Country diary: Here, the wildlife is as playful as the name

Water-cum-Jolly, Derbyshire: No kingfishers for me today at this dizzying and narrow dale, but I’m still in for a surprise

Opposite Cressbrook Mill, the rusty gate to the old millpond had a shiny padlock and a stern new notice: “No public access”. And in smaller letters: “Conservation area”. I felt a stab of disappointment. More often than not, ducking in here, I’d see the electric blue flash of a kingfisher. There was a spot along the wall where I could peer over, but the view was restricted. Nothing doing. So I crossed the road and slipped past William Newton’s august Cressbrook Mill to a second millpond, where the Wye, flowing through Water-cum-Jolly, brims against cliffs of dusky pink limestone.

There’s something playfully contrived about the name Water-cum-Jolly. And it does seem a recent invention. When the geologist William Adams passed through on St Swithin’s Day in 1841, no one he met could give a name to the place. The much-missed writer Roger Deakin thought it “a fiction on the part of the map-makers”. But he also thought it fitting, perhaps because there’s something playfully contrived about the place as well. The millpond he swam in to cure his blues was, after all, hollowed from the rock with explosives.

Yet despite all the mill workings, the old leat and rusting sluice gates, this narrow dale with its dizzying perspectives still feels deeply natural. There are rafts of water mint along the water’s edge. The shallows of the pond blend into low banks thick with crack willow, stirred by the breeze. In summer they shelter thick clumps of comfrey and butterburs, now subsiding into the soupy black earth at winter’s approach. There are water voles too, and with thoughts of a low profile I crouched against a curved wall of limestone to keep watch.

As I did so, the roar of the river below the pond’s dam suddenly flipped. It now seemed to be coming from behind me, from actually inside the cliff itself. Surprised, I angled my head to check my hearing, eyes still fixed on the water, and as if by magic a brown trout materialised, peering up at my confusion from the river’s lazy flow. And I swear it was laughing.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


Ed Douglas

The GuardianTramp

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