July 20th 1975

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Photo: Tim Waters

“I spent yesterday morning at the Laxfield Fruit & Flower Show (judging the Children’s Art) where I got into the Wonderful World of Village crafts.

I was very intrigued by the behind-the-scenes businesses of growing-for-showing and the criteria by which such things at marrows or custard tarts are judged. What does one look for in a Chelsea Bun, for instance, or a jar of Gooseberry Jam? (Scandal threatened, for one such jar was so very green that colouring was suspected!!)

All that produce seemed to belong to a previous generation – people like my granddad who I remember cycling home from one of his (three) allotments on his old black bike, fork strapped to the cross-bar while from one handlebar dangled a string bag of earthy, sprouting carrots wrapped in the Daily Mirror (scanned for horses only).

The vegetables looked wonderful, only tangentially related to the miserable, scabby roots and midge-plagued leaves for which I’m obliged to pay so much in the shops.  They had plainly been cosseted throughout their short lives by the green and loving fingers of black-waistcoated gentlemen, thus representing the culmination of years of skill and sensibility. (In some ways like the Aztec sacrificial victims who, after a year of unparalleled delights and pampering were offered up to Huitzilopochtli, their hearts uprooted like prize King Edwards.) Ah, the potatoes – they were unbelievable: white, translucent and lustrous, more like polished stones than the encrusted tubers I boil. The runner beans were so tender, so slim and perfectly green, the carrots bright and pellucid and the lettuces still dewy from an early digging on the Great Day.

The trick, it seems, with larger veg such as marrows, is to produce a matching pair, thus outwitting the vagaries of nature. One poor entrant had overlooked the fact that a runner had overlain one of his marrows, shadowing a conspicuous pale streak. This could make all the difference in a close-run contest. And the redcurrants! – were transparent! – you could clearly see the pips suspended within their pulpy red flesh set off brilliantly against the bright green stalks. Whitecurrants too (I’d never seen them before) like pearls or strange rocks from a Bosch landscape.

Photo: Alan Parker

As payment I was treated to a free meal with the other judges in a little back room of the King’s Head by the stream at the end of the churchyard. For the rest, I discovered, this was regular task for which they travelled round different shows consulting little Royal Horticultural Society handbooks  for guidelines on the Judging of Onions etc. (I recall a Brian Rix farce in which a “near-the-knuckle” joke was “My husband used to show ‘is onions each year at the fete”, at which the audience wet themselves.)

could of

There was a “granny” who’d judged the Succulent Fruit Cakes and Sparkling Wines (and seemed all the better for it though she deemed the Peapod wine “putrid”), a well-mannered, well-spoken, thin, elderly gentleman and a young, thickset man from “Akenfield” wearing an “Anglian fuchsia Growers” badge. The elderly gent told me of a show where he’d had to disqualify some cauliflowers because it was completely the wrong time of year. They’d obviously been bought in a shop and “the exhibitor made no complaint so I think we’d hit the nail on the head”. Then there were the pot plants with the nursery label still attached to the base and the shameful practice of unscrupulous villagers buying prize exhibits after the show at inflated prices with the aim of entering them at another show the following week. There’s quite a black-market in the pubs where one might encounter the same cucumber three Saturdays running (oh yes, cucumbers should, ideally, retain their “bloom”; I’d wiped it off one, asking, “Is this dust?”)

The younger man explained to me how he prepared his potatoes for showing: “You wash them with a soft cloth under cold water, dry them, bathe them in milk to give the sheen then set them out, covered with a damp cloth till judging”. Shallots are rotated to display their best side, the tops folded behind and tied neatly round with string before they are arranged on a saucer of sand, heaped in the middle so that each is shown off to its best advantage. All exhibits should, of course, be lain on black velvet (“It’s worth it, just to catch the judge’s eye”).

I wondered how they could, after all that, bear to eat their stuff. It must have a distinctly sacramental feeling: “These are my evenings. Take them, eat, all of you. These are my weekends. Drink.”

Miss Tett, the local Biology Mistress who judged the knitting, enthused at length over a pair of buff socks. When I asked her to open my eyes to their marvels she pointed out the trim yet stretching top, the shaped calf, the perfectly joined toe and the strong double heel, all executed with needles of great fineness. No 13 was it? She also considered sublime a slipover embellished with flecks of gold Lurex which I didn’t much care for but seems to attract old ladies as surely as jackdaws.

