Reculver is a tiny village on the north coast of Kent, albeit one which appears to have been overrun and eventually defeated by rank upon rank of holiday caravans. It’s an example of that singularly English state of mind which sees any desolate, empty and not especially attractive stretch of coastline, in possession of little more than a grimy shingle beach and low sandy cliffs, as ripe for colonisation by oxymoronically static mobile ‘holiday’ homes and prefab ‘entertainment’ clubs. Call me a snob, but I honestly don’t see the appeal.
I can see the appeal of Reculver to migrant birds, however, and therefore to their constant shadow, birders. The low bushes and maritime plants that dot the shingle might be the first source of food and shelter in miles, for a diminutive passerine arriving from Eastern Europe on a favourable wind. It’s a surprisingly commanding spot, with views stretching far to the east and west along a stretch of the North Sea, so presumably not bad for sea watching as well.
Stepping up to the sea wall on a fine August afternoon, I finally began to see the attraction to us comparatively lumbering apes. The Reculver Towers (rebuilt remnants of the Saxon Abbey turned original parish church, which was abandoned to the sea in 1805 but still just about holds on to the cliff-top) dominate the surrounding landscape, justifying the idea that good architecture or an evocative ruin can enhance the beauty of a view, rather than detract from it. They provide a focal point, an anchor, to what is admittedly an otherwise drab stretch of coast.
Being a warm, sunny Saturday it was difficult, at first, to locate any wildlife amongst the hordes of revellers. At first, we saw only a few of the usual English lobsters on the beach, behind which others of that species propelled themselves up and down on bikes, or jogged themselves into a heavy sweat. For fun. Again, I don’t see the appeal. Pushchairs seem to have had an unusually successful breeding season, and were strewn all over the place: a wheeled plague bumbling over the grass, bouncing off boulders and struggling through wet sand.* Wildlife, of a sort. I began to realise why those in search of non-human nature might chose a less clement day, or else turn up well before the lobsters and pram-pushers had hauled themselves out of bed.
Other species were finally revealed once we got to the wilder beach west of the towers. A wheatear, dropping in en route to Africa, played a brief game of hide-and-seek with us amongst the rocks. Behind it we noticed further swooping shapes, which to my delight turned out to be sand martins, busily provisioning a natural colony still active this late in the season. I’m not sure I recall ever seeing sand martin nests in a genuine sandbank before, as opposed to an artificially established colony. Tiny sand-covered crabs scuttled sideways away from our feet as we watched, in amongst a macabre selection of much less animated crab remains. It occurred to me that marine species, seabirds aside, are a glaring omission from my 2012 species list, so it was very good indeed to walk so close to the sea.
I can’t see myself getting to Reculver again anytime soon – if nothing else, it’s a long way from anywhere – but it certainly made for a diverting enough afternoon.
*There’s clearly a fortune to be made for the first person to conceive of a truly all-terrain model…