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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘herons

Walking The Dog 8

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If I was to say that I bumped into Capone on the foreshore posing as a Japanese tourist you’d say I’d flipped.  Were I to propose that some 30 exotic herons were nesting at Langstone millpond you might think I was exaggerating. To say that the maize in the field next to my house grew a foot in the space of one humid Saturday…

Well it’s all true.  Unfortunately, my greedy anticipation of some innocent scrumping in the sweetcorn field has been thwarted.  A previous pilferer assures me that it’s cattle feed and the more you boil the cobs the harder they become.  It does amaze me though, the way this stuff reaches for the sky.  Planted in May as two or three inch shoots it now averages a foot above my head and, yes, on that very hot and humid Saturday it put on a full twelve inches.

Behind Langstone millpond I counted 28 little egrets nesting in the broadleaved trees. This feels more like something that you might see in the African bush but there they are, distracting me as Carla’s beady eyes focus on the coots and mallards taunting her from the pond.  Little egrets were unseen in the UK until 20 years ago but now they seem to be taking over Chichester harbour due, we are told, to the effects of global warming.  I wonder when the ostriches and flamingoes are going to arrive?

As for Capone’s antics well I wish I’d had a camera to record them.  It was in the leg pocket of my trousers, the strap dangling carelessly.

As Capone put in another withering Ieuan Evans style run down the nearside wing he managed to pass his head through the camera strap.  The pocket was ripped clean off my trousers and as he felt the weight he came to a shuddering halt and turned back to look at me, my camera hanging round his neck.  He thought he was in trouble but not for long!

We’ve discovered a truly magical new walk recently.  It’s as close to virgin territory as you can get on the south coast.  I’m pretty sure that there’s no other humans have passed there in many months or even years, perhaps not since some maintenance work was last carried on the Thorney Island airfield approach lights.  Judging from their sorry condition that’s been a very, very long time.  It’s on the right side of the MOD boundary so I don’t think I’m in danger of being shot on sight.  It’s saltmarsh with acres of waist high grasses and patches of damp but parched and cracked mud that sounds hollow as you walk across it.  The dogs thunder across it sounding like a herd of buffalo and there’s a pair of herons, huge cormorants and shelducks always in the same place, vastly offended by our invasion.  Walking here is an overwhelmingly soothing experience.  Cares and worries just evaporate and I find myself returning to the car with a wide, involuntary and peaceful smile.

Only three days after that sweltering Saturday the temperature has dropped 10 degrees and out on the foreshore under thunderous skies there must be another 10 degrees of wind chill.  My two favourite dogs are about 40 yards out squabbling over a stick in the heavy chop that’s thrashing in from Hayling.

Rain or shine, calm or wind, it’s just perfect out there.

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Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08