GRANTHAM CANAL + DCW
With rain anticipated for later in the day another stroll along the canal saved on wasted travelling time and today we walked from Hickling almost to Leicestershire. It was good to see the Old Wharf cafe open again after ‘lockdown’ and later on, The Plough was open too (but we were wet by then and wouldn’t have been welcome).
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a lovely showy plant and we didn’t see it again until our return. There was plenty of Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) around the basin and also along the canal.
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) is an uncommon plant which accompanied us for the first few hundred metres west of Hickling and it shared the bank with Field Horsetail (E. arvense) for much of this length.
There was a pen Mute swan not far into the walk, preening herself while her three cygnets slept the morning away. One of these was a ‘Polish Swan’ which is a rare, genetically determined variant in which the young birds are white, unlike the normal grey cygnets. Their sleepiness made the photo opportunity a failure and on the way back, when they had woken up but were seemingly intent on sheltering from the rain, the conditions were no better.
Upright Hedge-parsley was abundant in patches and attracting hoverflies and other insects. This one is of the genus Syrphus and there are five species to choose from, two of which are very unlikely. Syrphus vitripennis seems the most probable on the grounds of time of year and habitat.
And this one, surely the most abundant hoverfly, is known as the Marmalade Hoverfly by some.
Two species of Bindweed are common hereabouts, though this one, Hedge Bindweed, where the calyx is exposed by the bracteoles is perhaps slightly less frequent than Large Bindweed C. silvatica.
The Grantham Canal, constructed in 1797 was one of the very last canals to be built (the Nottingham Canal was opened a year earlier) and it took coke, coal and lime to Grantham in return for agricultural products like corn, malt and beans back to Nottingham. (This is straight off the information panel!).
The bridge used to have lots of Black Spleenwort attached to its red handmade bricks but these have been cleaned up and the spleenworts are no more.
We learned from two restorers of the lengthsman’s hut, that the canal fell into disuse because of leakage problems associated with the puddled clay not getting on with the underlying gypsum. I’m sorry that is so unhelpful but chemistry is not a strong point of mine.
Botanists likely to encounter aquatic plants carry a grapnel. This is a weighted hook or hooks attached to a line that is thrown into the water in the hope of dragging out the elusive, submerged plants. But better still, is a special stick, made for the purpose and left in strategic places for casual botanists to utilise on a temporary basis.
Here, Dave demonstrates the technique with the “Hickling Standard Stick” and a successful catch of Nuttall’s Pondweed, Hornwort and Curled Pondweed (Elodea nutallii, Ceratophyllum demersum and Potamogeton crispus respectively.)
We stopped for a chat with several canal lovers, some with dogs and some without, who were interested to know more about our intentions. One of whom mentioned a mysterious plant which we think could have been this Chicory (Cichorium intybus).
Plant of the day was Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), though not for its appearance (as a dwarf, non-flowering miniature water-lily) but for its rarity and welcome spread along the canal from neighbouring Leicestershire.
And finally a couple of birds that I haven’t seen a lot of lately for some reason; Yellow Wagtail…
…and Sedge Warbler.
Some years ago, I chatted to an angler at Hickling to see if anyone had recently seen Water Voles along the canal. I don’t think he had but it transpired that he had fished the canal for many decades and in the sixties he had seen a man carrying an empty sack along the towpath on some evenings and returning later with the sack apparently bulging. After some days of this he asked what was in the sack and he was told it was Grass Snakes which he had caught and would sell to pet shops in Nottingham.
Grass Snakes are still to be found along the canal (not so I think Water Voles) though whether even a skilled snake-catcher could now fill a sack in an evening seems very doubtful.