Archive for Landscape archaeology


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 15, 2018 by cliffdean

Although these High Wealden villages appear to be drifting apart, Saturday’s RXbirdwalk was instead extended by the closure of the former permissive path through from Ashburnham Furnace to Bunce’s Farm which required us to retrace our steps and take the route up through Rocks Farm instead.

I mourn the loss of the little barn at Bunce’s, its long-hidden ancient timbers rediscovered during the demolition of the functional accretions which disguised them, its reconstruction as a place of repose and instruction. You were free to open up the big doors, learn about Wealden meadows from panels inside or take garden chairs outside to contemplate the prospect of rolling fields and woods from the patio of age-softened bricks. It is now locked up and the path past it blocked.

Most of the interesting birds had, however, already been seen by the time we reached the locked gate. Already, as we descended the steep hill, grooved with a braid of holloways, towards the dam, the weir, the silted upstream and ex-industrial downstream and wartime roadblocks of Ashburnham Forge we were aware that the trees were full of Redwings & Blackbirds. Turning along the track towards the Furnace, streams of Redwings flew out before us, in the end totalling about 200. But up in the streamside alders there were smaller birds too: beside Blue Tits there were both Siskins & Redpolls, only a dozen and mostly the former. As usual these days, Buzzards were mewing overhead.

I was listening out for the click of Hawfinches, and as we passed a small beech plantation (still full of Redwings) I caught sight of the distinctive rounded, short-tailed finches moving about among the twigs. Soon, everyone was able to catch sight of them, and even better when they came our way. Always a challenge, choosing to perch just behind branches, there were nonetheless enough of them for all of us to see all the distinctive features, if not catch on to the calls since these were rather quiet. In the end, about 25 had crossed the lane.

Something I’d not noticed before, looking SE from the churchyard: that shed to the left of the  cottage…..

…actually a bit hard to see from this photo, but it’s an old railway carriage, or part of one.


Low water

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 30, 2017 by cliffdean

Sunday, Darwell Woods: the dense streamside vegetation close to Cackle Street was busy with birds, initially small flocks of Goldfinches & Siskins in the treetops (Redpolls audible but hard to see), then several Marsh Tits, both vocal and visible, accompanied by Blue, Great, Coal & Long-tailed tits, Goldcrests, Nuthatches, a Treecreeper and a GS Woodpecker.

Thereafter, the action was more sporadic, though still with regular Marsh Tits, as we made our way eastwards alongside an ancient hedgerow, At first, the path was ploughed up by horses (it’s a bridleway after all), then deeply incised through former usage by off-road vehicles. In both cases, the return to slithery, sticky Wealden  conditions was, I suppose, a seasonal delight.

East of the Conveyor Belt and past The Yellow Jeep, the deep & unwelcome carpet of Crassula helmsii was visible through the sprawling waterside willows, denoting a water level lower than I’ve ever seen it. This doesn’t mean that the level is unusually low, rather than that I don’t come here often enough to see it. Edging out of cover to see if any birds were frequenting the silted headwaters, we were surprised to see a Great Egret standing in the stream, with a Little Egret asleep to one side. This could be the first record of Great Egret for the site., perhaps unsurprising since they are quickly increasing and spreading in the area.

Just as interesting was the exposure of an old dam which I suspect held back the hammer pond for the nearby furnace. The bank of iron slag is topped by sandstone slabs to which are attached clusters of Zebra Mussels. So, side by side we have two very problematic invasive introduced species: a plant and a mollusc.

The view out onto the lake is normally much obstructed by trees, so it was rather exciting to walk out across this old dam to scan the open water. Apart from Tufted Ducks, Great Crested Grebes & Cormorants, there were Black-headed & Herring Gulls and Canada Geese on the far banks as well as some other ducks just too distant for identification without a telescope.

