An Otter In Stroud

Of all England’s mammals, there is one – more than any other – that I have always wanted to see in the wild.

Ring of Bright Water

That book

Only one animal which, since I saw that film and read that book as a boy, I’m aware of, subconsciously at least, as I walk alongside streams and rivers and shoreline.

When I was younger, many of England’s waterways were too polluted for fish and otters; and if otters could find clean water, they might be hunted with otterhounds. (Otter hunting was only outlawed in 1978). No surprise then that I thought my chances of spotting one in southern England were slim. But I looked nevertheless and especially when I travelled to more remote country in Lakeland, Wales or Scotland. I never expected to see one properly you understand; just a curve of wet fur rolling underwater or a streak of dark litheness flowing up a bank into undergrowth, leaving no trace but a ring of bright water.

And I most certainly never expected, not even in my weirdest dreams, to see one in front of my own house for goodness sake. Not a bloody otter.

Stroud Valley

The view from the house. The canal is in the foreground, the bench overlooks the hidden river beyond. The Friesian cow at the end of the rainbow is incidental. September 2018.

In August, we moved into a canal-front house in Stroud. And we knew on arrival that there are kingfishers here, nesting mute swans and I heard, to my stuttering disbelief, that otters live here too. As we’ve walked or cycled along the tow-path, I’ve been extra vigilant – obviously – hoping that I might finally see my wild otter. I’d seen kingfisher many times before I moved to Gloucestershire … yet to have seen them twice already from my house windows is still pretty amazing. But despite my fervent wish, I’ve seen no otter.

Until.

The other day, Jim and I were loading the car before driving off to Pembrokeshire. As we carried out far-too-much-stuff-for-a-three-night-break, we noticed a group of people on the far bank of the canal looking down into the river beyond.

Jim shouted, “What is it?” (half expecting them to shout back, “A body.”).

“An otter,” someone replied and after Jim and I had exchanged a wide-eyed grin, we left our luggage on the driveway, our house and car doors wide open and, grabbing my camera, jumped on our bikes, cycled seventy yards to the end of our road, crossed the footbridge and pedalled furiously back to the bench overlooking the river.

I stepped up onto the wall of the weir between canal and river and looked down into a mass of quaking watercress. Quaking because something was heaving it from beneath.

Otter Stroud (1)

I was twitching with excitement but still unbelieving … until up popped a dark blunt head. There he was: a wild, beautiful otter. Upon my word. He quickly disappeared but then re-emerged momentarily beyond the cress before curling back underwater. Was that it? Had he gone?

Otter Stroud (8)

Nope – he snapped up again, twisting manically and proving to be, in low light, a devilish camera subject.

Otter Stroud (7)

I continued clicking hoping for at least one decent shot before he was gone.

Otter Stroud (2)

But, he was in no hurry and appeared remarkably unconcerned by his adoring audience standing just a few feet away.

Otter Stroud (4)

He’d found a wealth of food and took his time enjoying it; whatever it might have been: snails perhaps or freshwater mussels.

Otter Stroud (3)

This was an encounter which slipped from hope to a breathless glimpse, to a prolonged close encounter, to … “Er, we really need to be off to Wales now, otter. Sorry.” Eventually, reluctantly, we let him be and cycled back to the car.

Otter Stroud (5)

There is so much relentlessly gloomy news about wildlife and the environment that this simple encounter was a significant and bright moment for me.

Otter Stroud (6)

For the rest of the day, at intervals, Jim or I would say, “We saw an otter. Outside our house.” Saying it made it more real.

Broadhaven Beach, Pembrokeshire

Broadhaven Beach, Pembrokeshire

Over the following weekend, as we walked the stunning Pembrokeshire coast, the sheer amount of plastic waste washed up on the white sand was keenly depressing; providing more unremitting evidence of what harm we are doing to our planet. As if we need more.

But, but the Stroud canal, the Stroudwater Navigation, is one resounding success story, amongst the havoc. The Cotswold Canals Trust has restored most of it in the past few years and plans to continue its resurrection all the way under the M5 and out to Saul Junction, linking up with the national canal network.

