A Walk Along the Almond
“Why don’t we take a walk down to the Almond one day. This tired old river has been winding its way down through the Almond Valley for centuries. It’s had good times, it’s had bad. During the fifties and sixties, there was a lot of kind of pollution, factories and industries that line its banks, tip the contents into the river and give it a wee bit of a battle.”
“But in recent years, it’s began to clean its act up, and I can see the midges dancing in front of me, and I can hear the birds in the canopy of the trees. I’ve got a Civic Centre behind me. I can see dippers, and pied wagtails. If you look down on the surface of the water, and you look carefully and you’re patient, you can see a brown trout rising.”
“Now, I’ve just seen a heron. A grey heron has just appeared, and he’s sitting on a rock, and he’s really still, and his long sharp beak and incredible eyesight will allow him to, to catch anything that moves. There’ll not be a trout in a pool or a fish that’s safe when he’s around. He’s just so elegant and powerful and strong.”
“And a wee rabbit’s just bobbed in front of me as well, just come up off the bank. So as I’m walking along, I’m thinking in the peace of this amazing old river that’s get so much to offer. Marvellous opportunities await down here if you just take a wee stroll. Come on down, the Almond’s got at all.”
“So come on down and watch the trout rise. Watch them snapping at flies. You may even see the odd deer coming down to quench its thirst on a hot summer’s day. The Almonds got it all – dippers, wagtails, insect life. Water voles, otters – it’s got it all. All you need to do is come down and take a look, but be patient.”
“Right now, I can see a large trout, just sitting underneath the leaves of a tree, a birch tree. You see the birch tree has got caterpillars and insects on its leaves and the trout know this, and they just sit in below the tree and wait for the caterpillars and the grubs to fall off the leaves. It’s a great dining spot for the trout. Isn’t that marvellous?”
I moved to Livi in 1977 as a ten-year-old lad – we hail from the west. From a young age I was drawn to water like a moth to a flame. I love tumbling cold burns where I can see the gravel bed shining in the sunlight. As a boy the Almond, which is Celtic for a river, was a tired old water. For many years it fought against pollution. Old men told me about the salmon that used to run the river in bygone days. Salmon! I used to think salmon belong to the Tweed and the Spey, not our murky old river. Anyway, how could they get round the shopping trolleys which littered the banks o’ the Almond near the centre when I was a lad.
I’m now 54, older and wiser (at least I like to think so) and I have seen the Almond wakening up again – reed beds reappearing, you can see the gravel beds again as kingfishers shoot like a dart into the water to pluck a sleepy minnow out of its slumber, ducks and water birds now share the pools with a family of otters who have now made the Almond their home. Brown trout rise for the flies on a summer’s night, watched by the heron which sits stock still
on a rock or on the handle of a sunken trolley, unmoved by the noise of the wheels hitting the concrete in the skatie (skatepark).
In the long grassy banks a water vole scurries for cover as a deer has come down to quench its thirst at the water’s edge – stop and listen to the birdsong in the canopy of trees that give shade to resting sea trout and salmon before running the newly built gulley below the Livi rugby club Which help them to get beyond the weir below the bridge.
A wander through Almond Park will bring you to the Almond Valley bridge and sitting in front of the old stone bridge at the foot of Howden is the new rockfall ramp with its fast bubbling channels with deep pools in between, a pit stop for a salmon or a sea trout on their way upstream to spawn in the pools where they were born.
These pools have become a fast food diner for the otters – there is no fish, not even the salmon, that can outswim an otter. With its rudder-like tail and its narrow body it dips and dives, stirring up the pool like a bubbling cauldron. Success, a trout for dinner! An otter is an aquatic weasel – you can see the resemblance. Be still as they are very shy.
Soon the eels will slither back up the Almond. They have swam thousands of miles from the Sargasso Sea – they left the Almond as elvers the width of a pencil and now they will return like the salmon and sea trout to the pools of their birth.
Why not take a walk down to the Almond arm in arm with your lover or with the wee ones in tow. Be patient and quiet and you will be rewarded. It’s a brackish old river, mother nature has returned. The Almond – it’s good for the soul and it’s on our doorstep.
– Colin Williamson
Storyteller in residence for Craigshill Good Neighbour Network