To Get To The Other Side

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 12, 2019 by cliffdean

(Some months ago we were driving through Winchelsea Beach when, out of nowhere, a hen ran across in front of us. United by a common culture, everyone in the car exclaimed, “Why did it do that??”)

This is nothing about chickens, but about crossing the Rother at extreme low tide. I feel obliged to warn, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME but unless you’ve got a tidal estuary running through you living room you’re unlikely to be tempted.

It does however, like the hike between Cliff End & Rock-a-Nore, require sensible planning and caution.

I’d done this at least ten years ago – feeling intrepid – but on the only subsequent attempt felt the edges were too soft for security. Ten days ago, however, very low tides occurred at convenient times in nice weather so we set out armed with walking poles to Probe The Substrate.

It was a pleasure to encounter at the rivermouth a group of four Common Seals, one of them a pup. A group of Common Seals has lived on the river for several years now, though the bank onto which they haul themselves is not viewable from the west side, Although I’ve seen them up as far as the bridge in Rye, I believe they swim up much further. The seals which come to watch us swimming in the sea are mostly Grey however.

The plan was to arrive at Rye Harbour about 45 minutes early and head out across the sand flats.

A world from which dry land recedes into a thin line on the horizon and the hard sand is varied by constantly varying ripple patterns.

At high tide this spot would lie several metres below the surface, permitting freighters sufficient clearance to enter the harbour. The dark mark at the centre of this horizon is the river mouth.

My Bold Explorer fantasy was undermined by the number of people already far out on the tideline: lug-diggers hauling their trolleys and holidaymakers casually strolling, armed with nothing more expeditionary than a small shrimp-net.

At a certain point the channel splits, flowing straight on in shallow braids while most water angles south, faster and a bit deeper. We crossed just before this point, where a small sandbank marked the division. as you can see the water was not deep though you could feel the sand swept away around your feet by the stronger current.

Quite easy and not that intrepid. I expect there are lots of people who think nothing of it but once the tide turns the channel fills up pretty quickly so while you may not be in peril you might find yourself on the wrong side and due fro a long, long walk back on dry ground.

About a month ago two teenage girls came into the RHNR information cabin to ask how they could get back to Camber. They had waded across at low tide then gone for a walk on the west side before returning to find unless of a sandy beach than a deepening river. They wore only beach shoes, had neither money nor phone so faced an arduous hike up to Rye and back down the other bank.

Perhaps the easiest crossing place is right at the harbour mouth, where the constricted flow scours the river bed down to firm gravel.

While further west the turning tide is marked by Oystercatchers flying east to roost, out here the homeward-bound lug-diggers are the ones to watch as the coast’s very extremities are reclaimed by the sea.

You need to very well informed about the tide times and remain alert to changing conditions. 

In the past, this shallow, wide open bay has provided ideal conditions for landing invasive forces and so is defended by a series military structures. On this day, an historical group had set up an exhibition in a1940 machine gun post to demonstrate how a proposed Nazi landing would be repelled.



Mixed Fortunes

Posted in Uncategorized on July 31, 2019 by cliffdean

Twice a year I, along with thousands of others, complete a BTO Breeding Bird Survey which entails walking two transects, each about 1km long, across a randomly chosen square to count the birds I encounter along them. In 2018 more than 4,000 squares were surveyed across the UK. The results are collated to give a continuing picture of the fortunes of breeding birds across the country and a summary is published each year.

The other morning I wondered how certain noteworthy birds along the way were faring. From my garden, for the first time this year, I could hear a young Buzzard wailing. We all know they’ve increased and, according to the BBS, over the 22 years since it was initiated, they’ve increased in SE England by 1,123%. The report gives figures for the last year, 10 years & 22. For now, I’ll stick to the last – and just for the SE rather than for the UK as a whole.

The Jackdaws on our roof are also part of a successful group – up by 71% – whereas the Magpies, which everyone says are “everywhere” (“What do you think about all these Magpies??“) have increased by just 5%. The Rooks I can hear cawing: -1% – but the House Martins racing round the houses: -58%. 3 Ravens croak past, heading out to the marsh: +50% in England as a whole but in the SE too recent colonists to be measured.

What about birds around the Horseshoe Pond? Coots are holding their own at +2% whereas Moorhens are plummeting by -36%. It’s a bit depressing but then you think about it a bit more and realise it’s Very Depressing.

The first birdI hear – always – when I get out of the car at  Winchelsea Beach are Herring Gulls. Hmm – no data for those, recorded in a different survey. Others always around are Collared Dove & Starling, both down by 3% & 67% respectively. Common birds! Not the famously disappearing species like Turtle Dove (-96%) but dropping away all the same, the first an irrepressible colonist, the second in huge swarms over London when I was young. The House Sparrows chattering around the car park are down by 28% but the Three Musketeers : Robin, Wren & Dunnock have all made modest gains.

