Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wild Nights

At 09.30 on the morning of the 3rd of November 2013 Amanda woke me up and presented me with tea and currant buns in bed. I had had a rough night, I may be coming down with something.

Addendum: I developed a sore throat, and am bunged up and half deaf.
When I awoke I was befuddled and confused, I didn’t know what I was looking at or where I was, and my wits and memory from the evening  before coalesced relatively slowly. My brain wouldn’t process the view for a few moments. Then I remembered the late evening stop, cooking leftover chicken with a fresh Basil sauce and pasta, and the fact that we were wild camping. The drive across the big sweeping bridge to the isle of Sheppy and the strange landscape beyond, treeless, undulating in places , lots of marshland, some big lumps of industry and exposed small estates of houses and trailer parks or holiday parks, mostly closed for the winter. And the faffing about we had done when we got to Leysdown, and making the decision to stay for the night ... frankly it looked like the sort of place Doggers gathered and that may have been an issue. However we decided that once we were locked up, fed and bedded down with the lights off, that the only people likely to get a reaction were the type with pointy hats and blue lights on the roof of their car.
I was, we were,  at the end of the road at Leysdown, before it turned into Shellness (another residential holiday home Park (gated with uppity unofficial laminated signs cable-tide to lampposts telling motorists not to turn their vehicles using the three intersecting lanes outside there).
The view I was trying to get my head around was of Brent Geese, Oyster Catchers, Herring Gulls, and Turnstones foraging on the foreshore.  I wasn’t expecting mid tide. When we’d arrived it was mid tide ... but on the way out, not that I’d noted it or checked, or if I had checked, I hadn’t remembered. It was confusing.
I looked dumbly out the nearside windows across the seawall three or four feet from me. Amanda had left the blinds down my side, so I had no frame of reference to clue me in. Amanda had asked if I was alright ... see paragraph one (I think the period when you’re coming down with a cold is the worst, once you’re fully in it you can rum with the symptoms, when it’s building up, it’s just an odd lot of aches and some mental disconnect).
The tide was low but on its way in according to the tide feature on my watch (It’s a Protrek triple sensor, an evolution of the original G-Shocks, one of which I had as my dive watch more than two decades ago ... I think I read somewhere that this is another of those modern items that has more processing power than the Apollo 11 Lunar mission module ... it’s a watch). That one glance at the tide graph on my watch, the date, the day, the time, the lack of moon, and suddenly I had perspective. I sipped some tea and my brain fully caught up with reality, I was looking at that familiar Thames estuary but from the opposite side, direct out toward the southern end of the London Array Wind Farm. I need to say I resent the cost of subsidising wind-farms that will not provide nearly enough electricity over their lifetimes as originally estimated. However every little helps, and as an aside they are natural no- take zones/marine reserves, and initial reports show that sea life around them benefits from the protection afforded by not allowing trawling beneath them, that is a good thing.
The birds in front of us were inured to the sight of the half dozen or so motorhomes, vans and cars parked by the wall. I grabbed my binoculars and opened a side window, and with the bed still made up we watched the birds go about their business. It was both odd and exciting. I suppose we watched for twenty minutes or so, the water was between forty and fifty meters from the wall and slowly creeping in. Far to the north and south huge anvil headed Cumulous clouds banked the sky, between the banks of cloud we sat in a horseshoe shaped pool of blue, dotted here and there with puffs of cotton wool cloud that rolled and roiled and then evaporated some way off shore, or were spun from fluff to strands before disappearing.
The night before it had rained and blown, and was altogether miserable and damp. Our morning was bright breezy and crisp, the suns light and warmth most welcome, in part to allow us to be outside without going through the rigmarole of keeping the damp as close to the side door as possible when we got back in, and de-jacketing. And of course to allow a bit of warmth and breeze through the van to dry out all the damp we had collected regardless of our efforts to keep damp out. Water is the enemy in the vehicle, and yet we have to carry gallons of it for washing us, washing up the dishes and to sustain life through the medium of tea. We also carry several gallons of chemically treated water to flush the loo. But it’s the water you can’t see or contain that causes you issues, moisture from breath, atmospheric moisture, condensation, it’s a chore we have to deal with but if it’s allowed to get too damp we’ll have moulds and mildew, and all the ills that go with household damp.
We watched the birds for a bit, used the pocket guide we brought with us to identify the geese, packed up the breakfast things, got dressed, folded the bed away and put the kettle on and then returned to our bird watching. But there were no birds; our jobs had distracted us long enough for all the waders and foreshore birds to go. The tide was still thirty meters off the slope of sand that constitutes the lonely stretch of beach. Unknown to us mere humans though; the water had peaked at the edge of the foreshore and spilled rapidly to the foot of the beach at a pace equal to the quick walking pace we’d seen at East Beach on the other side of the estuary, to then spend the next three hours rising around seven feet vertically. The birds must have known. How they knew, how they know I guess we’ll never know. One assumes broadly that one species gets up and leaves and all the others follow suit, but to be sure, you would have to keep eyes on the entire period and then realise in advance what you were seeing.
Addendum: I gave this some thought as you do, and it occurred to me that maybe the birds prey moves as the water pressure increases in the silt ... the birds know feeding time is over because breakfast/dinner goes off to do something else.
Soon the gulls were the only birds remaining, bobbing about in the surf and occasionally taking off in loose flocks to harass newcomers in cars who may have brought bread to throw to them while walking their dogs in the wild parkland reserve adjacent to the beach.
We decided that some prawns we allowed to thaw and re-freeze (by accident) were good enough to use as bait, and that as the tide was rising we would fish. So that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t catch anything but that’s not really the point, we used our rods and reels, tried spinning with lures and beach casting our usual double hooked rigs. We caught the sun, watched the tide rise to its peak and then ebb back three or four meters at which point we gave up, fed the crabs the last of the prawns and drove to a little Certified Site called Leo Bay behind the Isle of Grain back inside the estuary proper (photo blog to follow).
It is one of those odd realisations, more of which we have every day we are out and about, to whit: we had bait and gear and time and importantly clement weather ... lets fish ... walk the short stretch of sand between the groynes, study the brittle Razor Clam and Slipper Limpet shells, wonder at the how and why of the lives of the empty Cockle Shells in every size from pea to walnut, try and take in the millions of various coloured and shaped pebbles, odds of quartz and Jasper, flint and chalk, bits of wind dried weed, hardy salt resistant grass ... and wonder if what my dad told me as a child is actually true “that there are more stars in our galaxy than there are grains of sand on every beach all over the world”.
Today as I finish this, we are sitting in the van late morning on the 6th of November, it’s drizzling outside, we’re in Canterbury, the rain is supposed to ease latter and we’ll walk back into town, there’s an Odeon ... which unfortunately for Canterbury Cathedral is likely to be more entertaining, and less expensive to enter ... £9.50 to walk into a church and look around, historical significance or not ... bugger that ... and anyway I’m liable to catch fire if I cross hallowed ground.

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