Thursday 19 April 2012

The Pond

The pond at Kingsley played a major part in the lives of most of the village children of my generation in some form or another. Obviously, fishing was very popular, sailing model boats, pond dipping, both as individuals and as a group from school,occasional skating, building camps around its edges and collecting frogs, toads and newts various.

In addition to all of this bird spotting and birds nesting were both popular and the pond provided a rich source for both. Although photography was nothing like as sophisticated as it is today, the pond featured as a popular subject for photographers. Occasionally there would appear an artist with paints and easels and I suspect there must be many pictures hidden away in homes of people who probably don’t know where the subject material came from.

My earliest memories of the pond recall significant differences from its present day appearance, for a start what appeared before the viewer suggested two ponds rather than one at that time. If the reader considers the modern day pond and focuses about two thirds of the way down,( perhaps a little more than that), and viewed from the western end. That is to say with your back to the pub looking east, the rushes extended outwards from both sides and left just a small gap through which water birds would pass into what appeared to be a smaller pond beyond the main water.

Rushes and weed mass of many varieties of water and bog plants provided a deep carpet like covering all around this smaller water area. Even as children we could walk through and on this spongy mass without sinking below the top of our wellies. This bog extended all around the eastern end right up to dry common ground. Getting shallower as it neared dry land, it supported many bog side and interesting water plants. Around the edges were large clumps of some sort of tussock grass which could be walked upon, but for small boys, more importantly it provided lots of straw like material for covering the rooves of our camps. During the winter months, when the tussocks had dried out, large clumps of the grass could be removed by hand and it came away very easily.

The other thing that made the appearance of the pond so different from today was the boating station which was situated on the school side of the pond. It was a man made cutting which extended from the main body of water in a rectangle which, I guess, was about sixteen to twenty feet in to the bank and was about eight feet across. I have a vague memory of a punt of some description being moored in this cutting. Since writing about this boating station I have spoken to my aunt who is in her eighties and has a recollection of Miss Lushington of Ockham Hall boating on the pond. Perhaps it was this lady whom had the boating area constructed. Whilst I don’t recall the old punt being used, it is possible that Miss Lushington had used it well before I was around. The other, more striking, difference was the presence of a large drum in the middle of the water. This was located in the western, large area of water, three quarters of the way down, (eastwards ), and roughly three quarters of the way across, again from the school side. It was a ridged drum, corrugated, and probably four feet across. It protruded from the water, usually by about a couple of feet. It remained in its location for most of my childhood but eventually it corroded and disappeared below the surface. I know not how it got there or why. It was,however a very popular resting place for all manner of water birds particularly the coots, which were then abundant.

I note from other contributions on The Kings Blog that the common, and I suppose the pond as well, are now listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. I would hazard a guess that the plant, bird and wild life which I knew so well as a child was much greater than it is today, in spite of the fact that the army regularly held mannoeuvres over the whole area which often extended for several days and involved tracked vehicles etc. For example, the fish population in the pond included the following species, Roach, Rudd, Gudgeon, Tench, Perch, and Crucian Carp. All of the above were abundant and the perch especially grew to almost record proportions. Although I never knew of a specimen fish being caught on rod and line, I know of their size as a result of a long dry summer when the water level and subsequently the oxygen level in the pond plummeted. This caused large numbers of these very large perch to die and float to the surface. People were generally amazed at both the number and size of those fish. Sadly I don’t recall which year this event occurred.

The pond provided a breeding ground for both frogs and toads and each spring the whole place became a frenzied mish mash of breeding pairs. This was followed by a mass of spawn and black clouds of tadpoles. Most years jars of spawn were collected for school and we all waited eagerly for the tadpoles to hatch. Newts were as common and the pond housed Common or Smooth and Palmate varieties. Occasionally the large black Great Crested newts were also found but these were not as common. At various times in the year the grass which grew up the church wall, on the pond side, could be pulled back to reveal large numbers of newts within the root system of the grass. On my recent visit to Kingsley I walked across to see if the newts were still there. Sadly they were not, however, it could be that my visit was at the wrong time of the year, but I suspect their disappearance is more likely as a result of the grass now being nicely trimmed and mowed and, therefore, it no longer extends up the surface of the wall providing the mass of roots which it once did.

The pond was also home to a very large leech population as I once found out to my cost. It was common, when pond dipping,to end up with leeches in jars or nets and often they would be on fish that we caught. On one occasion, however,I was fishing and sitting quietly on a stump on the bank when I became aware of a sharp pricking sensation on my left leg just below my knee. I had shoes on my feet not the usual wellies. I rolled up my trousers to find this great black Horse Leech firmly stuck on my leg. Not nice! This creature was about three inches long and as thick, at the back end, as a large black slug. I, of course, did absolutely all of the things I should not have done. Firstly I panicked and secondly I grabbed the wretched thing and pulled it off.

Leeches do not give up easily and it took quite a tug to move the thing. I was left with a red circle, like a blood blister, which bled profusely and remained as a reminder for a very long time before it completely healed. The accepted wisdom is not to pull leeches of but to apply a cigarette or some spirit liquid which they don’t like. This, I am told dislodges them. If, on the other hand,you are much braver than I was, you can just leave them in situ and when they have had enough of your blood they will go to sleep and drop off all of their own accord.

The pond was also a great attraction for snakes. Grass Snakes were quite often seen swimming in the water particularly when the frogs were about. Adders were also common visitors and although I never saw one in the water, I know of their presence around the pond by the discarded skins which they shed in the reeds and surrounding heather. I guess the boggy areas provided food for them as well.The sloughed skins were much sought after for display in school and those with the eye covers intact were especially prized.

Bird life in and around the pond was wonderful and very varied with some very rare occasional visitors turning up over the years. More of this in a later edition.

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