12 May 2009

low leaden line

Call me fickle, but I have fallen in love with a little bit of the Thames Estuary in North Kent. It started with a flirtatious visit to the Isle of Grain a few weeks ago. Then this weekend we walked along the sea wall to the west of Yantlet Creek and the London Stone which used to mark the easterly boundary of the City's rights to the river. It is not conventionally beautiful, but it captivated me. We found a tiny bit of beach of broken white cockleshells spotted with sea beet and ate our picnic leaning against a convenient concrete post looking across to Canvey Island and Southend. A few people walked or cycled by, but other than that we might have been on a desert island.

Along the sea wall we found possibly the most mundane commemorative stone ever - erected by some worthy councillor to mark completion of the sea wall.

Crossing the wall from river to land and the enclosed waterways was like entering another country. Skylarks were rising and singing, herons heading off, families of coots fussing around and then the loudest froggy sounds I have ever heard, croaky calls and joke "plops" as they dived into the water. It was really hard to see these marsh frogs at first, but if you concentrated on the sounds, you could find froggy eyeballs peeping out of the water, or couples basking on soggy planks.

Further west we found St James Church at Cooling sitting above the marshes believed to be the location described in the opening chapter of Great Expectations. These are the graves of babies, probably killed by the ague, children from a couple of local families wealthy enough to mark them.

And remembered here:

"To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle - I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers- pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip."


PS We picked some sea beet and had it for tea. Delicious. In moderation.



kristina said...

We collected sea beet too on our Fat Hen foraging weekend. I agree nice in moderation :)

And I'm always so amazed at your ability to find so much beauty and wonder in and around London.

K x

Anonymous said...

Cooling is beautiful. If you like mothballed nuclear power stations and haven't already done so its worth a trip to the other side of the estuary - to Bradwell on Sea. The chapel of St Peter is seventh century and one of those bare beautiful places. Bradwell is also home to the Othona Christian community which I don't know much about but has some fascinating roots in the immediate post 2nd world war era - all those earnest debates about the future of society. A less earnest connection is that the notorious Labour MP Tom Driberg lived in Bradwell. Happy walking, Joan

colleen said...

Kristina - I love the idea of a Fat Hen foraging weekend. Brilliant!

Joan - I thought you might know this neck of the marshes somehow. The frogs alone are worth a visit.

I've visited St Peter's at Bradwell. Was once taken across in a friend's boat from Mersea. We moored on the beach. It was magic, like somthing out of a children's adventure story.

I think my next trip might be to Leigh on Sea to eat cockles _ i've been thinking about them for days...

emmat said...

Wow those graves are so exactly what I had imagined... or perhaps David Lean made them like that in the film? I don't know... I love Great Expectations - what an amazing book. You are so brilliant that now I know where to go to find these. I think it would be a spooky but wonderful feeling standing in the graveyard looking at those stones and knowing Dickens had also been there. (Did you know he could walk to his house in Rochester, the other side of the river, overnight - he often walked 40 miles in a day!)

Anonymous said...

go, dickens!