Solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking
Walk 3 – Friday 21st April: Overcast, brighter later.
Saltfleet to Rimac – 7 miles covered in no great hurry.
My wife waves as she pulls away, leaving me on the south side of Saltfleet Haven at a little car park called Paradise. I was out here a few weeks back, looking for a shipwreck. Out at the lowest tide is the ruin of an English sloop called The Try. It sank in 1882 with several lives lost, a mother and her children. The Try was salvaged by her captain, one John Adams, but it sank again, in the same place in 1890. Last time I was here I thought I saw it, way out across the sand and as I approached the ribs of the hull that I had been walking to for half an hour took flight. A mirage of birds. It was a curious thing, to be walking to one object then have it turn out to be something completely different. Quite an uncanny thing really. On returning home I researched the ship and the family. A popular ballad was written about the disaster, The Saltfleet Sinking and the mother and her children were buried at Louth cemetery. I’ve been looking for the grave, though am, at the time of writing, yet to find it.
Heading along the path from the car park and into the Rimac nature reserve the view opens into a huge area of grassy marshland. A little way along is a pillbox that one can use as a platform for observation. I rest my binoculars on the edge of the machine gun pit and scan the distant shore for signs of The Try but the tide has already been as far as it can today. I need to be here earlier or overnight perhaps. The Try is out there, but remains unseen today. Out at sea, a container ship from Gdansk prepares to enter the mouth of the Humber and RAF fighters grind the sky northwards toward the bombing range at Donna Nook.
To the right of the path are steep dunes. Great heaps with buckthorn, myriad grasses and rabbit warrens. These dunes were formed not through gradual tidal deposits but as the result of a single event. On the night of 16th January 1362 a storm surge made land along the east coast of Britain. This storm has a name – Grote Mandrenke, or The Great Drowning of Men. If you look north you can see an off-shore windfarm that stands where there was once a town called Ravenser Odd. Ravenser Odd was washed away with the Great Drowning and it’s tempting to think that these dunes at Rimac are the debris from that lost town.
Walking south still. The birds are in good chorus. I’m no ornithologist but I like to look and hear. There are a few geese about and plenty of plover and curlews. The marsh provides shelter for hundreds of ground nest birds and now, deep into spring, eggs will be beginning to hatch. I watch my step as I turn off the path, out along a sand bank to inspect a different sort of wreck.
This land used to be part of an RAF bombing range, there are a few old MOD signs remaining warning of unexploded ordnance. Up along this sand bank are the remains of a tank, a relic from the target practices. The tank, an A34 Comet, has been here for at least fifty years and is, in its own way, very beautiful. There’s something of the Paul Nash painting, Totes Meer, about it. The iron oxide hulk seems to attract debris and today there is an old office chair and a ripped fisherman’s waterproof gathered where the gunner once sat. It’s an interesting composition, the bright yellow and blue of the jacket and all these shades of rust. I make some notes and dig into my pack up of coffee and homemade fruitcake as another jet screams north with a speed that shakes the mud below my feet.
I double back to a pillbox and climb on top. The sky darkens in one direction and a sudden shift in light illuminates the whole marsh. It’s one of the intense pleasures of these sort of places, the quickness of the clouds and the sun. One of the tankers on the Humber catches the rays and I can just make out a sailor on deck. I wave.
From the top of this pillbox I scan the horizon again. 6,000 years ago, the sea wasn’t here at all. A great steppe ran all the way to northern Europe. Doggerland, as it is known, is out there still – below the water, just beyond reach, and sometimes, like the wreck of The Try, the edge of a petrified forest appears and a worked flint is found. This whole landscape is forever offering up glimpses of the past to the keen-eyed.
A shadow glides over my notebook and I grab my binoculars again. Twenty yards in front of me a peregrine falcon circles something on the ground. He plunges and rises and circles again. He’s huge and oblivious to my presence. I’m no ornithologist but I watch closely until he moves on. JA Baker wrote a book called The Peregrine which is perhaps the most thrilling book about birds, people and the landscape – it’s just been republished.
The sun is warm enough for me to shed a layer and roll my sleeves up. Five hours have passed since I was dropped off – how did that happen? I make my way back along the path and into the dunes – looking back inland I see churches and farms and the Wolds. Looks like rain that way. I‘ve only seen one other person all day and that is, I think, how it should be. It’s better to be alone in these landscapes. Perhaps with the company of birds and distant sailors from this and other centuries.
I reach the car park at Paradise as my wife pulls up and the peregrine sweeps overhead and a jet fighter banks to the east, back to a base beyond the hills.