The dry grass path runs along a small valley. Soon a dusty basin takes shape, sheltered by a curtain of trees, strewn with branches, without the slightest trace of humidity. It is, however, the source of the Thames.
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A now theoretical source: for kilometers downstream, the course of this emblematic river of the United Kingdom can be summed up at best in a few muddy puddles, a striking shortcut from the drought which overwhelms a large part 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 walk the “Thames Path”, a marked path that follows the winding course of the river, from its source to its estuary. .
“It’s completely dry. There are puddles, mud, but no water flowing so far, we hope to find the Thames downstream, but so far it has disappeared”, testifies this holidaymaker, met by AFP in the village of Ashton Keynes, a few miles from the source.
It is in this picturesque region at the foot of the Cotswold hills, not far from Wales, that the river rises from an outcrop of the water table, before meandering for some 350 kilometers towards the North Sea, watering the pass the British capital.
But for those who would usually liken the English countryside to a golf course, the shock is severe in this summer, after a winter and a spring almost unprecedented since rainfall records have been available.
“It looks like we’re walking through the African savannah, it’s so dry,” exclaims David Gibbons, a 60-year-old retiree who, with his wife and a couple of friends, is taking the opposite route to Michael in stages. Sanders, from the mouth to the source.
A few hundred meters from the goal, he marvels at the wildlife encountered on his way up the waterway which, from a strategic and industrial navigable artery in the London region, is transformed upstream into a tourist attraction, between river pleasure and observation of the avifauna.
“But for the last two or three days, we haven’t seen any animals because there is no water. She disappeared about 10 miles (16 km, Ed) from here,” according to David Gibbons.
“We’ve never seen it so dry and empty,” adds Andrew Jack, a 47-year-old territorial officer living about fifteen kilometers from Ashton Keynes, which is reached by narrow country roads punctuated by stone houses of cut.
Between the main street of the village and pretty flowered buildings, the bed of the river, spanned by small footbridges, is streaked with cracks flown over by wasps, recalling images of African backwaters in the dry season.
No immediate respite in sight: The National Weather Agency issued an orange heat alert for southern England and east Wales on Tuesday between Thursday and Sunday, with temperatures reaching 35 to 36 degrees Celsius.
Local authorities are increasing calls to save water, and the company supplying London has announced forthcoming restrictions on consumption, which will be added to those already in force in part 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 it will be green again by the fall.”
Andrew Jack, who has come with his family to take a walk along the bed of the stream where a solitary graduated scale has nothing left to measure, admits to being more pessimistic: “There are a lot of English people who think +great, let’s take advantage time+ (…) but that means that something has changed, and for the worse”.
“Personally, I am worried to see the situation worsen. The UK will have to adapt to a warmer climate, with more and more summers like this,” he fears.