Out on the scrub’n’shingle of the Beach Field there are a few slightly out-of-habitat birds. The first is a Coal Tit which has increased very obviously in our area yet regionally is up by a mere 8%; then a Goldcrest, doing well in spite of last year’s Beast From The East at +34% (much more in other regions); Long-tailed Tits seem to be increasing locally but the survey figure is -16%.

Whitethroats are up at +34% whereas Lesser Whitethroats are down by -25% – the names give a false sense of proximity since they have completely different migration routes & wintering areas.

Among the bushes and dead Elders, flocks of Linnet twitter about but these are down by 31% – not as bad as Greenfinch, hard to find having crashed by -64%

In the Wood, a Nuthatch is calling. In the past they have been vagrants here but I’ve heard them the last two visits. They’re now regular in our garden whereas 5 years ago they hardly ever visited. They’re up by +61% along with those other woodland climbers,  Green Woodpecker (+18%) and Great Spotted (+78%). A Stock Dove is pulsing – up at +45% as well as the two woodland warblers: Chiffchaff +60% & Blackcap +113%

However out on the Fairy-ring Field, whose dry pasture is  favourite with Mistle Thrush, there is none to be seen, down by -56%.

At Castle Water are some successes, though not all welcomed: Cormorant +54%, Greylag Goose +111% and Little Egret +2.153%  whereas Egyptian Goose has been around for too little time to feature in the 22-year column but has increased by +73% in just 10 years.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 26, 2019 by cliffdean

As temperature records are broken all across Europe (though luckily, after October 31st, we will have independent weather) the rural bedlam of garden machinery falls silent, the obsessive wielders of mowers, strimmers, hedge-trimmers and jet-washers taking a break from the heat. As the reality of climate change bites or burns, or fries we have new Environment Secretary who is pro-fracking.

In warm early mornings as the jets arrive from Capetown, Nairobi, Addis Adaba and Jeddah, Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers calling high overhead, are leaving. With a daytime onshore breeze I can hear from our garden the laughter of children from the shore half a mile below. We don’t hear children much here; house-prices tend to exclude young families and those that do live here are for the most part locked up in school.

As the holiday season gets under way, notable numbers of A/B/D/F/NL vehicles negotiate our potholed highways, attracted by steadily sinking Sterling and the generous provision of holiday lets which ensure that housing remains unaffordable. Elderly natives don baseball caps and parade about in their elixir-of-youth open-top sports cars.

For the gentlefolk of Pett, the rhythm of life is dictated by tides, the direction over the seawall of figures clad in white bathing-robes indicates flood and ebb. High tide is fine: you launch from painful-to-the-feet shingle. Low tide involves a hike over slippery rocks & moorlog to reach sea so shallow you must walk half a kilometer to reach a swimmable depth. But, thanks to the spread-out roadside parking, the beach is never crowded, the people there are generally sensible and extensive tattoos, though desirable, are not obligatory.

The summertime chorus of Herring Gulls (more on those shortly) is enhanced by the juddering of army helicopters heading for Lydd Ranges which further augment the soundscape with machine-gun fire and house-shuddering detonations, leading, the other evening, to an impressive plume of smoke from a grass-fire “as big as five football pitches”. I was disappointed that this was not expressed as a fraction of the area of Wales though I could estimate that the cloud was a good deal higher than Nelson’s Column, probably St Paul’s Cathedral and possibly The Shard.

As usual, the papers carry silly-season Seagull Stories, my favourite this year being the report from Devon in which, it is alleged, a Seagull carried off  4-year-old Gizmo, a chihuahua, from his in-bits owner’s garden. A BTO gull researcher was consulted to cheerfully confirm that Gizmo could well have been torn to pieces but hope has been restored by a psychic (she previously traced a missing skunk) who has envisioned poor Gizmo “in a garden with a water feature, maybe a pond; he is alive and has a sore eye.” Read about it in Devon Live, where some unkind comments can also be found questioning the story, praising the gull and citing natural selection.

Thoughts and prayers..

I am the proud owner of a Seagull T-shirt from the innovative gift company Present Indicative (to which I was first attracted by a garment featuring Robert Hooke’s engraving of a flea from the revolutionary 1665 “Micrographia”). They declare “Love them or hate them, there’s no escaping the Larus argentatus on a trip to the British seaside. At least this one isn’t going to steal your chips…”

It’s a great design – I just had to have it but I also had to email them to say: Hem-hem… it’s got yellow legs. Identification errors aside, this firm also has issues with sizing. In spite of my lotus-eating life-style a size L remains roomy but in this case even an exchanged XL is a bit snug.

