Monday 31 May 2010

A Gloomy day - Part 2

No doubt by the time many, if any, of you read this later today, it will be lovely and sunny and you'll wonder whether I'm prattling on about the same day! But when I got up as usual at 5.30 this morning I briefly thought that I'd got up an hour to early, such was the lack of light. It really was gloomy and looking across to the Minster Shingle Bank all I could see was heavy grey cloud being pushed in off a choppy sea by a NW wind gusting up to 40mph. Nothing much seems to had changed in fact since my last blog posting last Tuesday!
I'm always facinated at how the weather people's terminology changes throughout the year. In the winter, this morning's weather would of come with a warning of "strong and gusty winds to 40mph" - this time of the year the same conditions are described as "a bit breezy."

Anyway, with little else to do after feeding my canaries I made my usual early visit to the reserve, arriving just after 6.00, and the conditions seemed even windier down there out in the open. But with my coat zipped up to my chin and my hands in my pockets to keep them warm, I soldiered on, the bleakness seeming even more pronounced as the eerie calls of Peacocks drifted down across the farmland. They wander about freely from the farmyard alongside Harty Church where they reside.
The more exposed reed beds were taking a bit of a battering and I always marvel at how Reed Warblers at times like this, manage to secure their nests to reed stems that are moving apart so violently. It must also be a bumpy old ride for those sitting on nests in such conditions as well.

But even on a gloomy day there is normally something that brightens it up and today it was the Yellow Water Iris that was flowering along a couple of the ditches. The bright yellow of the iris flowers stood out in the gloomy light as though somebody had lit candles along the ditch banks, it was really cheering.

Bird life in general was pretty quiet, a Cettis Warbler burst into song as I passed its usual residence in an overgrown ditch and a Barn Owl quartered up and down the same favourite piece of overgrown ditch bank looking for food for its youngsters. Its amazing sometimes how close they will come to you if you have a dog with you, as I always do. Quite often the owl will follow the dog, hovering just a foot or two above it, for some way. Why I don't know, perhaps it thinks the dog will disturb a small mammal from the long grass that it can then catch. The amusing thing is that the dog is normally totally unaware of this silent, white shadow following just above it.

The breeding season for many of the wading birds is now gradually coming to an end on the marsh. There are still a couple of late pairs of Lapwings sitting on eggs but in general most of the waders are now finished with eggs and are busy rearing any chicks. Its early days yet but initial census figures look like 2010 has been a really good breeding year for Lapwings, Redshanks and even Oystercatchers on Sheppey, certainly where breeding pairs and chicks hatched is concerned. The number of chicks actually fledged is always the major determining factor but at the moment things look really postitive.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Gloomy times

Yesterday morning at 7.30 I was walking along the seawall of the reserve in just lightweight clothes and under blue skies and very warm sunshine, thoroughly enjoying butterflies, birdsong and a beautiful summer's morning.
This morning at 7.30 I was back in a buttoned up coat, being buffeted on the seawall by a surprisingly strong east wind that was pushing in large amounts of heavy grey cloud off the sea, making for chilly and gloomy conditions. Try as I might I could not convince myself that this morning's conditions made bird watching more enjoyable, anymore than I could understand how, after a deplorable winter that seemed as if it was never going to end, that after just seven days of summer some people were already complaining about it being too hot - unbelievable! Presumably these same people get orgasmic about the thought of spending their two weeks summer holiday in the cold of Siberia!
The more I walked round in today's weather, the more frustrated I got and the harder I found it too concentrate on what was around me on the reserve but there were a few bits that caught my attention.

The cows and their calves were joined on the reserve at the weekend by a beautiful, large black bull. He's a big beast but leaner than the usual over-muscled types and is quite magnificent. For the second morning running he was stood against the 5-bar gate and I had to push my way through it to get onto the marsh but he's a friendly enough beast and after scratching his head and slapping his bum I managed to get him to slowly move aside so I could walk through him and the cows.

