Beyond the Shingle Bank/Walking from Cley

Walking from Cley,

from the cobbled clutch of cottages,

jackdaw chattered,

with reedcutters loading a lorry, shouting, across the peat brown river.

Tearooms shut with apologies, tight against cold March.


Along the seaward-running bank, dense alexanders, Smyrnium olustram,

Macedonian parsley, bright stalks glimmering promises of flavoured sauces,

succulent as asparagus, a cure for snake bite, but bitter as myrrh

and now, officially, invading.

Dark seeds spreading in fistfuls.  Fast, unloved, chancing the dry, bare soil.


Walking where the salt streams run, the wind barely whispers the reeds,

the shelduck slip in silence, half-hidden in low-tide banks,

curlews coloured to mud, oystercatchers, calling, calling

and skylarks rising landward, from pale and cattle-short pasture.

Two egrets, Egretta garzetta, hunched in a silt brown pool,

white and thin as moonlight, exotic and slipping northwards, almost unnoticed.


Walking eastwards, a slide and hollow footfall on the heaped and shingle bank,

wave worn it yields a scatter, a shatter of broken, pebbled concrete

and the gradual, darkening rust of Second World War defences;

the hulk of pill-boxes, gravel full, sheltered by flowers of gorse and tiny buck’s horn plantain,

crouched to the marsh and the stone beach’s sudden rise from deep grey water,

an easy, too easy, landing; the ghost of the fear of what might have been.


Landwards here, pink footed geese, Anser brachyrhynchus,

wings dropped to land in formation, over the freshwater marsh.

Blow-ins from Iceland, here for the brief span of winter.


Walking where the shingle bank dips and curves, ripped out by storm and tide,

a drift of pebbles inland, grasping the edges of fields,

the bank buys time, buys time, whilst away on the edge of The Fens,

the Environment Agency and their allies re-trench, manage their retreat,

create for the birds, new reedbeds, water scrapes, pools,

beyond the predicted slow sea’s rising.


Walking between the shingle bank and the passing winter’s pebble ridge,

shining from ebbing waves, a tide line set with razor shells, starfish tragic husks

and slipper shells, Crepidula fornicata, cupped like the hold of my palm,

Beneath, the always surprise of the white half-shell

and knowing the damage they leave on pearl-bright oyster beds.


Halfway to Salthouse a barn owl, soft as a moth, over the hush of the reeds.

Walking inland at Muckleburgh, leaving the sea and the wartime wireless station,

squatting square and staring blankly.

Walking back to Cley on the deserted dusk of lanes,

hawthorns bent to the salt and sharp breeze from the sea,

the sky edge darkening over uneven hills the glaciers left.

In the village the reedcutter’s truck stands quiet,

the church, as broad as cathedrals, bears unspoken witness to the footprint of lost docks,

where Hanseatic merchants traded tar and timber, fish and fur and flax,

barley from the fields along the flowing Glaven, oats and rich dark malt,

a wealth of wool from heaths behind the town.

Until the unseen silt, softly filled the harbour, shallow, falling silent, quiet as back waters now.


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