One industrious person (must be a man) had submitted a 2ft model of Saxtead Mill, all made of matchsticks. Why do they do it?”

Photo: Tim Waters

…in which I apologise to Winchelsea.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 23, 2017 by cliffdean

Because, like so many lovely places around here, I take it for granted. Too lovely, too clean, too perfect, too historic, falling too easily into the picturesque “chocolate box” tradition of representation. First used – apparently – in 1892, the immediate online  definitions I found for this term were:

“superficially pretty or sentimental”

“something that looks very attractive, but is traditional and boring”

“pretty in a conventional or idealized way”

I don’t find it boring at all, even after many years of acquaintance. Nor do the rat-running drivers who, even on a Sunday, savour the challenge of accelerating round its thirteenth century right-angle bends.

And on a morning like this morning with the sun gleaming from white weather-board and casting deep shadow beneath the great domes of parkland trees, it really is pretty. But I jufte can’t ftoppe myfelfe antiquing uppe defcriptionnef of the Antiente Towne.

Guess what? Beneath the reassuring timelessness of thif traditionalle townfcape (why are images of this sort used on boxes of chocolates?? Both comforting I gueff) all is not so cosy. While it’s not Midsomer Murders there are still the traditionalle frictionf of village life – one caused by unwary outsiders calling it a “village”. There are social schisms, antagonistic factions, dozens of empty second homes (“we love it so much”)…I think I’d better stop there.. When I worked at the school, visitors would say, “What a gorgeous place! What a sweet little school! Surely you can’t have any problems in such marvellous surroundings!” to which I’d reply, “We don’t teach the trees.”

The church at first seemed inanimate, devoid of wildly gyrating Swifts, the only screams coming from motorbikes. But, on a nice morning like this, they were high up in the air – the Swifts that is. Still around, still feeding young deep in the putlogs of the mediaeval walls.

Birdsong right now is much diminished but those that persist evoke memories from the summer-holiday dreamtime: young Buzzards squealing just as we used to hear them as we cycled through Dutch pine forests, or Blackcaps still echoing out of the shadows as they always used to on picnic lunch-breaks as we headed south into France. Then so much mad yelping from Green Woodpeckers that it was hard to work out how many.

I’ve been keeping an eye on a pair of Pied Wagtails which chose to nest within the walls of this isolated sub-station, first alerted by one diving in there to avoid a marauding Sparrowhawk. Today, a juvenile was perching on one of the wires, along with what seemed an unnecessarily premature line of Swallows & Sand Martins (also disturbed by a passing SH – likely the same one but on this occasion already victualled with a victim). The adult was sitting on top of a nearby footpath finger, bearing a Twiglet-sized dragonfly in its beak.

For quite a few years there has been a very pale Buzzard at Winchelsea with a misleadingly pale rump. One if its pristine progeny was on the wing today, brilliant white below but for carpal patches & breast band, grey rather than brown on the upperparts and white rump. Spotless too was a juvenile Little Egret sitting in a sick and yellowing Sycamore by the canal, reassuring since I’d been unable to make out any in the trees although two idle young Herons are still hanging out in a nest there long after they should have left home and embarked on Career Paths. A couple more egrets flew out,  only to drop behind the canal parapet, and two adults and another juvenile came flying along the canal.

It’s puzzling, because I could only see three nests there but in the last few weeks there have been a dozen at Castle Water with more at Harbour Farm and Pett Pools. So are these from some unknown local source or – more likely – newly immigrated from France? The same questions apply to the group of 3 Cattle Egrets, 2 in breeding plumage, seen for just one afternoon last week at an “Undisclosed Site”.

 

Summertime Greens

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 15, 2017 by cliffdean

Following rain, after dew, grassy paths will soak you. Better to choose a an arable route where the tramlines will give a clear path. Up to a point, but the wheat is just long enough to lean over, soaking you all the same and, what’s more, bare claggy soil ensures an accretion of clods on your clumping summer footwear.

Never mind; there’s a Turtle Dove purring as soon as I open the car door at Winchelsea Stn, plenty of Skylarks are still singing, the odd Yellow Wagtail is still in situ and Winchelsea Swifts are hawking overhead.

