I will almost always prefer to cycle but there’s a lot to be said for walking.
Only by walking do you stumble across interesting bits and pieces hidden away.
I’m not talking about the likes of the beautiful piece of Roman villa paving hidden under a bit of tarpaulin in the middle of Spoonley Woods near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire.
I’m referring to something we stumbled across today, an object of mystery and much conjecture, which was hidden away in a wooded valley in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The mud, much as yesterday was thick, glossy and even redder than the environs near Cinderford and after sliding through much of it, found ourselves in beech and poplar woodland with the path running alongside a rushing stream.
The rushing stream had formed a series of decorative pools where the water collected before spilling over the next sill. Capability Brown himself couldn’t possibly have made it any prettier.
The water was crystal clear and the sills seemed to be composed of creamy pale lumpy stone. They continued on and on down the slope as if constructed for an elaborate rock garden feature.
Tree roots stretching across the stream under the water appeared to have become stone. It looked for all the world like a rough, pale honey-coloured concrete but these weren’t man-made. We had stumbled across the Travertine Dams of the Slade Brook, a geological feature unique in the British Isles – 60 separate travertine dams constructed by nature over 700 metres of the brook.
Not sure I can explain the science, but the stream originates from a powerful spring of lime-rich water which emerges from carboniferous limestone.
As it runs over obstructions in the stream bed, it deposits travertine, a crumbly kind of limestone similar to the stone Michaelangelo used to construct the ribs of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The pools are filled with fine calcareous mud.
Every second of every day, the brook is actively forming travertine, or tufa. I gather it’s sort of similar to the way stalagmites and stalactites are formed. The brook is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because it’s so special. The fact that the hydrology of the surrounding area hasn’t changed has ensured its survival so far.
The proper science of it is here
In other news, I saw interesting new sheep – breed as yet unknown – tripped over a thick bramble and fell into the mud, dropped my camera lens cap into one of the travertine dams (recovered it with a stick) and was bemoaning my OS map’s limited area when one of my pals pointed out it continued on the other side. Cue sniggering and total loss of credibility. Mind you, the Most Amused One made three navigational errors later so I reckon we’re evens.
Approaching St Briavels again after 5 or 7 miles (there were meanderings, mistakes and short cuts so no-one was sure at the end) we met three roadie cyclists – two guys and a woman who were a bit lost.
That’s the thing with all the latest phones and online maps – they only work as long as you have a signal. We gave them directions to Brockweir and had an excellent chat – they too had watched the Tour de France in Yorkshire last year and the Tour of Britain west country stages – before we all went on our way.
They were a bit envious to hear that we were five minutes from a Sunday roast at the George in St Briavels. Justified, as it turned out – the roast was probably the best pub roast I’ve had in years. Tender meat, loads of veggies and really good gravy. We’ll be heading back to St Briavels very soon with boots or bikes. Yet to be decided.
The Travertine Dams…
Mystery sheep anyone? Merino?