Archive for Edgelands

Beaney’s Lane

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 2, 2018 by cliffdean


One of several ancient highways dropping north from The Ridge between garlic-scented ghylls, this beautiful lane has only recently been saved from decades of neglect and abuse.

As you leave the Via Dolorosa, congested with hospital arrivals and school-run congestion, you first pass an abandoned waste disposal site: half-hidden behind a chainlink fence backed by dark Leylandii stands an asbestos shed with grass-filled gutters. In the yard, Garden Warblers sing from the scrubbed-over concrete.

Across the rack, a forgotten overflow of Japanese knotweed, moss-covered timber and tyres, but by now the traffic noise is replaced by Thrush & Blackcap song

A blockade of massive concrete Duplo pieces now impedes the progress of recreational car-torchers, though glass shards in a scorched corner mark a recent visit.

Beyond this point you pass between broad earth shoulders topped with Oak, Hornbeam, Hazel & Field Maple running in a green tunnel ,broadening in wet-weather braids and toward forsaken gateways, taking you into  a countryside of small fields, poor pasture golden with buttercups, grazed quietly by sheep.

The broad and once-busy thoroughfare passes Maplehurst Wood. A SSSI but hidden and now little visited, it bears the marks of edgeland practices such as fly-tipping: plastic debris which will never go away…

…deep mossy cicatrices left by long-gone off-roaders.

Now, in an initiative to re-create a coppice mosaic the dark world beneath light-seeking trees is opened into a broad glade where, on this misty morning in the humid High Weald microclimate, reanimated Sweet Chestnuts and foxgloves await the touch of the sun.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers, tending to their nestlings criss-cross the clearing; Nuthatches & Treecreepers call from the gloomy edges and the thin song of Goldcrests reels from Ivy.

Down past old pits & ponds, along a section constricted by a secondary embankment, you pass through the lower barricade onto the junction with Stonestile Lane, another old road now blessed with tarmac and consequently lined with crushed coffee cups and, thanks to speeding rat-runners, far too dangerous to walk along.

Though sheep still graze the meadows, market gardens beyond are abandoned, farmhouses smartly repurposed, their outbuildings rotting and unused.


Entrancing Bulverhythe

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 28, 2016 by cliffdean

P1280375Beneath all this there is an ancient estuary. Beneath the road, the houses and the light, back-street industry, a deep layer of prehistoric peat.



Adventures in Edgelandia: a glorious show of notifiable Common Ragwort. Horse owners get very anxious about it but in this case less so. Horses ignore Ragwort in its living state but get poisoned when it’s (unintentionally) fed to them dried in hay.



Adventures in Shedlandia #1





Dangerous rocks.


Vagabond seaside species line the chainlink railside fence: yellow-horned poppy, sea kale, viper’s bugloss, teasel, knapweed, hemp agrimony…






The golden ochre of the iron-rich cliffs


More dangerous rocks #1


#2…or it could illustrate a fly-tipper flinging bin-bags full of rubbish onto the beach.

I appreciate the thoughtful application of lower case.


I’ve passed many times without noticing this geometric platform. It looks the size & shape to be the base of a pill-box….


…though the brick superstructure looks a bit flimsy. Maybe it was a little sea-side kiosk.


But no – I was right. It doesn’t seem that long since I walked along here but I’ve not previously seen this informative interpretation panel. Spike Milligan, it records, kept watch here.


Two architectural traditions, one from the ancient Asian steppe, the other from early 20th century Europe.



Gulls were clustered below the Cafe on the Beach, apparently feeding but upon investigation I discovered they were actually drinking fresh water from a spring in the shingle. Could this be the last vestige of the steam, now wholeheartedly concretized, that originally filtered through from the eponymous Gap?


It’s clear enough and there are no others but it doesn’t show on Google maps which, however, offer a compensatory delight in the green ghost of a dismantled funfair.

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Gorse & gravel

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 12, 2016 by cliffdean

Dengemarsh Gully is a strange and alluring place, a nexus of incongruity so ruined and lonely and in-between that it must surely draw in rare birds. Well, it might do, but not for me, not so far. But then I don’t go there very often, not like the regulars who patrol the area with even greater vigilance than the armed police, so I don’t deserve to find rare birds there. Anyway, in truth I go there for the edgelandy weirdness.