Unfortunately this was also the case with a tantalising small grebe keeping company with half a dozen distant Tufted Ducks. In spite of prolonged and squinting we were unable to get a clear enough view of the head pattern to decide for sure whether it was Black-necked or Slavonian – another good record in either case.

Heavy chunks of iridescent iron slag are bubbled and rippled like lava.

An Unanticipated Insight Into The History Of Wheelbarrows

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 11, 2017 by cliffdean

During a walk from Rye through East Guldeford to Camber & back up the Rother some vexing questions were tackled thanks to the Wonders of the Internet.

The first concerned the tools available to those who constructed the huge mediaeval sea defences such as the Wainway Wall. While I’d go for (wooden) shovels loading pack-horses, another view was that wheelbarrows would also have been used. I contested this since I had some dim & distant recollection that these essential items, rather than having been created by God as a helpful afterthought sometime late on the Sixth Day, had not been introduced since the thirteenth century.

A few minutes’ squinting at my phone, without glasses and in bright sunlight, revealed that, though I was not wrong, the story is a long one, meriting an extensive entry on Wikipedia. The first records come from China in the second century CE. These generally had a centrally-mounted wheel and could carry large loads of drawn by an animal & steered from behind by the carter. Some even had sails to assist them.

“…during the Red Eyebrows Rebellion (c. 20 CE) against Xin dynasty‘s Wang Mang (45 BCE–23 CE), the official Zhao Xi saved his wife from danger by disguising himself and pushing her along in his lu che barrow, past a group of brigand rebels who questioned him, and allowed him to pass after he convinced them that his wife was terribly ill”

Some evidence exists that they were used in Ancient Rome:

“The 4th century Historia Augusta reports emperor Elagabalus to have used a wheelbarrow (Latin: pabillus from pabo, one-wheeled vehicle]) to transport women in his frivolous games at court.”

Their role in transporting women is clearly a chapter still to be written.

The wheelbarrow did not appear in Europe however until the late 12th/early 13th centuries, and these models had the familiar front-mounted wheel. There is no account of the wheelbarrow’s whereabouts during the intervening centuries.

While there seems to be no Wheelbarrow Museum, there is one for Lawnmowers, from which you can purchase a Wheelbarrow Mug. And while you’re waiting for that to arrive, you can watch many videos of Extreme Wheelbarrowing and Wheelbarrow Tricks on Youtube.

Well, that was enough excitement to keep us going till we arrived in the land of Evolving Bungalows they call Camber.

Here, collapsing wrecks, vacant lots and humble 60s style structures, erected at a time when Camber was on the edge of the known world therefore exempt from architectural values, are being designerised into cool new seaside hideaways.

Which led us across the road, up the back of the dunes (where Elms predominate, I noticed for the first time) and across Rye Golf Course where we naturally fell to speculating on the exact location of the Camber Sands Station on the old tramway route. While the Camber Golf Links Station remains in good condition, with rails too, the terminus seems to have vanished entirely.

Martin King has sought out some old maps and a  Google Earth image showing the station’s original site.

Last thing: 4 Common Seals hauled up on the side of the Rother just past the industrial zone.


Hill of Prumes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Looks boring, doesn’t it? Nobody goes there. In other words the quintessential venue for an RXbirdwalk. Broomhill; where’s the hill, where’s the broom? Though the latter might once have grown here, a hill is hard to imagine let alone a bustling fishing port – which it was until 1287. According to Judith Glover’s “Sussex Place Names” the earliest version of the name, dating from the late 12th century, is Prumhelle, from Prume-hyll “Plum-tree Hill” – but using an unusual dialect word rather than the South Saxon plume. That’s got that cleared up, but still no sign of a hill, let alone plum trees.

I guess the hill could have been a tall shingle bank, since truncated by the 1287 storm among others. On the soil map below you can see the settlement’s position on a spur to the south of the great (yellow) sweep of the Wainway. The remaining farm buildings and an abandoned cottage are perched on the pink band of shingle to the right.