After  the wheat, dew-beaded peas glisten in the low morning light, are low enough to keep the dew to themselves and bring joy to the hearts of many Woodpigeons which rise from the fields on clattering wings. The bridges are obstructed by vigorous, sprawling brambles which rip at your nice lightweight shirt.

(Note to self: Secateurs in backpack next time.)

Meadow Barley flanking the approach to a footbridge on sheep pasture.

But then some good news: a click from the smooth heads of (what is this crop??) denotes the presence of a Corn Bunting – two in fact and one is carrying food. So they’re still hanging on here as breeders. Then the giant dung heap south of Dairy Cottage has plenty of customers, mostly corvids but also two broods of fashionably grey Pied Wagtail fledglings, a single brilliant male Yellow Wagtail and an attendant flight of Swallows, appreciative of the flies.

At the Rye end, the nesting Herring Gulls on the workshop roof at Jempson’s yard have brown young by now. A worker going off-shift gets shouted at by his boss for lobbing the remains of his sandwiches out for the parents. On the edge of the town gardens, dozens of young Starlings are running about the pastures and…in a hedgerow behind Gibbet’s Marsh,another Turtle Dove is purring – a traditional place but they’re not always calling.

Along Cadborough Cliff the many, many breeding birds have gone quiet: feeding young, keeping a low profile apart from loads of Linnets twittering over the scrub, and there’s a third Turtle Dove at the start of the cliff, where I saw one last time. They’ve gone from ubiquitous to scarce in recent years and are hard to find in the broader countryside but around Rye town there’s still a little relic population.

 

 

Rye Harbour NR Discovery Centre

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 3, 2017 by cliffdean

This is perhaps the biggest wildlife-related project under development in our area! We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now, with Sussex Wildlife Trust staff, architects, engineers, consultants and fund-raisers, to design and build a replacement for Lime Kiln Cottage that will invite, inform and enthuse many more of our incredible 300,000 visitors a year.

Prior to submission of the planning application later this month, we are holding three public consultations over the next fortnight, details of which are below.

Do please come along to learn more about the project and to lend us your support.

https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/get-involved/rye-harbour-discovery-centre/about-the-discovery-centre-project

Tuesday 4 July
2pm – 5.30pm
Rye Harbour Village Hall, Rye Harbour Road, Rye Harbour, Rye, TN31 7T
 
Tuesday 11 July
2pm – 5.30pm
Winchelsea New Hall, Rectory Lane, Winchelsea, TN36 4AA
Thursday 13 July
2pm – 5.30pm
Rye Town Hall, Market Street, Rye, TN31 7LA

 

Hill of Prumes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Looks boring, doesn’t it? Nobody goes there. In other words the quintessential venue for an RXbirdwalk. Broomhill; where’s the hill, where’s the broom? Though the latter might once have grown here, a hill is hard to imagine let alone a bustling fishing port – which it was until 1287. According to Judith Glover’s “Sussex Place Names” the earliest version of the name, dating from the late 12th century, is Prumhelle, from Prume-hyll “Plum-tree Hill” – but using an unusual dialect word rather than the South Saxon plume. That’s got that cleared up, but still no sign of a hill, let alone plum trees.

I guess the hill could have been a tall shingle bank, since truncated by the 1287 storm among others. On the soil map below you can see the settlement’s position on a spur to the south of the great (yellow) sweep of the Wainway. The remaining farm buildings and an abandoned cottage are perched on the pink band of shingle to the right.

The plan for this RXbirdwalk was to see breeding Yellow Wagtails, restricted in Sussex to this eastern extremity. Though weather mid-week suggested we’d run the risk of heat-stroke the morning itself dawned gloomy and windy, though the rain held off till midday. I usually have a look at the beach to add a few gulls & waders to the list but on this occasion all birds had been cleared out by massed kite-surfers thrashing through the grey summer waves.

This & other bird photos by Peter Matthews

There were indeed loads of  Yellow Wagtails and loads of Reed Buntings too, though the former favoured wheat and the latter oilseed rape. Last year the YWs were in the same location among beans, leading me to mistakenly assume that the crop was the significant factor whereas I now suspect it’s something to do with the soil since nearly all wagtails were situated between the former seawalls (now ploughed out) in the soil map below. As much as I love this map’s pretty colours and historic boundaries I can’t claim to understand much about the soil, I’m sorry to say.

