Whilst driving along the Harty Road this morning I reflected on the scene that unfolds for the birdwatcher driving along there for the first time.
Turning onto the Harty Road and driving its first quarter of a mile, nothing is any different to what you's already passed getting there, hedgerows, farmland and some livestock. However, in a single sudden moment outside the entrance to Capel Hill Farm, you find yourself on the crest of a small hill and laid out below you, as far as the eye can see, are the flat marshes of Harty. By stopping there for a moment you can find yourself at the same height as the Marsh Harriers that soar across the marshes, you can basically see it how they see it - a harrier's eye view.
A view that sees the marshes spread east, west and south, intercected only by the tiny Harty Road as it winds its way across the marsh to the distant Swale and the Ferry House Inn. It has to be one of the best views on Sheppey and never disappoints with its bird life.
Of all the sights that are possible from there, from snow cover, to flooded fields and May-time greenery, my favourite is the one that you often get on an early morning in the autumn. Once again, driving along the first stretch of the road under blue skies and sunshine, nothing seems amiss until you reach the crest of the hill. There before you will be a marshwide blanket of mist, virtually level with the crest of the hill. It is almost as if it was solid, you could simply carry on driving and cross Harty at that height.
Carrying on down the hill you descend into the mist like an areoplane dropping through clouds and as the road starts to disappear in front of you in the mist, it starts to become a different world. The deep ditch to one side seems even closer and deeper and the heads of cattle suddenly loom over the fence the other side to startle you. Tales of smugglers on horseback and marsh ague and even strange people, suddenly seem more realistic and believable.
It could seem pointless carrying on along the road in such conditions, because you're never going to see anything, but it is part of experiencing the marshes. Pull into a lay-by along there and stop the car and feel the dampness of the mist rolling past you. Listen to the sounds of the marsh and how they seem to increase the sense of eeriness and mystery. Curlews bubbling away somewhere, pheasants calling out, Lapwings with their mournful "peewit".
By all means enjoy the beauty of Harty in all its glory in sunnier days but to experience the real mystery and feel of the marshes you need to be there in the mist one time.
I think that on the crest of the hill there, Capel Hill as its known, there should be a small car park, and a notice that simply says, "Harty Marshes - What a view"