Summer has finally lost its fight with the cold, the hands of winter have taken summer by the shoulders and are gently pushing it out of the way. Lazy hazy days are just a memory now, the warm summer breeze has gone. The dark is coming and nothing is going to stop it. The dark is coming, but summer likes to remind us what we are going to miss. Summer, ever the showman, likes to put on it’s autumn coat and depart with a flourish, dazzle us with colour as it decays and vanishes for another year. There is no better place to witness the dying days of the battle between warm and cold than the marsh. The ancient and mighty marsh, the border lands of Walthamstow, the place where summer is laid to rest. Sunday was the perfect day to bid a fond farewell to warmer times. The rain of Saturday was gone and the sky was clear and blue, not the blue of summer of course, but the kind of blue that promises cold, the kind of blue that will eventually let in the frost. It was too good a day to waste, the River Lea was calling to us, so out we went, in to the half cold to enjoy the weak sun before the bleak hand of winter washes away the colour.
The walk to the marsh is spectacular, the trees that line the lower end of Coppermill Lane wear their decay with pride. At this time of year the trees by the reservoirs are an explosion of reds, yellows and bright greens. They look like a row of fireworks that have been frozen in time, captured just before their sparks fade in to the night sky. The pale Sunday sun shone through leaves, making them even brighter and more eye catching than they are usually. Of course, these trees won’t hold on to their bright jewels for long. Bare branches are already pointing skyward, the road scattered with the now brown leaves that the trees no longer have need for.
Our walk continued past the firework trees and a family of geese, past the walls of the old Coppermill and through the rabbit hole, the gateway to the marsh. We emerged from the low bridge to find that winter had already won much of the battle on the marsh. The unending blue sky couldn’t disguise the fact that the colour and life was draining out of the marsh, greens turning to browns, reeds and rushes collapsing back in to the ditches as the vigour of summer is lost.
Crossing the Lea for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking that summer was clinging, fighting the advance attack of Autumn and standing firm in the face of Winter. The trees lining the river looked full and green silhouetted against the sun. This was of course an illusion, a trick of the light, the sun shimmering on the surface of the Lea was fooling us, making us believe that it’s warmth might yet win over. The illusion was shattered as soon as we left the bridge and walked on to the tow path. The hawthorn hedgerow was a pale yellow and the path was strewn with more discarded leafs. Smoke curled upwards from the chimneys of house boats, reminding us that the cold was accompanying us on our walk.
We paused for a while at the Anchor and Hope, the small pub on the Clapton side of the Lea. Refusing to acknowledge the cold, we sat shivering at a table outside and watched the river, with it’s boats and birds and life pass by. The sun had left the Clapton bank and was slowly retreating further away from the Walthamstow bank, slowly wrapping the soft browns of the dying marsh in shadow. Crossing the river for a second time, I noticed that the Lea was mirror calm, creating a perfect reflection of the boats and yellowing trees that line its edge. Looking across the marsh from the footbridge, with the still river and trees untouched by breeze, it felt like the marsh was waiting. It was done with summer and autumn was being tolerated, what it really wanted was winter. It was waiting for the frost, and mist and damp, for the time of year when fewer feet visit it, when it can rest and recover.
Circling back towards the bricks and tarmac of Walthamstow, we walked along the top of Leyton Marsh and crossed the tree line on to Walthamstow Marsh. You really appreciate just how big the sky is from here, the flat marsh stretching before you, the buildings of Clapton dwarfed by the mass of blue above. The battle between winter and summer is still being fought here, in the sheltered space behind the old viaduct the hedgerow still clings on to green, even this is turning though, mellowing in to yellow and orange with splashes of red berries. We left the marsh and headed home via the Black Path, an ancient trade route linking Walthamstow with the markets of the city. Crossing the railway line that runs to the soon to be re-opened Lea Bridge Station, I noticed some graffiti on the bridge. We want your soul, that’s what it read in simple black letters, we want your soul. As far as the ever changing marsh goes, it won my soul years ago.