Day 58

The cowslips have finally given up the ghost. Their yellow petals have faded, vibrancy lost, they wilt. Job done.

In the woodland at the foot of the heath, on the slope of the hill, bracken ferns are beginning to unfurl. Sprouting strong from below the past year’s brown litter, the firm green shoots, follow a curled fist of new leaf, punching upward. 

The broad leaves of foxgloves are also pushing through now among the thinly distributed blue bells. A foxglove’s leaf is soft and its tip curls ground-wards because the midrib is barely strong enough to hold the emerging weight. It will be a few days yet before the fox glove shoots emerge and flower from the centre of the plant.

On the last patch of rough ground before the shore, a grasshopper warbler sits on the apex of looped bramble. Its churring might pass for that of a cicada in Spain, or Greece. A small brown bird with little remarkable about it, except its calling. In the English countryside there is nothing quite like it. As with all small, brown birds it is far easier to hear them than to see them; so it is a treat to see this Little Brown Job (“LBJ”) on song and so easily identifiable.

Further along, sat on the crown of a small bush, is a linnet, with its double patch of pale red across its breast. It basks in the last of the sunshine, without making any noticeable noise.

I pace out the width of the beach, from the low water-line to the peak of the shingle. It is more than 75 paces. I notice a small starfish, its five legs closing up from dehydration, just over 30 paces from the low tide line. It will have been there since the tide began to retreat about seven hours ago, but has yet to be gathered up by a gull, or passing crow.

A crab shell, orange and brown on the outer surface is nearby. It is brilliant white within. I pick it up and although it measures the breadth of my right hand, it weighs just a few grammes. Dried out in the sun and air, the discarded shell is friable. I drop it and watch how easily shards break from the once hard carapace when it hits the stones.

From the arête of shingle bank, I look inland and my eye is caught by the white shadow of a barn owl swinging back and forward over the pasture. When a barn owl turns, it can seem to do so within its own length. It pivots on the broad inner wing of the arc and loops itself quickly into a new direction.

I watch this ghostly hunter sink toward the grass, then rise again, before it suddenly drops deep into the field. It is out of view for a few moments before it reappears. Like the kestrel, the other day near Wiverton, the sign of a successful catch, is the flat, fast, straight flight across the chase to a more sheltered spot, to somewhere captured prey can be dealt with uninterrupted.

By the main road a broad drain runs beside a lay-by which is the preferred sales pitch of an ice-cream van in summer. On the still water a family of seven mute swans trail along, disturbed by human presence. The father makes a threatening sally towards the roadside where I am walking, the mother leads away the train of ugly ducklings, (who are really very cute, grey, fluffy bundles) along the far side of the water. One of the five cygnets is distracted by some random speck floating nearby, before it realises it has to hurry up to rejoin the end of the flotilla speeding behind the imperious mother.

Where the water broadens into a duck pond, a couple of mallards are beak-down, tail-up. exploring the murky water, creating distinct circles of ripples by their dabbling. 

The sunset is spectacular. The flat sea mirrors the deepening blue of the sky. The north-west horizon is marked by a strip of deep orange, under-scored by the dark strip of a fog bank. Due north the clarity of the air gives perfect sight of the 88 wind turbines churning elegantly in the breeze.

Along the beach fishermen have made camp. Their long lines, already cast, loop languidly out into the water.

When this particular set of evening colours is displayed there is the promise of a cold night, but the night sky will be spectacular, with the third-quarter moon and the stars for decoration.

Christopher Perry

14th May, 2020

Day 55

I realise that yesterday’s waves were nothing to write home about. When you can see the explosion of breakers showering sea spray higher than the shingle bank: when you can see spume carrying on the wind over the salt marsh; when you can hear the action of the sea smashing into the shingle from Bard Hill, then you have something to construct a letter around.

There are not just one or two places where the breaking waves throw up crowns of white water. The huge fans of spray are seen above the shingle bank at any point you choose to watch. The beach is being constantly pummelled. Encouraged by the following wind, the sea’s assault on the banks of stone defences shielding the low-lying flood plain is relentless.

