Friday 21 August 2020

A Long-Awaited Afternoon at the Beach

Knowing that Storm Ellen was on the way, we decided to make our way towards one of the less visited stretches of the Suffolk coast yesterday afternoon in the hope that even in August it would feel 'safe' to enjoy a couple of hours by the sea. My shielding only 'paused' at the start of August, so we are trying to tread pretty cautiously. As we approached the entrance passage that leads to the shore, we were horrified at the number of cars and decided that we would turn round once I had glimpsed the waves. However, the final car park was pretty empty so we thought we could at least afford to experiment. We were so glad that we persevered as a long empty stretch of shingle lay before us. Perfect!

Most of the blooms were past their best, but there were still a few flowers on the clumps of Campion.

The shore was dotted with Sea Kale...

...and I noticed the occasional shell. 

 Viper's Bugloss was still in flower further up the beach, though I didn't notice any bees.

We came across one very small mermaid's purse

 I always enjoy seeing the bright yellow flowers of the Horned Poppy...

... and the rare Sea Pea (this time with pods!).

I failed to get a sharp photo, but you may be able to see the spindly creature (Spider or Harvestman or something else?) making its way over the pebbles.

There are several Martello Towers along this stretch of coastline, dating from the Napoleonic era. In a guidebook by Brian and Mollie Skipper, it seems the name comes from a similar tower at Mortello Point on Corsica. Centuries before these towers were constructed, the Romans fortified parts of the east and south coasts of Britain with a series of castles and forts, known collectively as the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore. The remains of Walton Castle in the Felixstowe area are hard to trace, but there is a delightful 18th century watercolour here. Other Roman forts in the Saxon Shore line of defence were constructed in what is now Norfolk (the walls at Burgh Castle are impressive), Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire (Portchester Castle is well worth a visit).  

There was a small bird on the path ahead of us... Unfortunately we were looking into the sun, so the photos are not very helpful in terms of seeing what it is.

The bill suggests 'finch' to me.

We sometimes see Meadow Pipits here, but this ID doesn't seem quite right.

Suddenly we had an avian flypast. This may be a flock of migrants.

We definitely saw a male Stonechat on a post, and we think we were watching a Kestrel on a distant wire. This bird in the photo above alighted on a different post: does it look like a Wheatear to you? After a lockdown summer in which I have been largely confined to base, my bird ID skills seem mostly restricted to the regulars who come to the coconut fatballs in our suburban garden!

The photo above is once again a very poor one, but my zoom was stretched to its limit. I wanted to post the photo anyway because the lie of the land (or I should say 'sea') has been radically altered since we were here last, just before lockdown.

We are looking across or along to Orfordness where, up until very recently, the view was dominated by the iconic red and white stripes of the Orfordness Lighthouse (see next two photos: how I wish I had taken more from Orford Quay).

Orfordness Lighthouse, taken from Orford Quay, 2011

Orfordness Lighthouse taken from Shingle Street, 2016

Orford Ness is, by all accounts, a very strange place. I have looked across at it many times, but have never set foot on its stony ground. The National Trust, who care for this strip of land, describe it as a place that saw a '70-year period of intense military experimentation'. As I was looking at this shingle spit yesterday through the lenses of my camera and binoculars, my thoughts turned to the bleakest, most unsettling book I have read this year, Ness, by Robert Macfarlane, with illustrations by Stanley Donwood. The volume is what Andrew Motion, reviewing it for The Guardian, describes as a 'freewheeling prose-poem' with 'metaphorical' implications. As I read Ness, I was reminded of The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, a short story that was a set-text for my English Literature O level in the 1970s. Both books, it seems to me, send more than a shudder down the spine as they make us question our relationship with the natural world (and with the ever-encroaching world of technology).

Air to breathe...

...and space in which to stand and stare.

Orfordness Lighthouse in the press...

Back in 2013 I saw the writing on the wall and wrote a short poem the following year, subsequently published in Reach Poetry (Indigo Dreams) #188, about the lighthouse and its place on our exposed Suffolk coast:

Lighthouse Closure, 2013

Bands of red and white still cling
limpet-like to their deserted shell.

East coast waves arc in rainbows
over the Ness with a tale to tell.

The time for the turning of keys
has gone; gulls bid a fond farewell.

Yet up the coast there are those
who fear the rasp of a buried bell.

Footprints fade as the tide returns
and a small boat tackles the swell.

No more beams in a stormy sky,
just a star and a distant knell.

© Caroline Gill, 2014

* * * 


Sincere thanks to Ragged Robin and Conehead54 for their observations, additions and corrections. I can't believe I failed to consider the Wheatear's salient ID feature! As I say, my focus since lockdown has been on one small habitat - the garden. As for the bird on the path, Linnet was not a species we considered, though it makes good sense. What a shame I wasn't a few metres down the track so could have watched with the sun behind me... We saw that Whinchats were listed among recent sightings so this fits well. I'm very grateful to you both for your help.


Conehead54 said...

Linnet for your unidentified bird (probably the flock too!). The Stonechat is a migratory Whinchat- note the white supercilium.

Lovely flowers- a while since I last saw Sea Pea.

Ragged Robin said...

I am so pleased you managed in the end to find a quiet stretch of beach. It looks perfect. Loved seeing all your photos and all the things you spotted. There is always so much to see on a beach :)

Not sure about the bird being a Wheatear. My favourite id tip for that species is the white rump!

Your poem is just beautiful :)

eileeninmd said...


Wonderful photos from you visit to the beach. I love the lighthouse and the poem!
Enjoy your day, happy weekend!

Caroline Gill said...

Thank you both: I have added a P.S. to the post.

L. D. said...

This is such a beautiful place to visit with so many different and interesting things to see. The water is always a great feature. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful photos.

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Lovely photos! It would have been wild today out there.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Lovely photos, what a beautiful place for a walk! I enjoyed your poem too.

Lowcarb team member said...

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing these photographs.

All the best Jan