Scarecrows and chalk towers

by Alastair Ferrar

On the weekend of 25/26 August 2012 it seemed appropriate to tempt Michal and Natalie to another weekend on the waves straight after their week fending off the French press at the CK/mer symposium on the coast of Brittany.

The Mad Czechs thought I might like to re-live one memorable day of their around Britain experience and so they directed us to an interesting and prominent chalk headland on the east coast, habitat to a bazillion sea birds, and sea cliffs riddled with caves. I was easily persuaded. It was a fairly long drive for a short weekend paddle in the waves, but well worth the effort. There may be prizes for figuring out where this is…

We were heading for what was described as a ‘pretty little village’ on a headland, not far from which we would find our farmyard style camp site with toilets but not a lot else . We found it, the village was indeed little, but certainly not pretty. Our campsite, however, was just what we needed, views of the headland, secluded and quiet. We were lucky enough to visit this not-so-pretty little village during ‘scarecrow week’ and we were told that that we should keep an eye out for the trail of the scarecrows. This would be a side project perhaps that could take place at some point during the weekend.

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First thing in the morning we hunted down the star attraction (on land), the oldest surviving complete lighthouse still standing in Britain, a hexagonal tower built from chalk in 1670 with a platform on top thought to be for a coal or wood fire. We were not able to enter so we admired her from the roadside. Our Saturday morning mission was then to conquer a hearty fry-up and once we were well satisfied we would take to the water, on the leeward side of the headland, based on an initial peak to the water on north side, which was quite scary looking.

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Our breakfast in a small café near the new lighthouse was somewhat less than satisfactory. It never is good when one is greeted with the acrid smell of burnt vegetable fat and then presented with fried eggs with a small curly hair stuck on the yolk. When it came to payment, Natalie decided (true to form) to mention our disappointment to which the madam replied, “not our fault… it must be the manufacturer’s fault!” Hmm, ok.

The sea at the North Landing was too rough for us gentle folk, and the kayak fishing symposium at the South Landing was not very attractive, so we decided to head north in search of some calmer water. Thirty minutes drive north we found a protected beach with an interesting looking protruding rock shelf that was creating some white frothy stuff. Michal and I spent a few hours playing on the safe side of the limestone ledges, not quite brave enough to venture to the north side to take on the wind and swell. It was quite humbling to be right in all that white froth just meters away from calamity.

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While looking for a good place to eat that evening we found ourselves on the trail of the scarecrows. This was a unique and typically British experience, quirky and eccentric, humorous and very entertaining. Around every corner, in quaint and well tended front gardens, we were delighted by yet another creation, even better than the one before, each one telling a tale. Wonderful!

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We woke at 6am the following morning, knowing that the now southerly wind would only strengthen throughout the day, and by 8am we were on the water under the majestic north facing cliffs. Although we were on the north, now leeward, side of the headland, the swell coming from the north east and colliding with the chalk walls, was presenting us with some interesting shaped water. The tide was not high enough at this point to comfortably explore the caves so we kept our distance from the breakers and admired the stunning beauty of the cliffs. The anticipated assemblage of sea birds was nowhere to be seen, perhaps we were a month too late, but the beauty of the cliffs and caves will certainly bring us back again despite the scary crows and hairy eggs of the pretty little village.

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