diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Seaside postcard: Camber Sands
I thought I'd go back to Rye at the weekend. I decided to go somewhere I've blogged about before so that it didn't matter when I didn't write about my trip afterwards. But then I turned left outside the station, and carried on walking, and ended up somewhere completely different altogether. To a seaside resort I'd haven't visited since I was two. Better blog about that then.

Camber Sands lies at the mouth of the River Rother - once a formidable natural harbour but long since destroyed by medieval storms. It's a two mile walk from Rye down to the reconstructed seashore, and a lonely windswept walk if you choose to hug the remains of the river. The first flat field is full of sheep, and hundreds of weeny cute lambs too at this time of year. Slowly the town on the hill shrinks across the salt marsh [photo], and all that can be heard is the squelch of mud beneath boot. And the odd seagull. Weather permitting.

Rye, from the eastern marshes

Halfway down on the opposite bank is modern Rye Harbour. Here fishing boats tussle with medium-sized container ships, and at high tide one of these may go scudding off down the narrow channel towards the sea. Look carefully in the path alongside the golf links and you should spot two metal rails - the remains of the Rye and Camber Tramway which used to transport golfers and holidaymakers down from the main town. The corrugated iron hut near the harbourmaster's tower is all that remains of an intermediate station, once visited by tens of thousands of Victorian holidaymakers for fourpence return.

The end of the river is very different depending on the tide. At high tide a deep broad channel merges straight into the sea, while at low tide a shallower flow ebbs further out past a distant buoy. It's then that the expanse of Camber Sands is revealed - a gently-sloping yellow shelf ideal for test-match scale beach cricket [photo]. At midsummer its multitudinous acres are undoubtedly busier, but on Easter afternoon there was more than enough room for every dog to have a meadow-sized chunk to itself. The sands are widest nearest the river's mouth, gradually tapering to the east and turning ever shinglier. Ten miles up the coast at Dungeness the seashore's all bleak and pebbly but, here at Camber, sand reigns. [photo]

Camber Sands (tide in)The dunes are fabulous. Great heaps of sand bound together by razor-sharp grass, piled up between the beach and the village beyond [photo]. The council would rather you stuck to recognised paths through the valleys inbetween, but far more fun to stomp up to the top and hope not too much sand gets displaced. Families hide from squalls within silica hollows, while dogwalkers trail their hounds from summit to summit parallel to the beach. Look west from up here and that's Winchelsea, while look north and the marshes are clumped with twirling turbines. Lazy tourists can rejoice that the highest dunes are nearest the car park, which is also conveniently situated for the Kit Kat Cafe. This classic beachfront diner serves fry-ups and candy floss to grateful holidaymakers, while the recess nextdoor supplies all the plastic buckets and rubber rings any toddler could ever need. [photo]

As I was only a toddler in 1967 I remembered nothing of my previous visit to Camber. This is where I spent the Summer of Love, not letting my hair down in a patchouli haze but holed up in a rented chalet with my parents. They spent the week playing cards and changing my baby brother's nappy, while I dug holes in the beach and went to bed early. The bungalow we stayed in is probably still there, somewhere, amidst one of Camber's two large holiday parks [photo]. I attempted to walk round their perimeter by following a muddy bridleway, but ended up getting very lost within the recreational compound. A few of the chalets looked new, almost luxurious, but further inland living conditions were decidedly more spartan, decrepit and bleak. The social highlight for today's kids seemed to be an indoor waterpark, and definitely not the rusting sign on a chalet wall advising budding naturalists to "look up, you might see a squirrel". I couldn't get back to the beach fast enough.

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