I also spotted the first two Avocet chicks of this year for the reserve, with two very noisy parents giving me grief as I passed by. Unfortunately I suspect that they'll be the only two we produce this year as there's no sign of any other pairs at the moment. One of the public viewing hides, known as the "Tumbledown Hide", for obvious reasons, is at least serving a useful purpose again in that it has given a home inside to a pair of nesting Swallows, who have four eggs.

Finally, on the access track around the reserve, I came across a solitary and fast drying puddle which is about four feet long and a couple of inches deep. As well as supplying mud for a non-stop stream of Swallows that are nesting in nearby stables, it was packed with water fleas! I was puzzled at this for a few minutes but then realised that with a ditch several yards away that burst its banks in the winter floods, these fleas must be left over from that and will survive for not much longer as the puddle dries out.

Sunday 23 May 2010

The Swale bridges

"When I was a windy boy and a bit
and the black spit of the chapel fold,
(sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,
the rude owl cried like a telltale tit,
I skipped in a blush as the big girls rolled
ninepin down on the donkey's common,
and on seesaw sunday nights I wooed
whoever I would with my my wicked eyes"........

So began Dylan Thomas's poem "Lament", which has nothing to do with what I'm going to write except the first line, but I liked it.

Amazingly in my short 63 year life time, I have seen three different bridges and three different roads give access to Sheppey from the mainland at just that one current site. When I was a boy and up to the age of thirteen, it was an old and much lower and seemingly rickety bridge made out of cast iron and wood, that clanged and rattled when you went over it in a bus or train, like going over a cattle grid in a car. This bridge was the second one at the site and had replaced the very first one in 1904. It was a lift span type, which to enable ships to pass through saw the whole middle section hinge upright from the Sheppey side. Unfortunately, between 1904and 1929, users still had to pay a toll, as had been the custom since the year dot, but in 1929 the Kent County Council paid the Railway £50,000 as compensation for removing the toll and it has been free ever since.

The narrow road on the Sheppey side, presumably because of the nature of the marshes, never took the direct route that it takes today and snaked its way up to Cowstead corner in almost an "S" shape. Visitors to the Elmley nature reserves approach the farm track entrance on the last remaining stretch of that old Ferry Road. They should, just the once, drive a little way past the entrance on this old road and sample how it used to be. Look at how narrow it was and try and imagine lorries and buses using it as the main highway on and off the Island, and how much better the pace of life would of been in those times.
The down side of the bridge being the only one onto Sheppey was what happened if it was damaged and this happened several times in its lifetime, normally due to being struck by the Swedish pulp-log carrying ships that passed through it to Ridham Dock. One strike by a vessel in 1922 actually saw the bridge out of action for several weeks and the only option then was a reversion back to the old crossing methods of small boats ferrying people across the Swale on foot! But Sheppey people knew no better and when it was working the old bridge and its road was one of its biggest assets and I remember trips off the Island along its meandering route with great fondness.

Time and progress finally caught up with it however and in 1960 the now "old" four-poster bridge was opened to huge fanfares and marvelment and the older one demolished. All that remains of where it stood, if you drive to the end of the old remaining piece of road on the Sheppey side, is the sudden ending of the road at the edge of the Swale, and much dwarfed by the height of the "four-poster alongside it. This new bridge also saw the establishment of a much straighter access road either side of it which unfortunately neccessitated the demolishing of the "Lord Nelson" public house to the dismay of many. The pub had been a favourite watering hole for Ridham Dock workers and travellers across the Swale for countless years and had stood, almost on the marsh, just to the left of the old road as you travelled onto Sheppey. In 1960 the then new road went over the site of the pub but many photographs still exist to show it in all its glory.

The new bridge, looked apon almost as the seventh wonder of the world by Sheppey folk at the time of its opening, served the Island really well at first but traffic volumes increased at an alarming rate through the 1980's and 90's and it quickly found itself unable to cope, a situation made worse when there was an accident along its route. Denied access for just a few hours would cause horrendous tail-backs either side and so yet a third bridge and road in my life-time was called for and in 2006 the current Sheppey Bridge was opened but this time with the back up of a seconday route via the four-poster, Sheppey was at last in the modern world.

