Tag Archives: birds

Longshore drift

Coastal erosion is in the news these days. Most spectacularly near Hayle in north Cornwall where geologist Richard Hocking caught an enormous fall on camera and, of course, like the modern equivalent of whether a falling tree makes any sound if there’s no one there to witness it, these things don’t really happen unless they are uploaded almost immediately to youtube. (It’s well worth a look though.) It goes without saying that the South West Coast Path has been diverted.

Technically speaking this erosion of the land is caused by the constant battering of the sea, primarily by the processes of hydraulic action, corrasion, attrition, and corrosion. Hydraulic action occurs when the force of the waves compresses air pockets in coastal rocks and cliffs. The air expands explosively, breaking the rocks apart. Rocks and pebbles flung by waves against the cliff face wear it away by the process of corrasion, or abrasion as it is also known. Chalk and limestone coasts are often broken down by corrosion and attrition is the process by which the eroded rock particles themselves are worn down, becoming smaller and more rounded. That’s cleared all that up then.

My staycationing this year has seemed to take me quite naturally to our picturesque coast, and particularly the south coast along the Solent. One more bright and sunny day of this Indian summer (I’ve often wondered about that phrase and apparently it’s a north American term dating from about 3 centuries ago: In the same way that Indian giver was coined for people who take back presents they have bestowed, the phrase Indian summer may simply have been a way of saying “false summer”. Well this year has been odd a scorching April and a blistering opening to October, I’ve never known anything like it) found us in Lymington.

They love their sailing down here – it’s got three marinas – and some TV programme rated it the best town on the coast but we were here to walk along the Solent Way along the edge of Pennington and Keyhaven marshes to Hurst Castle. The castle is one of Henry VIII’s coastal forts and was constructed at the end of a long shingle spit. It also has a picture perfect lighthouse. And it is long, about 2 kilometres I reckon, and every step is strength sapping, especially on the calf muscles. (So strength sapping that we took a ferry back to the shore rather than walk it again.) This is the beauty of shingle it can absorb huge forces and this beach was created by longshore drift.

OK pay attention here comes some more science. Longshore drift consists of the transportation of sediments (generally sand but also, as in this case, coarser sediments such as gravels) along a coast at an angle to the shoreline, which is dependent on prevailing wind direction, swash and backwash. (Swash as I’m sure you all know is a turbulent layer of water that washes up on the beach after an incoming wave has broken. Hence swashbuckling I guess.)

Spits are formed when longshore drift travels past a point where the dominant drift direction and shoreline do not veer in the same direction. As well as dominant drift direction, spits are affected by the strength of wave driven current, wave angle and the height of incoming waves. Spits are landforms that have two important features. The first feature being the region at the up-drift end or proximal end. The proximal end is constantly attached to land (unless breached) and may form a slight “barrier” between the sea and an estuary or lagoon. The second important spit feature is the down-drift end or distal end, which is detached from land and in some cases, may take a complex hook-shape or curve, due to the influence of varying wave directions. It’s on days like these I wish I’d paid more attention during geography.

The walk is splendid even if you don’t understand any of this and trust me at best I’ve got a very tenuous grip on it. You leave the chandler shops and marinas of Lymington behind you and you are quickly on the flat marshland with the whole walk spread out in front of you. It’s certainly big sky country round here and the landscape which at first appears deserted is actually teeming with wildlife. There’s oystercatchers, redshanks and what I think were curlews. All dipping, bobbing and wading their peaceful way through the pools and lagoons that surround you. The air is redolent with their gentle whistling and calling. The salinity in these lagoons varies widely, but is generally lower than seawater. This specialised habitat supports its own distinctive plants and animals, some of which are only found in this environment. The lagoons are some of the most important in Britain with populations of rare species including Foxtail Stonewort, Lagoon Shrimp and starlet Sea-anemone. On the walk back in the early evening we were accompanied by swooping sand martins who seem to revel in their ability to fly and for all the world just seem to be doing it because they’re simply having fun. And who can blame ‘em?