Like the other week when our walk coincided with the arrival of a squad of pylon-painters whose outlines, once they’d swarmed up, clotted the steel gridwork like figures from a Stanley Spencer painting.


Then there’s always the ground-level spectacle of improbable litter slowly smothered by moss, like this wing-mirror folded like a taco.

But although Sunday was a sunny day with an onshore wind there were not a lot of birds there other than the usual traffic of Cormorants overhead, Carrion Crows & Ravens. I really thought we were on to something when I heard an unfamiliar song coming out of the gorse, but after a bit of hard staring the only candidate was a Chiffchaff and I had to concede that, although the song was structurally different, it had a certain Chiffchaffy rhythm & timbre.

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Reed Bunting – Stuart Barnes


The Myrtle Cottage memorial stone has been cleaned up or replaced. It commemorates the last fisherman to live there, Len Prebble born there in 1927. In an interview in 2000 re recalled:

“I was born at Dengemarsh and spent my childhood there, it was wonderful, just
idyllic. We were free to wander over the beach and make our own fun using what was
there. To get to and fro Lydd to Dengemarsh we had to open and close seven gates. I
remember collecting glowworms from the wood sage and putting them in a jar so we
could see to read by them. The broom and gorse was beautiful on both sides of the
sewer [Dengemarsh sewer]. On the open beach there were areas of broom, not the tall
stuff that grew over near Spindle Cottage, where the power station is now, but the
stuff that grows close to the beach. There was more on the east side of the
Dengemarsh road than the west. Terns nested in the thrift and we collected gulls eggs
by the dozen in the war and Mother preserved them in isinglass. We went over to the
Oppen Pits to collect Black Headed Gull’s eggs. There was a well at Dengemarsh for
ships to put in there for water. They would roll barrels up the beach and fill them. We
had a pump for our water and sometimes it would become salty, then we went over to
the springs. The spring water was beautiful and when we went over there we collected
watercress. We used to walk to Muddymoor Pit and then over two ridges. We
scrapped the shingle down and could see the water running in always from the sea
side landwards, it never ran the other way. [He is talking about the Springfield area]
Father used to catch eels up the Dengemarsh sewer and Grandfather had a garden in
the Garden Hole and we used to go out there. We would walk down towards
Muddymoor and then turn towards Galloways. It was an area in the beach that was
lower and had good soil in it. It was very sheltered, didn’t dry out and grandfather
grew good produce there. I expect the army has bulldozed it in now. There was
always loads of foxgloves, dolly bells (campion), shoes and stockings [birds foot
trefoil – I think], the stuff like red string (dodder), milkmaids along the sewer,
bugloss, stonecrop white and yellow, yellow iris and French may in the garden
(valerian). We used to pick sloes from the bushes, the low ones on the beach and
always picked pounds and pounds of blackberries. Butterflies were everywhere they
went up in clouds as you walked along, lots of blues, it’s so different now – dead looking

and rubbish dumped and all that awful barbed wire. What a mess the army has made, they have ruined the ranges.”


Garden plants like Spanish Bluebell, Lesser Periwinkle & Red-hot Pokers survive among the rubble of the ruined cottages

“Down at Dengemarsh we used to go seine netting that was my favourite form of
fishing. We had a road right down to the beach so didn’t have a problem getting fish
away like they did at Dungeness. When the mackerel shoals were around we could
have literally tons of fish so we used the “Bobs-up” system of getting the fish back to
Lydd. We would haul baskets up the flagpole so up in Lydd they could see how many
carts we needed – two baskets – two carts or one upside down basket meaning send
all the carts you could muster. The mackerel were taken back to Lydd, washed and
packed in boxes on Gilletts bit of the Rype, in front of Vulcan Cottages. There was so
much fish it was sent to Billingsgate on special trains. Dengemarsh had four boats,
four winch houses and a big shed made of driftwood to keep the boats in, in summer –

sun ruins a boat. There was a lifeboat capstan at Dengemarsh and coastguard houses.
The houses were sold off to professional people wanting to get away from it all.
Before engines came along (just after the First World War) the boats used sail or had
to be rowed. My Grandfather used to row round to Folkestone or Hastings to sell his
fish and sometimes fish his way back. We had to leave Dengemarsh during the war
but brought the boats back again in 1946. We lived up in Lydd then and by 1958 had
to abandon it as stuff was continually being stolen. You could not carry on without
living there and as the beach was being eroded and we had got used to having
electricity and water up in Lydd that was the finish. “