The plan for this RXbirdwalk was to see breeding Yellow Wagtails, restricted in Sussex to this eastern extremity. Though weather mid-week suggested we’d run the risk of heat-stroke the morning itself dawned gloomy and windy, though the rain held off till midday. I usually have a look at the beach to add a few gulls & waders to the list but on this occasion all birds had been cleared out by massed kite-surfers thrashing through the grey summer waves.

This & other bird photos by Peter Matthews

There were indeed loads of  Yellow Wagtails and loads of Reed Buntings too, though the former favoured wheat and the latter oilseed rape. Last year the YWs were in the same location among beans, leading me to mistakenly assume that the crop was the significant factor whereas I now suspect it’s something to do with the soil since nearly all wagtails were situated between the former seawalls (now ploughed out) in the soil map below. As much as I love this map’s pretty colours and historic boundaries I can’t claim to understand much about the soil, I’m sorry to say.

These RSPB articles on their Breeding Ecology and Advice to Farmers are informative

While we were differentiating males, females and juveniles, a strikingly different male popped up then vanished again. It had a blue head – like the continental subspecies but of a pale blue-grey hue and with a white supercilium, suggesting the hybrid “Channel Wagtail” but I just didn’t get a good enough view.

There were plenty of other birds around, including Skylarks, Linnets & a pair of Corn Buntings as well as big crowds of House Sparrows & Starlings commuting between the interwar bungalows of Jury’s Gap and the fragrant sewage works. In the background, a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. There were, of course, no other people around apart from two horse-riders and a distant dog-walker.

Just to the east of this chainlink fence, below the crops, below the soil, lie the remains of Broomhill’s church whose skeleton still stood into the early 16th century though flooded centuries before.

Beside Jury’s Gut loafed a few moulting Mallards in company with a small, dark duck with a clearly yellow bill. In size, shape and flight appearance it resembled a teal of some sort and upon reference to some more expert observers turned out to be – wait for it – a Yellow-billed Teal which now seems to be regarded as a geographical race of Speckled Teal, a South American species escaped from a collection.

As we approached the Kent Pen Wall, a Cuckoo flew over us then while we had a look along the sheltered and scrubby north side of the bank for Whitethroats & Linnets I took notice of the tree species for the first time. Beside two species of Willow, a hunched Oak and a fluttering White Poplar I was surprised to see a fruit tree – bearing, in fact, unripe…plums! Hardly possible it could remain from Prume hyll days, perhaps planted as an historical reference or jettisoned from a picnic. Strange coincidence though. Further along was a flowering Privet.

A further revelation came as we continued westward into the wind and towards Corn Bunting song. An isolated pond fits neatly, on the map,  into the vanished repair loop on a lost seawall; an ancient scour pool now tranquil enough but a relic of drama, danger and fortitude from the past.

Crowhurst new circular

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 26, 2017 by cliffdean

On today’s RXbirdwalk we climbed the hill again from The Plough to meet up with the old railway track. Looking down the valley, we saw a pair of Ravens being harassed by Crows & Jackdaws.

While there were plenty of Chiffchaffs singing and any number of Robins, Blackbirds, Blue & Great Tits, the Treecreepers & Goldcrests so conspicuous last week were few & far between. Strangely, no Mistle Thrushes either, though  there were a couple of Fieldfares in the treetops.

Once more, we looked at the form and distribution of trees, like the outgrown and now collapsing Field Maple on the old wood-bank (above) and the coppiced Ash among a drift of newly opened Wood Anemones (below).

In Quarry Wood, we noticed that what we’d taken for Primroses by The Cave were in fact Polyanthus. Planted there for some reason or resulting from the dumping of garden waste?

And not the only garden species, especially once you get south of the Sandrock Hill railway bridge (where two cyclists were struggling down the cutting (towards an attractively folded matress) complaining about the “poxy trees” which impeded their descent.

Besides this Flowering Redcurrant, there were Daffodils and Privet as well as an Apple Tree.