The Dark Side of the Moon Landing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 23, 2019 by cliffdean

Where was I then? Distracted by a dateless diary and now in the middle of Pett Level, among threadbare Curlews & shorn lambs I’ve only just remembered, as a lone Wood Sandpiper calls overhead among the Skylarks. I’ve been reminded by the Sunday “slow radio” about the Moon that the country has been going gaga about the First Moon Landing.

All uncritical adulation and, let’s face it, any anniversary is good to stuff the schedules.

I was in Camberwell. Teaching in a primary school unravelling as the headmistress struggled with the agony of cancer. In her last delirious days, I was told, she hallucinated that she was travelling to the Moon where, some newspaper had wistfully suggested, a cure might be found. By the time we’d have watched the landing on the TV in the school hall (but I can’t recall it) she’d have been dead.

The bus home from work took me through New Cross, where, in the Victorian parade of shops,Woolworth’s was built in a newer style and across the road the facades were pitted by shrapnel where a V2 had struck the store one Saturday lunch-time, killing in an instant 168 people.

V2! Brainchild of SS major Wernher von Braun: designed for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, helpless against the rockets’ silent supersonic arrival; built, housed and prepared by slaves subject to starvation, summary execution and heartless exposure to retaliatory bombing. Fully aware of his work’s criminal nature his American captors, rather than trying him for war crimes, spirited him away as a precious asset, later to be feted as a Hero of Science. All this willfully forgotten in the heady dream of Space Exploration.

Space dreams! In the 50s I was fascinated, like lots of children and adults by the prospect of space travel, long before it became a reality.

Journey Into Space! Dan Dare! I played with plastic toy spacecraft and pored over books outlining the possibilities of exploration, colonization, exploitation. Once the Earth’s resources were exhausted, other planets could be mined. There were ray guns for fighting off the disgruntled natives of the newly visited worlds (their skin colours green or purple this time), or rivals for their wealth.

If the Earth became uninhabitable, other planets could provide refuge – like Noah’s Ark. Underlying these fantasies was the assumption that at some point our own planet would be wrecked, But there would still be plenty of Space.

Moving forward to a time when the Space Race was the civilian face of the Arms Race in which countries without adequate health care or education competed to squander fortunes. Heroic technology, the spearhead of modernity.

The “Blue Marble” photo of 1972 which convinced a few of the uniqueness and preciousness of the Earth while most ploughed ahead with rockets as agents of terrible destruction, culminating in the Mutually Assured Destruction policy of the Thatcher-Reagan years in which, once more, the Earth was seen as dispensable: indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, incinerated cities, wrecked climate, all gambled in the cause of political systems not 200 years old.

That hasn’t gone away. In this stupid country, where wealthy, condescending politicians tell us there’s No Magic Money Tree for health, education, law & order, care of the elderly, protection of the environment etc etc, they all voted through the ruinously costly Trident missile system, designed for mass slaughter. A whole forest of Magic Money Trees drops bountiful fruit in walled orchards.

And India, where nearly half the population lacks a toilet, has joined in the phallic posturing.

But of course it was wonderful. The whole thing’s been a Triumph of the Will Human Spirit. Let’s forget the bad stuff. The sun is shining.

Just get on with it.

The end of quite a few eras

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 14, 2019 by cliffdean

First 3 photos by Dave Rowlands

Just a month ago I wrote a post in which I referred to the vulnerability of the Cliff End cave, speculating that its very, very long existence was soon to be terminated.

I’m sad to say that I was right, for the arch which made it a cave collapsed sometime this week, leaving a ledge still occupied by Fulmars, albeit without a roof over their heads.

I’d been drawing this cave in preparation for a painting which remains unfinished since I had put it to one side while I had a think about it. I’d been reluctant to paint something with such an obvious focal point; it made it too much of a “view” and to be honest there are other sections of rock face more satisfyingly blank (to start off with at least, though they soon start crawling with connections and individuality).


Fulmars‘ shadows sweep across the face of the sandstone.

But in recent times the sandstone had fallen away to leave the cave as an eye in a profile which, as much as it’s uncomfortably picturesque is also appealingly animistic.

Up to a short time before I moved here in the mid-70s, the cave was still accessible until progressive rock-falls ensured its isolation. Its latest occupants have been Fulmars but before that it was the headquarters of a band of renegade racing pigeons until the baleful legacy of post-war DDT wore off. enabling the return of Peregrines, which had been exterminated for fear that they would intercept pigeons bearing, I believe, messages from submarines.

Once the falcons had been dispatched, the military moved in, according to this entry on Pastscape.