You can find the rest of his reminiscences as well as those of other past residents of the peninsula in this Natural England document.

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Dengemarsh in 1960 – from the Google Earth (click View >Historical Imagery & use slider bar)

We made the usual pilgrimage to the mysterious Concrete Corpse, about which I found this exceptionally informative article.

Back on the RSPB reserve, the most interesting thing, on wet meadows strangely devoid of birds, was a flock of 6 Water Pipits which, for a change, sometimes alighted on fence posts to give fair but should-of-brang-a-scope views of the warm, plain undersides, bold supercilium, white outer tail feathers etc. They flew about too but in the nice sunshine were inconveniently silhouetted and declined to call apart from the odd squeak.

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Sedge Warbler – Stuart Barnes

It was a pleasure too to listen in to a cluster of Sedge Warblers once we got to the bramble brakes around the hide where they were engaged in their hectic, buzzing, rasping outpourings of song. Then the blasting Cetti’s Warblers and watchful Marsh Harriers that we’ve all got so used to.

And another meteorological phenomenon – a sun halo.


Bones, ashes, shards & guts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 20, 2016 by cliffdean


Although the ruins of Ancient Rome have been cleaned of vegetation (much to the regret of those who read the accounts of early travellers there who found heroic, shaggy architecture projecting from lumpy farmland) the briefest exposure to them leads into an endless entanglement of cultural associations.

Not far from here, in Brightling churchyard, stands the steep-sided tomb of John Fuller. I’d never previously noticed just how steep-sided it was; I always assumed the model to be Egyptian.


Now I realise it’s much more likely, especially in view of its date, to take its inspiration from the pyramid mausoleum of Caius Septimus (18-12 BC) (its own pointy design maybe based on Nubian monuments), embraced by red bricks of the later Aurelian Wall (271-5 AD) which stands by a busy roundabout not far from Ostiense stations (itself unaccountably generous for today’s rail traffic until you learn it was built to welcome Hitler into the city in 1938…)


Beyond those walls it used to be open country, partly dedicated to those activities excluded from the city itself. By the early 19th century those included the interment of non-Catholic northerners attracted to Rome by duty, light or archaeology but having the misfortune (or good fortune) to die there, along with rather a lot of their children.


The principal object of pilgrimage in the cemetery’s older, less crowded part is the anonymous grave of John Keats – a “YOUNG ENGLISH POET”, victim of a familial strain of consumption, over in the corner of a lawn patrolled by plump and arrogant cats, beneath dark cypresses inhabited by Serins & Firecrests. Black Redstarts quiver on the ancient brickwork  of the wall from beyond which comes the rumble of city traffic and the howling chorus of rooftop Yellow-legged Gulls.




Shelley’s ashes were eventually removed here, though to the congested new section, following the cremation of his rotting, drowned body on the beach at Lerici.


Besides the soldiers, diplomats, politicians, hedonistic gentry and sickly Grand Tourists there are buried painters, sculptors, linguists, optimistic convalescents and those who met an unexpected end in the Tiber: a group of mariners, a 16-year-old girl swept off her horse.


Leaving the shadow, warbling Blackbirds and grating Sardinian Warblers of the graveyard, you turn down some steps onto the cobbles of a shabby, graffitied back-street, lined with single-storey shanties. No tourists, no pilgrims, no selfies. Feeling a bit dodgy actually.


