Wartime crash site

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 28, 2016 by cliffdean

IMG_3791A painting of Hamilton’s aircraft by Alex Hamilton (no relation)

For some time I’ve been engaged in a project to install a memorial stone in memory of Harry Hamilton, a young Canadian pilot who met his death when his Hurricane crashed near Camber Castle. For many years, the site has been marked by a clump of Oaks – there are no others in that area – but most visitors don’t notice them and there’s nothing to say why they are there.

Well, this project is approaching fruition since a suitable stone (once part of Smeaton’s Harbour) has been donated by the Environment Agency and is about to have an inscription carved.


Along the way, many kind people have come to our aid with information, suggestions and contacts. I recounted their contributions in the most recent Friends of Rye Harbour NR Newsletter, since when even more have appeared on the scene. The latest, just today, has been Peter Mackenzie Smith who has compiled a fascinating timeline of the Second World War around Rye. He has most kindly given me permission to reproduce it on this blog – look for it among the Pages on the right hand side of the screen.

In it, he details many more crash sites in the immediate area. Where personnel are named, some of their details can be found here.

Peter leads “A Walk Through WWII Rye” for the Rye Arts Festival on September 18th & 24th. Only a few tickets left when I wrote this!

Too warm, too busy

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2016 by cliffdean


…hence no recent posts. Life’s Rich Pageant + weather not at all conducive to sitting indoors at the computer. More conducive by far to sitting in the garden where up to 36 species in a day, in or over, including Hobby, Whimbrel, Grey & Yellow Wagtails & Spotted Flycatcher.


The week began at Pett Level with diggers massed on the seawall awaiting transport by barge to Fairlight Cove where they are now engaged in the construction of a third bund which will connect the two already present in an expensive attempt to prevent the loss of cliff-edge houses. A rumbling and clunking comes from round that corner as granite boulders are deployed at the base of the cliffs and, as we swim each day at hight tide, a tug is towing the rock-barge out to a safe depth before it should founder on the ebb tide.

White is the colour on the high-tide shingle as citizens of Toot Rock swan over the seawall in their gleaming white bathing robes while a groyne further along is decked with the shirts of Orthodox Jewish boys who are wading into the shallows.

Earlier in the week, from the garden, I noticed a coastguard helicopter hovering over Camber, learning only later that it was attending an incident in which five young men from London had come down for a fun day on the beach but ended up drowned, their parents back at home carrying on a normal day unaware of what was unfolding.



From the wall, the latest, ever-bigger Grandiose Designs can be admired with gasps of envy. This one is on Chick Hill, where it replaces a humble bungalow called Rudyards. Behind the wall, another little place called Stella Maris has been replaced with yet another plus-size box now called By The Sea, new owners perhaps wanting to distance themselves from the names Catholic resonance.


At Old Marsham, cattle occupying a field of mown rushes attract a flock of c25 Yellow Wagtails; more pass overhead, accompanied by the occasional Grey.


During the first Slow But Sure coastal walk for quite a while, on sunny but very windy Monday, we scraped 80 species which is not great for this time of year. Excuses were that the wind kept kept the warblers down in cover while bright sunshine silhouetted distant waders. We didn’t – can you believe this? – see a Blue Tit, which must constitute the Bird Of Most Extreme Shamefulness Ever.


At Dogs Hill a Dutch family reminds me of nice house-exchange holidays we spent in the Netherlands when our children were little. Arriving from the Rye direction along the cyclable concrete road they have gained the mistaken impression that this country is as civilized as theirs but are now pausing to absorb the fact that the path aheadwill shortly run out delivering them into the meat-grinder of reckless 70mph traffic along Pett Level. (Sadder but wiser, they turned back.)


Along at Winchelsea Beach, paths through the Beach Field are being constricted and displaced by the progressive spread of Blackthorn, unchallenged, it would seem, by walkers who instead now avoid the place leaving plump blackberries unpicked.




