The Occasional Adventure

Most RXbirdwalks are pretty straightforward outings, avoiding tricky terrain, too many steep slopes, unruly livestock and inclement weather. Sometimes though there’s a bit of steam-jumping, clambering through unexpectedly dense woodland in the hope of a short-cut or floundering across flooded ruts in the dark as the memorable conclusion to a Nightingale walk. Or there were those two crop-related incidents this summer on Romney Marsh, one of which ended with a fortunately able-bodied participant falling into a ditch. On the whole though – few “adventures”. Honestly.

We had a slightly different one last Saturday on our first excursion to Marline Valley, an interesting SWT reserve made all the more special by the fact that it’s just yards from the busy traffic of Queensway along Hastings’ western edge, invisible to all those passing motorists thanks to the belt of woodland which flanks it.

Marline Valley follows the stream of that name along its sharp descent southwards from the rainy, misty Ridge. Like the other streams which you can trace as you look westwards it has cut through clay and sandstone to form a steep-sided ghyll, unsuitable for ploughing or even, on its most precipitous slopes, for grazing so remains as woodland. There are more of these characteristic valleys to the east but they’re now cluttered with housing, retail & light industry. Sainsbury’s stands where, not so long ago there were unimproved meadows growing orchids & Dyer’s Greenweed.

Old hay meadows, running along the east side of the Marline Valley are at their best in summer and are now subject to different mowing regimes to benefit the widest range of plants & invertebrates. Hedges & shaws between them have been allowed to sprawl and open up a little while the woodland edges are buffered by thick margins of bramble.

At most times of year the birds here are typical rather than exceptional, and not great in variety so I don’t think we saw/heard more than 20 species but these included a few Marsh Tits – declining in some places but not in our area – and 3 Ravens.

The woods are, however, very interesting. And very muddy. I’m not the only person to notice that it has been raining rather a lot this autumn and the valley sides are clay. So the rainwater is quickly repelled and rapidly trickles, gurgles, gushes and splashes down the sharp gradient as it further incises the V-shaped valley. Running parallel to the little tributaries are mossy old wood-banks while other earthworks denote the boundaries of former farmland and the presence of previous tracks. Into the mix of typical Wealden tree species such as Oak, (sickly) Ash, Field Maple, Hazel, Alder, Hornbeam, Holly & Sweet Chestnut are added Beech, then Poplar, Aspen & Sycamore toward the road, while a few decorative conifers beside the meadows suggest a former parkland aesthetic.

Disaster Zones in a few places are characterised by extraordinary trees flattened during the Great Storm of October 16th 1987 yet continuing to thrive in incongruous vertical format.

Not all of the water runs off; plenty is retained in muddy paths and -as we discovered – muddy slopes. Because we followed the valley up as far as the housing estate, an unfortunate westward sprawl which now occupies the ghyll’s headwaters so we could easily drop down to the stream itself with the intention of following it downwards. It was nice to meet a couple of families out with little children, introducing them to old-fashioned pursuits such as Getting Wet & Dirty.

This is where we reach the Adventure Element. Since the streamside vegetation became rapidly too dense for onward progress, obliging us either to retrace our steps or brave the very steep side of a bowl beneath a huge and golden Beech from which a traditional rope-swing dangled. Although I had advised all to bring walking poles I was the only one to take notice so mine was brought into action along with Group Effort involving strategic grabs of roots, Holly saplings and twisted Honeysuckle stems.

Had I not been so occupied in clambering and slithering I might have taken some entertaining photos of these undignified minutes but you’ll just have to use your imaginations. We took a sensibly diagonal route up to the path, arriving at a bank of brambles… But no-one was lost or particularity inconvenienced. In fact the struggle had warmed us up nicely on a cold, grey morning.

I’ll run another walk here when the flowers are out, the weather warmer and the ground conditions drier. But in the meantime I think I might return alone to explore the amazingly deep cleft of the lower ghyll. It looks like an Adventure.


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