Other domestic residue is plainly unwelcome but, unattended to, slowly sinking into an archaeological stratum. This section of the track is lumpy with old  piles of builders’ rubble, now greened over.

A Green Woodpecker was calling from the tall Railway Poplars and my first Blackcap of the year was singing in a quarry just before Adam’s Farm.

Last year ESCC declared Adam’s Fm ready for disposal.

“L-shaped C16 timber-framed buildings, refaced in the C18 with red brick and grey
headers on ground floor and tile-hung above. Tiled roof. Sash windows with glazing
bars. Modern red brick porch. 2 storeys. 5 windows.”

It currently stands empty, on one estate agent’s website valued at just over half a million. In the garden there’s a fine Walnut (below). Just by the stub of the former viaduct a Little Owl flew across our path.

Once in the main valley we were exposed to the chill wind. On water meadows further down the valley at least 2 pairs of Lapwings were displaying but I would guess the ponds nearer to the road are no longer suitable – too overgrown and hundreds of fence posts to provide watch-points for marauding Crows. Linnets have returned to the scrub, 3 Cetti’s Warblers were singing and up to 3 Buzzards overhead at any one time. What used to be grazed water meadows further up the valley are now badly overgrown with rush, sedge and willow, with no sign of any management. Left like this they will soon be far too costly to recover.

The road construction scars are quickly greening over and the Greenway was being used by walkers, cyclists and equestrians. Traffic noise was loud however. On the western pond beneath Hillcroft Fm, among small numbers of Coot, Gadwall & Tufted Duck, I noticed 3 smaller ducks but the bright sunshine made it hard to make out any plumage details. When his light caught grey flanks on one sleeping bird I was pretty sure they were Garganey – a species I’d not seen here previously – and when it turned to allow the sun to shine on its broad white supercilium my suspicions were confirmed.

54 species altogether, though other observers had also seen Water Pipit, Marsh Harrier & Swallow.

Somewhere new

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 20, 2017 by cliffdean

I’ve led several bird walks for people from Crowhurst but last week they led me to an area hardly 200m from my usual route but new and unsuspected. In fact, I had heard of Quarry Wood but had lacked the curiosity to find out more. From close to the car park where I’ve often been we took a turning up Sampson’s Lane which I’d also never noticed.

I was struck by the tall hedge-bank to one side, indicating that although it has dwindled away in usage it must have once been a more travelled thoroughfare. Later reference to the 1787 Yeakell & Gardner map showed that this lane was then part of a network serving Green Street and linking to the big north-south routes at Crowhurst Park & Breadsell Lane.

My perception of this part of Crowhurst is distorted by a major earthwork serving something which has come & gone since the Y&G map: the Bexhill Branch Line. Towards the top of the lane we turned right onto the abandoned railway track part of which now forms a local nature reserve, managed and documented by Paul Johnson & Lorna Neville on their excellent website Tales From Quarry Wood.

We were supposed to be looking/listening for birds,and there were plenty of Goldcrests in the ivy and Treecreepers on the old oaks, with regular Mistle Thrushes proclaiming from the treetops, but features of landform and tree use soon predominated. Parts of the track are dry whereas others run through an ill-drained cutting and the whole length is enclosed by tall woodland. Parallel to the regular profile of the railway runs a sinuous old wood-bank topped with gnarled Field Maple, the ditch on the uphill side suggesting that the steep bank below was in the past reserved as a copse. Some trees had plainly once been pollarded yet untended long since while others had been coppiced, but more through casual exploitation than any more coherent woodland practice.

This spectacular group of Scarlet Elf Cup was growing on some felled branches.

Further south we came to the eponymous quarry – of unknown date or purpose it seems – which is backed, just as the track passes through a fine railway bridge beneath Sandrock Hill by the equally eponymous Sandrock, a beautiful north-facing exposure of sandstone beside which grows a varied profusion of ferns.  Look at the website for more information and much better photos than mine.