By the Fairy-ring Field we reached the bleached world of bone-white Crested Dog’s-tail, so dazzling with the sun behind you that the camera shuts down to make the sky & trees darker than they really are. If you look against the light, however, the same grass is golden ochre.


The season is pretty much over along Cadborough Cliff, with just a few Whitethroats & Linnets remaining but it’s a nice walk all the same, this time undertaken  daringly anti-clockwise.


The most interesting bird/birds however was/were Turtle Dove/s which I saw four times: once in the usual place at the north end where one flew off in Rye direction, again midway when one flew west and then twice around the junction with Station Road. This now, tragically, seems to be the only place locally where you have a good chance of seeing and hearing a bird which, twenty years ago, was common.


Phragmites, a common, wildlife-rich, reed, highly responsive to air and light, is in one of its most characteristic phases, adorned with glossy purple seed-heads.Half of Rye Marsh, so recently full of birds, has changed hands to become a maize monoculture. In the breeze, the reeds to one side hiss while to the other rattle broader leaves of corn .





Migrant Watch

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 5, 2016 by cliffdean

I got a phone call this morning from a young woman working for Ferrari News Agency. She had tracked me down from this blog, it would appear, as someone who – yes – watched birds at Pett Level. She wanted to know whether I’d seen anything “interesting” on Sunday.

I could have kept her for some time while I discussed the breeding success of Pochards (3 broods at Pett Pools this year; still a very rare breeder in Sussex) but I already had an idea that this was not what she was after. Had I, she clarified, seen any migrants? Once again I could have told her about Willow Warblers or Sand Martins but I’d been forewarned by my wife and then by another birding friend who’d had similar calls.

“You’re not interested in birds are you? You’re talking about human migrants”. I’m still not sure why she had to go about it in such a roundabout way.

It was already in the newspapers: five Iranians had landed on Sunday in full view of public and waiting police and paramedics. A Border Patrol cutter was attending close inshore. I wasn’t there.

Since the news – unappetisingly sparse – was already a day old, it was plain that she was trying to pad out these few facts with a bit of drama in order to fuel the reprehensible current anti-immigrant hysteria. I told her how friendly & hospitable I’d found ordinary Iranians and how ashamed I feel at this country’s antagonism towards people in desperate need. Yes, as a tourist Iran feels very friendly on the street , but read the Amnesty International report and you’ll see that there are very good reasons why some people would want or need to get away.

I went on in this vein for a while. When I paused for breath she asked, undeterred, “Do you know any other birdwatchers who might have seen something interesting, some migrants?”

My wife returned home to report that she’d earlier taken yet another call from Ferrari, this time enquiring whether she had been “frightened” about this arrival. Not at all, she told them. Was she not “worried” by the thought of these “strange people” being around? This is a holiday area, she explained, in summer it’s full of “strange people”. (I’d have added that most of them live here.) The most worrying thing, she added, was these poor people were desperate enough to make such perilous crossings.

………Well, did she know anyone else who was “worried”?


It was plain that they had invented a story but just needed a couple of names to give it a smear of credibility. They obviously like the idea of immigrants being spotted by birdwatchers, those guardians of the coast who stand between cowering coastal communities and the famous “swarms”. It might have a bit of Ealing Comedy, a bit of “Tawny Pipit” charm. But if you click on the link to Ferrari, you’ll see that the papers they work for and some people who’ve worked there, give the enterprise less of a warm-hearted glow.

Maybe they’ll go with it anyway: PLUCKY TWITCHERS NET TERROR BOAT perhaps.

1966: the true story

Posted in Uncategorized on August 1, 2016 by cliffdean

I watched a documentary on TV last night which represented the World Cup as the pivotal moment in 1966. This was not the case for me, football interesting me then as much as it does now. The lie of “the whole nation glued to the TV set” does persist however, since it offers the illusion of national unity whereas many people around at that time will recall that fissures were opening up in the social fabric, more significant and much more exciting .

