The Great River the Plank Bridge and the Punt
Sun 18th Mar 2012 at 18:12:23
Box canvas 36x48” (90x120 cm)

This is the most ”secret, unreachable place” in the whole story nowadays: the shallow fall and the plank bridge on the river Test are right in the middle of Laverstoke Park Estate, owned by 1979 Formula 1 Champion Jody Sceckter. Special permission to visit the place has been obtained on Richard Adams request.

The rabbits have reached the river Test and, after a precarious night, they start to explore the surroundings, looking for a better spot.
Kehaar is impatient, feeling the call of the Big Water, and Hazel sends Bluebell to fetch Bigwig, Blackberry and Fiver. Together they explore upstream, where they reach the shallow fall they heard the day before, on their approach. After crossing the plank bridge they find the punt and Blackberry has the brilliant idea: they can escape the General floating downstream on the boat!

Part three: Efrafa
From Chapter 33: The Great River

By kind permission of Richard Adams

They soon realized that the woodland on this left bank was lonely, thick and overgrown - denser than the nut copses and bluebell woods of Sandleford. Several times they heard the drumming of a great woodpecker, the shyest of birds. As Blackberry was suggesting that perhaps they might look for a hiding place somewhere in this jungle, they became aware of another sound - the falling water which they had heard on their approach the day before. Soon they reached a place where the river curved round in a bend from the east, and here they came upon the broad, shallow fall. It was no more than a foot high - one of those artificial falls, common on the chalk streams, made to attract trout. Several were already rising to the evening hatch of fly. Just above the fall a plank footbridge crossed the river. Kehaar flew up, circled the pool and perched on the hand rail.
”This is more sheltered and lonely than the bridge we crossed last night,” said
Blackberry. ”Perhaps we could make some use of it. You didn’t know about this bridge, Kehaar, did you?”
”Na, not know, not see heem. But ees goot pridge - no von come.”
”I’d like to go across, Hazel-rah,” said Blackberry.
”Well, Fiver’s the rabbit for that,” replied Hazel. ”He simply loves crossing bridges. You carry on. I’ll come behind, with Bigwig and Bluebell here.”
The five rabbits hopped slowly along the planks, their great, sensitive ears full of the sound of the falling water. Hazel, who was not sure of his footing, had to stop several times. When at length he reached the further side, he found that Fiver and Blackberry had already gone a little way downstream below the fall and were looking at some large object sticking out from the bank. At first he thought that it must be a fallen tree trunk, but as he came closer he saw that, although it was certainly wooden, it was not round, but flat, or nearly flat, with raised edges - some man thing…
...One end of the thing was pressed into the bank, but along its length it diverged, sticking out slightly into the stream. There were ripples round it, for under the banks the current was as swift as in midstream, on account of weed-cutting and sound camp-sheeting. As Hazel came nearer, he saw that Blackberry had actually scrambled on the thing. His claws made a faint hollow sound on the wood, so there must be water underneath. Whatever it might be, the thing did not extend downward to the bottom: it was lying on the water...
...Kehaar had alighted on the middle of the thing, and was snapping away at something white. Blackberry scuttered along the wood toward him and began to nibble at some kind of greenstuff. After a little while Hazel also ventured out on
the wood and sat in the sunshine, watching the flies on the warm, varnished surface and sniffing the strange river smells that came up from the water.
”What is this man thing, Kehaar?” he asked. ”Is it dangerous?”
”Na, no dangerous. You not know? Ees poat. At Peeg Vater is many, many poat. Men make dem, go on vater. Ees no harm.”
Kehaar went on pecking at the broken pieces of stale bread. Blackberry, who had finished the fragments of lettuce he had found, was sitting up and looking over the very low side, watching a stone-colored, black-spotted trout swim up into the fall. The ”boat” was a miniature punt, used for reed-cutting - little more than a raft, with a single thwart amidships. Even when it was unmanned, as now, there were only a few inches of freeboard.

The plants and animals that appear in the composition are those mentioned in the same chapter:

...The path was almost as smooth as a lawn and clear of bushes and weeds, for it was kept cut for fishermen. Along its further side the riparian plants grew thickly,so that it was separated from the river by a kind of hedge of purple loosestrife, great willow herb, fleabane, figwort and hemp agrimony, here and there already in bloom...

...As Pipkin reached the path a great, shimmering dragonfly, four inches long, all emerald and sable, appeared at his shoulder, hovered, droning and motionless, and was gone like lightning into the sedge. Pipkin leaped back in alarm. As he did so there came a shrill, vibrant cry and he caught sight, between the plants, of a brilliant azure bird flashing past over the open water...

...Hazel was combing the goose grass out of his coat and evidently listening to
Fiver as they sat together under a rhododendron...

...Indeed, in places it was almost bog. Marsh sedge grew there, pink, sweet-scented
valerian and the drooping water avens

...The smell of water mint filled all the hydrophanic air...

I also added branched bur-reed and monkey flower, which I saw growing along the river banks when I visited the place.

The dragon fly is a Southern Hawker, found in south-central England.
I also added demoiselle agrion, (male and female), a common and attractive damselfly I photographed on my visit to Laverstoke Park.
- Aldo Galli -