Support the work of the Ramblers – sponsor me here

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Neil Young with Stephen Stills – Long May You Run

Lighthouse Family – Run

More information:

OS Map used – Outdoor Leisure 22 New Forest – pay less when you order here

Listen to:

cshx – Solent

Kate Bush – The Big Sky (Special Single Mix)

Shawsax – An Evening On The Estuary

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Longshore Drift

Phonem – Warm Rays (Longshore Drift)

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In the bleak midwinter (December 2010)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Very appropriate except it probably should say ‘just a while ago’ and they’re not kidding with the ‘snow on snow, snow on snow’ bit are they? On Saturday 18th trusting to the weather reports I popped out to the shops for the paper and a spot of panic buying early in the morning. The Met Office forecast snow at around noon. Almost as I shut my front door the few flakes fluttering lazily down from leaden skies turned into a howling blizzard. By the time I reached the main road the snow was crunching noisily under my boots and collecting on my eyelashes. The journey down by the river truly was magical.

The snow abated early afternoon leaving a crisp white even covering of about 6 cms. The birds seeing their chance descended on the feeding pole in our front garden with some relish. It’s a pretty grim time for garden birds; smaller birds like wrens lose the heat from their bodies pretty quickly, so they need to be eating all the time to survive. Trouble is they really need us to be putting food out for them because the berries on trees, the insects and fish in frozen ponds and rivers, small mammals, or the worms and insects in the frozen ground are all inaccessible. But they love grated cheese, porridge oats, fruit, cooked pasta and rice (before sauce), cooked potatoes, and unsalted bacon, cooked or raw. Festive things like pastry and cake crumbs are also welcome.

Sport was another big casualty of the weekend. I’d been looking forward to watching the mighty Chelsea get back on form by beating Manchester U but that game was called off a day early. Post has been severely interrupted as well – not great at this time of year. (Hope of everybody who Amazon’d their presents got their stuff delivered on time – aah the worries of modern life.) But talking about post my favourite Christmas card is without doubt the one that has an Edwyn Collins illustration of a robin on the front.

With the snow largely melted from London on Tuesday evening (winter solstice day) with images of Odin slaying the frost giant Ymir playing in my head I set off to lead a Metropolitan Walkers walk based around Dickens in London. I’m a big Dickens fan me – and Wilkins Micawber always seems appropriate but even more so these days: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and – and in short, you are for ever floored.” They don’t write ‘em like that anymore – well sadly not George Osborne’s speechwriters anyway. (You young readers might want to find an old person to explain the vagaries of pre-decimalized currency to you. And anybody who can explain to me whether ‘Oik’ Osborne has any economic theory, however misguided, underpinning his cost cutting programme would be more than welcome.)

After a very enjoyable walk I had a couple of beers in The Dickens Inn at St Katherine’s Dock. I couldn’t find any connection to Dickens himself but thinking it was just a ruse to drag in the tourists I was told that one of his great great grandchildren opened the pub here years ago when the re-development of Docklands began. The journey home was definitely messy. Held up for over 45 minutes at Earls Court while police attempted to clear revellers off the rails near West Kensington I was forced to re-route to Heathrow on the Piccadilly line and catch a 24 hour bus back home. Got in just before 2 am. Ah the problems of winter travel in the UK. So with the modern version of the Nativity apparently being no room at the airport terminal I hope you all had a great holiday break.

Listen to:

Annie Lennox – In The Bleak Midwinter

Edwyn Collins – Girl Like You

Dolly Parton – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Winter Makes You Want Me More

Charles Dickens – Christmas Ghosts

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Sound and Vision

8 August 2010

If you’ve never been to Dungeness nothing can really prepare you for the landscape. As far as I can work out the name derives from the Old Norse where ‘nes’ means nose, with, in this case, the nose attached to Denge Marsh. Others say it’s a derivation of the French for dangerous nose. Wherever the name comes from, Dungeness is a cuspate foreland – one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world – on the coast of Kent. This headland shelters the low lying land of Romney Marsh and is a haven for diverse wildlife and rare plants. Oh yeah and it’s got a nuclear power station as well.

