In early March 2014 the sea had called me and I’d answered with a walk down to the shore. There were signs of Spring everywhere, along with signs of the terrible winter storms. Parts of the path were crumbling and, as I passed West Lodge I wondered what the damage would be along there. What I found makes quite an interesting tale, mostly about the amazing power of the sea.
6 March 2014
Not long after I passed West Lodge I came to the sailing club where the old stone sea wall begins. As I emerged from the trees I was shocked to see part of the paved area in front of the club house had collapsed onto the shore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the concrete wall running down towards the shore had toppled over and part of the old wall had also collapsed. Some red and white tape was fluttering in the breeze but it wasn’t actually blocking the way so I went for a closer look.
The damage was terrible. The foundations of the raised platform had been ripped away and I could see more of the old wall was down further along. When I came along here at the end of January the sea was pounding at the wall, spraying over the top even. Water was gushing through the drainage holes along the bottom, designed to protect it. The wall has stood firm against the sea for more than a hundred years and I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t continue to do so.
We have had the wettest winter since records began. Areas that have never flooded before have been under water again and again since the unbelievably high tides in December. The whole road along the shore was flooded at one point, the sea has battered at the shore line and ravaged the shingle beach. It saddened me to see the beautiful old wall decimated and laying in pieces on the shingle. I crossed the paving in front of the sailing club, keeping well away from the edge just in case, and went to have a closer look.
A huge stretch of the wall beyond the sailing club was down, crumbled onto the path. I walked along the grass behind it and looked down on the rubble feeling sad and at the same time marvelling at the awesome power of the sea. Further on, in front of Netley Castle, the wall seemed to be holding firm. The mass of lichen covering it is testament to its age. This and the moss have built up over lifetimes. Some stones are almost completely covered, in other places lichen has drawn strange circular patterns.
When I came to the place where the path was collapsed in December I was shocked to see much more has since fallen. Before the path had sunk between trees and wall in one small spot. Now, not only has more of it crumbled, but the wall on the seaward side has fallen onto the shingle as well. A man walking his dog came towards me, shaking his head as he surveyed the damage.
“Terrible isn’t it?” I said.
“I was on the green when I saw it,” he replied. “I couldn’t believe my eyes so I came for a closer look.”
He went on his way, down towards the sailing club and I went on mine, along the shingle towards Netley. I carried on to the end of the sunken path and further, almost to Beach Lane, looking up at the trees lining the shore and wondering how they survive being doused with salt water. Some seem ravaged, their trunks more like driftwood than living trees but yet they still seem to grow. Maybe not this year though.
On my return journey I leant over the solid wall and looked along. The sea had a hard task to down the wall for sure. Behind it there is a concrete path topped with a wide step to support the wall. It didn’t work. Examining the rubble I spotted a very strange stone. It must have been on the landward side of the wall when it was standing but it seemed to have a pattern on it like some kind of network of branches. How odd. For a while I sat on the flattened stones looking back towards the sailing club contemplating the damage.
When I set off I walked along the shingle. Reaching the trees between West Lodge and the shore I saw there was more damage here. A more modern wall, like the one that runs along the promenade, it had been smashed to pieces. A closer look revealed this was a strong, well built wall, between the outer stones concrete filled sandbags were layered for strength. Many of the sandbags remain but most of the outer casing has gone. Most of the huge, semi circular coping stones have disappeared, one was laying on the shore several yards away moved by the sea.
By now my tummy was grumbling. There were no snacks to bring with me so I’d have to pop into the shop on my way back. With this in mind I hurried along. When I came to the green, the kite skateboarders seemed to be packing up. I was quite disappointed because I’d enjoyed watching them. The one who’d jumped for me before spotted me though and, as I passed, took off once again. He soared high into the air. Sadly, I wasn’t quite quick enough with my phone but I’ve included the shot just to show how high he went. When he landed he gave me a huge grin and I gave him a thumbs up. I hope I see them again.
On I marched, past the singing sails at the Woolston Sailing club. On past the rows of little cottages on Victoria Road, so similar to my first house. By now I was quite desperate for something to replenish my glycogen stores, I’d walked five an a half miles, some of it trudging through shingle. Finally I came to the Co-Op. Inside, as I searched for something to keep me going, I was thinking chocolate milk but, when I saw Starbucks skinny latte, I plumped for that thinking the caffeine would give me a boost. They were small, more a mini skinny latte, but I got one anyway.
All the way through Woolston I sipped at my coffeee. It was a little sweet for my tastes, I’m sure they added some kind of sweetener. The milk and the caffeine did their job though and, by the time I got to the bottom of Peartree Avenue, I was feeling much better. Just before I reached the church I spotted a hebe in flower in a front garden. I didn’t expect to see that! Then there was viburnum tumbling over a garden wall, clusters of white flowers tinged with pink. Further still kerria, fluffy balls of yellow. Bergenia were blooming around one of the large graves in the churchyard but I wanted to get home so I didn’t stop to look closer.
It may be considered a lowly weed but the first dandelion of the year still brought a smile to my face when I reached the little common. Some would call celandines weeds too but, if the pretty little yellow stars wandered into my garden, I might be inclined to leave a few to brighten a dull corner. Primroses seem to have a foot in both camps, woodland and waste ground are often dotted with them at this time of year but they are also welcomed in gardens. For me the pale, creamy yellow of the wild version beats the gaudy hybrids hands down. Where have all these weeds, wild flowers and their cultivated cousins suddenly sprung from? Days ago there were none now they’re everywhere. After a few almost flowerless months though, I, for one, am glad to see them.
So my eight mile walk ended as it had begun, with flowers. It seems to me this whole walk was about the wonders of Mother Nature. The spring flowers know better than any weather man or scientist just when they need to bloom. The wind can lift a man, or a kite skateboarder, high into the air as easily as if he was a piece of paper. Then there is the power of the sea. Soft, flowing water but the devastation along the shore proves it is a force to be reckoned with and respected.
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