Friday 21 May 2010

Orange Tips and Coppers

An early morning visit to the reserve today allowed me to experience everything that is good about May, easily my favourite month of the year - the gateway month to summer.
Just the drive along the Harty Road made it all worthwhile. The first section, closely bordered by tall hedges of white-flowered hawthorn, and then suddenly bursting out onto the crest of Capel Hill, with sheep grazed fields either side of the descending road and below you corn fields of dark green, alongside the vivid yellow of rape. I just love the intensity of the rape in flower and even on a dull day it still seems to reflect a brightness upwards, as though the sky had turned upside down.

Pulling up at the reserve's barn I was amazed to see three varieties of butterfly in the space of a few minutes. Firstly a pristine Small Copper alighted on the track, then two Orange Tips flew rapidly across one of the grazing fields and lastly, in some of the taller grass, the first Small Heath of the year was fluttering around. When butterflies start appearing like that and the weather is so warm early in the morning, you just know that summer has arived. At last as well, the grass is starting to grow quite quickly on the marsh and the grazing is starting to take on that lush look, much enjoyed I would imagine by a small herd of lovely Devon cattle that are lightly grazing it.
Sitting on top of one of the old salt workings mounds, soaking up the sun, watching the cattle and being serenaded by Skylarks and the buzzing of bees, its hard not get romantic about just about everything on days like that.

I had the opportunity the other day to look around a small piece of farmland on the edge of Minster that hasn't really changed much in the last century or so. Its only a collection of small meadows that run across to the highest point of Minster cliffs but the fields and their hedges and trees have a lot of old-time character that has been lost over a lot of Sheppey. Fortunately they have just been bought by a neighbouring farmer who farms very sympathetically towards nature and whose family in my opinion, own one of the prettiest farms on Sheppey, Tadwell Farm at Elm Lane. I hope to make more visits to the new purchase because there was certainly plenty of wildlife to see when I was there the other day.

Sunday 16 May 2010

The "Sheppey Harrier"

Earlier today, an hour after sunrise actually, when we were still bathed in blue skies and sunshine, such a treat, I had a wander round the reserve. It was a beautiful start to the day as I headed along the reserve boundary past the Tower Hide. In a boundary ditch close to the hide, there is one of the reserve's three Mute Swan nests, positioned against a clump of phragmites. It was lovely to see the swan sitting regaly atop the nest in the sunshine and being serenaded by a quartet of barber-shop Reed Warblers.
I decided to carry on round to where the RSPB has recently aquired a couple of ex-arable fields, which with proposed expansion should add valuable grazing marsh habitat to the area. The site is still very much in its infancy and still in a "suck it and see" mode whereby the flora and fauna are still being assessed before knowing how best to proceed but it has already benefited the Swale NNR. The two sites are only divided by a simple fence and as well as adding to the total conservation area, the RSPB site has effectively removed an increasing disturbance in recent years from a duck shooting syndicate that shot weekly there, up to the edge of the Swale NNR.
This morning it showed promise with 3 singing Reed Buntings, a singing Sedge Warbler and surprisingly in the middle of some left over rape in flower, a Whitethroat.

Back onto the reserve and despite the beautiful weather, birdwise, it was fairly quiet, as it would seem after the huge numbers of wildfowl there this winter. Swallows skimmed across the fields in increasing numbers and most clumps of phragmites seemed to have singing Sedge or Reed Warblers in them but there are purple patches where you don't seem to see much and this will increase once the breeding season ends and the reserve dries out. Normally by the end of summer, unless its been very wet, its difficult to find very many birds on the grazing marsh, it becomes too hard.
Despite good recent sightings of Lapwing chicks, several pairs are still sitting on eggs, which is no doubt due to the fact that many nests suffered earlier in a couple of cold, wet spells. Redshanks and Oystercatchers are also sitting on many nests and I found one Oystercatcher's nest with three eggs which had been positioned on top of an earth mound three feet high - no flooding problems there then!
In a couple of the fleets there were also a couple of small batchelor parties of Pochard drakes so hopefully this means that the missing ducks were nesting close by.

