What seems like a lifetime ago, which I suppose it is if you're only 33, four of us used to regularly fish in Windmill Creek for eels on hot and sunny, summer Sunday mornings. Each week we used to split into two pairs and have a light-hearted competition to see which pair could catch the most eels. The "prize" was an imitation cup that we had fashioned out of the tin foil that our sarnies were wrapped in. The rods were nothing special, just cheap "junior" fishing rods, mine for instance was bought in Woolworths and I still have it. The bait was always simple garden worms, although sometimes we would employ "secret" methods such as dipping the worms in sardine oil, it probably made no difference but we had fun trying to devise these new aides. The big difference between then and now was the fact that you caught eels almost as soon as the worm sunk to the bottom of the Creek, nowadays you can sometimes wait hours just to catch one.
It was such great fun and on hot mornings like the one below it was sheer bliss being somewhere so remote and picturesque. Elmley RSPB was still in the early stages of being created then and so the Spitend marshes alongside the Creek still looked pretty much as they had for a few hundred years. Windmill Creek was pretty much the same, despite being dammed off after the damaging 1953 floods. The old saltings along the Elmley side of it were wide in places and overgrown and ungrazed, fissured by old reelways and honeycombed by hundreds of rabbit holes - rabbits were counted in huge numbers in those days.
I'm afraid the quality of these photos is poor as they were taken in 1977 and they certainly don't show how hot it was that morning. DOUBLE CLICK ON THEM TO BRING THEM UP IN BETTER DETAIL.
The top photo shows me as a slim and youthful version of my now aging self and the second is two of my friends looking amused at the "bootlace" eel that one has just caught
To get there we drove up the Elmley track and through Kingshill farm with its old barns and farm cottages. The farmhouse itself, which had been home not long before to the large Gransden family, was at the time newly occupied by Peter Makepeace the first RSPB manager and sometimes we'd stop for a chat and a cup of tea. After that it was down the slope the other side and across the Newlands track towards Wellmarsh. I wonder how many people visiting these days realise that the track that they follow between Kingshill and Wellmarsh is on top of one of the original anti-flooding bunds, pretty much the same as the Harty Road. The piece of marsh between the track and the seawall there has always been called Newlands and I imagine that it's a pretty fair bet that it was a result of the new piece of marsh that was created when the seawall was eventually built. Its also probable that the bunded track was once the original seawall.
From there we would arrive at Well Barn, or at least the ruins of it, and pretty much all it was in those days were some open-sided cattle stalls. I don't think any of it is still there now.
From there it was over the hump created by the counterwall that ran off of the seawall and runs behind the Wellmarsh Hide these days, past the fledgling Flood and past Cod's House, the derelict two-storey old farmhouse. Imagine living there in the old days, in weather like we've recently had - so remote and exposed, it just doesn't bear thinking about. From there it was the last stretch across Spitend to park at the base of the Dam and walk along the beautiful Windmill Creek.
It was such a privilage to be able to drive out there as we wanted too in those days and to wander all over such a wild and remote area and I miss it enormously. In fact I've only been back to Spitend a couple of times since then.
In the winter, we made just as many visits but this time in order to catch rabbits, a vital service at the time. The photo below shows me on top of the Windmill Creek seawall pulling a rabbit from a hole, the ball of mud in my left hand is my very first Jack Russell, Jessie.
This wasn't however the only way that we caught rabbits out there, sometimes the four of us would walk line-abreast across the rough Spitend grassland looking for rabbits "sitting out". Rabbits wiil spend part of their day sitting out in long grass in "seats" that they form in tufts of grass and as well as being surprisingly hard to see, if they think that you haven't seen them they will sit tight until you have passed them by.
However, being used to the marsh we became quite experienced at picking out a likely "seat" and as we walked past it would suddenly swipe downwards with a stick that we carried, mine was an old hockey stick and the rabbit would roll over dead. It sounds brutal but I can assure you that it was an instant death and it was surprsing how many rabbits that we could catch by this method as we walked round on a Sunday morning, dreaming of the pint of beer that always followed in the pub at lunchtime. Even better these pints were often free, paid for by the sale of the rabbits.