When Jim was growing up in Stroud in the ’70s and ’80s, the canal was mostly derelict: partly filled in, built over, dumped full of rubbish and fenced-off completely in places. And now? Well, locks and bridges have been rebuilt or repaired, the towpath reinstated and maintenance barges chug past our house – dredging, cutting back vegetation, keeping the waterway clear. What was once a fenced eyesore for our neighbour when she moved here twenty-five years ago, is now a wide band of still water with the occasional kayaker; and its busy towpath is used by joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers, schoolchildren and walking commuters. Thanks to all the astonishing work by the Trust and a host of volunteers, it is now home to a rich variety of wildlife including mallard, moorhen, swans, kingfishers and, would you believe it, bloody otters.

It’s nice to have some good news once in a while.

67 thoughts on “An Otter In Stroud

  1. What a fantastic experience…and to have the camera near at hand makes it even better. There are supposed to be otters in the river near our house. Lots of reports, but somehow no one ever gets a picture. I have a suspicion that some people are misidentifying muskrats or mink, but I am always on the alert walking by the river nevertheless.

    A couple of years ago, we took some friends to see our favorite spots in coastal Maine. One day, they went off without us to a place we visit every summer. So, of course, that day they were treated to the sight of a whole family of otters playing in the sea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a similar run of bad luck with dolphins. I’ve twice seen them in the wild but both times at a distance. I always try to stand on the bow of a ferry or tour boat in the unfulfilled hope of seeing dolphins leaping through the bow wave. One day perhaps. Good luck with your ongoing otter search. D

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  2. Thrilling, so glad to hear from you, hope you’re settled. We have an “Otter Creek” a couple of hours north of us (central Vermont US) and in the summer we frequent a not very good restaurant (bloody mary’s are fine ) with an overhanging deck on the river as they say they occasionally see otters
    All the best

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  3. The only otters I have seen in Real Life were in a zoo, sadly. They’re beautiful and fascinating – how wonderful to have this encounter, you lucky thing. Yes, far too much depressing news all round so it’s lovely to read this. Thank you.

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  4. Oh, how exciting! And how wonderful to see real, live, whiskery evidence that reclamation projects work and that wildness can return to what was waste. Maybe this will be the first otter sighting of many. Lovely post, Dave—great to have you back. I hope you see an albatross next. xxS

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    • Hi Stacy, his whiskery-ness was what I noticed too. A bit of sunlight might even have allowed me a better shot but as you say, I’m hoping for many more (sunnier) encounters. Though, sitting here at my desk overlooking the canal – in a rare moment of sunshine today – I see no otters. Drat. Dx

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  5. Encouraging to see volunteers have made a difference … and just outside your door!
    In Aarau they began reclaiming the Stadtbach, from buried in concrete canals and used as a dump … to habitat and a winding path along the stream. Utterly beautiful.
    I remember from your book – will that be two teas, sir?

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  6. Welcome back. Everything comes to he who waits …… Eventually. I hope you and Jim had the decency to go back and rescue all those whom you knocked into the canal during your mad cycling stint! I remember seeing some in the Taff in Cardiff, of all places, back in the late 60s but as the river got more and more polluted, they died out. They’re back in the cleaner river now, undeterred bu the noise of city centre. Glad you have a convenient bench on which to doze whilst waiting for nocturnal observations. Well they are more active at night. See you again in three months?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why, hullo John. Nice to hear your measured, calming tones. Sorry, I didn’t pop in on our whizz through S Wales but we only had a short while away and it was very last moment. But it’d be nice to meet up soon. I’ll try not to leave it another 3 months before another post and I’m even going to try to start reading other blogs again. One can but dream, D

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  7. So lovely to have you back again David…….and with news of such a beautiful creature too! Hopefully one day we will be lucky enough to have Otters back here in Sussex – we live near the river Ouse and have mink but no Otters…….yet. Enjoy your fabulous new home! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nettie and actually, I can tell you that there are otters in the Ouse. I saw a clip on Twitter a few months ago of one filmed in the water from the bridge on Cliffe High Street. Never saw one myself there, of course 😦

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  8. I love otters – – you got some great shots of a very slippery customer. When we studied them in grade school, I couldn’t believe these fun-loving guys were in the same family as weasels, that seemed pretty horrible to us kids. It was a lesson in taking each person as you find them, never mind what their relatives are like.

