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July 2012

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Mary Davies contemplates a duck pond

One feature of traditional life across the water that is largely absent here, is the village duck pond. We have ornamental pools in gardens and man-made lakes in the grounds of stately homes, and views of rivers or the sea from so many parts of the country that additional water features can seem superfluous. But there are few of the communal water bodies that still survive, their original purpose long gone, in the heart of villages on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Duck Pond

The traditional duck pond lay on the village green, the centre of the cluster of buildings - church, houses, cottages, inn - that made up a rural community. The water fowl were part of the economy, just like the hens that spilled out of cottage gates to scratch in the dusty roads. Today such ponds are amenities, with neatly mown grass, park benches, an overhanging willow or two: a place where children feed the ducks and residents walk their dogs.

The old duck pond I know best is a more secretive affair, hardly recognizable as water. When I first visited, the area was still farmland on the city edge. The duck pond lay close to the gates of an ancient farmhouse, the medieval manor farm. Now the houses that replaced the fields have matured and their gardens are filled with well-grown trees and shrubs. But this great expanse of modern housing is still bisected by ancient routeways that provide walks with an illusion of wilderness.

A laneway off a busy road is edged with hawthorn and a fringe of wild flowers. Once part of a much lengthier way across a common, it passes where the manor farm stood, a site now marked only by a few orchard trees. The pond is small and overhung with branches, one side protected by curb and bollards. Its surface is thick with duck weed, contrasting in texture with the huge leaves of the encroaching marsh marigolds that provide colour with their yellow blooms.

Once the local hunt, a lively affair, met by the duck pond and was plied with refreshments at the farm. Now the pond is a focal point again - the local conservation group gathers here to maintain the area. And I can pause on a mossy wooden seat and contemplate another feature, one of great antiquity: close to the pond a narrow trackway believed to date back some nine centuries winds between the houses, traffic free and frequented by dog walkers and school children. It has a different feel from my dog-walking paths at home, where I can see the mountains and on windy days hear the sound of the sea. But it offers the same pleasure of seeming to be in the country even when close to the city.

 

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