Six small, fluffy balls with tiny heads, treacle coloured, with the characteristic yellow stripes of all mallard ducklings, swam with incredible skill for such young and tiny creatures. Competent they may have been, yet they never ventured far from their doting parents.
Dad’s head, in the sunshine, shone from green to blue and back again. Mum, a less glorious bird in various shades of brown, with a small blue stripe on each wing, was no less proud. The pair had a brood to awaken the maternal instincts of any passing female, and I was totally enchanted. Neither could two male humans, idling by on a boat brightly painted in red and green, resist a second closer look.
The Victorians had built the canal to be worked on: an important means of transporting goods for trade. In the days when barges were pulled by heavy horses, the canal had seen these craft steered by men who sweated on sunny days such as this. Today, when the colourful boats come complete with engines, and when even work would be so much easier, the canal is a place only for leisure. As I made my way along what had once been a towpath, I met the occasional lazy barge manned by people with little more to do than shout a friendly “Hello” and continue to admire Spring on the water.
All around me, life was beginning. A pair of moorhens had three chicks. A pair of coots had two. Another coot hen sat, still conscientiously warming and guarding the eggs in the nest she had so cleverly woven, just above water level, around the reeds by the far bank. Two slender white swans swam with a couple of cygnets to their side; and closer inspection revealed that a third was riding piggy back style between the folded wings of one parent.
Just occasionally, I met another human or two, accompanied possibly by a dog, stopping to admire rabbits dancing around the spacious fields to either side, or to stare, silently, at the heron. Long-legged, long-necked, with a thin grey body and a long pointed beak, he was incredibly shy. So long as he could perceive no-one watching him, there he stood, watching, statue still, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting fish to pass him by.
To us humans, the canal was an escape from the troubles of everyday life. All around us, everything was beautiful. The trees grew tall and slender in so many shades of green, their branches dangling low over water which rippled in a gentle breeze, but flowed in neither direction. A plant rather resembling wild rhubarb grew in abundance by the waterside, its enormous leaves healthy with so much clean water to draw on. Tall green sticks poked out of them sporting extravagantly shaped blooms in the brightest of yellows. Butterflies with a single orange tip to each cream-coloured wing darted back and forth, as did a smaller deep red-coloured species. And on the water, the ducklings still swam happily, their only concern in this peaceful world to keep sight of Mum and Dad.