Thursday, September 3, 2009

Invading Cley Beach

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This was one of the more interesting ocean beaches I've ever walked. It is in Cley-Next-the-Sea in Norfolk in England. The beach was made up primarily of small, smooth, rounded stones. They clattered and skittered as you walked along—walking that was conducted with some difficulty I might add.

Cley (pronounced Cly, rhymes with "shy") is a small town along the east coast of England. For a bird watcher, it is the general equivalent of Cape May, New Jersey in the United States in its reputation for great birding and as a vagrant trap. I'll get more into the birding aspects of Cley in tomorrow's post. For today I want to describe to you, and show you, the landscape between Cley and the North Sea.
Despite the town's name, Cley is no longer "next-the-sea." Land reclaimed from the sea has been turned over to agriculture, and the harbor, once a bustling port trading with mainland European countries, has silted in. Still, Cley retains much of its charm. Not the least of which is its windmill, the town's most recognizable feature. Tourism is now the town's primary economic engine, and a lot of the folks who come here are coming to look at birds.

Looking out over the North Sea from Cley, the land opposite—The Netherlands—is too far away to see. But these beaches were once thought to be a potential invasion site for the Axis powers during World War II. They were used by the Allies as a practice and staging area for the Normandy invasion. Remnants of these wartime activities are still readily apparent. Pill boxes and the foundations of gun emplacements are scattered along the shingle dunes.

A pillbox from WWII on Cley Beach.

I stepped inside one of the derelict pillboxes and imagined what it must have been like to be stationed there, scanning the gray sea for signs of the enemy.

Looking out a firing slot from inside one of the pill boxes.

Walking the stony beach I shuddered to think about trying to come ashore here as an invading soldier; how the stones would be shattered into millions of rocky shards with each impact of a bullet or artillery shell. It would have been a deadly bit of work.

There are places where the shingle dunes have been invaded, however—by the encroaching sea. Where the dunes have been overcome by waves, the stones are fanned out by the passing water yielding up a glimpse of the sea through the gap.

BOTB standing on the stony beach with Cley in the background. Photo by David Tipling.

Visiting Cley was lifer experience for me. I'd read about this legendary birding spot in various books and magazines, I'd heard about it from my British birding friends, and I'd even been invited to visit. So I readily took up my friend David Tipling's offer of a place to stay and a Cley birding trip following the British Birdwatching Fair.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about birding at Cley.


On September 3, 2009 at 10:45 PM Dave Lewis said...

Laurie and I visited Cley marsh two years ago. What a great place to go birding!...and it was even sunny out!