Ivor takes us on another fascinating trip along the banks of the River Wissey.
The old willow tree is certainly very big. It has been there for as long as anyone can remember or even guess. Its rough grey trunk is well weathered and long, deep vertical splits suggest it has either been hit by lightening sometime in the past or that it is so old its growth has burst its intended form. Its girth at ground level is breath taking whereupon a multitude of interwoven roots are displayed before they disappear into the depths of the river Wissey. Its position alongside the river is the secret of its long life for despite the punishment of endless seasons it has never lacked water.
It is a sought after landmark for local fisherman as it marks the swim of a favourite bream hole. It is also welcomed by those navigating the few boats up and down this stretch of water as it gives prominent warning of a sharp bend in the river.
During the wintertime an intricate network of branches is displayed with long brush stretching into the water. Then fierce winds funnel down the river and hammer everything and thrash the supple branches whipping the water into a maelstrom. Now in the summertime the voluminous growth resembles large curtains and provide both shade and shelter for a host of wildlife and wildfowl.
High inside the tree a party of tits rattle around and fly away only to immediately return and repeat the process over and over again. A pair of pigeons sit sedately on the upper most branches and are gently swayed by the breeze. They have a grandstand view of the winding river stretching far away into the horizon.
The main body of the trunk is encased with rampant ivy. Here at the junction of several branches a collection of fallen twigs resembles a large nest. Birds rarely nest in willow so perhaps this is the holiday home of a grey squirrel. Immediately overlooking this accommodation in a dark dry crack a family of inverted bats are fast asleep.
At the base of the tree a deep hole disappears into the trunk and belongs to a water rat. He is frequently seen and visits all the anglers who share his territory. His known presence is why certain fishermen refuse to spend any time under the tree. As well as the rat the local mallards will often depart the water at this point and just laze on the grassy bank to survey the vista. If conditions are favourable there can also be large numbers of geese moored up here. Then the normal peace is interrupted by honking and squabbling all day long. Numerous low-slung branches provide ideal vantage points for the flamboyant kingfishers. From here they can stare into the water, calculate their precision diving and catch tiny fishlings.
Under the water in the maze of roots and a mass of tree debris the perch are tenants. Their sergeant stripes make them virtually unseen. Deeper and in a series of holes live the eels who can manipulate their whole selves into the smallest of gaps. They have little routine and at times become totally nocturnal. The willow tree roots are certainly an ideal habitat for them as they have reached gigantic proportions.
Thus our tree is home and hearth to a variety of river folk - like a multi-storey block of flats with superb views and all essentials provided. At first glance it may seem just an ordinary tree but we know it is not so! Long may the willow live!