Monday, 23 August 2010

Something different.

Its always difficult with these blogs to avoid falling into the trap that many do, possibly by popular choice, of repeating the same thing seven days a week. It can get a tad boring pretty much knowing what some are going to tell you each day even before you've actually read them - the same routes, the same wildlife, just different numbers.
The Swale NNR has got like that just lately and I even bore myself writing about the same things and so I've looked for something different. I've visited Warden Point this last couple of weekends in the hope of not only seeing some early migrants but birds that you don't get down on the marsh - Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, Goldcrest. Unfortunately that hasn't quite worked out, its still a tad early, but there have been other things to make the visit interesting. The variety of free and tasty fruit growing in the hedgerows there for one. Also the vagrant in his tent near Manor Cottage, who is quite interesting to talk too and is ex-military and who has his pension paid into the bank so that he can collect it wherever he travels, enjoying the open air and the hedgerows.

When I was youngster in the 1950's and 60's, Warden Point was a far more mysterious and quieter place, well off the beaten track and with its own Manor at the end of the road. The road itself, also went on for a lot further than it does now and there was at least one more bungalow and a two-story house that was a post-office, sweet shop and tea rooms. Even as recent as the 1980's it was still possible, after a long cycle ride out there, to sit outside the post-office in the summer and enjoy an ice-cream or tea and cakes. Unfortunately these buildings have now gone down the cliffs to join the old military installations that once also stood at the top. Some of these ruins are the remains of concrete Sound Detectors that stood on the top of the cliffs. Between the two World Wars, experiments were carried out around the coasts of southern England in the early detection of incoming aircraft by the use of large, echo-sounding dishes. They were made of various materials and were various sizes up to 200ft long but those erected at sites in the Thames Estuary like Warden were of concrete, 20 foot high and had at the front a large concave dish. These experiments using aircraft, microphones and the sound mirrors carried on throughout the 1920's and 30's but had limited success and were finally stopped in 1935 because an alternative detection system,(radar), was coming into being. So the concrete dishes were abandoned and eventually ended up at the bottom of Warden's cliffs as a little known piece of history.

Warden Manor itself has been around for a long time and as far back as Tudor times was given to Sir Thomas Cheyne by Henry the Eighth. Like all such old buildings it has had its share of mystery and intrigue with tales of smuggling headquarters, ghosts, hidden priest's holes and even tunnels to the Wheatsheaf pub down the road. Seems a hard way to go and get a pint! During WW1 it became a small hospital and in WW2 was used as a convalescent home for military officers. But it became most widely known for its use by the Toc H organisation. In 1930 the Manor was bought by a Cecil Jackson-Cole and both before and after WW2 he allowed Toc H to use it to provide holidays for the elderly. The rooms all had names such as Orient Express or ship's names and were themed inside accordingly. It was very popular for visiting aged people and well used and must of been quite idyllic out there in such lovely and quiet countryside before the holiday camp on the cliffs ruined the place.

By the 1970's it had been purchased by a charming gentleman who owned a clothing shop in Sheerness and he eventually sold part of the Manor and it's small chapel to some monks. These re-named their part as The Monastery of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary and in recent times there were up to 50 monks and nuns living there. I recall one Sunday afternoon seeing a number of these brown robed and hooded monks making their way along the seawall of The Swale NNR, out for an afternoon look round - quite spooky!

So, when you're birdwatching at Warden Point next time, be mindful of its history and what used to be and its a shame that you can't still get a cup of tea at the post office there.

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