The scrub rising behind the squalid, impromptu buildings covers one of the biggest waste-heaps in the world: millions and millions of amphorae mounded up over some centuries. Monte Testaccio, the last resting place of Dressel 20 vessels in which olive oil had been shipped to the hungry city from southern Spain. Whereas most amphorae were reused this type, for reasons of contamination and structure, it seems, were simply discarded. Not all that simply – it was done in a very organised way.

This article gives an excellent overview of the logistics involved in building Monte Testaccio and places it within the context of World Dumps, their management and rehabilitation.


Dressel 20 is bottom left, I believe.


At some point, it was discovered that the porous shard-filled hill maintained an even interior temperature which was just right for keeping wine cool and so sprang up a ring of bars supplied from cantine bored through strata of terracotta.

The Roman Campagna from Monte Testaccio, Sunset 1819 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856


Then across the road is a fine neo-classical facade – topped by a crumbling cherub overpowering a justifiably resistant bull – also graffitied but in clear process of restoration – which turns out to have been the city slaughterhouse.


Behind the archway you see the stockades which once sheltered doomed beasts from the sun, and the overhead trackway designed to transport their carcasses from one part to another.


The installation is undergoing redevelopment, part of which is an arts centre which includes a music school.


P.S. Once I had published this post, people complained. “The title mentions guts but upon these you are silent. We’d like to know more about guts.”

I just forgot. It was taking too long. By implication the guts would be to do with the Mattatoio and so they are. Slaughtermen were paid in offal from which the rich Roman legacy of typical dishes descends, as explained interestingly in this article. Did I try any of them? Nope; I grew up in a generation only slightly less spoilt than my children. My mum, just one generation back, would eat chitterlings, hearts. brawn, kidneys, liver & black pudding. I continue to (uneasily) consume the last two.

The adjacent plot has been developed into a nice new market selling such grim stuff but also more photogenic vegetables.


“But, why, with all the glories of Rome to choose from, do you write about an old dump?” Well, it’s because it surprised me. Since I’d not been to Rome for many years there must be many other surprises lying in wait. The famous bits are so over-exposed that they’re hard to see clearly. The baroque churches I find heavy & bombastic (though making the Caravaggios they house look shockingly original and authentic).

There were, oddly enough, no other tourists the morning we went to Testaccio and, though it’s being gentrified quickly enough, the sequence down from Piramide retains the raw incongruity of Edgelandia.


Allotments near Salt

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 30, 2014 by cliffdean


On one side of the river lies historic Girona: boutiques, cafes, loads of tourists from all over. Across the water is Salt – a grid of flats, retail parks, light industry, with a large immigrant population. To the north of the urban area are market gardens and more allotments sheltered by plantations of tall, shady Planes & Poplars.

As we parked among council flats beside rubbish skips covered in graffiti (like every vertical surface in this part of the world) two women passed, dressed in flamenco costume. “Is there something going on?” “Yes, it’s a fiesta, follow us.”


So we followed them down the slope beside the roaring motorway to an underpass (covered in graffiti of course) from which, suddenly, poured music, voices, clapping. On the far side however, in spite of a lot of broad-brimmed hats, tight dresses and a white horse, things hadn’t really got going.


You emerge on the far side of the road into a Previous Countryside, not untouched but clearly linked to the past, where a concrete aqueduct brings clear irrigation water from the mountains.




Narrow strips of shady trees are felled in rotation to provide clear sunlit spaces progressing to tall forest with a dense understory. In one place, where new saplings had recently been planted, men were cultivating vegetables in the sandy spaces  between.

The path is accessed by a variety of means and follows the disused track of a little railway that used to run all the way up to Olot.

Through the barrier of trees you cannot see the suburbs nor the road but you can hear the traffic.

The whole area smells of….roasting coffee, the appetising aroma drifting in from a Nestlé factory hidden beyond the foliage.


These allotments displayed some distinctive characteristics:


Gates fashioned from bed-frames…



…or a plastic pallet…


…or traditional wrought iron…


…or fabric.


Portals into leafy domains…


..for all the world like “Winchelsea’s Secret Gardens”


A) fence assembled from a job-lot of corrugated plastic B) the ubiquitous blue plastic drum.