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    • Oh gosh but yes, Robert. Some of my dearest friends have the most dreadful relatives. No, no names to be given here. I’m rather fond of a weasel actually and of a stoat even more, but the otter wins the popularity sweepstake. Best, D

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    • Thank you, Charles and yes, we’re settling in after a fashion. It’s been quite a slog making the house habitable – hence my absence (and from reading your posts too. Sorry). D

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  9. I always feel as you describe about otters. The BOOK was o level read for me. I’ve never seen an otter wild in the UK but I did catch a glimpse here in Italy at an Etruscan site. Lucky you to have them near your home. Good to hear you have a lovely new home.

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  10. Lovely to hear from you again with some good news amongst all the bad around at present. Lovely photos of the otter. I am sure you will both enjoy living in your new home. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely to hear from you again and with such optimistic news. Warms the cockles on this rainy morn! When such lovely things happen in a new(to you) environment you know you’re on the right track.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a heart-warming post, thank you. You are right that there is so much bad stuff going on, and we need occasionally to focus on these triumphs. It is wonderful that a few people have made this happen. That was some excellent house-buying!

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  13. What a surprise to find you had posted and then such an uplifting story on two levels. The first being that you didn’t feel the absolute need to ‘lock up’ when straying so far from your house and secondly the amazing sighting of a beautiful otter!! The photos bring him/her to life, what a cheeky chappie. Thank you for helping us share your joy and have a little spring in our steps this cold wet November morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow. Congrats! That’s a cute face and you were lucky to get such good pix. Them be some mighty big teeth, too!
    Glad to see you’ve both settled nicely into the new place, canal, otters, garden bench, rainbow and all.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ah, so lovely David! We’ve got a few otters in and around Bristol, but I’ve only seen one in the Summer Isles, Scotland, around 1977! Never forgotten it though. I’ve been here 6 years now, nice to hear you’re nearby in Stroud – be lovely to catch up with you both some time!

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  16. How thrilling. I can imagine your excitement. AND just across the street from where you live. A dream come true.
    Here in Indiana they stopped the hunting of River Otters in 1921. It was too late, they were soon extirpated from our state. In 1995 the Department of Natural Resources brought 300 River Otters from Louisiana and turned them loose in the watersheds of Indiana. It took until about 5 years ago for me to get to see one. Now we see them every once in a while. I will never forget that first encounter. I was thrilled and I will never take them for granted.

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  17. Oh, David I am so happy for you both upon seeing the otter. Also, of seeing your move seems to have been successful, you are enjoying the new area and what it has to offer. I am so pleased to see your blog once again. Thank you for continuing to keep all of us informed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Anne. Yes, very happy to have made the move – I love it here. Just being able to get to Pembrokeshire in under three hours is amazing rather than the long, long drive from Sussex, D

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  18. Very good news, which I am grateful to receive. It is striking how much they look like seals. I wonder if they are distantly related? A great sighting and to think if it came later, you would have missed it. Nice photos and good to see your post, David. Enjoy the holidays ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Eliza. No relation to seals, I think. Otters are more related to weasels and stoats, I believe. Seeing a wild seal – years ago in Scotland – was a similarly marvellous moment. I was learning to Kayak and one just popped his head out of the water about ten feet away. The rascal.

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  19. Welcome back. Even in Australia childhoods were shaped by a Ring of Bright Water and while we see whales, echidnas, platypus, lyrebirds and other extraordinary and beautiful wildlife here, to see a wild otter in the UK remains one of my dreams.

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    • Thank you, Guy. And welcome to the curious world of blogging. My advice, above all else, is keep going, don’t give up. And absolutely, carry on with what you are doing – visiting other blogs and leaving a comment. It will bring you traffic. (I see you’ve had a few hits from this comment). Get involved. Post regularly (unlike me). And enjoy it – if you don’t, well just ignore point 1! The best of luck to you, Dave

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  20. Lovely surprise to see a post from you. Hopes and concerns for our planet, a new house and an otter. I think he’s thankful for a restored canal and his face says “courage, take heart”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. At least on the beaches of Pembrokeshire, people had collected plastic and piled it up for collection. We picked some up too but so much of it is tiny fragments. You’d need a vacuum cleaner. And so much now, of course, is microscopic. Yep, the otter lessened somewhat my sense of despondency with the state of our environment. D

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