Cliffe Pools, north of Higham on a breathless, sunny day in mid January is full of sleeping waterfowl. The RSPB reserve is a peaceful, patchwork of large lakes adjacent to the Thames; former clay diggings that fed the local cement industry. Now the industry is all around; power stations with huge chimneys, wind turbines, piles of sand and gravel, oil storage tanks, cranes nursing stacks of containers and cargo ships running up on the tide. An ill-proportioned jumble stuck on the arse end of London.
Robins sing from sunny spots in the dense scrub beneath the chalk quarry above the edge of the marshes. Wintering blackbirds and thrushes from the East are far more fearful and dash for cover with a sudden squawk and a squeal.
A robin singing, warming in the winter sun.
Each side of the path, sheltered beneath deep banks of lichen-twigged elder Sambucus nigra and hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum is such a dense monoculture that it appears planted like Fenland celery, but it is a characteristic and common plant of the coastal marshes.
The waterfowl are distant black bobs on the water, until I take the wrong track and walk too close and they fly, not far, to the far side of the water, calling, whistling and murmuring. There is much reed Phragmites australis here but no bittern lurking on the edge for an eel, just another harrier panicking the teal. The sun is warming, the weather comfortable and much sits in plain sight or flies over; but it is an idling day of shapes and silhouettes, of songlines and sounds, rather than feather details, lists and tallies.
Alexanders in flower in January; a dominant plant of the wayside.
The mudflats in bright sunlight look like old, papery skin.
Views of Cliffe Pools; flocks of wildfowl, in this case shoveler, keep a respectable distance.
The smart village of Cliffe sits sedately above the grazing marshes; an outpost of the Hoo Peninsula. The large church of St Helen built of dressed flint and stone suggests that the place was once much more important than it is today. A picture postcard of pastoral England perhaps, but then turn about and view to the west is of an industrial waterfront with the wetland wildlife wedged between. The contrasting faces of North Kent.
The view to the east: the rural village of Cliffe, sheltered by oak and yew, overlooking the pastures and marshland bird reserve.