Sea wall was the name given to the South Dorset Ridgeway by those who lived in its shadow. It was seen as a natural barrier, keeping back the sea that raged against the Chesil Bank and the Jurassic Coast. This was the inspiration to my book which has just been published by Archaeopteryx Imprint Ltd.
I collected extracts from some of the posts published on my blog for the BBC Wildlife Magazine and mixed these with some of my poems, most of which were written last summer, but I have also included some from ten years ago when I lived at Kingston Russell on the landward side of the South Dorset Ridgeway. Several of these poems have already been published in different anthologies and poetry magazines such as Poetry Wales and South.
I then decided to create linocuts to illustrate my work. Originally I planned to make about six but, in the end, I was having so much fun, that there is a linocut on almost every page. Owls, hares, newts and skylarks are some of the wildlife touched on in my writing. Underpinning everything is the prehistoric landscape of the ridgeway itself. It is impossible to walk this ancient way without being aware of those who lived and worked there in times gone by. There are traces of worked flints, stone circles and sarsen stones. But there is also the indefinable sense of many footsteps ghosting the way. And, beyond the Ridgeway, is the sea in all its changing moods.
I enjoyed creating the book so much, I am already planning my next one on Chesil Beach and the Jurassic Coast so watch this space!
Sea Wall is available from www.archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk for £10 plus postage & packing.
At 6am the moon was a wedge of lemon on a purple plate. By mid-morning the sun had retreated behind a sea mist that settled like white feathers in the hollows of Chesil Bank. The scrunch of my feet trudging across the pebbles sounded like an army, the noise echoing as I went over the top.
During the Second World War Chesil Beach was lined with ‘pill boxes’, the remains of which can still be seen. The bouncing bomb or Dambuster was trialled here and many aircraft were shot down along the beach. In the height of the war there were dogfights overhead and the remains of a Hurricane have since been excavated. The Chesil Beach Centre has an exhibition at the moment about the role of the Fleet and Chesil in WWII.
In no-man’s land between the highest point and the sea, the debris of an invasion is washed up on the shingle – plastic bottles, brightly coloured cigarette lighters, flip flops, rags and metal cans – all bound together with fishing wire and rope – an onslaught of marine litter jettisoned at sea. Chesil is waging a war against waste. Here and there are shells, skulls of seabirds, driftwood and cuttlefish – the natural and biodegradable objects thrown up by the sea. I find myself focusing on these, but the lurid detritus of civilisation (as we call it) keeps drawing my eye.
At the Eastern end of the bank, in the shadow of Portland Bill, the pebbles are large and multi-coloured, many having washed up from the Budleigh Salterton cliffs in East Devon. The result of the longshore drift is that pebbles are graded by size from the largest in the east to much smaller shingle on the western end of Chesil Beach. It’s hard work marching across these shifting pebbles and I bend forward into the wind, looking down at the many colours that make up the beach. In the summer Little Terns will be nesting here, the chicks perfectly camouflaged against the pebbles.
A rusting hulk is perched on the crest of the bank like a tank pointing out to sea, old desolate huts and towers huddle behind wire fences. Today there’s no sign of the hares which hunker down in the trenches by the Fleet. The only evidence of life – a few crows picking over the rubbish, checking for corpses of fish and gulls. I find a pebble with a hole in and hold it like a talisman.
As I turn away from the sea I notice a strange white line in the water running parallel to the shore. Behind the beach, where the vegetation begins, are signs of new growth – flowers of Danish Scurvy like tiny white stars forecasting a brighter future . . .
Spring on the Chesil Bank starts near the ground where there is the most shelter from the wind and salt-spray. Hares hunker down in the gullies, perfectly camouflaged against the tan and brown shingle. I was lucky to see my second hare this week as it leapt up right in front of me from one of these hollows, before jagging off across the pebbles towards the sea.
On the eastern end of the Chesil, to the lee of the Bank, several plants are tentatively starting to flower from foliage flattened against the shingle. Low clumps of Thrift are sending up small aerials with dark pink buds drawn by the sun. Tiny white petals of Danish Scurvy scatter like snow flakes among the pebbles. Common Stork’s Bill has braved the cold with delicate girly pink flowers. It’s strange how the earliest of Spring flowers always appear to be the most fragile yet survive the cold and inhospitable conditions.
Towards the western end of the Chesil Bank, however, the plants are quite different. Here the pebbles are much smaller and the shingle is sandier. Nothing is growing on the seaward side, but behind the bank of pebbles, Sea Kale is sending up new growth of rubbery purple leaves, frilled and curled against the salt winds. It is perfectly adapted to resist the harsh conditions of spray and gales with its knobbly gnarled stems, low habit and fleshy leaves.
Sea Beet, the ancestor of Chard, Beetroot and Spinach, is spreading glossy leaves in fecund clumps among the pebbles and Tree Mallows with their woody stems and umbrella-like leaves seem to withstand whatever weather is thrown at them.
I shall be following the development of Chesil plants throughout the year with regular updates. I’m looking forward to the spectacular Horned Poppy in the Summer and the Agapanthus-like Babbington’s Leek – so watch this space!