Coun­try di­ary

River Tone, Taun­ton, Som­er­set

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

The River Tone at Taun­ton flows brown be­side shopfronts, cafes and the Brew­house the­atre, slid­ing smoothly un­der foot­bridges, eas­ing by car parks, of­fices and flats, slip­ping be­neath the roar­ing M5 be­fore twist­ing across the Som­er­set Lev­els to Bur­row­bridge. Here it joins the River Par­rett and surges to Bridg­wa­ter and the sea.

Out in Bridg­wa­ter Bay, wild At­lantic salmon ( ) can smell the mud washed down by heavy au­tumn rain. They wait in the lower reaches of the river un­til the wa­ter level rises enough to al­low them to mi­grate up­river to spawn, seek­ing the same patch of gravel where they hatched years be­fore.

The Tone is not like the pop­u­lar idea of a salmon river. There are no rocks, def­i­nitely no bears, and the wa­ter is opaque and flat, its calm sur­face spot­ted with small ovals of foam drift­ing mes­mer­i­cally north­east. Yet even this un­dra­matic wa­ter­way has weirs and man­made ob­sta­cles that the adult salmon must leap. Re­pairs to fish passes have helped more reach their spawn­ing grounds above Taun­ton. The num­ber of parr (young salmon) high up­river has in­creased, bring­ing back fish to places where they have not been seen for 20 years.

But they are still rare. As I set out on the river­side path, I know it’s un­likely I’ll glimpse one. It’s lunchtime, and a rab­ble of mal­lards hangs about the shop­pers’ benches, hop­ing for bread. I keep walk­ing, past thick-trunked wil­lows out­side the county cricket ground, un­til I reach the first weir. Brown wa­ter pours glass­ily over the crest and breaks blue into sil­ver on the slope be­low.

There is an­other here seek­ing salmon. A grey heron stands on a ledge at the foot of the weir, long neck stretched up and slightly for­ward, watch­ing for fish. After a few min­utes, it turns and slowly stalks across – paus­ing – gun­metal and white feath­er­ing blend­ing with the fall­ing wa­ter. It’s wait­ing for an arc­ing flash of mus­cle, that side­ways wrig­gle of a leap­ing salmon swim­ming through the air.

We wait to­gether. The heron is more pa­tient than me. After a while I turn back, leav­ing it to its vigil, sure in its cer­tainty that the salmon will come.

Sara Hud­ston

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: CLIF­FORD HARPER

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