These RSPB articles on their Breeding Ecology and Advice to Farmers are informative

While we were differentiating males, females and juveniles, a strikingly different male popped up then vanished again. It had a blue head – like the continental subspecies but of a pale blue-grey hue and with a white supercilium, suggesting the hybrid “Channel Wagtail” but I just didn’t get a good enough view.

There were plenty of other birds around, including Skylarks, Linnets & a pair of Corn Buntings as well as big crowds of House Sparrows & Starlings commuting between the interwar bungalows of Jury’s Gap and the fragrant sewage works. In the background, a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. There were, of course, no other people around apart from two horse-riders and a distant dog-walker.

Just to the east of this chainlink fence, below the crops, below the soil, lie the remains of Broomhill’s church whose skeleton still stood into the early 16th century though flooded centuries before.

Beside Jury’s Gut loafed a few moulting Mallards in company with a small, dark duck with a clearly yellow bill. In size, shape and flight appearance it resembled a teal of some sort and upon reference to some more expert observers turned out to be – wait for it – a Yellow-billed Teal which now seems to be regarded as a geographical race of Speckled Teal, a South American species escaped from a collection.

As we approached the Kent Pen Wall, a Cuckoo flew over us then while we had a look along the sheltered and scrubby north side of the bank for Whitethroats & Linnets I took notice of the tree species for the first time. Beside two species of Willow, a hunched Oak and a fluttering White Poplar I was surprised to see a fruit tree – bearing, in fact, unripe…plums! Hardly possible it could remain from Prume hyll days, perhaps planted as an historical reference or jettisoned from a picnic. Strange coincidence though. Further along was a flowering Privet.

A further revelation came as we continued westward into the wind and towards Corn Bunting song. An isolated pond fits neatly, on the map,  into the vanished repair loop on a lost seawall; an ancient scour pool now tranquil enough but a relic of drama, danger and fortitude from the past.

Over-exposed

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 27, 2017 by cliffdean

Last Friday – a 6 mile walk from Berwick to Berwick via Firle Beacon, Bo-peep & Alciston, looking for chalkland plants & maybe a few farmland birds.

Nice and sunny with interesting flowers & Marbled Whites on the scarp but once (panting) on top it was monocultured and windy.

Swift calls over Berwick Church but none to be seen – for they came from a lure set in the tower, part of a scheme to encourage these fabulous birds to nest there. The local school or maybe Sunday school has been involved, to judge from the streamlined cut-outs embellishing the Bloomsburied interior.  Good luck to them all; at our end of the county we still have several pairs putting on a breathtaking display around the ruined arches of St Thomas’ Winchelsea.

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS IMAGES OF THE SOUTH DOWNS.

Yes, beautiful. Yes, inspiring. Yes, over-represented and misrepresented. I recently had the misfortune to see a film called “South Downs – England’s Mountains Green” which featured a pretentious vicar striding through deserted landscapes (drone-filmed in early morning to keep the shadows gorgeous and the people out). Whenever I go to the Downs there are plenty of people walking, running, cycling, riding horses or flinging themselves into the air, in addition to those attending livestock, ploughing or driving in fence-posts.

This film was in the timeless/changeless/unspoilt/ vein, as oblivious to ideological battles over farming & conservation as it was to the busy coastal conurbations that flank the chalk ridge. Not only do they feel obliged to perpetuate this consoling myth but they have to find a Character to front the whole charade – in this case a wholly unconvincing Celebrity Christian called Peter Owen-Jones. I’d never heard of him, luckily missed him, but soon discovered he’s a media darling. A refreshing dose of realism can however be found on Mumsnet discussions which include reassuringly (not just me, then) sober comments such as:

“And also kind of naff, with his cuban heels and his slightly dirty FE lecturer circa 1986 clothing.”

“On the contrary, I think he’s a bit of an arse. And, frankly, a heretic. <lights pyre>”

“Sometimes I think he looks like a weird old woman, other time surprisingly fit in a sincere-but-silly kind of way.”

