Descending from an Iron Age hill fort, we find the river in a languid phase, fishermen and canoeists taking their ease, and follow it towards Ross.
We meet three men being “laddish” and generally jovial. Tonight is a stag party and they’ve come to Ross to play up. We join the humour of the moment – one of them is about to be hitched – and say, “Well, if it’s any encouragement, today is our 40th wedding anniversary.” Another of the guys immediately changes tone and, with exceptional warmth and sincerity, shakes our hands offering his congratulations. It’s really quite moving. The treasured moment passes, they carry on their rollicking way and we follow, aiming for the beacon of the town’s graceful church spire.
A very old B&B opposite the castle. “Be careful,” she says. “The bedroom floor is uneven.” She is right. One of the bed-legs is raised 200mm (8 inches) to level it. A trip in the night becomes decidedly uphill work.
Our plan to avoid a stretch of farmland is thwarted. No bus on a Sunday. We take a taxi. Our driver was in heavy machinery but gave it away when his marriage finished, and started driving for his mum’s taxi firm. He had once thought of working the big machines in Australia. “Still could,” he says, but we sense his heart isn’t really in it. Has a lot of gloomy things to say about Boris and Brexit. We can only agree. He hasn’t heard about Jacinda and does not seem interested, but happily drops us near the river.
We pass a large, semi-derelict building with a tall chimney and a wing with windows like those of hospital wards. Was it a sanitarium? We accost a woman, out for a walk. “No,” she says. “It was a cable factory and more recently used for packaging then closed. The yards are now used for plastic recycling but there’s nowhere to send the plastic.” We ask, “What about converting it into desperately needed accommodation?” “There’s some problem with the river flooding. Last year these fields were deep under water.”