At high tide, I am standing on the top shelf of the beach. This is quite close enough. I can taste the brine, feel molecules of spray landing on my face. My sunglasses begin to get clouded by the sea salt carried on the air.

The inter-tidal range this morning is 5.65 metres from highest to lowest tide. Here there are two high tides each day, so the sea will two big bites at the shingle today. Further along the coast to the east at Weybourne, incursions by the sea are common.

Where I am standing used to be the site of a popular seasonal café. The café was for many years a makeshift affair that then developed into a healthy business, even setting charges for car-parking. But the higgledy-piggledy building could not withstand the wintry rigours of the North Sea. It was badly knocked about on numerous occasions before eventually being submerged by shingle washed inland by a particularly vicious storm. Today, there is absolutely no evidence at this place of the old shack having ever existed.

To repair this shingle bank takes considerable time and effort. Huge yellow mechanical shovels, driven on caterpillar tracks, have to push the shingle back toward the waterline to restore this long heap that rises over the marshes. It is a thankless task. How much longer it is worth committing energy to this activity is a moot point. 

Around the old abandoned port of Cley, now an inland collection of well-maintained flint and red brick cottages, there are newer, more solid defences. The River Glaven is heavily embanked and can be closed off from the sea by a new flood gate, but there is an increasing risk of inundation from the rising sea-level. How long will it be before the sea is again brushing up against the old quay?

The sky is bright blue. The rising Sun is still low enough to dazzle. The wind takes the temperature down close to freezing. There is a gloomy, deep grey cloud bank filling the northern horizon. An ominous dark watery wall envelopes the off-shore wind turbines. What looks suspiciously like a small snow shower drifts quickly inland in a south-westerly direction towards Blakeney and the port of Wells-Next-The-Sea.

The strong wind provides a kestrel a perfect opportunity to show off its ability to hold still in flight whilst hunting. The bird holds its wing position perfectly in the face of the strong north-easterly wind and stalls without any visible effort scanning the grass below. When satisfied that there is nothing worth hanging around for in one spot, the kestrel tips itself so that the wind lifts under its right wing and it lets itself be carried to the next likely site, a few metres downwind, where it returns to its previous pose, holding still in mid-air.

The sunshine belies the temperature. It is little warmer than yesterday’s dismal evening. 

The combination of dry sunny days and strong cool winds off the sea ensure that Norfolk folk venturing outside become either raw, pink-faced or deeply dark tanned. Warm weather here starts when the temperature reaches fifteen degrees centigrade, but the skin tones of many local faces would complement any Greek island.

I spend a while watching the waves thinking about what into happen next. It seems that the first wave of the coronavirus has swept through the land. Deaths are still counted in hundreds each day. The Prime Minister’s pre-recorded, yet still incoherent address to the nation yesterday signals a shift in emphasis in government policy.

From being kindly accommodated here temporarily for want of anywhere suitable to live through this crisis, to where? I look out across the white horses to the fore-shortened horizon. For now, I am grateful to be here.

.

Christopher Perry

11th April, 2020

Day 53

Great Eye, a lump of clay and sand, is dissolving a little more with each storm tide. It used to be further inland, less exposed to the direct action of sea. For a while it was the site of a folly building, which then became a coast guard rocket house, before the foundations and brickwork succumbed to the tides.

Random sections of old brickwork still exist, but they lie down the beach, edging toward the sea. The mortar still holds, but is gradually thinning. The red bricks have long since become smoothed and rounded off at their extremes. The sea has a way of rounding everything off, smoothing things out with its steady soothing motions.

I picked up several pebbles on the shore this afternoon, I kept hold of four: a black, flat ellipse of granite; another egg-shaped disc, closer to ivory than stone; a tiger-striped orange and brown disc, roughly the size of a 50 pence piece; a deep red pebble the size of my thumbnail.

I dropped a fifth stone accidentally when examining a dead green crab that had acted as host to several barnacles on its shell. This pebble was almost see-through and small enough to set in a ring for a little finger.

The granite disc fits perfectly into my right palm. I can close my hand fully around it. It warms in my grasp.

