I came out of the dentist to a beautiful sky, so I walked round to Whitstable beach. We are looking NW here, London is to our left, Margate and Belgium to the right. The shadow is one of many breakwaters that form part of the defences of the town which was badly flooded in the 1950s.
But there’s no defence from the sky unless you ignore it! It can only bring blessings to the town, and to those who stop and stare.
September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.
There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?
A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.
It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed themselves and their children.
A walk up the Hill to the University and back by another way showed many a brown lawn. We can feel a little smug because our bath water goes out of the back door and onto the ground. Our grass is still mostly green but some plants have been afflicted with powdery mildew due to the drought.
I often stop at the spot where George saw the Kingfisher; it’s where the river turns left, away from the Causeway in Canterbury towards Kingsmead. I have seen egrets and herons along there, but today there was a pair of strange looking — ducks? coots? No, neither of those, but these birds were in the water, or rather the shallows, well away from the road. It took a moment to realise they were wood pigeons, cooling off in the heat.
Maybe they got a taste for cold water when flying for Noah in the ark? Alfie the collie used to stand or lie in the river or a puddle to cool down, but he didn’t have to worry about feathers getting waterlogged. These pigeons had found just the spot where the clean water was flowing over a stony bed, and just the right depth. Alfie, however, was more than happy to lie in mud and bring it indoors afterwards.
Not even the birds could persuade us to linger at the motorway services, and we soon found our way to Shropshire, and Ludlow. Where Canterbury has a farmers’ market in the old railway goods shed, Ludlow has a brewery. Even on a Monday morning there were people enjoying the sun and the beer. We saw no reason not to join them.
Impressive plumbing behind the bar, where we bought a sample of three small glasses of different beers; all very good.
From our seat on the mezzanine floor, we were able to appreciate the physical labour that goes into producing the beer. The mash tun was being cleaned out, but was obviously still very warm for the man dismantling the filters. In the old days he would have been allowed beer ad lib; today he had a pint glass of good Shropshire water. Probably as well, all three we tasted were very drinkable, but might leave the drinker a little unsteady on those steps.
When we were working on George’s garden in London, we saw and heard quite a few parakeets as well as more common garden birds, flitting across from the cemetery park. Mrs T remarked on our recent visit to Amsterdam, where the parakeets were enjoying cherry blossom time as much as the humans in the park. There were also herons at the waters’ edge – plenty of that habitat in the city of canals – which reminded George of the herons on London’s Serpentine lake.
Let’s hope more birds adapt to city life – and that we humans adapt cities to be good environments for other creatures and ourselves.
This is the River Tame, brown with peat, passing through Uppermill, Saddleworth, last week. What looks like a weir is a set of stepping stones. I thought such things were imaginary when I was little, as they tended to appear in the sort of story books our teachers thought we should like.
Now there’s a set I can walk across any time I visit my mother.
Well, not every time, as you can see. But there is a bridge very near by, so no great hardship involved.
And yet the river has been known to rise much higher than this, when the upstream flood plain is saturated, and the rain keeps on falling. The bridge then cannot accommodate all the water that pours down; it tries to find other ways through. People get the sandbags out.
It rains a lot in Saddleworth!
So thank heaven the powers that be seem finally to have decided against covering the flood plain with concrete and buildings for a new school!