Oh, and one last sighting was of a superb specimen male Marsh Harrier, this one having the grey areas of plumage much paler than normal, making it look a bit like a male Hen Harrier with brown bits but it was definitely a Marsh. In recent weeks there has been reports on the Forum whereby some East Kent birdwatchers have decided to record some slightly different coloured grey-headed wagtails as "channel wagtails", perhaps I should call this harrier a "Sheppey Harrier" - or perhaps not.

Friday 14 May 2010

Shellness - The Sheppey one

Earlier this morning while the weather was unexpectantly warm and sunny, (its briefly showering rain as I write this), I decided to drive down to Shellness Hamlet and record what breeding birds that there were there as part of the reserve's annual breeding census - 5 pairs of Ringed Plover and a Pair of Mipits.

Despite driving a 4x4 I have to say that the unmade track leading down to the Hamlet must be one of the worst bits of track to drive along In Kent. I wouldn't want to drive it if I had false teeth, you'd never keep them in! Until recently I used to walk out to there from the centre of the main reserve but these days with arthritic feet and the boringness of the stretch along the seawall to get there, its easier to occasionally drive there.

Anyway, the tide was full out and so on-shore bird life was very limited and apart from the Ringed Plovers there was little else of note except a few pairs of Oystercatchers, some Dunlin in summer plumage and no Little Terns were seem or heard. Having said that, in the early morning sun and with little wind, it was a lovely spot to be sat at, it can have such serenity.
The Hamlet too was at peace and I checked for any sign of returning House Martins but there were none, last year was the first year that they haven't nested there for very many years. The Hamlet and its buildings has grown to more or less full capacity over the last 10 years or so and its strange to believe that just before the First World it was no more than a few Coastguard Cottages, which were empty, unused and becoming derelict at that. However, with the laying out of the nearby Aero Club grounds and Shorts Bros. areoplane factory at Muswell Manor in 1909, many of the old Cottages became occupied by Members of the Aero Club and the Hamlet gradually developed into what it is now. I recall that in the 1960's when I worked on the seawalls around it, it still had the air of mystery and gossip about it, and was certainly used by reclusive and wealthy people in the summer, who lived abroad in the winter. Unlike today, few members of the public ventured out that far and so imagination simply ran riot about who actually lived there and what they got up to and in recent times this has been added to by the opening of a nudist beach close by, although the two are not connected. Throw in a few sheep and the necessary wearing of wellington boots and the eastern end of Sheppey is not for the faint-hearted!

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Never-ending winter

As is the norm now this year it was a cold and windy early morning walk round the reserve, dressed still in the same coat as I wore through the winter and thermal gloves. Brief, and to a degree warming sun, quickly gave way to heavy grey clouds which seemed to make the NE wind increase and become even colder. Perhaps its in the mind, but in the winter you expect it to be cold like that and you dress for it, accept it and get on with it, but in May you expect something warmer, sometimes get caught out with lighter clothing on and find that it interferes with your thinking.
There were some Sedge and Reed Warblers battling against the conditions in the wind-blown reed beds and it was good to sse them but a Whitethroat brought things into perspective. It flew up to the top of a hawthorn bush and burst into song but I only knew that because I could see its beak open and its throat vibrating, but I couldn't hear the song because of the wind noise.

It also struck me that the breeding season is slipping by and a lot of the romance of it is being missed this year with too much time being huddled against cold conditions, sometimes too much eagerness to get home and out of that cold, and most certainly, too few oportunities to sit around in warm and sunny spots and observe the breeding birds. It must be similar for birds sitting on eggs out in the open, it must be difficult to leave them for even brief spells to feed, because of the danger of them becoming chilled.

