The light was brilliant reflecting off the outgoing tide. Kimmeridge’s shale and flat stones caught the shine and made me wish I’d brought my sunglasses. People and dogs scrambled over the beach enjoying what felt like the first real day of spring. High on the cliff, the silhouette of Clavell Tower seemed sinister and out-of-place. Built in 1830 as a Tuscan folly by Rev Clavell of Smedmore House, it was used originally as an observatory. In 2006 it was moved 25 metres back from the crumbling cliff edge. The sudden boom of a distant gun on the army ranges reminded me that this area is more than just a tourist attraction.
On the beach were ribbons of kelp, some still attached to their ‘hold-fasts’ which had anchored them to the seabed until they were ripped out by tide and currents. The erosion on the cliffs bordering the beach showed the layers of Kimmeridge clay, mudstones, shale and dolomites, creating a banded wall of different colours. These chart the geological story of the Mesozoic era. Every so often the faint shape of an ammonite could be seen, some indented and others just shadows on the shale.
We visited the Etches museum – a beautifully designed building with lots of glass and space – showcasing the fossil collection of Steve Etches, a local man. Steve found his first fossil aged 5 – a sea urchin – in his garden. It started a lifetime’s passion. He has since become an expert on fossils found in Kimmeridge clay and donated his collection to the nation. It is now housed in this beautiful building where visitors can study the specimens and learn about their history.
Walking along the cliff top, the grass had that bright green appearance only seen in spring. Mauve periwinkles and wild daffodils added to the Easter-time feel. We looked down on small boats clustered on the shore waiting for calm seas. Coils of rope and lobster pots were stacked around the boat sheds. It was only the icy wind which reminded us that it was still early in the year.
I apologise to all my followers for not having posted a blog for a while. This is because I have been busy creating a sketchbook of Chesil Beach. This has just been published and features different places along the Chesil bank at various times of the year.
The idea came from having written many blogs about Chesil for the BBC Wildlife website as one of their Local Patch Reporters. Once these blogs were published, they disappeared into the ether. I therefore decided I would use these as the starting point for my book before they were lost forever. I wanted the printed version to look just like an original sketchbook, so had it bound with board covers and a metal spiral binding for the spine. I hand-finished each one with a title label on the front.
The book is a mixture of handwritten text and illustrations in ink and watercolour. I follow the seasons and the months, starting with Spring and ending with Winter, featuring plants, shells, fossils etc found along the coast. Birds, fauna, boats and lobster pots all appear, in fact anything that caught my imagination in the unique habitat of the Chesil bank.
I enjoyed revisiting all the locations along the Chesil and, each time, came across new things to write about. Quite often it was the small things, like finding a grasshopper on the pebbles at Abbotsbury, that most inspired me. By publishing A Year on Chesil BeachI wanted to rediscover and celebrate the diverse environment found along the Chesil at different times of the year. By putting everything together in one book, I feel I have gone a little way towards portraying some of the mystery and beauty of the Chesil coast.
I am pleased to say the book is proving popular in Waterstones (Dorchester branch), Waterstones (Bridport branch), the Gallery on the Square (Poundbury) and Dansel Art Gallery in Abbotsbury. It will be available in other outlets soon.
I am now planning the next book and will cast my net wider to include the whole of the Jurassic Coast.
A Year on Chesil Beachis published by Archaeopteryx-Imprint Ltd and is available from their website www.archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk
Conditions are harsh where pebbles meet soil. Today at Abbotsbury there is snow in the air. A south-westerly has sculpted clouds into mountains which cast their shadows over the sea like a map of the world. A rainbow tints the sallow winter downs and I can taste salt in the sleet.
A thicket of tamarisk, or salt cedar, thrives here at the back of the Chesil bank – stout glossy stems like a fistful of coloured pencils – white, ochre, sepia, raw sienna, ultramarine blue and umber. No flowers, just a scribble of matted beards where the blooms have shrivelled. Deep in this tangle of stems are blotches of bright yellow-green lichen. On the sheltered edges of the clump, a fringe of spiky new leaves defies the winter gales. These tamarisk trees are tethered to the ground by long tap-roots which seek out deep water.
Last summer on the Isles of Scilly I saw a lean elderly fisherman by a tamarisk tree. He was brown and sinewy as the twisting twigs above him, limbs shiny with sun and salt. Fishermen used to weave the stems of tamarisk into lobster pots. The branches are pliable, strong enough to withstand the force of winter, salt-resistant and strong as rope – it grew in the right place and seemed made for the purpose.
This group of tamarisk trees is dense and tangled – an efficient windbreak. In Egyptian mythology it is said that the body of Osiris was hidden in a tamarisk tree in Byblos until it was retrieved by Isis. I imagine that a small creature sheltering in this thicket of tamarisk, to weather the winter storms, may have difficulty finding its way out – just like a lobster from a pot.