The end of quite a few eras

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

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