…and what’s on the other side…

Cuckmere Haven

Well… sorry about all those deadlines I was supposed to be meeting today – but I couldn’t face being stuck indoors (it was a public holiday).  Having checked the weather forecast and discovered it had upgraded from ‘probably rainy’ to ‘mostly fine’ in the South-East, I hopped in the car (which also welcomed the chance to stretch its legs) and whizzed down to Sussex for my favourite walk, up and over Seaford Head, with the fabulous view of the Seven Sisters on the other side.

The thinnest of cloud and the lightest of breezes ensured the sun was not too blazing hot.  I travelled light – no jacket or sweater, no bag, no camera, just my phone.  I was well rewarded;  it was a glorious day, Seaford very quiet, a classic Monsieur Hulot-ish slightly eccentric unfashionable seaside resort.  Not many people about, apart from a coach load of Italian kids, singing, on a guided tour (when they weren’t singing they were being earnestly lectured by a tall gent in a long red coat, looking oddly like an escaped Cardinal.  But I digress).

Up on the clifftop path I was assailed by multitudes of flying insects.  No rabbits though (but plenty of evidence that they were about).  Rooks and seagulls everywhere, even sparrows (a rare sight these days), and some very pretty slim beige and brown bird which obligingly perched on the cliff edge before flying off and revealing a fetching white bum;  the bird book in the back of the car suggests it’s a Wheatear (female and/or in winter plumage).  I feel honoured. 

And the skylarks!  They are supposed to be a vanishing species too, but fortunately no one has told these chaps, who were singing their little hearts out ‘in profuse strains of unpremeditated art’, as Shelley described it.  I watched one skylark take off, and followed its soaring, singing flight until my neck ached and I began to think passers-by would think I looked like an idiot.  But as I walked on I could still hear it, hundreds of feet above me, for several minutes, until its song was lost among half a dozen others.

At the far end of the walk, instead of going down to the rather grubby beach (which I gather is called Hope Gap), I turned inland a bit, looking (in vain) for a viewpoint from which to see the sinuous curves and oxbows of the Cuckmere River.  My eye was caught by a triangular cairn I’d never noted before.  It turned out to be a war memorial, complete with faded poppies and crosses.  A plaque described how a company of Canadian soldiers in World War 2 had camped out in the valley, heedless of warnings that they were under the flight path of German bombers.  The next morning, sure enough, two Messerschmitts destroyed them all.  The Captain was shaving in one of the coastguard cottages, and was killed instantly ‘when a bomb came through the wall that held his mirror’.  A sad bit of history.

War memorial, Cuckmere

More details here, with the text of the plaque – the writer has had the same experience as I have just had!

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Explore posts in the same categories: birds, history, poetry, Sussex

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