Duelling Marsh Harriers at Elmley

CIRCUS AERUGINOSUSHeaded across to Elmley Marshes this week for the first of my walks for the Wandering Words Project. I took my favourite walk, down the track towards Elmley Village. Spring is really struggling to get underway this year but the track is a little sun trap and here the blackthorn was thick with heavy scented blossom and a chiff chaff, my first of the year, threaded its way through the branches.

I passed the remains of Elmley Village, once a thriving community of 150 people, with a school and a pub called the Globe. The end of the Turkey Cement Works saw the village community dwindle away. Now all that’s left are the remains of the school and a few gravestones.Elmley village

Above the reedbeds, an aerial battle was taking place. Two pairs of marsh harriers caught in a duel, tilting in mid air to somersault onto their backs and stretch a claw at their opponent in a hot spurt of anger, a flash of temper and then a slow batting away on lazy wings across the fringed tops of the reed. Down in the thrash at the base, bearded tits pinged a warning as the predators shadow floated above.

Rabbits skidded in front of me, dashing for burrows as I walked the shoreline of the Swale and climbed Elmley Hill, to enjoy the sweep of the straight as it wound its way around the Isle of Sheppey. I got out my thermos and my little stash of peanut butter oakcakes and lay on my back, head propped on my bag, warming my winter pale skin beneath a rare glimpse of spring sunshine.

Cattle raised their heads as I returned across the grassland, above them a starling murmuration weaved a giant sentence across the sky.

see sky dancing marsh harriers here.

Wandering Words

Remains of Elmley Village MLP

Remains of Elmley Village MLP

Just been commissioned to write about Elmley Marshes in Kent for Wandering Words, a project run by Ideas Test, part of Arts Council England’s, Creative People and Places programme.

Wandering Words is a literary project that aims to make available to the public a website featuring pieces of writing created in response to the landscape, architecture, communities and heritage of Swale and Medway.

I am delighted to be part of the project and also delighted to write about Elmley Marshes. Elmley is somewhere I am bound up with. My friend Gordon was the last RSPB warden on the reserve, he died, age 50, at Kingshill Farmhouse. I can never visit Elmley without thinking of Gordon or Steve Gordon, the estate manager for the Elmley Conservation Trust, who died late last year, also, way too young. But Elmley is not a place of sadness for me, it is a place of great beauty and richness, partly due to the efforts of these two men. It is no hardship at all to have an excuse to visit it more often.

My writing will form part of the Wandering Words website, an online literary map, where people can upload text, audio and video. The aim is to encourage people to write, share and explore writing of all kinds.

Wandering Words will be launched in mid May and is a collaboration with the Rochester Literature Festival which takes place in October.

In the meantime I will be setting my alarm clock for a dawn visit to the reserve as soon as possible to catch the hares performing their spring courtship dance.

view of the Swale from Elmley Hill

view of the Swale from Elmley Hill



A Good Read – Wild – Cheryl Strayed

imagesFUVZI6H4Wild – A journey from lost to found – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed sets out to walk the Pacific Coast Trail after falling of the rails, following the death of her mother. The long walk out as a metaphor for the long walk in is a well covered theme and one I know well, but these books can be so hit and miss. They can be melodramatic or shoe gazing in the extreme or, alternately, the author can go all coy on us and use lots of lovely metaphors about the countryside without telling us one single true and honest thing about themselves.

Wild manages to admirably avoid either of these extremes. It is that thing we all love, a great bit of armchair travel. Not many of us really wish to put out body through the physical hardships that Cheryl endured, watch our toenails blacken and become detached, drink dubious water sauces and live on dehydrated food. Not many women are brave enough to take off alone into the wilderness with scarcely a penny to their name but we don’t have to, Chery did and we can, from the cosiness of our homes, walk with her.

This book is a good story, well told. It isn’t poetic nature writing or profound insight but I found it a refreshing change because of this. Unlike so many British writers who laden their books with endless clever words that only a small percentage of the population understand, or quote and re-quote  the same collection of ‘acceptable’ writers, or sit in their ‘aren’t we all so marvellous club,’ slapping each other on the back and thanking each other profusely in the ‘acknowledgement’ section, then Cheryl just gets on with the business of telling her story without fanfare. She is a normal, flawed, working class women who has had some major hiccups in her life and found a way to deal with them.

If only British publishers would publish more people like this and stop churning out the same old stories from writers who sometimes appear to have nothing to offer other than the fact they are the ‘right sort.’

It’s March but it’s not spring


The coltsfoot may be blooming but it is NOT spring.

It was assuredly NOT spring. Despite the fact is was March, despite the fact I had fought my way across boggy paths to see the coltsfoot blooming, the icy wind scything off the Thames told me it was NOT spring. The birds thought otherwise. A cetti’s warbler blurted out a song from the reedy ditch surrounding Higham Marsh, lapwings were already swooping over the inland sea of flooded fields created by the RSPB. “It’s spring, it’s spring,” nature yelled at me but it was NOT. It was still the biting, cold ridden, hanging on til the bitter end dregs of an English winter.