The red pebble gains a shine easily.

The tiger stone and its pallid twin lose their lustre once dry, but retain their physical integrity. The tiger stone is distinct enough to become a reminder of these days, walking this coastline during unusual times.

I was going to write about the sand martins here too. They are busy at Great Eye today. I will visit them again soon.

.

Christopher Perry

9th May, 2020

Day 37

I am out after supper. The light is fading earlier than previous evenings because of the spreading high-cloud cover. Venus is high in the west.

Everything is calmer. The wind dropping, the sea smoother, the air warmer. Birds have settled into their pairs. Nests are built. A swan sits on a massive mesh of reeds; a mallard drake on a nest, while the duck waddles off with a girlfriend.

A small array of starlings is collecting on a telephone line, but there is no sign of the swallows. Blackbirds seem to be taking the lead for the evening chorus. Much of the rest of the avian cast have bedded down for an early night.

Above, thin, steely cloud cover catches the sunset in two patches. One illuminated area lies low to the sea and holds hints of orange; the higher patch, over the marshes, resembles rose-pink quilt-work. The light red hue from the underside of the clouds then reflects again from the surfaces of the pools amongst the reeds. The flat sea melts from a mercury sheen to the same soft pink. It is all quite beautiful.

There is not one other person to be seen. I am the only person walking the twelve kilometres of beach.

As I make my way back to the road, the shallowest part of the low-lying pasture is lighter, whiter, misty. The dyke that runs parallel to the road, is steaming slightly. The grass on the green behind the bus shelter, is disappearing in a wispy, milky layer of chilled air.

.

Christopher Perry

23rd April, 2020

Day 19

After a night lit by the not yet full moon, a day of bright sunlight and a strong wind. This blow is hot and drying. It is relentless, like a wind that drives the locals crazy after weeks of it in Crete, or parts of southern Spain. It is not a wind to sit in. It makes people restless, as they seek respite from its nagging.

The hedge birds are also unsettled by this draining draught. They hurry about their business then retreat to sheltered boughs, or nests.

By late afternoon the temperature of the air has encouraged queen wasps to come out. Unmistakably large, they move slowly about in these unusually dry, warm hours in search of somewhere to establish a nest ready for the season of ripened fruit. They will settle down for the rest of Spring and early Summer before their small offspring start appearing looking for sweet food in the orchards and around picnic blankets.

Down on the shoreline the effect of the constant, strong blow on the sea surface is remarkable. The wind seems to flatten the natural motion of the waves like a huge hand smoothing a bedsheet into place on a mattress. There are suggestions of dips where in a bed the ticking would be buttoned tight to the padding. Here the constant movement of the sea over these hollows, this repeated smoothing of the briny sheet, becomes hypnotic. On reaching the beach the waves do not break; the following wind simply brushes each flattened roll up the shingle, as if it were a giant broom.

Turnstones seem unperturbed by the action of the sea. They sustain the quick rhythm of their pecking and picking at the stones whilst wandering heads down in a generally easterly direction. These birds are brown jacketed piece-workers with no time to socialise as they comb the tide line for tidbits.

The force and direction of the wind adds an exciting aspect to the flight of gulls. None travel upwind over the sea, they come inland and use the shelter of the banked shingle to make progress into the headwind. Yet, over the water the gulls, either singly, or in small flights, use the power of the breeze to good effect. They half-turn to gain height, then swoop to get full speed without having to flap their wings at all. A gull’s movement with the wind is all about small adjustments to the angle and tension in the wings and tail. Seeing birds fly so fast, so acrobatically without effort, is breath-taking.

The moon rises through the thin mist that blurs the horizon. It is a huge pock-marked, silvery plate, but still not full.

It’s been a long day. We’ve been busy for the sake of filling the hours. The Queen of England broadcasts a brief message that gives some perspective to the health crisis facing humanity. Similar messages have been broadcast by presidents and political leaders around the world in recent weeks. It is one worth hearing again; this time will pass.

We speak. We speak not of that future time, but of today’s accomplishments, what we have seen and learned. This is the time we have now.

CLP 05/04/2020