Midday on a cold December Thursday. On my way home from Fordingbridge, I decided to explore the back lanes and find a quieter way down the Avon Valley. A narrow road south became a one track lane. A way across farm land designed for a horse and cart, not for a modern car. High hedges bordered the lane and views across flat farmland were glimpsed through gateways.
Turning down hill, pastureland stretched away towards the river . Water shone in a ribbon of silver and spilled out across the fields. Bare trees stood out against the sky where storm clouds billowed in across the land. Past the hamlet of Harbridge, with its pretty church and neighbouring cottages and farms.
The Victorians changed the nave and chancel of All Saints Church, but parts of the fifteenth century tower remain. Harbridge is an ancient settlement, mentioned in the eleventh century Doomsday Book. Now, much of the land of Harbridge and nearby Ibsley and Ellingham still belongs to the Somerby Estate and the Earl of Normanton.
Watermeadows in flood, to the south of the lane to Ibsley. A pair of Mute Swans stood resting together in a shallow floodstream. In the summer, these meadows dry out and are grazed by cattle. Watermeadow wild flowers, such as Ragged Robin and Meadowsweet, survive their winter submersion to grow and flower again when summer returns.
The Purbeck stone ramparts of the eighteenth century Ibsley Bridge across the River Avon. This lovely bridge joins the parishes of Harbridge and Ibsley. Today I could not have taken photos of it from the meadows without being up to my knees in water!
A view from the bridge. Looking back across the watermeadows towards Harbridge.
North from the bridge is a tight meander in the river. Another pair of Mute Swans swim upstream.
Looking south, angry river water spilled and foamed over Ibsley wier.
For hundreds of years, little has changed in these river scenes by the Ibsley meadows. Sometime in the 1880s, a little girl was born in an Ibsley cottage. Her father was a dairyman who cared for the cattle that grazed the lush river meadows. Her mother had several younger children and she also helped with dairy work, with skimming cream and making cheese. That little girl was my grandmother, Rose, who grew up by the river at the Forest`s edge and played "house" with her brothers and sisters in the bean rows of their cottage garden.
In later childhood, my grandmother moved with her family to another riverside village to the west of Salisbury. Her father was dairyman to another watermeadow herd.
In one of these villages, one of my grandmother`s brothers was drowned in a swollen river. I know no more details than that. As I stood on the bridge today, watching the swirling flood pass beneath , I wondered if this was the place where he drowned . Is that why the family moved away? Was it just too hard for Great Grandfather to live in this place and tend the grazing cattle on the banks of a river where his child had fallen to an early death?