To Get To The Other Side

(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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: