Saltersford Lane and Patterdown.
To discover where the Pudding Brook goes under the railway line near Chippenham and where it emerges on the other side.
It was cold, the sky was pale. We parked at B&Q just below the railway line. A black-headed gull screamed from a lamp post as we crossed the empty car park – grey tarmac, white paving – then walked along the A4 and turned left down Saltersford Lane. The pond beside the road was visible, the trees around it bare of leaves. The field next to the railway line was uncultivated, the grass pale yellow from the winter. A heron flapped across
We walked along Saltersford Lane looking into the rough grassy fields on our left for signs of the brook. A small group of deer ran into the bushes. All along the lane there were animal tracks leading into the fields. The path next to the road became narrower. We were right next to the railway line now, with the embankment high above, dark with leafless scrub and edged with metal railings.
Low in the embankment there was a culvert carrying water out from underneath. Could this be the Pudding Brook? A look at the map told us that we had gone too far up the lane. By the railings there was a gap in the hedge leading into the field. Bits of plastic and metal lay on the ground. We entered the field and followed the railings. The ground had been disturbed, in the bare patches young bramble shoots grew up. Buzzards flew overhead.
From a high point we looked down into a small valley which may have been dug out to support the railway embankment in the 19th century, however parts of it seemed to have been dug over more recently. There was a shallow depression, a scoop, running down the centre of the little valley. Someone had dug a narrow channel down the length of it and two small holes, the size of sinks. The earth that had been dug out was clay and the clods had been scattered all over the floor. The uneven clods, the sink holes and the fallen branches were all covered in thick green moss which gave the impression of a decorative landscape with mossy boulders strewn on the ground, with stone troughs and a stream, though in fact it was all clay and the channel must surely have been functional – probably to help drainage. Perhaps someone had been planning to use the land.
Opposite the railway embankment which rose up on our right there was another bank which dropped down from the fields behind it. Its height probably represented the original level before the earth was moved for the railway line. This too seemed to have been worked more recently. A camouflage green tarpaulin hung down. Nearby, a white sheet was pegged to a tree trunk. Dark green and bright blue plastic sheets were crumpled on the ground amongst logs and branches and a small red chair. There were three broken wheelbarrows and some broken boxes lying around. A wooden chair with armrests and a blue stacking chair were perched firmly on flat ground as if someone had sat there to drink tea. Primroses were growing already. Further along near an opening to the field was an old van, brown with rust. We lumbered over the cloddy ground to look inside. It was empty. No seats. Nothing. Just the outer part. Passing time was marked by the trains racketing by.
The edge of the valley dropped down to a dark pond wth huge broken willows growing round it. We speculated about the trees: in the 18th century significant trees were notched during the perambulations of the Corsham parish boundary which in this area was defined by the Pudding Brook. While we were walking round the pond, a group of deer trotted by, high on the slope above us. Maybe they had been disturbed by something. We listened for the Pudding Brook. Next to the pond was some black boggy ground. I knew the brook flooded and wondered if this could be part of it. (Pudding Brook is described in surveys as a main river and its potential to flood is often mentioned) There was a sluggish flow of water which we picked our way through using fallen branches as stepping stones. Maybe this was the Pudding Brook. Ahead, however was a well defined line of trees and shrubs, covered in ivy. In fact there were two separate lines of foliage and between them the actual Pudding Brook was moving quickly and purposefully between its well-worn banks made up of tree roots, stones and earth. It was easy to step into it and follow its course – the only obstacles being hanging brambles and low branches. It twisted and curved; in some areas it was about two feet deep and slow moving with large hollows brown with silt. Mostly it flowed fast and shallow over small stones and rubble, around larger rocks and concrete, sometimes there were flat slabs of stone underfoot. The width varied between four and two feet.
To our right the railway line was above us and the dark pond behind us. On our left at shoulder height was ground level. We walked past prefabricated offices, lights on, people having meetings. Flat light. Broad pale bands of cream, beige and grey green. The tops of people’s heads. Cars parked outside. We ducked. Trespass! At some point we must have passed the back of the old disused Herman Miller building, a former landmark with its bright blue exterior. If we could have carried on next to the railway track we would have been back in the B&Q car park. It was cold. Snow was coming. Ice had formed on fronds of grass hanging over the stream. Each seed head had a fat coat of ice. We looked ahead. The Pudding Brook disappeared into a neat tunnel.
This was the end of the exploration for the day. We turned and followed the brook back to where we joined it, following its twisting meander until it became too deep and we climbed out on to the opposite bank into a goods yard. Then we walked out to where the brook meets Saltersford Lane and went back to B&Q. On the way we passed the Herman Miller building, with its frontage of trees and landscaped hummocks, and sheltered on low ground, each on its own circle of concrete – three round tables with small bright orange seats. There was a bare tree on the hummock next to the road with goldfinches swaying on its short whippy branches; they lifted off and scattered to a hawthorn hedge next to the superstore.
We got into the car and drove 100 yards towards Chippenham before turning right down Patterdown and stopping to look at the other side of the railway embankment to where we had just been. It was not possible to see where the brook emerged. There was a field and a few houses and a bridge which took the road over what had to be the Pudding Brook. The bridge was modern with stone facing and timber posts. I had found out earlier that it was used for geo-caching.
There are plans for development in the Rowden Hill area, north of the Pudding Brook and near Hunters Moon off Saltersford Lane. Currently the A350 which crosses the brook at Chequers roundabout is being widened to form a dual carriageway. In view of these developments it is important to make progress with documentation.