I sat for an hour this morning, in one of the reserve's remaining two hides, with a local wildlife photographer, and the wind coming in through the viewing flaps made it numbing inside. In previous years at this time he has photographed early dragonflies, butterflies and rabbits from there, none were around today and neither was I soon after, I'd recorded a few birds and bits but really couldn't hack being that cold in this springtime winter.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Eel Pie Island

I made the mistake of going down the reserve at 8.00 this morning. A mistake in as much as I was met by a wall of heavy drizzle, a cold NE wind and a temperature of 9 degrees. The thought of walking through wet grass in conditions akin to February held no attraction to me and I turned round and went back home. With this weather forecast for much of May the prospects of a decent summer are not looking very good at the moment.

As I came back past the Raptor Viewing Mound in this grey weather I was reminded of my eel-trapping days in similar conditions out there. A friend and I spent several years wandering all over Sheppey's marshes trapping eels and the section of Capel Fleet between the Raptor Viewing Mound and Capel Corner, which for some reason is little more than a ditch in width, we found an ideal place for trapping eels. This was back in the late 1970's when I was younger and could take the extremes of cold, because on days like today, submerging your arm into freezing ditch water to pull out nets was not fun. In fact at times in the early part of the season, because the chest waders that we wore had a large inside chest pocket, we often carried a hot water bottle in there to re-warm our hands.
We used the tradional eel fyke nets bought from commercial traders and each one consisted of a length of netting similar to a badminton net, which at one end had a series of hooped netting that tapered to a point. This section had an inner piece of netting that prevented the eels from returning back out. By stretching this net across the width of the ditch and with it touching the bottom, any eels passing along the ditch would come up against the net and be led into the hooped, trap end. We would stretch several of these nets across a length of ditch or fleet at about 50 yd intervals, securing them at each end with a length of thin wood also pushed under the water out of sight. The only thing left to do then was to discreetly mark where the first net was and then return a couple of days later.
Unfortunately many of the sites that we netted we had no permission to do so, as was the case at Capel Fleet, and so we were forced to return after dark, which in the middle of summer meant scurrying around with torches around midnight and hiding everytime somebody drove past along the road. There used to be an old farm hand, that lived in one of the cottages by Harty Church, that cycled back from an Eastchurch pub a few nights a week, and he used to take ages to weave his drunken way along the road while we hid in the reed beds. Even worse were the unauthorised netting expeditions to places like Elmley, which often meant lengthy walks across dark farmland, carrying all the equipment, in order to reach a site without being seen.

Anyway, a couple of days later we would return in the middle of the night and after locating the first marker would go either side of the ditch and plunge a naked arm in up to the shoulder and feel around for the posts, boy was that cold sometimes and even worse sometimes when you accidently slid into the water. Believe me, trying to get out of a ditch with your chest waders full up with freezing water, causing you to look like the michelin man was well beyond fun, no wonder I now have arthritis!. But to pull the net up out of the water from both sides and see the trap end bulging with lots of lovely eels was a great reward, although there were many times that just one or two made up the catch. The eels would then be transferred to a large keep net carried by one of us and if the catch was good the nets would be put back in the same place for another visit, if not, we moved the whole lot further along. In this way we would spend a couple of weeks trapping a length of ditching until satisfied that we had caught the majority of the eels and then move to another spot.
Unfortunately the nets weren't always selective in what they caught and casulties did occur with frogs and even some diving birds but the thing along that Capel Fleet stretch that amazed us, was catching good size flounders! A couple of miles from the sea and there they were and it could only be due to the fact that they had either got in through a seaward end sluice or birds had dropped them, whatever the reason we even found baby ones and assumed that they were even able to breed and live in the slightly saline water.
There was one other place that we found this occuring and in much larger breeding numbers and that was in the inland side of the Windmill Creek dam, it was a huge nursery for the flatties.

And lastly, what did we do with the eels after catching them. Well at home in my driveway I had positioned an old galvanised loft tank full of water that the eels went into. We found that if you had tap water running continuously in the top and out the bottom - 24 hrs a day, that the eels would survive perfectly OK without any feeding, which they wouldn't take anyway. After stockpiling them for a couple of weeks in the tank until a 100-odd pounds were there, we then bagged them into large dustbin bags and took them for sale to an Eel-Pie shop in Bow, East London, where we made £1 a pound for them.