“A cave at Cliff End. Four Mesolithic flint blades and part of a flint axe were found within the cave in circa 1900. Exploratory excavations were undertaken in the cave in 1970 by Susanne Palmer. No further artefacts were found among what remained of the cave deposits. The cave has two entrances, one facing the north-east, and the other south-east. The latter was enlarged during the Second World War for defensive purposes (probably a look-out post). “

Those Mesolithic occupants would have lived not by the sea but on an inland hillside with countryside stretching miles to the east before meeting maybe a river. The extent of the cave during those earlier times is open to speculation. Current ideas about the land now lying beneath the waves to the north of this were recently discussed in BBC R4’s In Our Time on “Doggerland”.

I’d be completely absorbed till, warned by the sound of aggressive trickling, I recalled the tide would be sweeping up rapidly through a hollow at the back of the beach while maintaining a pincer-movement wave-upon-wave advance from the usual direction. Smartly packing my rucksack and heading for terrafirma, I’d be chased by bubbling fingers of seawater subdividing between ribs of sand, each probing tendril freighted with fragments of seaweed.

So often I fail to put 2 + 2 together. I’ve known for ages that the tide comes in along the back of the moorlog; I’ve known for ages that the Royal Military Canal once extended beneath the cliffs; I’ve know that its bed could sometimes be seen – even the reed stubble – after scouring storms… Wait, that’s 2 + 2 + at least one… But until I looked back at this smooth avenue of sand I had not realised that the incoming water followed the hollowed route of this defunct military structure.

Thanks for this image to Martin King

World of Hogweed 2019

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6, 2019 by cliffdean

A Pain in the Marsh

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6, 2019 by cliffdean


It was a really nice sunny day. There were vivid stands of Viper’s Bugloss and we saw nearly all the hoped-for Dengemarsh birds: Yellow Wagtail, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Bearded Tit, Hobby and a great view of a Bittern which flew right past us as we stood on the Viewpoint.

But what most of us will remember from last Sunday’s walk will be the negligence of the farmer who had not bothered to clear the public footpath which runs from Lydd to the back of the RSPB reserve. I’ve walked along there plenty of times; it’s a broad track providing a pleasant way across the farmland and indeed on this occasion the first section was busy with Skylarks and families of Yellow Wagtails. However, from the length of the grass it appeared that no-one had walked that way for a while and in a while we found out why.

This photo was taken earlier in the year, before nettles and before the oilseed rape had grown up, so the path was still negotiable.

First there was the “Limbo Dancers’ Bridge”, barred in such a way that only the supplest of ramblers can squeeze between its bars. Some time ago I complained to the very helpful Lydd Town Clerk, who put me onto KCC Rights of Way, who promised it would be attended to this summer. That hasn’t happened yet – I know, Central Government strangling of public spending – and nettles added extra challenge.

But the far side of this was a field of waist-high oilseed rape. If you scan back a couple of posts you can read about our previous experience with this crop. That previous time we were admittedly taking an ill-advised short-cut but on this occasion the path which should have lain before us across a large field was completely blocked with the tangled, waxy stems. We might have turned back had it not been for an apparent path through it, but this soon faded out, leaving us floundering through for hundreds of metres.

Although I requested everyone to scowl their disapproval as on FB “Angry People In Local Newspapers” certain members could not resist smiling…at that point…

Towards the end, when we could see the proper track ahead, the field ran alongside a ditch, where a narrow field margin offered respite even though that was full of nettles and thistles which required careful passage. Stings were inevitable though, and as I ran a final gauntlet of dense nettles, thinking “How much more stung can you get? How much worse can it be?” I heard a commotion behind me and turned to find that one of the group, pushed to the very edge of the ditch, had lost his footing and toppled down sideways into the water.

The water wasn’t too deep, which was fortunate because he’d lost his glasses but managed to retrieve them, but the bank was very steep and though  it took two of us to drag him up, soaked all down one side. Had the victim been older or less agile the consequences could have been much more serious. I’ve run hundreds of these walks now and this was my first accident.

Anyway, I’m glad to say my unfortunate & soggy RXbirdwalker was uninjured and took it in good part, eventually drying out.

What makes me really angry is that it would have taken the farmer just a few minutes to run a tractor along this path to keep it open, but I guess he thought it wasn’t worth it because few people use it. Of course they don’t.

I emailed Lydd Town Council again, from whom I at least got an acknowledgement, and KCC RoW from whom I have heard nothing. Maybe investigating, maybe indifferent.

How much more stung can you get?” Well, for two days it felt as if my legs were a mass of twinkling lights, like a Yayoi Kusama installation or maybe the Westfield Village Christmas Illuminations. After a week, most of the scratches have healed.

Moral: Romney Marsh in summer is a no-go area for walkers.