The dry grass path runs along a small valley. Soon, under the shelter of a curtain of trees, a dusty basin takes shape, littered with twigs, without the slightest trace of moisture. However, it is the source of the Thames.
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From a now theoretical source, miles downstream, the course of this iconic UK river is summed up at best in a few muddy puddles, a striking shortcut from the drought sweeping much of the country.
“We haven’t found the Thames yet,” says Michael Sanders, a 62-year-old computer scientist who came with his wife to take the Thames Path, a marked path that follows the river’s meandering course from there go source to its mouth. .
“It’s completely dry. There are puddles, mud but so far no water is flowing, we hope to find the Thames downstream but so far it has disappeared,” testified this holidaymaker, met by AFP in the village of Ashton Keynes, a few kilometers from the source.
In this picturesque region in the foothills of the Cotswolds, not far from Wales, the river rises from an aquifer before meandering some 350 kilometers towards the North Sea and watering the British capital’s pass.
But for those who would normally compare the English countryside to a golf course, the shock is severe this summer, after a winter and spring almost unprecedented since rainfall records.
“It looks like we’re walking through the African savannah, it’s that dry,” says David Gibbons, a 60-year-old retiree who, with his wife and a few friends, is taking the opposite route to Michael in stages. Sanders, from the mouth to the source.
A few hundred yards from the destination, he marvels at the wildlife he encounters on his way up the waterway, which, between river fun and avifauna observation, is transforming from a strategic and industrial shipping artery in the London Upstream region into a tourist attraction.
“But in the last two or three days we haven’t seen any animals because there is no water. She disappeared about 10 miles from here,” said David Gibbons.
“We’ve never seen it so dry and empty,” adds Andrew Jack, a 47-year-old territorial officer who lives about ten miles from Ashton Keynes, which is reached by narrow country lanes interspersed with stone houses.
Between the main street of the village and pretty flower houses, the river bed, spanned by small footbridges, is crisscrossed with cracks over which wasps fly, reminiscent of images of African backwaters in the dry season.
There is no sign of a recovery any time soon: the National Weather Agency issued an orange heat alert for southern England and east Wales on Tuesday between Thursday and Sunday with temperatures of 35 to 36 degrees Celsius.
Local authorities are increasingly calling for water conservation and the London utility has announced forthcoming consumption restrictions, which will add to those already in place in parts of the south of the country.
But David Gibbons refuses to panic. “I’ve lived in England all my life, we’ve had droughts before,” he says. “I think by the fall it will be green again.”
Andrew Jack, who has come with his family to stroll along the creek bed where nothing can be measured on a lonely scale, admits he is more pessimistic: “There are a lot of English people who use +great, let’s think die zeit+ (…) but that means something has changed, and for the worse”.
“Personally, I am concerned that the situation is getting worse. Britain will have to adjust to a warmer climate with more and more summers like this,” he fears.