RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Discovering the heritage of the mill pond

TODAY Burton mill pond is a serene mirror to the sky, reflecting summer blue and shining sun.

400 years ago it made its own sun which struck the waters with gold and ruby lightning and lit up the night sky for miles around. It was then a bloomery, one of a hundred forges in the south east of England.

The water that sprung from Duncton’s hills was dammed, and through a sluice drove the bellows which melted ore into a running trickle of white hot iron which splashed and spluttered and sent sparks in fountains to the sky. From the flues of charcoal pyres blue flames flickered like will-o-the-wisps across the marshy land.

When iron was drawn and moulded into sheet, the lever hammers driven by cams revolving on their axles would thump throughout the days as men laboured to make the blades and hooks, the bolts and wheels that serviced the industries of war, farm, and home.

There is now no hint of past technology, save the dam on which the road now runs, or the occasional green glass clinker still lying in the ground from the furnace fires. Today little egrets fish here with herons and kingfishers. Grey wagtails skip and bob around the lake and build their nests under the sloping banks. Otters used to whistle in the moonlight to call their mates after they had surfaced from the depths with tench or rudd, and as they played by sliding down the banks.

Anglers hunt with rod and line, longing for the tug of a record carp which they can hold like a baby in their arms, and treasure the photograph for ever before slipping the giant back beneath the surface to its nether, unseen world of mystery.

On still summer nights, carp suck the surface of the lake with smacky kisses which set the pulse of anglers racing. Each female has a million eggs to fertilize and the males follow her coquettish swirls and turns among the frondant weeds below.

No wonder monasteries of old had them in their ponds. Any day soon ospreys will arrive from Scotland or Norway and live up to their names of fish- hawks as they replace muscle and fat for a few days in Sussex before that epic journey down to the west coast of Africa.

They have been known to make the journey in only 24 hours. Around the swampy edges of the carr-woodland as you traverse this week’s walk, you may see some of the 23 species of dragonfly known to inhabit the lake. Darters, demoiselles, damselflies, chasers, skimmers and hawkers rustle their gauzy wings in the summer heat.

There are 250 different species of wild flowers and water weeds here, that include the yellow sun faces of fleawort, the blue whorled globes of water mint and the spears of reed mace that stand as upright as Roman spears.

This Kiplingesque haunt has the memories too of Celts and Saxons, Tudors and Elizabethans, and the strange midnight kisses of those monsters in the deeps.