If I don’t manage to get to the coast for more than two months or so I experience a sort of yearning for pebbles, the sound of the waves and chips eaten out of their paper whilst perched on a blustery seawall. Imagine my joy then when Julia of the Instagram account @humphreyandgrace (until recently Juliabesidethesea) agreed to swap posts with me about her local wanderings. The clue is in her old Instagram name. She lives in Eastbourne.
Julia’s Instagram feed is calming, exquisitely detailed, thoughtfully observed and she is as passionate about robins in hedgerows and boughs of early blossom as I am. Thrillingly I’ll be holding a silver workshop in Julia’s dining room on 18th June (click here to find out more) but meanwhile hold on to your mufflers, we’re off for a beautifully photographed coastal walk with Julia….
It’s no secret that some of us in the northern hemisphere might quite like to hibernate over winter. The light levels are low and for much of the winter months it is dusk or dark, especially with our glorious winter weather… Ok, by glorious I mean rain and wind and gloom. Sigh. At this time of year when sunshine is rare and it coinciding with a time that it can be appreciated even rarer, I don’t need much encouragement to drop whatever I am doing and take a walk when sunlight meets free time. I am always keen to top up the vitamin D levels the tiniest bit and breathe in the non-stale air that fills our ‘closed for winter’ houses, instead taking in the fresh coastal air which is the very definition of clean. Though by mid February the days are lengthening, the light is improving and there is just a hint of spring around the corner and so being outdoors is perhaps slightly more pleasurable and a little less bracing.
Emma and I share a love of all things wild and hedgerow grown and at the end of last year we talked about comparing our localities and the treasures they produce. I live in a seaside town, in the surrounding area we have woods, farmland, marshes, country lanes, all kinds of environments but my go-to wild flower places are the beach and the South Downs over Beachy Head. Our beaches are shingle with very little for a plant to cling to, there is absolutely no shelter or protection from the elements and I suppose this is why they fascinate me. Wild plants have a determination to grow despite such hardship that is almost inspiring. Many are stunted by the environment growing shorter than those in a sheltered spot inland. Often they grow at strange, windswept angles.
My favourite time of year is the early summer when the growth is new and flowers are in full bloom. There are Ox Eye Daisies and Vipers Bugloss, Sea Kale, Sea Campion, Wild Sweet Peas, Cow Parsley which gives way to Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Poppies and oh so many more flowers besides. I visit the beach regularly all year round as even when the flowers are long gone there are echoes of their presence, like a memory of summer. From seed heads to skeletons to the brand new growth already peeking through I can while away any amount of time seeing what’s going on at the garden on the beach. And if all else fails and there is no plantlife to be found in that barren late winter time, there are always the shells that wash ashore to collect and identify.
By January many of the plants have been blown bare – and slightly less photogenic – by the winter winds and so for this post I wandered the cliff tops above Beachy Head Lighthouse to see what was left. The area is just as windswept and exposed as the beach, if not more so, anything that grows there has a sideways lean. The bushes, gorse and scrub have such character and determination that I can’t help but smile at their lopsided growth. And then there are the wild flowers who cling, quite literally, to the cliff so growing on the very edge of the land.
In summer I like to identify what I find often using an old observers book of wildflowers or a 1978 edition of The Concise British Flora by W. Keble Martin (I know Emma has a fondness for this book so it’s only fair to mention it here!) it is so much easier when the flowers and leaves are growing well for reference so I haven’t been able to identify all that I found on my recent walk, though there is still a long list of plants. In the short distance between Beachy Head Lighthouse which sits on the rocks at the foot of the white cliffs and Belle Tout Lighthouse which sits on the top of the cliffs I found Teasel, Thistles, Ragwort, Lady’s Bedstraw (I love this name), Rosebay Willow Herb, Knapweed, Cow Parsley, Queen Annes Lace and Sheep’s Sorrel. Of course there were others I don’t recognise in their winter clothes and those who are hidden, lying dormant for the season. The gorse is in bloom with flashes of yellow along the coast and beneath it all new leaves are pushing through with the promise of another garden in a few months time. I am looking forward to the Tufted Vetch that grows near Cuckmere Haven, the Wild Orchids on the Downs, but most of all the swathes of Cow Parsley everywhere in May. The world of wild flowers is a beautiful one if you just take the time to look a little closer.
Since I began to type this post a couple of weeks ago the earth has begun waking up. There are blossom trees in bloom and the early magnolia’s are out. My local park is full of violet coloured crocuses and daffodils. In my garden the yellow plum tree has been in bloom since early January, it’s season unusually early and prolonged this year. The snowdrops are peeking out beneath the trees and the hellebores are putting on a fine display. I am interested to see what spring actually looks like this year with so many plants jump-starting the season so soon…
I would encourage you to put on your walking boots or wellies and look a little closer as the world around you wakes up. It’s a beautiful place. Plants grow in the most unlikely places, Erigeron and Campanula cling to nothing more than the cracks in old walls. You have to admire their tenacity…
Spring is coming!
Concerning wild flowers, please be aware that picking wild flowers is not something I encourage, some are protected so unless you know what you are looking at, leave it be. Uprooting any wild plant is illegal.
If Lighthouses interest you, both those I mention here have interesting stories, Belle Tout was moved (yes the whole structure) away from the cliff edge after so many cliff falls that it’s position was precariously close to the cliff edge. It is now a Bed & Breakfast. (full history http://www.belletout.co.uk/information/history/ ). Beachy Head Lighthouse, the newer of the two, has changed it’s colour a few times over the years, though it is hard to imagine it any other way now. (more info http://www.keepthebeachyheadlighthousestripes.org.uk/history.html )
This was such a treat and has given me a vicarious seaside fix that will keep me going for weeks. Here are the places you can find Julia about the internet:
Blog | Humphrey and Grace
Instagram | Humphrey and Grace
Twitter | Humphrey and Grace
My post about my recent Fenny wanderings and nature finds is on Julia’s blog