Terric fun, mostly done at night before working during the day, but my wife was never amused at 2.00 in the morning when I got into bed freezing cold and smelling of ditch mud and eel slime!

Thursday 6 May 2010

Nature's medicine

I arrived at the reserve quite early this morning and once again, despite it being quite sunny, it remained uncomfortable in a chilly N wind.
I turned right at the 5-bar gate and begun to walk along "Willow Walk" and its attendant ditch. Shortly after, a burst of song from a Cettis Warbler woke me from my daydreams and I realised that I had walked the length of "Willow Walk" without registering a single thing.
Its surprising how easy it is to do that, alone in the countryside and using nature's calming ways to de-stress you. Before I retired and at the end of a particually stressful day in the office, rather than just collapse in a chair I would throw the dogs in the back of the car and go down to the reserve and spend an hour or two walking round and easing out those stresses from my mind.
I guess we all must do it from time to time, I know that I have often worked out next-day presentations walking round there, all alone and talking out loud, it can be so calming.
I remember once, around twenty years ago and after the break up of a relationship, that I went there to sort myself out and found by the time that I had arrived back at the car that I had composed the first verse of what became a ten-verse poem.

"and then came the night
when the long day
of our loving died,
all faint dreams exploding
in our weeping eyes,
as standing at the Wrens Road door
with hand held tight,
we kissed again
and said goodbye"

So sometimes being out and about isn't always about wildlife, it can sometimes be about ourselves and what we are and where we're going, and me, I even feel better for saying it.

Monday 3 May 2010

A bit nippy

A much briefer blog today to report on a short visit to the reserve earlier today. A much bigger contrast to the steamy warmth of last week out there you probably couldn't get. In the shelter of trees and hedges inland it probably wasn't too bad but on the marsh this morning, with no shelter and exposed to a near gale NE wind straight off the sea and with near sleety showers thrown in for good measure, it was uncomfortably bloody cold, I'm definitely getting softer in old age!
The reed beds alongside the barn gave the first indication of what it was going to be like, not a peep out of any Sedge Warbler and the reeds themslves swaying crazily in the wind. It was also immediately obvious, looking across the grazing fields, that a degree of surface water had returned to waterlog some of them and walking onto the nearest one I was splashing about in an inch or so of rainwater. These are the fields that still have many pairs of Lapwings and Redshanks nesting in them, so I assume some casulties can be expected in respect of some eggs sitting in cold water and therefore being ruined.
Walking hunched up into the strength of the wind it was difficult to hear much because of the roar of the wind past one's ears and it was surprising how few birds were actually moving about. Three Greenshanks flew past calling madly as they do, a pair of Greylags honked like mad as I got too near to their nest and a couple of Swallows battling against the icy wind made me feel sorry for them.
It was that kind of visit - no sitting on the seawall ruminating about blissful days, no butterflies, no wishing I hadn't worn my jumper - just bloody cold and windswept and I cleared off back home.

Sunday 2 May 2010

May Day blues

Well I had intended writing a piece today about how beautiful Harty looks on a typical sunny May day but unfortunately as I begin to write this Sheppey is currently water-logged and cold. So lets take a trip along the Harty Road and dwell on a few of the places and occurrences from years ago. Apologies to those people that don't actually travel the road and therefore won't know it.

Prior to its closure in 1950 you might of been held up on the main road for a few minutes, a few hundred yards before the Harty Road turning, as the Sheppey Light Railway train crossed the road en-route from Leysdown to Queenborough. Tiny Harty Halt was alongside the road just there, although it was still a fair walk for anybody living out at Harty. Turning onto the Harty Road the journey took you to the crest of Capel Hill, originally known as Cable Hill, and the farm of the same name.
The view across the marshes from here is superb and like a lot of the area on and around Sheppey they were the sight of many plane crashes during the Second World War and subsequent recoveries by aviation archeaology groups. I remember in November 1979that one group dug down to the remains of a crashed German Dornier 17 bomber from 1940 here at Capel Hill Farm. The tail was located only 14 feet under the soil but as they continued to recover other parts of the plane a 250kg unexploded bomb was found in the wreckage and digging suspended until the RAF arrived to move and detonate the bomb. The Dornier incidentally, had been shot down at 4.15 pm on 20-8-40by two Hurricanes over Eastchurch. Three of the crew baled out and were captured, the fourth died in the crash.

