…in which I apologise to Winchelsea.

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”.



2 Responses to “…in which I apologise to Winchelsea.”

  1. Paul Fletcher (Paz) Says:

    Yes, easy to take for granted – but the last week has reminded me what a glorious area I was brought up in. Some highlights: the stained glass in Winchelsea drawing gasps from the in-laws; the whirring clock in Rye church and the hummingbird hawk batting round the tower; the kids hurtling across shingle after clouded yellows; a balmy evening stroll along the beach with the streak of a Perseid and the cry of a sandwich tern; and paths, paths I’d never explored before across and landscape familiar but ever new…

    • Good to hear from you Paul; sorry to have missed you. A corrective to my over-familiarity has also come recently in comments from visitors to the Info Centre at Rye Harbour: “What a fabulous place!! We didn’t realise it was was like this. We’ve decided to stay in the area rather than move on.” Etc.
      But my sharpest reminder came a few years ago when, to begin a walk down the Rother, I led a group up through Rye. One of the participants suddenly exclaimed, “What a beautiful street!”
      I looked up. “Oh, yes…it’s Mermaid Street. Haven’t you seen it before?” I hadn’t even noticed where we were.

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