In his latest blog Jonty Pearce recounts a night time excursion to a secret nature reserve


No, not that one – this Secret Water is our very own. And although Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons never visited, this is the very type of waterway where they would instantly feel at home. It has two sides to its character – firstly, when the tide is out and it is the preserve of walkers, dogs, bait diggers, family groups, and horse riders, though few reach its upper reaches. However, when the tide returns it transforms into a flooded private nature reserve virtually devoid of humanity.

We left Aurial anchored near the entrance. When the speed of the incoming flow made Carol question the safety of our excursion, I pointed to the slack calm water at the sides. We climbed into the dinghy, leaving the outboard motor on the pushpit in order to properly enjoy the peace of the dying day. Lifejackets, binoculars, a powerful head torch, and oars were all we required and we cast off, swept away by the current before we reached the slack at the margin of the pill. It only needed the occasional touch on the oars as we drifted upstream in the fading light, leaving the gathering jackdaw roost behind, intent instead on the quiet reed beds of the upper reaches.

Such twilight adventures are truly the icing on the cruising cake and provide the perfect antidote to frenetic tacking up a narrow channel or the tiresome swell that all too often mars a picturesque anchorage. Boating brings so many diverse pleasures, and we love creek crawling when Aurial’s lifting keel lets us push upstream as far as possible before we have to switch to the dinghy.

A dab on the oars, and I swung round to paddle backwards up a side shoot, one side marked with withies up to the bridge by the chapel. The few houses showed no lights, and we left, disturbing nothing except the mirrored sheen of the water reflected against the dimming sky. As we explored further, the shore showed a cleanliness only ever seen at true high water – no seaweed, no clusters of twigs or sticks – all washed clear by one of the highest tides of the year. The muddy flats and deep cut rivulets that usually made this stretch inaccessible were several feet below us as we passed above, taking delight in penetrating each dark tree-lined side creek until the dusk greyed out the definition of where water ended and bank began. Eventually, the final corner was turned. All that remained in front of us was the feeder stream – perfect timing, as it was now truly dark. The Great Bear and his Pole Star twinkled above us as we turned, relying on the reflection of the lighter shade of the sky over the channel to show our way. The torch remained untouched – our fully developed night vision enough to see even the small flashes of phosphorescence as the oars dipped into the water.

The upstream flood had ended, but enough of an echo remained to slow our return. A head wind got up, encouraging us to hug the shore for shelter. The early night’s coolness was offset by the long row home – we almost regretted leaving the outboard behind, but sharing the rowing kept us fresh and warm. We turned the final corner and there lay Aurial, though the wind and chop that now faced us made our eventual arrival all the sweeter. Relieved now, we tied on, and fixed the davit lines before hoisting the dinghy safely up out of the water. The brightness of the cabin lights assaulted our night eyes, and soon the bubble of supper on the stove became the backdrop to a well deserved restorative glass as we listened to the rising wind start to howl in the rigging.

It had been a perfect explore at the end of a perfect day. Sitting in the warm cabin, we shared the contrast of our energetic return row in the moonless dark against the peaceful drift up our deserted Secret Water. Happy days.

Jonty Pearce