Carrying on along the road, and just past the Raptor Viewing Mound, there is a short line of bushes going out into the field and here there stood a house which I believe was called White House. Opposite and a few yards from the road is the concrete base of one of Harty's three old wind pumps and used for supplying fresh drinking water - one has been recently re-instated alongside the Shellness track. Carrying on along the road a bit further you arrive at a tight bend in the road and at the quite large Elliots Farm. Only two old barns remain here now of any of the original buildings but the farm has minor connections to me because of family history. In 1861 a 10 yr old girl called Martha Thomas was employed here, at such a tender young age! as a Housemaid. Her parents lived further along the road somewhere in an old farm cottage. Nine years later she married into my family and became my Great Grandmother Martha.
Left of Elliots the track takes you down to an isolated farmhouse now known as Brewers but which previously was known as Longwood. It must of been a dodgy place to live at during the Battle Of Britain because at one stage, in an attempt to lure the German bombs away from nearby Eastchurch airfield, lines of fake airfield landing lights were placed in the fields near to Brewers. Some of the bomb craters still exist on the Swale NNR close by. Anyway back to Elliots and by turning right and up the tightly-hedged road you arrive at the first of two bends and this first one was the sight of a small dwelling known as Woodins, of which nothing remains. The second bend, which commands terrific views back across the Capel Fleet valley to Leysdown and Shellness, was also the sight of a dwelling known as Telegraph, possibly for connections to a means of signalling. The bushes there not only conceal some remains of the house's chimney stack but also some lilac and rose bushes, presumably from the garden. A few hundred yards further down the road, immediately before Mocketts Farm on the bend and where a footpath now takes you across the field, once stood Long Farm, home of the Orpin family. It was still there during my childhood and I remember the family also owning a sweet shop in Sheerness. At one stage during the First World War, a field alongside Long Farm was designated as an Emergency Landing Ground for the Royal Flying Corps but there is no record of it ever being used as such.
Nearby Mocketts Farm is another of Harty's few remaining larger and long-standing farmhouses and like Long Farm did, still stands on the crest of Harty Hills to give unrivalled views across most of Sheppey's countryside. On the bend of the road there, at the entrance to Mocketts and running down to the rear of the Ferry House Inn, there is a long square field that until the 1980's was a pear orchard, with another orchard close by and to the rear of Sayers Court, that ran down to the saltings. Seems starnge to think of orchards out there but its surprising to see the number of places that orchards were sited on Sheppey.

Moving on, and ignoring the fork in the road that takes you down past Park Farm, The Swaylings bungalow and to the Ferry House Inn, I'm going to go straight on, to end up at Harty Church. There, there are a small collection of older buildings, the church itself, standing next to Sayes Court, and on the other side of it, the recently pulled down remains of Harty School and a terrace of three old and surprisingly still occupied, farm cottages.
Harty Church was re-furbished in the 1870's at a time when most of Sheppey's churches were being improved and at the same time, because education standards were being up-graded, Harty School was also built. It was only a small school but would of had a ready made supply of children from the various farms and cottages dotted about Harty.
Sayes Court, which is currently lived in by one of the Burden Family who farm cattle across a lot of Sheppey, had at one time a quite impressive small moat at its rear, but not much of it is viewable these days. Interestingly also, in 1853 the house, or somewhere alongside, was used by a Messrs. Cooper as a factory, making clothing and bedding for immigrants, although its not clear if the immigrants actually lived on Harty.

And now as I finish this, it has been raining hard for several hours, a cold NE wind has sprung up, the view from my window is more typical of January than May and I'm really concerned about the plight of the many tiny plover chicks that must be very wet, cold and exposed out on the marshes in all this.