A) Tall bunches of canes B) ramshackle sheds C) classic tubing & moulded plastic chair.



Cane wig-wams. More chairs, now the also-ubiquitous Plastic Garden Chair (green or white), seen not only in gardens and bars but up on balconies and in country turn-offs, where poor roadside prostitutes sit on them all day waiting hour after hour for clients, unsheltered from sun or thunderstorms.





I think I’ve probably made my point about cane architecture, but here’s some more.








All the older buildings are constructed from river-boulder rubble. Though this can be disguised with a coat of cement, a few years’ neglect will show the stones again, their varied colours denoting their diverse origins long, long ago in the mountains. When they finally crumble, they return to the river or at least fall on the flood-plain, currently drained but surely one day to be once more reclaimed by the river.




Allotments in Bonmatí

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 25, 2014 by cliffdean


On an irregular sliver of river terrace between the River Ter and former farmland now occupied by concrete factories, villagers tend a precise grid of utilitarian vegetables; no fancy stuff here, with high unemployment and chronic crisis.


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Enclosed between the last remaining clump of roadside umbrella pines and the tall, shady riverside poplars, the severe geometry of the plots is framed by fences improvised from a variety of grilles, chain-link remnants and plastic netting.


The grid of earthen paths is beaten by feet, stippled by last night’s cloudburst, sometimes lined with big river-boulders.


They are irrigated by reticulated rivulets of clear water diverted from the river’s tributaries, distribution into muddy channels controlled by bits of board or plastic.


Cool air, gurgling water, perfumes of damp soil, fig, jasmine & lime.


Goldfinches and Serins trill from the pines’ sunlit dome, while across the road the only sound from the broad and flawless recession-hit factory is the song of a Black Redstart above its empty car park.


The space is dominated by a vigorous cross-hatching of home-grown canes, crisscrossed  bamboo like vegetable pylons.



You see this pattern again and again: on a scrap of land between converging roads or new factories, huddled against motorway embankments or on anomalous spaces where the curve of an old lane has been cut by a railway track. Unclaimed or unregarded edgelands made productive.




Fashioned from planks, pallets, grilles and bed-frames, the gates are more or less secure…



…and sometimes there’s an unfailingly noisy second line of defence.


The more efficient or established or richer plot-holders cast their paths in concrete or line them with river-rounded boulders.


The familiar formality in the patterns of cultivation disappears in the cabins: ramshackle collages of found materials: pipes, posts, plastic sheeting, pallets, boards and discarded doors. The neat and uniform boughten sheds of English allotments appear unknown here, where anarchic accretion is the native style.




House & Tree Sparrows, Blackbirds, Greenfinches, flit across the tops.



Tall fasces of unused canes, blue plastic water butts, white plastic garden chairs.

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From within the towering green wall of the riverside poplars echo the screeches of unseen Jays (the commonest crow) brief Oriole fluting and the penetrating songs of  Nightingales and  Cetti’s Warblers (winningly called Bastard Nightingales  in Spanish).


Down towards the river bank, where Grey & White Wagtails are calling, pens of hens and ducks benefit from the shady foliage.



But my intrusion is soon scented by snarling guard dogs. This one doesn’t look too malevolent in the photo but I was glad the makeshift barrier, however flimsy, lay between me and his bared fangs. Unseen overhead, a LS Woodpecker responds to the mad barking.


Mostly Dengemarsh Road

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 28, 2014 by cliffdean

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I believe that people have been embellishing the Pen Bars bottle dump.

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Among shards which convince as the debris of a vanished fishing hamlet there lie some of delicate hue. Perhaps people now bring them to add, like throwing coins in a wishing well, or like piling pebbles on a cairn.

Bottles are smashed at the launching of ships and a bottle or glass at Jewish weddings, in the latter case, it is said, to temper the joy with sadness in recalling the Destruction of the Temple.

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Some items seem artfully assembled, interesting conjunctions arranged.

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I also believe that, along the coast, someone is distributing pink Crocs. Wherever you follow the tide-line you’re bound to find one.

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…and The Mystery of the Concrete Corpse remains unsolved.

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