The mill by the sea and other stories

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We’ve been making the most of this wonderful Autumn weather. On Saturday we went to Sidlesham  on the South coast and walked around saltmarsh and mudflats. We’ve done this walk before and know to wear Wellington boots whatever the state of the tide. Shorts are also a good idea as you inevitably get splashed squelching through the mud.

We ate our picnic on the quay where a tidal mill once stood, but all that remains today is some of the foundations and part of the mill pond. The pond was filled on each rising tide and as the sea receded the water flowing from the pond powered the machinery. There has been a succession of mills here since the Middle Ages, with the last built in 1755. This was left high and dry in the 1870s when the harbour was sealed and the land reclaimed for agriculture.

In 1910, during a violent storm, the sea broke through and flooded the area and the harbour once again became intertidal. At low tide a deep channel, once navigated by barges, can be seen meandering to the harbour mouth. Sheltered by the shingle spits, tidal waters flow gently and fine sediments are deposited. Saltmarsh is developing naturally and the mudflats and creeks are a refuge for wildlife.

Salt-resistant plants, such as fleshy-leaved purslane, have adapted to thrive here. Its rotting leaves fertilise the mud and its seeds float on the surface providing food for wildfowl.

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After lunch we drove along the coast to Church Norton, the site of St Wilfrid’s chapel and a Norman Keep. The chapel is in fact the remaining chancel from a medieval church and is very beautiful. The shingle beach was dotted with clumps of sea kale, its flowers now gone to seed. As it was low tide we walked out onto the shingle spit where the turning tide formed a mesmerising criss cross pattern in the waves. Turning back we had good views to Chichester cathedral and the South Downs.

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Sunday was a sunny day and after a session at the allotment we climbed to the top of St Martha’s Hill which stands 160 metres above sea level and from where on a clear day you can see eight counties. St Martha’s Church has been an important stop for pilgrims walking from London to Canterbury since Saxon times. The church holds frequent lunchtime concerts and we caught the very end of the Autumn concert. The church was decorated for harvest festival and there was quite a festival atmosphere on the hill with food and drink, church and concert goers, walkers and dogs all thronging together.  We ate our picnic sitting on the church wall and set off down the steep path to Chilworth Manor. This area was once famous for its gunpowder mills built on the banks of the Tillingbourne. The water power supplied by the stream also powered corn and paper mills. Today this is such a peaceful spot it is hard to imagine the noise and pollution that dominated this area for close on three centuries. William Cobbett in his Rural Rides remarked that the extreme beauty of this valley was polluted by the two worst inventions of the Devil, gunpowder and bank-notes.

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Monday found us up in Oxford visiting the alma mater and taking our son and his girlfriend out to lunch. We found another great pub in the village of Toot Barton and had a lovely post-prandial walk to a church with distant views over freshly ploughed fields. I don’t quite know how we manage it but whenever we visit our son or daughter at their respective universities we always have amazing weather.

Today has been a working day. Lights are needed coming home and the house feels chilly. It is time to light the lamps, draw the curtains and settle down in front of the fire. It has been a very good summer but I’m ready for autumn.

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4 thoughts on “The mill by the sea and other stories

  1. You do get out and about and visit some interesting places, Sarah. I love your photos, especially the one of the crisis-crossing wavelets. It’s bucketing with rain here and chilly. It’s time to dig out the hats, scarves and gloves and clean out the wood burner. Hope you’re having a good week.

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  2. Beautiful autumn days. We walked to St Martha’s Church while doing the North Downs Way but my only memory of it is that while the surrounding area was warm and sunny, up there it was wet and windy. Your photos show wonderful views that we missed because we had our heads down!

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