I’m fed up with the cliché of “unchanging landscapes”. At Wadi Rum, for instance, absolutely nothing happens day upon day, year upon year  (apart from the 4x4s full of Europeans wearing Arab headdress and chucking out litter) and then you find rock drawings of all the animals that once lived here – when there was still vegetation.

I’ve just spent a few days with good friends in the Lake District – Unchanging By Popular Demand of holidaymaking Wainwrighters who insist on sterile fells inhabited only by Meadow Pipits (alright then, the occasional Skylark or Wren). I’m with George Monbiot on this one: its Romantic cultural heritage has the area in a stranglehold.

And as for over-exposed – My God, the paintings, the poetry, the novels, the guides, the sculptures of Herdwick sheep, the artful photos of fells, reflective water and dry-stone walls with never a military jet nor a traffic jam to be seen… Yes, it’s beautiful, yes, it’s inspirational, it’s moody too and features a number of steep slopes leading up small hills traversed by retirees with rucksacks and walking poles.

‘This wonderful film captures the great British countryside in all its glory.’ Daily Mail

But as much as the Lakes are filtered through an early 19th century lens, I have to confess to seeing the South Downs through a Raviliousian framework. I’m cautious about it though.

What about the wildlife? Oh, I don’t know. I’ve forgotten. The usual stuff. The flowers I have to relearn every year or whose names resurface slowly in the Lava Lamp Of Recall.

I do recommend the “Cricketers Arms” however, which is changeless. Apart from the prices.

A Symbolic And Meaningful Photograph.

TQ91D

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 23, 2017 by cliffdean

6am in hazy heat. Herring Gulls guard the Strand Gate as the first speeding commuters race towards its blind bend. Song Thrushes & Blackcaps in the trees, shrill Swifts dash round the church. I can’t understand why they don’t attract a regular audience since the few other local Swift colonies are in bigger towns where it’s harder to keep track of them without wandering into the path of traffic. In Winchelsea though, the graveyard provides comfortable benches and shady trees as well as longer-term accommodation.

This nice view from The Strand comes courtesy of a high-speed motorist who failed, a month ago, to take the right=angle bend and cleared a gap through the hedge. This came shortly after another car had left Rye Harbour Road at a velocity sufficient to punch a Desperate Dan style hole in the brick wall opposite.

A week or so later, another optimistic driver failed to take the riverine curves of Sea Road and ploughed into Sutton’s fish shop, demolishing one corner which remains propped up to this day though still doing business in a Blitz-style “More Open Than Usual” spirit. And then, during that brief, intense rain-storm, another vehicle doing the customary 70mph into a thirty limit at Pett Level aquaplaned into a car parked at the road side, destroying it. For some time now there has been no control of speeding on rural roads. In a cynical’ money-saving move, this life-saving function was handed over to “Big Society” groups of local Speedwatch activists who were duped into unpaid monitoring of local traffic yet were legally toothless – a fact soon realised by motorists and rather more slowly by the volunteers, who now concede it was a waste of time, benefitting only politicians who could claim that something was being done when it wasn’t.

Back to the nice stuff: poppies which have escaped the herbicide spray.

But who wants to know about that? We want the countryside to be lovely, “timeless”, “untouched” etc (incredibly, a recent Facebook comment described the Combe Valley as “untouched”, demonstrating with shocking clarity the naive way in which the landscape is perceived).

Birds then. Relaxing birds. Cetti’s Warblers again; out of five sites recorded in recent months, birds calling from just tow. Kingfisher! In the same place as last month yet the habitat just there includes only The Wrong Kind of Bank so the nest site may be on the Brede – just a minute for a hurtling sapphire (as long as it doesn’t cross paths with a hurtling car en route). Skylarks! not only out towards Winchelsea Beach but, for the first time I can hear those singing on Rye Marsh from streets at the very heart of the Antient Towne.  Herons! Fluffy-headed young still in nests when really by now they should have left home and got a job rather than hanging out with the Egrets. Reed Warblers! All along the Canal – if only Napoleon had foreseen the environmental benefits he would bring to our area…

Litter courtesy of a weekend home.

Little Owl! Pinpointed among the Little-Owl-coloured branches of the same old twisty-limbed Oak thanks to a cursing Song Thrush.