As the sunshine remained settled no settling at a desk this week. Once again the Downs beckoned and off we trotted to another well trod peri-urban path. Setting out from the dog-eared dog poo decked car park on top of Falmer Hill past ditches brimming with rogue rubbish. We find a deflated dinghy marooned with a cargo of beer – 600 feet above sea level….. a sign of very poor navigation or a very high tide indeed?
Once past the reach of not so furtive fly tippers, the track forks down the steady curve of Bullock Hill. The Downs frame the sea and sights of Rottingdean, as we follow a sheepless path to the quiet depths of Standean Bottom. The sounds of distant Brighton disappear, and a lone hawk hovers on no wind. Picking a way on a path booby trapped by badgers with ankle busting burrows, the trees now bare, in the bottom, fringe a half planted field of winter green.
Broken buildings guard the gateway to Castle Hill. The only sign of life is some scrappy shavings of sheep. The rusting remains of redundant farmyard tools look alien in this landscape. The valley fields, that in August glowed as Brighton’s bread basket, are now fringed with churned up chalk.
As the sun sinks behind the hill we start a slow ascent, and swing round past gorse and grazing ponies, who watch, and munch.
Tucked in a valley corner, where the sound of cars creeps in, a dew pond reflects the sounds above as contrails cross the sky, surrounded by a Blair Witch thicket.
A steep and not too clear a climb, on narrow pony pitted deep mud tracks, leads up towards the more popular path. And, as the sun sets over Woodingdean, we can barely see the signs that we are heading home – an empty bag from Cyprus Airport duty free, and other dumped detritus, mark the trail to ‘civilisation’.
Another day, more drifting deadly debris on the tide.
Still more beached balloons are bobbing in the breeze – celebratory bubbles yet to burst and present a not so happy meal to choke any gourmet fish or gull – tempted by exotic imported morsels.
The menacing menu can be washed down today with reclaimed refreshments – a bottle of beer or a guilty looking juice.
Its no wonder stranded creatures look unwell.
As well as picnics on the beach, there’s scope for seaside sport. An abandoned football chucked up by the waves is next to a knobbled knee pad. A tennis ball has shed its skin – a fluorescent sea slug on the shore.
Its not all playtime at this seaside though – close scrutiny reveals a micro office mingled with the shingle – a rubber, pens and the lid of of a usb.
Among the trash we do find treasure too – a store of tiny tools to take-away.
Smart glass fronted holiday homes on the shingle ridge of Camber face the far horizon, but a near shore scan reveals a gallery of gruesome goods abandoned by the tides.
Beach combing for treasure here throws up a trove of toxic trash that mingles with marine life. Do cockles clean their shells with cotton buds or celebrate big birthdays with balloons?
Every few feet deflated remnants of celebrations are shredded to sea anemone shapes, their gaudy plastic tails tangled in washed up weed – lasting far longer in the food chain than the days and years they celebrate. This lethal legacy of holiday haven parties has potential to tangle and strangle local birds and fish.
Are shredded pants, abandoned butts, beer cans and bottles battered by the waves remnants of wild nights out?
Alongside the cockle and razor shells cast aside by snacking gulls and oyster catchers, detritus from human diners drifts ashore. Near the closed for winter cafe there’s no escaping brand wars on this beach. Empty Coke and Pepsi cans compete for attention, alongside long forgotten fermenting juice and freshly left coffee cups – tasty.
While shed shells play their part in shaping shifting sands, there is no safe place for shreds of nets and tangles of line lost or dumped in the hunt to find our fish food. Washed up wings could be the sign of seagulls snarled in line?
The lead of a hapless hound lies at the top of the tide – has a dog despaired of modern living and done a Reggie Perrin? Or drowned doing doggy paddle? Should I dial 999? There are signs on shore for us – smoking kills and wind and tide can trap. But no alarms for sea life warning of the snares we set. Most victims die invisible, although the occassional corpse washes up onshore. Like this strange seahorse found drowned – seemingly strangled by its manufactured plastic mane.