It was the year I left school, hitch-hiked to the South of France, returned to art college, made life-long friends, dropped out.

Though my purple-blazered Sidcup grammar school had liberalized its uniform to the extent of permitting “sports jackets” I was still the target of vigilante sports masters who’d grip my arm, enquiring (in a Welsh accent of course), “What’s this pink shirt, Dean??” “Ah, aagh… it’s a pink shirt sir.”

I took refuge in the art room under the protective wing of the most intellectually stimulating teacher in the school, Stan Simmonds, and in the company of friends with whom I shared a sense of humour and the need to escape.

Escape came most locally in the form of sorties to the shady trees and lakeside of The Glade, an adjacent park, but as another dead hand – that of A level revision – began to grip us we slipped out after registration to one of the main roads diverging from the south-eastern suburbs and hitched down to the coast: Whitstable… Cooden (Cooden?? Well that’s hitch-hiking for you).

Weekends were split between London on Saturdays and bird-watching on Sundays (Cray & Darenth Valleys, North Kent). London was Soho, Chelsea, Portobello Road,  Tate, National, Whitechapel Galleries, independent places in Bond St and of course Robert Fraser, where we got an official afternoon off school to see the first Claes Oldenburg show. Fraser talked to me too; he said, “Please don’t touch the artworks.”

The art scene was exciting: Pop Art! Op Art! though the allegedly Swinging aspect of the capital passed me by. The nearest I got was Antonioni’s “Blow-up” though the film which really inspired me was Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou”. Even now it looks audacious.

One day in Soho I bumped into a couple of girls from my sister’s class. They told me they’d got a spare ticket for a talk at Better Books, a radical shop in Charing Cross Road; would I like to join them? The event was about this fascinating stuff called LSD. It was illustrated with slides of paintings made while under the influence which, as I recall, were very dull compared with the kind of Disraeli Gears cliché coming out a year later. When I told my mum about it she cried. She could see I was interested, she said, (an understatement, if only she knew) and I’d end in the gutter. (There’s still time.)

I can’t recall anything about the birds though. If I could locate my old notebooks I’m sure it would all come back but I suspect they’re in the attic somewhere, along with bags and bags of letters from long-distance girlfriends. Which is another subject.

At Easter I hitched to Paris with one of those girls. Standing in a long line of hopefuls in the industrial port of Calais, we were astonished when a Rolls-Royce stopped for us. Honestly. It was driven by an elderly Swiss gentleman who dropped us off in Pigalle where there was a hostel. Profiting, I thought, from the novel availability of red wine & Camembert I consumed too much of both & was sick over my bunk. A day or so later we went to see Screaming Lord Sutch in an all-nighter at the Locomotive, where this long-distance girlfriend put an even greater distance between us upon meeting a nice French boy. So I hitched home alone.

Maybe it was just before that I saw The Who for the first time. It was the weekend that “Substitute” came out and the group were featured on the cover of the Observer magazine with Pete Townsend in his subversive Union Jacket. They played on a Sunday afternoon in the basement of a Victorian house in St Mary Cray. Honestly. It was called the Iron Curtain Club. They turned up an hour late. Speakers were stacked to the ceiling. Feeble cheers greeting the group as they came on stage were the last you could hear of the audience for an hour or so. A day later my ears were still ringing. About fifty years later, however, I can still hear Goldcrests. Another unusual music venue we frequented was Chislehurst Caves where I saw The Yardbirds & Julie Driscoll.

In the summer, having put Chaucer, To The Lighthouse & The Winter’s Tale behind me, I worked for the council Parks Dept. They’d set me at one end of a privet hedge with a pair of shears and maybe a step-ladder and leave me to it. (It would appear that this supposedly famous football match took place during this period.) I spent much of the day reading or chatting to passers-by, especially foreign students who included fabulously stylish and beautiful girls from Nice or Casablanca.. In the following years I noticed that most of those hedges had vanished.

