Saturday, 25 March 2017


The narrow well-worn and hedge-lined path down to the cliff tops above Mewslade Bay is muddy.  Through the gate at the end of the lane is a world of finely rabbit-cropped grassland, gorse, flattened brown bracken, and limestone vistas, framed above with open sky and a blue-grey sea.  Wind-bent hawthorns, their branches covered with golden lichen, sprout tiny raspberry-coloured buds, one providing the perfect perch for a chiffchaff.  The little yellow bird sits preening, then singing, as if announcing the coming of spring.  Ancient limestone walls, now part of the fabric of the land and sometimes lost in the turf, support stunted trees just large enough to provide a pair of magpies support for a nest.  Along the path last night’s badger scrapes are fresh; I wonder if the government cull will ever reach these hidden setts.

Below, the straight slade down to the sea is deep, and open only to southerly winds, its steep sided crags of yellow gorse and lichen pointing to the golden beach beyond. I look for little owls which used to nest in a hole high up in a large limestone outcrop by the path, but as usual don't find them. The top path through newly shooting bramble and gorse, meanders to the cliff edge.  Carpets of newly opened celandines, some with attendant bumblebees, shelter on the leeward sides of walls, where a tortoiseshell butterfly searches for warmth.  Stonechats frequent this place in normal years, but last winter’s weather has ensured there are none here today.

Away from the peace of the valley, the cliff top is a noisy world of sea and pounding surf.  Ravens croak, circling herring gulls mew above the din, and the shrill cries of choughs pierce the wind as they enter their nest hole at Devil’s Truck.  Bravely a rock pipit parachutes down to the rocky shore, but is probably unheard by any potential mate in the cacophony of sound.

Turning landward the domed shape of an 18th century limestone kiln is clearly visible, and like the old stonewalls, is gradually being swallowed up by the landscape.

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