Saturday, 7 November 2009

Suffolk Walks: Minsmere to Dunwich and back

Four of us set out early this morning to visit Minsmere Nature Reserve, just south of Dunwich, Suffolk. It poured rain last night so we were especially glad to have clear skies and sun to accompany us on our journey.

We turned off the A12 and wound our way through Westleton and over to just outside Dunwich, then south to Minsemere. Some of the roads through there are gorgeous. One we went down had an archway of trees. We looked out for animals and saw about as many as you can expect going down small, hedge-lined lanes at fast speeds. There were some red poll, bunnies, dogs, indistinguishable distant birds, and (my favorite!) a pheasant. It was my first sighting of a real wild pheasant. How exciting. With the car at a stop, we watched it cross the road and then casually pecked around a driveway.

At Minsmere, we prepared ourselves for our day of walking with hot drinks in the tea room, then we headed out towards North Hide. We cross over a short walkway over a pond then out into the fields. I don't know what I was thinking--I probably wasn't--but I was surprised that when we arrived at the hide it was a wooden hideout. It was so exciting to climb inside this two story structure, be sheltered from the cold wind, and have a front row seat to bird watching. The north hide looks south over some marshland. The water was a bright silver; the sun, low in the southern sky. The glare made bird identification a bit of a challenge. We raised the windows, lifted our binoculars, and gave it our best effort.

In the marshy area to the west, four ponies grazed with their backsides to the hide. To the east, hundreds of birds, most of them gulls, some of them ducks, two of the swans and two lapwings. I'd been wanting to see a lapwing since I heard that they were becoming increasingly rare in the area. I looked them up because I'd never heard of them before. They're an incredible green color with little tufts of feather onto of their heads. Anna spotted the first lapwing with her binoculars. Then she let me have a look. There it was. My second totally awesome bird sighting of the day. Ducks landing in the water at regular intervals. The swans swam closer. The ponies moved away, in the direction of the gigantic white dome of Sizewell, the nuclear power plant. Soon enough we'd spotted another lapwing. We watched the birds move around for a few minutes before moving on.

We walked down the path, past some well-established oak trees, on our way to the sea. In the tall reeds, I saw a grey heron. It stood motionless, its feet in the water, its back against the reeds. Then it took off, flying low and long, its feet trailing, it's long beak and great breast leading the way. Then over the barrier wall and onto the pebble beach. I set about looking for hag stones.

I find the sight of a pebble beach mesmerizing. With so many textures and colors, shapes and sizes, I can't take my eyes off it. What might I miss if I take my eyes off the beach? We wandered down the beach a ways and then headed back in land to mount the hill in search of toilets. We opted not to stop for tea and a look in the shops but rather to keep on heading north to Dunwich in search of what I'd been told are the best fish and chips. We wandered down the road, stopping to look at toadstools and I got my first glimpse of heather.

I don't know much about it, but it's a word that seems to have always been in my head. I think Emily Dickinson put it there. I had just been thinking about her a few days earlier and how she didn't live that far from the sea and was it really possible that she never saw the sea? Was it not common to visit the water in her time or was it simply that she was that much of a shut in? I'm so grateful to have had the opportunities to have seen as much as I have seen. And now, especially, to have one upped Emily and seen not just one heather plant and not just a whole hill full of them but a whole hill covered in heather and the sea simultaneously.

We wandered down the road, back onto a path, through a forest with birch and pine and chestnut trees. The path was carpeted with fallen leaves. The varied colors and shapes made a beautiful pattern. We came to another road and went past a fenced in area with chickens. Down another path to one that went past the ruins of an abbey and paralleled the cliff. The cliff is a reminder of the erosion that occurs here. It's said that the coast extended two kilometers east of where it lies today during Roman times and it's losing about one meter each day.

We left the cliff side and walked down some steps that let out by the Ship Inn and continued down the street toward the fish and chips shop. I don't know that I'm qualified to jug what's "best" but the fish and chips were fantastic. Really fresh tasting fish, deliciously battered and fried with hot chips. It was great. We ate outside and froze in the wind and shade.

After eating, we headed east and then walked south along the beach. My neck is sore from all the looking down I did. We found hag stones, semi-precious stones, lobster and crab shells, fishing nets, seagull feathers and pieces of colorful plastic cups. We walked in the shadow of the cliff, between it and the sea, all the way back to Minsmere, stopping briefly along the way to rest (as required by eight-year-old legs) and study rocks. Once we stopped and I tried to make a pebble angel. It was a very square angel. Back at Minsmere, we got the last of the day's sunshine. We saw a robin and a big deer. We saw a bunny and a blue tit, a magpie and a pheasant. Not a wildly successful day in terms of rare bird spotting, but I was quite happy with what I'd seen and just to have spent the day outside, in the sun, moving.

Back at the car park, we loaded in, we raced the setting sun, and headed for Southwold Pier. We saw a baby dear and tons of pigs along the way. At Southwold, we saw the lighthouse from the pier, and just a sliver of it's light. We went through the arcade and out onto the pier, in the wind and the cold and the deepening dark. At five o'clock, we watched the water clock's show. The couple in the bathtub sitting up, the tulips blooming, and then the pants on the two boys standing by the toilet dropped, and they peed in its approximate direction. It may have only lasted 30 seconds, but it gave us a good long laugh, ending the day on a high note.

Afterthought: I have a growing affection for pebble beaches. They're fascinating and mesmerizing. I could pick through the rocks all day. I love that below the sun dried and wind blown top layer the rocks are wet. And a pebble beach sure beats a sandy beach, especially in the most likely to leave without sand in your pants category.

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