After work on Thursday August 25th, my friend Mick Flight & I hitched  to see The Who again, this time at Dreamland in Margate. (A Thursday!) Somewhere into E Kent we were picked up by a Jaguar Mk10. Honestly. (Most hitch-hiking, I have to point out, was not like this, much of the day hanging about at miserable roundabouts having slogged through miserable suburbs to reach them.) I think the driver wanted to impress us and for that reason was pulled over by the police as we entered the town (at speed). While he was having his Particulars Taken, we hung about on the pavement, attracting the attention of one of the officers who enquired, rhetorically I’m sure, whether we we members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The long cut of our hair (that voice again: Dean, I can’t help notic-ing that your hair is touch-ing your coll-ar.”) should have provided the short cut to his answer but his point was that we were both wearing army uniforms. So far, in what I intended to be a brief sweep across that busy year, I’ve failed to mention fashion (Carnaby St, King’s Road, Biba, Palisades, Mary Quant, Courrèges…) but by that summer shops like “I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet” were selling not only khaki stuff but also splendid ceremonial garb.

I’d bought a beautifully tailored Marines jacket from Chelsea Antiques Market, quickly cutting off the tawdry bit of scarlet stuff they’d stitched round the collar. It upset my dad and it upset the policeman who invited us back to the station where he indicated our crimes in a very thick book. After some discussion he conceded that, since we bore no insignias of rank nor were masquerading as soldiers we were free to leave albeit beneath a dark cloud of disapproval.

The support band were called “The Gaylords”. The Who were as exciting as ever though I was disappointed to notice that, for the “My Generation” finale, Pete T swapped his guitar for a junk-shop specimen. Mick slept on the sofa of a nurse called Gloria while I hitched back through the night.

Within a week I realized that A Level French had not prepared me to communicate with French-speaking people. Heat, cicadas, new smells, long banlieues on the way out to vacant lunch-time rond-points, then I arrived at night in an out-of-the-way hostel at Cassis. Next morning, completely unexpected: dazzling white limestone and brilliant blue sea.

Which is one of the reasons my art college career was rather brief. But I haven’t got to that yet.


Entrancing Bulverhythe

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 28, 2016 by cliffdean

P1280375Beneath all this there is an ancient estuary. Beneath the road, the houses and the light, back-street industry, a deep layer of prehistoric peat.



Adventures in Edgelandia: a glorious show of notifiable Common Ragwort. Horse owners get very anxious about it but in this case less so. Horses ignore Ragwort in its living state but get poisoned when it’s (unintentionally) fed to them dried in hay.



Adventures in Shedlandia #1





Dangerous rocks.


Vagabond seaside species line the chainlink railside fence: yellow-horned poppy, sea kale, viper’s bugloss, teasel, knapweed, hemp agrimony…






The golden ochre of the iron-rich cliffs


More dangerous rocks #1


#2…or it could illustrate a fly-tipper flinging bin-bags full of rubbish onto the beach.

I appreciate the thoughtful application of lower case.


I’ve passed many times without noticing this geometric platform. It looks the size & shape to be the base of a pill-box….


…though the brick superstructure looks a bit flimsy. Maybe it was a little sea-side kiosk.


But no – I was right. It doesn’t seem that long since I walked along here but I’ve not previously seen this informative interpretation panel. Spike Milligan, it records, kept watch here.


Two architectural traditions, one from the ancient Asian steppe, the other from early 20th century Europe.



Gulls were clustered below the Cafe on the Beach, apparently feeding but upon investigation I discovered they were actually drinking fresh water from a spring in the shingle. Could this be the last vestige of the steam, now wholeheartedly concretized, that originally through from the eponymous Gap?


It’s clear enough and there are no others but it doesn’t show on Google maps which, however, offer a compensatory delight in the green ghost of a dismantled funfair.