This area was a clearing in relatively recent times, to judge from the post-colonial presence of hawthorn, blackthorn, elder and birch.

Once through the arch, there were notable differences in the trees, with spindle and Sycamore present but also, more conspicuous since closer, tall lines of Railway Poplar. To remind myself about this widespread and culturally significant hybrid I read the entry in Owen Johnson’s remarkable Sussex Tree Book where I was once more struck by Owen’s fluent, informative style which encourages one to flick through the pages as much for the pleasure of reading as for the search for knowledge.

Shortly before reaching the Link Road the path sweeps down past more quarries – this time overgrown – to the lonely Adam’s Farm, for centuries a busy site on the banks of a lovely valley but now forlorn and uninhabited beside a busy road.

The other side of the road

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 18, 2017 by cliffdean


I’ve made quite a few excursions SW of Lydd but yesterday was able to visit Glebelands, NW of the town, thanks to involvement in the NE Silver Meadows survey. The idea behind this is to plot all the low-lying farmland prone to winter  flooding and therefore of potential benefit to waders and wildfowl. When  this survey was planned, however, there was no way of knowing that we’d enjoy an exceptionally dry winter with very little flooding to be plotted.


All was not lost as far as I was concerned since  this fascinating  area which, lacking any public footpaths, would be normally be inaccessible to me.


Its unusual character is immediately apparent from satellite photos which show small, mostly rectilinear, fields separated by rather straight, tree-lined ditches, all orientated SW-NE following to the old shingle beaches upon which they and the town itself are situated.


The ditch-side trees in question are principally big Willows, formerly pollarded but now collapsing and sprawling into the waterways or across field edges and richly furnishing the area with feeding and nesting sites for Blue & Great Tits, woodpeckers and Little Owls. They, and the post & rail fence, are crusted with lichens. Fallen branches which would normally be tidied up have been left to rot. New Willows have been planted but the protective netting and  iron supports left in place to get absorbed into the bark.


More or less parallel banks of silver shingle lie beneath a thin skin of turf, the pebbles exposed on ditch banks and in a small gravel pit hard alongside the nuclear-waste railway from Dungeness. The Google maps image, taken when summer drought emphasises the desiccated grassland on thinnest soils, shows this clearly.


That small pit held 25 Teal while 6 Gadwall flew up from the adjacent Westbroke Petty Sewer. The presence of several Grey Herons was unsurprising since there’s a nesting colony in the nearby rookery. Stones from the pit are piled in 5m high mountain, from the summit of which I was keen to take in the panorama of the surrounding marsh.



To the left of the railway, pasture; to the right, arable, from which Skylarks sing.


To the right of this arable you can just make out the rushes of a real Silver Meadow, but one outside our survey area.


This field is rather different, with its gorse clumps and a stand of Hawthorns, perhaps grown out of a patch of scrub. Dozens of Redwings & Fieldfares fly from the orange tops of the Willows and 3 Buzzards display overhead.

The older houses in this area all stand sensibly on shingle banks, the Rectory in its own green island of mixed tall trees from which issue continuously calls of Rooks & Jackdaws and the drumming of GS Woodpecker. I was surprised to find Butcher’s Broom on a ditch bank until I noticed that the whole of the Rectory garden appeared to have once been hedged with this species, presumably to exclude grazing animals. There were Goldcrests feeding in the Ivy and a Grey Wagtail in a shallow, overshadowed ditch, one Sparrowhawk in circulation being mobbed, now by Jackdaws, now by Goldfinches.




Some alien tree species give a parkland appearance to some fields,with Horse Chestnut, Turkey Oak, White Poplar and even Monterey Cypress in places.


As I wrote earlier, the ditches are quite straight, indicating that some formal organization had been undertaken in the past – but how long ago? A couple of irregular watercourses towards Caldecot Crossing can be seen, from the ghosted lines in satellite photos, to be the truncated remains of a former ditch system.