sheep and more sheep

December 2, 2012

A visit to Rye – to the dentist  – just by the church. Amusing comments from others in the waiting room – “it’s just the thought of the dentists that makes one feel nervous” – ” I’ve never really been hurt” –  ” I dread it”. Fortunately, for me, it’s never a bad experience as luckily my dentist is brilliant. I wander down through the town walls feeling mellow rather like the sheep grazing on the marshes by the river Rother. Back on the road home – the Royal Military Road at the junction with Sea Road at the base of the Winchelsea hill, temporary traffic lights provide an opportunity to pause and view down the stretch of land carved out by the construction of the canal. Beautiful tones on the rushes – but no sheep.

Having negotiated the hair pin bends around the base of the town and started to pick up speed on the down hill run after Rectory Lane, a large flock  came into view captured in the geometric areas formed by the network of ditches and streams . . . .

. . . quiet and ‘nothing to shout about’ willows line the stream . . . .

The ancient mounds that hold the ridge of Monks’ Walk form a spectacular background.

Off they scuttle – across my idea of a seventh heaven landscape.

The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.

The train leaves a line of breath.
O slow
Horse the colour of rust,

Hooves, dolorous bells –
All morning the
Morning has been blackening,

A flower left out.
My bones hold a stillness, the far
Fields melt my heart.

They threaten
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water. Sylvia Plath  A Sheep in the Fog

Another post more related to the poem and another about sheep and I’m not sure if Romney Marsh sheep had bells – but I do know who might know.

down the lane

March 16, 2012

Down a lane at the back of Northiam, the beech woods are still asleep . . . .

. . . signs of spring awakening shows on the lower shrubs and herb layer – catkins on the hazel . . .

. . . some, but not a great deal, of interest in being photographed!


This isn’t Bob’s Lane but Ewhurst Lane – a hurst being a wood. The sheep are, of course, also a clue.

Women he liked, did shovel-bearded Bob,

Old Farmer Hayward of the Heath, but he
Loved horses. He himself was like a cob
And leather-coloured. Also he loved a tree.

For the life in them he loved most living things,
But a tree chiefly. All along the lane
He planted elms where now the stormcock sings

That travellers hear from the slow-climbing train.

Till then the track had never had a name
For all its thicket and the nightingales
That should have earned it. No one was to blame
To name a thing beloved man sometimes fails.

Many years since, Bob Hayward died, and now
None passes there because the mist and the rain
Out of the elms have turned the lane to slough
And gloom, the name alone survives, Bob’s Lane. Edward Thomas  Bob’s Lane


August 31, 2011

Off to  do some foraging in late August – to see what’s around on the trees and bushes – along the river defence from the Rye to the sea. Looking back at the town on  the hill:

And to the west

And to the east . . . .

newly shorn youngsters alone now without their mothers . . .

These large concrete shapes possibly relics from the tram line that ran along this spit connecting the town to Camber Sands. They rest leisurely on a bed of marshy samphire, but not a great taste. Most unfortunately as samphire is one of my  favourite foods but easy to leave this well alone. This is the muddy environment that this samphire grows in . . .

The verges or edges along the path are as natural as possible – the centre of the route just trodden by walkers. Some umbellifers – possibly Pceudenanum palustre in seed (seed edible)  – and what looked like fennel but have my doubts – guess what I forgot to taste it!

Rowan berries, not poisonous if cooked and will make a little marmalade and/or jelly. Hawthorn . . . . need some advice on these but most likely they’ll make a jelly mixed with a few crab apples to help it set.

Black berries on buckthorn Rhamnus catharticus. Not to eat nowadays as mildly poisonous but, in the past, if needing a real purge then the bark and berries might have done the trick  . . . or simply killed one.

A luminous stand of Epilobium with the a glimpse of the Romney Marsh Wind Farm behind. Eat Rose Bay leaves and stems and flowers when young and soft – a useful piece of info here. And below definitely harvest the  juicy edible berries of sea buckthorn – time consuming to pick as only one at a time will come free – but scrumptious on a tart.

Here with blackberry growing through and below ready to be cooked.

So there’s my year, the twelvemonth duly told
Since last I climbed this brow and gloated round
Upon the lands heaped with their wheaten gold,
And now again they spread with wealth imbrowned –
And thriftless I meanwhile,
What honeycombs have I to take, what sheaves to pile?

I see some shrivelled fruits upon my tree,
And gladly would self-kindness feign them sweet;
The bloom smelled heavenly, can these stragglers be
The fruit of that bright birth and this wry wheat,
Can this be from those spires
Which I, or fancy, saw leap to the spring sun’s fires?

I peer, I count, but anxious is not rich,
My harvest is not come, the weeds run high;
Even poison-berries, ramping from the ditch
Have stormed the undefended ridges by;
What Michaelmas is mine!
The fields I sought to serve, for sturdier tilage pine.

