Sunday, 26 April 2009

A Brief Guide to Nene Park

It's early afternoon and I've just arived at Peterborough station on my way to collect a car from a business park about three miles away on the outskirts of the city.

The most direct route is via a footpath through Nene Park, a large green space occupying several square miles and named after the river flowing through its centre.

It's a clear warm day, the first this year when I’ve risked leaving my coat at home.

When I reach the river I'm still on the edge of the city centre and the footpath is fairly busy with people strolling along or just hanging around. There are overflowing litter bins and loud music emanating from mobile phones. The occasional sunken shopping trolley, brown and fuzzy with plant growth, can be seen through the astonishing clear water.

But in less than half a mile all of this has faded away. There is the distant roar of a dual carriageway ahead of me, but nothing to indicate that a city centre lies not far behind.


I pass three small barges, moored together. There are blankets drying on a string washing line and signs of a camp fire. A guy with a black Mohican, currently somewhat drooping, stands by the water’s edge smoking a roll-up. He ignores me, though his lean and inquisitive dog pads over to sniff around me for a moment. I wonder if this is the marine equivalent of a squat?

Once they are behind me there is only the wildlife and the very occasional dog walker. There are tortoiseshell butterflies fluttering here and there, and once I come across a heron, standing amongst the reeds in the shallow water. I pause about ten feet from it. It seems to look at me out of the corner of its eye, as if wondering whether I'm really going to come close enough to force it to move. I take a couple more cautious steps. If birds could sigh I think this one would have done so as it wearily unfurls its wings and then flaps over to the other side of the water to perch on a railing.


Further along still there is an odd statue, perhaps of a boat on its side, although there is no explanatory notice around, and for a moment I find myself wondering whether it might actually have some practical function.


It seems strange to find such a vast area of open green space within a city, free from litter and graffiti, but also largely free of the city’s inhabitants, even on a day like today when the sky is nothing but blue.

I feel as if I ought to be trying to come up with some depressing analysis of modern society to explain why people don't bother exploring places like this, but it seems like rather an effort, and the truth is I don't mind having it all to myself anyway.

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