The dry grass prickles my sandalled feet as I cross the biscuit-coloured field towards the East Allen. The green and cool haugh has burned up in the heat, its smell become Mediterranean, an earthy mix of dried clay and hay, bitter and sweet at the same time. The shrunken river threads its way between boulder islands, finding passage between rocks that are normally submerged. This year the monkey flowers are able to grow tall, untrammelled by the fast flow of water, unbattered by wind or flood. The Allen has become a river of gold. Monkey flower,
was first recorded in the wild in Britain in 1824, having escaped from gardens. This species comes from the west coast of
North America, where it grows in wet places from sea level to high-altitude meadows. It is now well established along our water courses, around lakes and in damp pastures, setting abundant seed and rooting easily from fragments that get carried downriver. The more floods we have, the more it is likely to increase, so its spread may affect the richness of our riparian plant communities. It is certainly having a bumper year in the upper reaches of the Tyne river system.
I sit on the river bank, which is now protected by willow spiling that I helped to weave five years ago. Silt and debris has built up behind this living revetment, enabling young alders to take root, along with foxgloves, docks, bedstraw and the monkey flowers. Without dark glasses, I have to squint at their dazzling yellowness, the exuberant “faces” that gave them their common name. The red spots in their throats led to the species name of (meaning speckled), and there are two rounded ridges where pollinating insects can land. Leaves are fleshy and cool to the touch.
The sheep have been down here, eating the monkey flowers, a succulent change from dusty grass. A sandpiper darts downriver calling
A ringlet butterfly is a smudge of dusky black amid pinktopped yarrow. There’s the sound of church bells from Allendale Town. Sand martins skim the water and flies cluster round my head. It’s going to be another hot day.