Screenshot 2016-07-29 20.17.44



A week on the beach

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 25, 2016 by cliffdean


Photo by James Tomlinson

For five mornings I’ve been at Cliff End where events have been spare yet varied. A constant has been the soundtrack of Peregrines & Fulmars.

Mon 18th: see previous post (the only other person was a distant lug-digger)


Tues 19th: very still again; Calls of Curlews & Oystercatchers bounce off the sandstone face.


Bridget Riley ripples (which have changed completely since).


Someone has been doing lo stonebalancing, though the flatness of the slabs dictates entry-level skills

It’s still still, today the only other person a photographer searching for a subject; shingle crunches and his tripod clicks as he moves about.

Tiny taps and clatters denote the unprovoked crumbling of the cliff-face. There are some very, very big slabs which could go – just as unprovoked – at any time.

Wed 20th: the rubbish in this skip, resulting from work on a nearby property, contains sandstone slabs which should never have been taken from the SSSI beach and should now be returned there rather than transported, together with hunks of concrete & picnickers;’ discarded barbecues to he tip. The darker lump towards the top of the heap is a bit of Bone Bed.



The stone columns have been dismantled. From a tiny tent in the cove there eventually emerge one young couple and one large dog.


Binocular inspection of the cliff-top collapsed bungalow reveals that the flowers which flank it are not garden relics but Common Mallow and Tufted Vetch.

Thurs 21st: it’s distractingly windy: plastic bags bowl along the beach.


For the first time, Although I’ve used this beach path on hundreds of occasions, I notice that it is festooned with Old Man’s Beard supported by Dogwood, both chalk-loving plants. Perhaps this old seawall is built of chalk like the …er…Chalk Curve at Rye Harbour.



The SSSI beach is not only plundered for idiosyncratic building materials but is used as a dumping ground for garden rubbish. Spilling down the cliff-face you can see the invasive alien Hottentot Fig.


The more you look, the more you notice the distinctive character of each section of the cliff, particularly in the contrast between (the very few) older parts, rounded and stained, and the bright, fresh parts where material has recently fallen away.


Pied, Grey & Yellow Wagtails call as they pass overhead.

Fri 22nd: breezy. A research group from Historic England are using a drone to survey the moorlog. After a while, a figure appears scrambling down the landslip to loudly object that the machine’s whining interferes with his work.


Each day, since low tide is later, the sun is further south in the sky and throws a more raking, more revealing light across the sandstone. I’m so absorbed that only the sound of trickling rivulets alerts me to the tendrils of tidal surge beginning to surround me. A hasty retreat is required.

Sat 23rd: Still again, so much so that thick fog delays the day’s proceedings. the hi-vis jerkins of Historic England busy are their again though today sans drone.

In the stillness, the voices of foreign builders carry across the sand from the cabin where they’re busy among the Californian conifers. Worlds in Collision gets more extreme as growling Fulmars glide close to a piping Nuthatch.

Twice, for no clear reason, rocks crash down onto the shingle. Not huge, but enough to kill you if you’re stupid enough to walk right beneath the cliff-face. And several people are.




Rock face

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 18, 2016 by cliffdean

The last couple of mornings have been warm and very, very still.

Apart from the lapping of low-tide waves, the only background sound this morning was the bass throb of passing vessels, vast and invisible.


At the top of this photo you might be able to make out some rectangular blocks. These are the remains of one of many cabins and bungalows installed here in the interwar years when the cliff-line extended further seawards and sloped gently downwards towards the beach behind the Boat House. In the photo below you can just about see that beleaguered garden plants are also hanging on.




I’d been interested by Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of rock faces in the New Mexico desert on show at the Tate Modern.


Foreground sounds were dominated by the harsh keening of a family of Peregrines which fluttered from one salt-blasted oak to another.



Though Fulmars carved faultless arcs, their shadows followed in jagged and bounding steps across the fissured sandstone till reunited on the nest ledges.  A Jay squawks in the woodland above, just feet away yet occupying a separate world.




Sea Kale


Rock Samphire



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