as it cascades down sheer rock faces into small pools. Beech trees with perilously exposed roots cling on to the edges of old quarries and pink/purple campions stand out among the green of the nettles, grasses and moss-covered rocks strewn across the wood floor. The stone steps climbing the steep bank of the stream are lined with wild garlic which, like the May blossom on the canal, is curled and faded but somewhere, as the path climbs higher, there's still the faintest whiff of garlic to be had. The roar of traffic gets louder heading towards the A5209 and it's a relief to disappear into the fields on the far side of the busy road and follow a small stream and woodland strip edging wheat fields before eventually passing a contorted old oak that stands in the middle of a black pond like it's playing an aquatic version of Twister. Finally, the path emerges in the open near High Moor as a buzzard tilts its wings above before arcing back over the trees.
Looking around at the rolling fields to the east you realise you really are on a high plateau or moor. It's been tamed by agriculture, transformed into rolling fields of wheat now waving in the wind, but it is open upland and reveals what must be some of the best views in Lancashire as the track - flanked by high banks of fresher looking May blossom - leads downhill south west from Lane End towards the blackened spire of Our Lady church and the village of Parbold where, down by the canal, a wood pigeon is singing a never ending chorus of 'If you knew Susie'.