It’s just under 100 miles away from London and this makes its bleak and desolate landscape seem all the more bleak and desolate. (Trees are a distinct rarity down here.) But that’s OK ‘cos I quite like bleak and desolate landscapes and I’m very fond of Dungeness. As well as the shingle, rare plants, exotic wildlife and power station there’s a functioning 15 gauge railway line that runs from Hythe to Dungeness. Completed in 1928 the nearly 14 miles of track owed much to the vision of two men; Captain J. E. P. Howey — a sometimes racing driver, millionaire land owner, former Army Officer and miniature railway afficionado along with Count Louis Zborowski — a well-known racing driver of his day (famous for owning and racing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Mercedes) and considerably richer, even, than Howey. I’m fairly indifferent to this sort of thing but the steam and transport buffs I know get very excited about it and consider it one of the railway wonders of the world.

The RSPB has a bird sanctuary nearby and every year thousands of bird watchers flock (see what I did there) to record sightings of the different birds that live here or who are stopping over while they migrate. In May this year a pair of purple herons nested in the UK for the first time ever at Dungeness and successfully reared two chicks. Purple herons are high up on the list of birds that the RSPB expect to see setting up home in southern Britain as the changing climate pushes them further north. I’m certainly not indifferent to this sort of thing at all and I think the reserve is a great place to spend a coupla hours even if you know nothing about birds.

Close by is sleepy little Lydd Airport from which about 4,000 people fly to and from annually. The owners have renamed the enterprise London Ashford airport. I don’t think even Ryanair fly into places 100 miles from the supposed destination. The grandiose scheme attached to this rename plans to increase the number of passengers to 500,000. This is just plane stupid. If you ask me the south east doesn’t really need any more airports. One here would destroy the natural tranquillity of Dungeness and could see its remarkable wildlife slowly disappear, poisoned by increased levels of pollution or simply driven out by the massive disturbance that such a large airport would cause.

In the later years of his life Derek Jarman had a cottage here, which is remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden. The house was built in tarred timber and has a raised wooden text on the side of the cottage quoting the first stanza and the last five lines of the final stanza of John Donne‘s poem, The Sun Rising. The cottage’s beach garden was made using local materials and has been the subject of several books. But despite taking a look at all this what we are really here to do today is to take a guided tour of the Sound Mirrors at Lade

These other worldy concrete structures are the remains of part of an acoustic early warning system that was designed to detect engine sounds from approaching aircraft. ‘Staccato signals of constant information‘  as Paul Simon sings from another time. The ones here and just up the coast at Hythe were part of an intended chain defending the south east. The Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership along with the author of Echoes in the Sky, Dr Richard Scarth, have been leading free, non-booking, guided walks out to the Sound Mirrors for over 11 years now. And bloody good they are too. On the site, owned by CEMEX, there is a 20 foot mirror, a 30 foot mirror and a 200 foot wall. Despite being constructed between 1928 and 1930 all are on the Scheduled Ancient Monuments list.


The walk we were on was extremely popular – I stopped estimating at 150 – and extremely well led. (Our guide was featured on the BBC’s Secret Britain series when they covered the medicinal leeches of Dungeness. See I told you the wildlife was exotic). The advent of radar, in 1934, cast this experiment onto the quirky historical scrapheap fairly rapidly and as far as I can work out they were only used in the Air Defence of Great Britain Exercises in the 1930’s. They’re well worth preserving though and fit in very well with all the other outlandish sights to be seen at Dungeness.


Listen to:

David Bowie – Sound And Vision

The Albion Band – Bird-watching

Paul Simon – The Boy In The Bubble – Remastered Album Version

Sound Affairs Band – 32 Cryptograms For Derek Jarman

The Magnetic Fields – Smoke And Mirrors

Stavo Craft – The Sound Mirror (Reprise)

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