Yesterday, I walked from Higham railway station to St Mary’s Church on the edge of the grazing marshes. The old church with its short spire and overgrown graveyard had the appearance of Magwitch’s hideaway but that apparently is nearby St James’ in Cooling. I walked on under a grey sky across flooded fields. Horses had churned the footpath through berry-laden hawthorns with a flooded chalk pit on the far side and noisy quarry beyond. Blackbirds, robins and occasional fieldfares scolded me and flew. These were all here for winter having travelled from the frozen East I think. A small sparrowhawk flushed and flapped across the open fields, his cover blown. I found and frightened off plenty of other birds as I tramped to the Thames; greylag geese, ducks, solitary egrets, herons and snipe. Only little grebes dived with a ‘plop’ but the rest flew. At the river there were many teal on the water and fat cargo vessels, laden no doubt with cheap tin trays, tiptoed up and down in silence. I walked the path around the edge of Cliffe Fort; a squat fortification that once housed the latest military technology, such as torpedo racks, and now humiliated as a gravel store worked by men in tangerine safety suits and loud pop radio.
The back half of the walk was under a sky that was giving up the fight to provide interesting light. I walked past more pools lined with thorn, hunting goldfinches and reed buntings on teasel and grasses with my camera. Eying male tufted ducks on the dark water with wonderful tufts that kept a safe distance. This is now an RSPB reserve with well trod paths, loose dogs and their mostly dodged shit, and steel barriers to stop the dumping of stolen cars. The sun had shone only briefly, the air was ever cold but the walk was, I reflected, rich in entertainment apart from the last hour’s hunched march back to the station. My photography was typical ‘legger’ material, with many rear ends of frightened birds in the digital can. A solitary greenshank with colour rings on its legs was about the only bird that seemed unconcerned, perhaps because it has learned it is a safe place; the ringers know it has been here for many winters now. Accompanying redshanks dashed away with histrionic calls. I need to try being an ‘arser’ for a change but only if I can get some warmer clothes and perhaps a small foldaway stool.