The River Till

Episode 24,  Nov 21, 2021, 05:00 AM

Glyn opens this episode of the podcast with the announcement that he has moved the Hidden Wiltshire Headquarters from Trowbridge. Fearing that HQ had been relocated to Liverpool, Paul’s initial shock was eased by the news that HQ is now at Heywood House on Capps Lane just outside Westbury! And just as Paul was left wondering where Glyn had got what was probably a five million quid asking price from, Glyn stated that in fact he was simply renting a desk in what is serviced office accommodation. From a £5m mansion to a lone desk in 30 seconds…

However, this episode of the podcast focuses on a blog Paul posted on the Hidden Wiltshire website on 23 January 2021 about the River Till. A blog re-printed in the Tilshead Newsletter in March 2021. Fame at last! 

But first we talk about the last two weeks in Wiltshire, one day of which Paul spent in the Badlands of Gloucestershire.

The excitement is building for Hidden Wiltshire’s second book which this time is a collaborative effort between Glyn and Paul. With a fair wind and favourable conditions in Customs (since the book is being printed in the Netherlands) the book will be launched on 10 December at a surprise and secret venue. So it should be available just in time for Christmas. It’s been an all-consuming effort but having seen a proof copy, which required a fair few tweaks, we’re really excited about the release.

Meanwhile Paul’s had some interesting times of late working for Natural England. It’s hoped the volunteers can work more independently on the local nature reserves in future which involves being trained and certified for all manner of tasks. The Government does like its health and safety courses. Paul spent a day last week near Cirencester on a 4x4 driving course where he learned that he had driven the nature reserve’s old Landrover Defender all the way from Parsonage Down to Cirencester with the differential lock engaged. Which is not a good thing. It’s no wonder he struggled to go round corners. And whilst working at the reserve this week the Defender was found to be abandoned in the farmyard. Broken! But not Paul’s fault we hasten to add. Next step – tractor driving training.

Still at Parsonage Down the volunteer team spent one day this week coppicing a small wood that provides shelter to the farm. It really highlighted the point we’ve made in a couple of podcasts, and in particular the one entitled Wiltshire Clumps, that woodland needs to be managed in the light of climate change and other challenges such as ash dieback. It was quite a shock to see how many trees in this small copse were dead or dying. Beech, ash, elder, hawthorn – all were dying back. Whilst some dead wood can be left to provide a rich habitat, much had to be cleared to allow the light to penetrate to the woodland floor. The area will we re-populated with a more diverse species of native tree which will provide a beautiful wood for future generations to enjoy.

We then move on to the main subject – the River Till. This quintessential chalk winterbourne rises in Tilshead and flows all the way to Stapleford where it joins the Wylye. Many people quite understandably assume that Tilshead takes its name from the river. But this is not the case. The name is actually derived from "Theodwulf's hide”. The name Tilshead came into use in the 16th century. The river was called the Winterbourne until around the start of the 20th century, when the name River Till began to be used. Locally the river was also referred to as Waterlake, a name which subsists today in the form of Waterlake Lane in Orcheston.

During the podcast we talk about the inevitable rich history that surrounds the Till. From the three Neolithic long barrows on the hill above Tilshead which are orientated along the lines of the river’s re-entrants, to the story of the Orcheston grass that once grew in the water meadows in that village at a rate of 17 – 18 feet a year, to the Bronze and Iron Age round barrow cemetery of The Coniger between Shrewton and Winterbourne Stoke (where Roman pottery has also been found) to medieval Stapleford Castle, once the home of Jane Seymour’s father. (Henry VIII’s third wife, not the actress!)

We also had a fairly monumental political rant! It’s been widely reported that Wessex Water has been allowing raw sewage to enter the Till for several years – both at Orcheston and from the sewage treatment plant at Shrewton. According to The Times between July 2019 and June 2020 the Shrewton treatment works operated by Wessex Water spilt untreated sewage into the River Till for 5,110 hours, or more than seven months. 

Entreaties to Wessex Water, the Environment Agency and Natural England have all failed to resolve the issue. Meanwhile the water meadow next to Waterlake Lane in Orcheston, where the famed grass once grew, is virtually sterile. And during the spring of this year Paul saw young children playing in the stream just 50 metres below the sewage treatment works outfall. Is it any wonder that otters, water voles and brown trout are no longer or rarely seen in Shrewton? A truly disgraceful situation which the Government’s new Bill does little to remedy.

There is no map to follow along with this episode of the podcast. Paul pieced together the blog following two day long walks – one between Shrewton and Tilshead (which included Orcheston) and the other between Shrewton and Stapleford which can be extended to make a long day’s walk taking in the hills either side of the Till valley that includes the views from Druids Lodge and returning via Yarnbury Castle and the ancient ridgeway across the Plain. A long point to point walk could easily be put together from Tilshead’ where the river rises’ to its end at Stapleford. Once for the longer days of summer.

Then on to the wrap up:

Steve Dixon’s piece leading to our main subject is entitled “When Swallows Rise”. We’ve used it before but as Paul has spent many happy hours watching swallows dart around the Till just above the remains of the sluice gates below The Coniger, it seemed appropriate. As ever the piece in the introduction and at the end of the podcast is entitled “The Holloway”.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Hidden Wiltshire Newsletter from the website.

Thanks again to the ever-patient Tim Kington at TKC Sales, the UK distributors of Lowa walking boots and shoes, and for the 20% discount on their products to Hidden Wiltshire podcast listeners. Listen to the show for the discount code. At year end we’re going to discuss with Tim whether we continue with the discount.  You’ll find a link to Lowa Boots’ website below.

And finally, help us keep the lights on by heading to the Hidden Wiltshire Online shop. Link below. The second Hidden Wiltshire book will be available there soon.


Paul’s blog about the River Till and his photographs can be found here The River Till - the story of a winterbourne

Glyn’s photographs can be seen of course on this website and on his Instagram feed @coy_cloud

Paul’s photography can be found on his website at Paul Timlett Photography and on Instagram at @tragicyclist

Steve Dixon’s sound art can be found on Soundcloud where his username is River and Rail Steve Dixon River and Rail. His photographs can be found on Instagram at @stevedixon_creative and his graphic design business website is at Steve Dixon Creative

You can find Lowa Boots UK at Lowa Boots UK

And finally you’ll find the Hidden Wiltshire online shop here Hidden Wiltshire Shop