Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Coal House Fort & Tilbury Beach

Great tits! Blue tits! Robins! A green woodpeckers! Pied wagtails! Sparrows! Seagulls, shell ducks, and wood pigeons, too. And a garbage strewn beach!

Today was an amazing day. A field trip took me to Fobbing, Mucking, Coal House Fort, Tilbury Beach, and Canvey Island. It started at 6am from North Station. The skies still dark. Snow had fallen over night, but the clouds had moved on and left the sky open to the stars. It was a dark drive down the motorway, some distant lights and the lights of the other cars on the road.

There's something special about being up before the sun. Then it rises and the world changes in its light. I forget how much I enjoy being up for a sunrise, having my day bookended by a sunrise and a sunset. It feels complete. It makes time feel less artificial and more in tune with the world. The birds are up then, singing songs to one another, preparing for the day. I was excited for the sunrise, but I was thrilled by the moon rise. A sliver of a moon emerging from behind a dark cloud bank, like a trumpet calling attentions east in advance of the sun.

It's been a very dynamic weather and cloud day. There's been mini-hail, snow, sunshine, and big fluffy, dark bottomed, white topped clouds sweeping across the landscape. Two things have been consistent throughout the day: the wind and the cold.

When we arrived at Coal House Fort, with a brief stop to have a look at the Bata factory and to photograph the sunset through some barbed wire, we had some coffee out of the car boot on a brightly colored plastic sled. Three three of us who rode together then walked around the fort a little bit. I played on the swing. Once we were good and cold, we made out way back to the car to warm up a bit before everyone else arrived.

There were some mesh bags with seed posted on some of the trees in front of where we parked. It brought the birds out. Great tits, blue tits with their blue cranial patches, robins, pied wagtails, and more. It was really a fantastic location. Always one to watch a bird, I've been working on my bird identification skills so that I can watch with a more informed eye. Sitting in that warm car while the snow came down and the sun shone in the front window, watching birds come and go, I was a happy camper.

All assembled, we headed out and along the sea wall for Tilbury Beach: a popular spot for a day out in Victorian times turned Victorian garbage dump and site for relocated bones. When the grave yards were full, a law was passed that allowed the bones to be dug up and relocated (or less politely said, thrown out) to the Victorian garbage dump. Today, as the dump is eroded by the lapping waves of the tidal Thames, the bones, bottles and broken pottery are revealed and scattered across the once-popular shoreline.

We passed down a hedge lined path, stopping at a memorial bench dedicated to a child who died that is populated with random offerings. We turned right and continued down the paved route. The snow seemed to have had no affect on the chalk drawings that cartoonishly depicted family members: dad with ears about the same size of his head coming curving off to either side of his face, mom with big boobs the same shape as dad's ears, a few phallic images not assigned to any family member, and luke, just a kid, no distinguishing features. They were all signed "Loren was here."

Holes were made in a fence topped with barbed wire which seemed to have been put there to keep people away from the coast. Or maybe it was out of the old garbage dump (or tip, as the Brits sweetly call it), but the barbed wire tipped to the land side. The fence was peeled back between these posts, leaving nice holes in the fence, big enough to walk through, no twisting or bended required. We made it to the end of the paved path and climbed over a stile, walked on a bit further and climbed down onto the beach.

It's creepy at first. I didn't want to see any bones. Then after the third or fourth I found myself thinking, hey, bones! The pieces of pottery and glass that they're mixed in with are incredible. Blue bottles, green bottles, brown bottles, clear bottles. I found a green one with the words "Do Not Take" raised on one side. Naturally, I picked it up. Some of the pottery had words on it, some had images, many had colors: pinks, reds, blues (lots of blues), greens, yellows and oranges. Any bricks - many with letters engraved in them.

I could spend all day there (in better weather). My neck is a bit stiff from looking at my feet the whole time. It's like a pebble beach but possibly more exciting. There's so much to take in. My brain kicks on. It searches through the debris like it would through a word find puzzle. It tries to make sense of it all, to see patterns. I'm not quite sure what it's after, but I'm happy to go along for the ride, discovering little treasures along the way. Worn glass in shades of white, green and purple were strewn amongst the newer debris: the plastic bottles and bottle tops, plastic bags, plastic combs, and a couple aluminum cans. Will current garbage dumps be hot spots for treasure hunters in the future? I thought about collecting all the glass on the beach for recycling. I thought about the tetanus shots you'd need if you accidentally slipped on that beach. Many of the bottles are broken and their jagged edges are sometimes burried in the sand, sometimes jutting into the air.

Bits of wood, a pallet, industrial looking packs, soles of shoes, coconuts, oyster shells, and bones. Some bones were hole. Some were broken off at the edges, some were peeled back revealing the gauze-like patterns inside. Some bones were on the shore, some were half-buried, poking out of the bank. It became fun to try to identify them: a rib here, a vertebra there, the foramen on that one, the two heads on this one, the arches, the spinal processes, the transverse processes, the body, the joint surfaces, the laminar groove. All that physiology finally coming back to me and being put to use.

I couldn't capture it with my camera, partly because I don't know how to work it properly, but partly because a camera can't capture it, not as the eyes do. Still I tried. The waves lapped. The clouds passed over head. The sun shone where the clouds weren't. My hands were frozen. My nose was running. My eyes were seeking, searching, happily over the shore. At once, too soon and just in time, it was time to move on. I left somewhat reluctantly. I left feeling like I'd love to come back there and like I probably never will.

Next stop: Canvey

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mary

    Interested to read about your walk near Tilbury power station. I was walking there a few weeks ago (my account of the walk is on my Coastal Walk blog, if you are interested).

    I was surprised to find all the glass on the beach. I didn't notice any bones!

    Am tempted to go back for another look...

    Best wishes and congrats on finishing your MA. Hope you keep blogging.