But hush – Earth’s valleys sweet in leisure lie;
And I among them wandering up and down
Will taste their berries, like the bird or fly,
And of their gleanings make both feast and crown.
The Sun’s eye laughing looks.
And Earth accuses none that goes among her stooks. Edmund Blunden  Harvest

the levels at Pett

March 10, 2011

Cliff End is an area of Pett level, sheltered from the sea with a high embankment. It  marks one end of the Royal Military Canal – the other finishing at Hythe. Shallow marsh with lakes and reedbeds that offers overwintering to many birds. It’s a place of wonderment!

The late afternoon offers this dreamy vision across the layers of texture. The light sits and almost sighs before changing to stronger contrasts.

More ‘vertical features remade’. Empty sheep pens that look all folded up in the complexity of openings and side panels. They maybe oak, or are they hazel – to discover.

I assume from the title that Ireland is the home to the poem below although it seems to be about many places?  To me, the description and underlying atmosphere echoes my connection to the levels. So . . .

Even before I’ve left, I long
for this place. For hay brought in before the rain,
its stooks like stanzas, for glossy cormorants
that make metal eyes and dive like hooks,
fastening the bodices of the folding tide
which unravels in gardens of carraigin.
I walk with the ladies who throw stones at the surge
and their problems, don’t answer the phone
in the ringing kiosk. Look. In the clouds
hang pewter promontories, long bays
whose wind-indented silent coasts
make me homesick for where I’ve not been.
Quicksilver headlands shoot into the night
till distance and the dying of day
dull steel and vermillion to simple lead
blown downward to the dark, then out of sight. 

Gwyneth Lewis  The Flaggy Shore

St Mary’s in East Guldeford, one of the 14 churches in Romney Marsh, but the only one in  Sussex. There are 4 ruined churches too. The landscape has changed so much – from tidal salt marsh to reclaimed land protected by embankments – the difference is dramatically seen comparing old maps to todays. Guldeford isn’t a name or word  that is common around here but apparently it means the ford where the marigolds grew – delightful.

Useful ‘verticals’ in the landscape – rather a theme for me at the moment (blame it on Peter Greenaway! ) – the most distant forms are the angular wind vanes at Dungeness. In contrast, beautiful, soft curving forms on the carving of this double headstone and the most well-known poem about the area written in the 19C follows on.

As I went down to Dymchurch Wall,
I heard the South sing o’er the land
I saw the yellow sunlight fall
On knolls where Norman churches stand.

And ringing shrilly, taut and lithe,
Within the wind a core of sound,
The wire from Romney town to Hythe
Along its airy journey wound.

A veil of purple vapour flowed
And trailed its fringe along the Straits;
The upper air like sapphire glowed:
And roses filled Heaven’s central gates.

Masts in the offing wagged their tops;
The swinging waves pealed on the shore;
The saffron beach, all diamond drops
And beads of surge, prolonged the roar.

As I came up from Dymchurch Wall,
I saw above the Downs’ low crest
The crimson brands of sunset fall,
Flicker and fade from out the West.

Night sank: like flakes of silver fire
The stars in one great shower came down;
Shrill blew the wind; and shrill the wire
Rang out from Hythe to Romney town.

The darkly shining salt sea drops
Streamed as the waves clashed on the shore;
The beach, with all its organ stops
Pealing again, prolonged the roar.  John Davidson   In Romney Marsh

The brick church sits rather squatly in its surroundings – all the buttresses added to combat the thrust of the wide building on the marshy ground giving it a heavy bottom.

Yes, it’s sheep time again and prepare for more!  The usual inhabitants of the marsh with their heavy long woollen fleece surround the church yard.  And when they turn around show a nice row of rear ends!

The reeds look at their best now – still upright out of the wind and warm brown in tone. Following on is a more contemporary poem and amusing in a rather depressing way. She said it  just as she found it did Fanthorpe.

It is a kingdom, a continent

Nowhere is like it

(Ripe for development)

 It is salt, solitude, strangeness

It is ditches, and windcurled sheep

It is sky over sky after sky

(It wants hard shoulders, Happy Eaters

Heavy breathing of HGV’s)

 It is obsinate hermit trees

It is small, truculent churches

Huddling under the gale force

(It wants WC’s, Kwiksaves,

Artics, Ind Ests, Jnctns)

 It is the Military Canal

Minding its peaceable business

Between the Levels and the Marsh

(It wants investing in roads

Sgns syng T’DEN, F’STONE, C’BURY)

 It is itself, and different

(Nt fr lng. N fr lng.)   U A Fanthorpe  A Major Road for Romney Marsh

Thanks A. for the pix.


Driving out of Appledore in the late afternoon along the narrow road that follows the line of The Royal Military Canal, I was taken with the sky. It was quite something. The sheep, of course, are just glad to get stuck into the newly washed grass that’s been hidden under thick snow for at least a week.   The canal follows the line of the old cliffs when this land was connected to the sea. Now it forms part of Romney Marsh. 28 miles in length and 5 years to construct with the main purpose of keeping Napoleon at bay but also to control smuggling in the area.

