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long ago converted into a spacious bowling-green; and on the opposite side of the mere the mansion of Oately, with its well-kept terraces leading down to the water's edge, and its undulating park, with its “tall ancestral trees” and groups of deer knee-deep in fern. The mere lies on the east of the town, and covers some 116 acres. Its name is derived, say some old chronicles, from its being Aels Mere, or the greatest mere; others aver that it derives its name from the quantity of eels it contains. The Saxon derivation is by far the most probable. There are six other meres—Black Mere and Kettle Mere, so close together as to be almost one ; White Mere, Newton Mere, Colemere, and, lying a little out of the group to the south, Crosemere; all these are smaller than Ellesmere. There are other meres and pools at no very great distance, but not sufficiently large or near to be worth mentioning. Boggy hollows indicate spots which meres must have occupied in former days. With the exception of Crosemere, all the meres named would be contained within a circle of three miles in diameter. Crosemere would lie a mile and a half outside this circle to the south ; Ellesmere would form its north-west boundary. The aspect of the country is somewhat peculiar—it is full of undulations, and the undulations are short and steep; altogether it looks like an assemblage of vast molehills. In the hollows between these molehills the meres nestle, and the highhedged lanes wind in and out.
Ellesmere can boast of its two wooded islets, sacred to the large table-like nest of the swans; and woe to the unlucky boatsman who, in the breeding season, runs foul of the pendent branches. The male swan swims slowly and statelily around the island where his mate is sitting, and at the jar of the branches sallies forth to attack the invader, whose only hope of deliverance lies in instant flight. Some years ago, I believe, there was the enormous number of 121 swans upon this sheet of water; now there are not half that number. From the mere, all that is seen of the town through the trees is the church upon its higher ground, and a few houses, with their gardens reaching to the mere. To the left are the boat-houses nestling under the shade of several tall trees. The boats are few in number, and very safe. Owing to the inequality of the neighbouring land, the mere is subject to sudden squalls, and sailing is attended with some danger; therefore the boats for the use of the public are unprovided with sails. The pleasantest time to be on the mere is during an autumn sunset. On the water is perfect calm ; over the church and the many-tinted trees the sky is one pale golden flame, which deepens into the most delicate rose, then darkens into crimson, and finally dies away, to give place to the pale moonlight. All these colours are reflected in the water, on the white breast of the swans, and from the glittering windows and pinnacles of Oately. If the water is thrown up by the oars, the drops sparkle and colour like a fairy fountain
Unfortunately that prolific weed, the Anacharis alsinastrun, has of late years spread very considerably in all the meres, notably so in Ellesmere. It was first introduced into this part of the country with some timber from Canada, which had been brought to Baggy Moor. From thence it filled the ditches and canals, and is gradually filling the meres. Years ago the weeds used to be cut and the mere netted, the coarse fish being given to the poor. This is not done now, and the weeds have gained an ascendancy which I am afraid they will sustain. Boating has already become difficult in many parts of Ellesmere, and fishing wellnigh impracticable.
There is a peculiarity of the Ellesmere water which I can scarcely account for, but which, I am informed, some other sheets of water in England also present. To use the local name, it “ breaks.” Every summer, for a longer or shorter time, the water becomes full of some matter held in suspension. In appearance it is like small bran, rendering it impossible sometimes to see more than a foot through the water.
The mere becomes of a greenish hue, and to leeward, where it is the worst, it gives rise to a very disagreeable smell. It is always worse in hot weather. To the eye the matter held in suspension seems to consist of husk-like pieces of fibre, such as might be stripped off a plant. From this I was inclined to think that the Anacharis is chiefly to blame for this appearance, and that in some way the outer coating of the plant sloughs off and floats during its decay in the water. This is, however, but a supposition.* The other meres do not “ break” to such an extent; but then they are not so full of the Anacharis, and the water is probably purer. While the water is “ broken ” the fish refuse to bite.
Up and down the trunks of the trees the woodpeckers glide and hammer, and it is astonishing how far the sound of the tapping may be heard on a quiet day. Steadying themselves with their tails, which are placed firmly against the trunk, they hammer away until a small piece of bark is dislodged, and then the long and slender tongues shoot out, returning each time with some insect on their tips. In the shallows the long-legged heron patiently stands, flying lazily away when approached. There is a heronry at Halston, some five miles away, and in the morning and evening the herons may be observed going to or returning from the isolated marshes and pools. Like a streak of blue light, the kingfisher shoots from some branch or post; and often during the summer the presence of white-winged, graceful terns adds an additional charm to the mere.
* A correspondent of the “Field” said the organism causing the “break” was Echinella articulata, a doubtful genus, some authors considering it a vegetable and some an animal organism. It is depicted in Sowerby's English Botany, Vol. xxii. p. 208, tab. 2555. I should much like to know what it really is.
To a sportsman's eye nothing is more distasteful than the hundreds of trimmers scattered over the surface of the water, and the netting of under-sized fish carried on by those who have obtained leave to have a day's "sport.” It is a sickening thing to see, as I once saw, baskets full of young jack barely 8 inches long, all head, and useless for food, massacred—there is no other word for it. The pike sometimes run large, but of late years few big ones have been captured. The trimmers are baited with dead roach, and, luckily for the pike and the fair sportsman, the eels get the largest share of the bait. The rod fishing in this mere is open to the public, and I believe it is not difficult to procure leave to fish in some of the others.
A short walk along the Whitchurch road brings us to a gloomy-looking hollow, at the bottom of which, silent and still, lies Blackmere. On three sides the oak woods rise, looking very sombre in their dark green livery; and on the remaining side the canal is only separated from the mere by a narrow strip of land; beyond that