There was a time in the late 1970's when a friend and I were carrying out our rabbit and eel catching expeditions across Elmley, that we used an old GPO Sherpa van to do it in. We had bought the old red van, which was unsuitable for the road, and little else to be honest, for a few pounds and used to leave it parked at the start of the Elmley track, alongside Straymarsh Farm there.
It was a real wreck of a van and we were surprised that it went for around the year that it did. It was that bad, that due to a leaking petrol tank, we by-passed the tank by having a fuel pipe go direct into a petrol can in the cab, that we brought with us every trip. But as a conveyance of many smelly eel nets, old bread baskets for carrying them in, plus rabbiting gear and three dogs in the winter, it was ideal, and my ten year old step-daughter learnt to drive in that as we trundled across the marshes.
Two or three times a week that old red van could be found parked at various places on Spitend, Windmill Creek, or the marshes either side of the Elmley track as we went about our countryside pursuits. Eventually it was replaced by a big old estate car of mine that had failed it's MOT and like it's predecesor, it was also left unlocked by the start of the track, one look at the mud, blood and slime inside was enough to deter any thief and they only had a scrap value anyway.
Here you can see me alongside the old estate car at the end of one very cold winter's morning spent rabbiting.
My step-daughter, who is now a 42 year old mother, still has fond memories of those days spent driving that old van and sitting in the back amongst baskets of writhing eels or dead rabbits. Despite her young age at the time, she not only drove the van but would happily wade into a ditch in the summer months to rescue an eel net that had come adrift from its stake and to this day, still remembers the names of the birds and animals that we used to see, she even learnt how to skin rabbits. As far as I was concerned that was a priceless education of the ways of the countryside for her to learn and she regrets none of it.
They were such happy days and we all spent an awful lot of time on Spitend in the pre and early RSPB days, rabbiting, eel netting or just simply wandering about, sometimes with Peter Makepeace the first RSPB warden. In those early days when the reserve was first open, he used to allow us a free hand to do as we liked, as long as we was finished by about 10.00 in the morning when the first visitors would start to appear. He didn't think it was right for some of the more squeamish Members to see what both he and us got up to behind the scenes. Spitend in those days was still a remote and unspoilt piece of old Sheppey and one of the things that I recall from my Kent River Authority days out there in the 1960's was Spitend bay, about half a mile before Spitend Point. Here at low tide we discovered by walking out onto the mud at low tide, that there were the remains of hundreds of old clay pipes laying in the mud. It must of been a dump of some sort many years before and the pipes were the old, long-stemmed type that you would see photos of old farmers smoking. Mostly, due to their fragile nature the stems and bowl were in two pieces, but sometimes we would be really excited to come across a complete one. The bowls often had a different pattern on them I had a complete one for years in a cupboard and bitterly regret losing it some time ago.
One last thing on matters of the countryside, how many of you saw the Oare nature reserve blog two days ago and the photo of a wild mink in the car park there. Those vicious killers are the very last thing that you need hanging around a wetland nature reserve, lets hope that it is caught and "dealt" with, with all due haste.