My grandmother used to sing this to me a long time ago and her great-grandmother probably sung it to her. She also banged Bobby Shafto out on the upright piano. Now I realise they are both sea shantys. I’ll stop now as slightly drifting off the point!

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,
Panning out his yellow hair;
He’s my love for evermore,
Bonny Bobby Shafto![1

the long view

July 5, 2010

Too hot to work on the allotment – the tide was too low for a good swim – so an opportunity to walk between Fairlight and Pett along the coastal path, some of which is National Trust land. I’ve been drip feeding myself with Christopher Lloyd’s writing lately (always a pleasure)  and came across an article on views within the garden and beyond. The article is on ‘focal points’ – fairly scathing but very amusing – it’s titled The Long View and this was the basis for images and thoughts from the walk. The view to the east across uneven land with damp hollows where the sedge grows to the crest of the hill above Stumblet Wood. The hawthorns, punished by the south-westerly winds, make small gnarled silhouettes so the landscape out in the open is a marked contrast to .  . . .

. .  to that in Stream Lane. The ancient track appears true to its name and is often awash in winter months. Old sandstone blocks  support the land on either side so that the lane itself seems to be sunken. It was the track for the horse traffic while foot travellers kept to the raised path through the hornbeams, ferns and shady native plants. The sun pools through occasionally but it’s a damp and cool environment on a hot day in July. A few walkers, a jogger in lycra and a wobbly line of mountain bikers interrupting the peace for the permanent residents . . .

. . . a herd of about 40, mixed markings and tones. The bull, an old toffee coloured shaggy chap, was responsible for variety in skins. The path is quite constricted running along the edge of the field fencing but it cuts across to the top of the headland where  . . .

. .  viewing places are marked with seats. John enjoyed this view to the west.  Just visible is the saucer of stone that the disintegrating cliff has been given as a secondary line of defense from the sea . . .

. . and the view from Peter’s seat where the inscription reads: ‘Rest here awhile, enjoy the view and find the peace that he found too.’ He could see the sea defence work being carried out quite clearly from here.

Just 10 metres from Peter’s seat the south facing cove is tantalising but a dangerous, slippery descent even for mountain goats. Back to the footpath which is set back from the crumbling edge, the ferns are just at their peak of loveliness, still unfurling over the path so that you feel them on both sides. No sign of snakes this afternoon but real snake country . . . . .

. . looking through the willow-herb -early this year – to the sea and then straight ahead towards Cliff End and glimpses now of civilisation and the extensive view along Pett Level and Winchelsea beach . . .

. . important for me to keep focused on that long view and not to get involved in the fringe housing that has inserted itself on the left hand side of the path. Most of the owners of the surburbanised  gardens have erected tall blanket fencing that presumably cuts off their view but there are signs within the gardens of  just the sort of features and misplaced planting that Christopher Lloyd discusses in the article . . . some thatch with the bird on the ridge of the roof . . . no one around . . no one mowing . . all inside watching World Cup and Wimbledon which is good for me  . . .

. . the footpath tracks back across Pett Level road and through the open pastures of Old Marsham Farm. This gives the route quite a different character to the start of the walk. Now it’s necessary to focus on the small path signs on the other side of each field to proceed. The farmer’s around on his quad bike putting the dogs back into their pens after they’ve done their job with the sheep . . .

. . some of the land is low lying where sedges and thistles sprout up . . with field boundaries of poplars bending in the breeze . . .

. . still hot in the sun, so shade is sort after . . the final view to the east to the windfarm at Dungeness – still gives me a shock although I know perfectly well that it’s been there a while now.  The poem, Two Lighthouses, speaks of  the awareness, appreciation and the necessity for maintaining some distance in a relationship. I understand that it is  also a metaphor for terminal illness and death. To me, it talks too about the long view of evolving landscape and the need to step back or aside to consider and rationalise thoughts.

I would like us to live like two lighthouses
at the mouth of the river each with her own lamp.

We could see each other across the water,
which would be dangerous and uncrossable.

I could watch your shape, your warm shadow,
moving in the upper rooms. We would have jokes.

Jokes that were only ours, signs and secrets,
flares on birthdays, a rocket at Christmas.

Clouds would be cities, we would look for omens
and learn the impossible language of birds.

We would meet, of course, in cinemas, cafes,
but then we would return to our towers,

knowing the other was a light on the water,
a beam of alignment. It would never be broken.   Two Lighthouses   Julia Darling.

Postscript. The wildflower meadow at the farm the following evening where the mix has slowly changed visually into  midsummer tones – softer, more buttery – it seems to have absorbed the sunlight. The clouds gather and the gardeners amongst us were hopeful of rain . . .

. . .  8.30pm.

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