Saturday, 14 December 2019

Hythe ranges sloe gin

The deep pink promenade stops abruptly at Fisherman’s Beach and doesn’t resume again until the redoubt fort at Dymchurch.
The stretch of beach between Hythe and Dymchurch is accessible only from Ministry of Defence land, via a muddy, stony path that skirts Hythe Ranges. It follows the curve of the fast-moving main road yet is separated from it by the thin facades of a fake village: shops and houses exist only as moving targets on tracks. Artificial hills of sand carry huge numbers, which look strange against the sky. Rabbits have burrowed into the slopes among bullet cases. The real town of Hythe rises on the real hills in the distance: peals ring out faintly from Tuesday night bell-ringing practice at St Leonard’s Church, half-way up.
Whilst the rest of the coastline has become built up – even the fishermen’s huts that give Hythe’s most picturesque and characterful beach its name are now outbulked by luxury apartment blocks – the only real buildings on Hythe ranges are abandoned and half-submerged Second World War pillboxes, their entrances silted up with shingle, and Napoleonic Martello towers, built to withstand a much earlier threat of invasion. Accessible only to pigeons, one has crumbled half into the sea, its brick innards exposed, spiralling out onto the beach in Lego-like chunks. More recently, defensive infrastructure has taken on the sea – wooden planks shore up the banks and waves crash against stacks of rock as cormorants stretch their wings on sewage pipelines.
The bay curls around the corner towards the blocky outline of Dungeness Power Station in the distance. The shingle expanse of Dungeness is apparently the UK’s only desert. It’s not unlike that here. What grows must be able to withstand the exposure of the wind, the salt and the sea: prickly gorse, rubbery sea kale, one wild pear tree. Small, hard blackberries ripen yet never quite lose their sourness and low-lying blackthorn bushes, fruited with sporadic sloes, cling to the ground.
Sand is only revealed at exceptionally low tide, when fishermen with buckets scour the muddy flats for lug worms to use for bait. For years you saw few people here other than fishermen, out in rain, shine and even on Christmas day, huddled in tents, their backs to the wind and only their headlamps shining through the gloom.
Now there are people out with matching gloves and buckets, foraging in a systematic way: samphire? This place doesn’t feel so wild any more.

1 comment:

Godalmingroadofsilk said...

Very evocative: I remember this area from family holidays in Folkestone in the late 50s. I missed it on my walk of the mythical South Coast Path - hurrying on to a different kind of bleakness north of Dover - but your piece inspires me to go back.