Under My Feet In the Dark

268984_2030979927480_5213006_nTwilight. Blackberry bushes rustle and white tails flash. Rabbits have probably inhabited the Warren since the Romans introduced them.

The Warren at Folkestone is a Site of Special Scientific Interest between cliffs and the Channel, created by 200 years of coastal land slips from here to Dover.

I must be gone by nightfall. But dusk to dawn, as  nocturnal adventurer Dixe Wills notes in his fascinating book At Night, ‘ … to be honest, is very rarely truly dark in Britain’.

Although far darker than my home some 70 miles north in London, the night will be illuminated by rows of houses behind me and in France, less than half that distance.

Unofficial campsites down in the Warren will glow with bonfires. Some tents house an ever-growing number of homeless people in this deprived town.

After more than five decades here, I can find my way with my eyes shut. So I close them, take off my shoes, and creep forward.

When thick springy grass underfoot changes, becoming sparser with rough patches of bare earth and sharp flints, I’m standing on the site of the Roman Villa. It’s been filled in for protection, kept permanently in the dark.

This special place is bounded by three chess board rooks: Martello Towers built for protection from Napoleonic invaders.

I open my eyes and lick lips dry and salty from the breeze blowing here on even the stillest day inland. I reach out to rub the ribbed stems of shoulder-high Alexanders between my thumb and forefinger. The Romans brought those here too.

Confusing Alexanders with their hemlock cousins worries me. These particular umbellifers are dangerous anyway, because they grow right at the cliff top’s edge, and I shift back from the 100 metre drop.

The information board about the villa site has almost vanished in tangles of brambles. Nowadays it’s on the wrong side of one of the signs WARNING people in big red capitals to keep away from the edge.  Sea water causes the clay of the cliffs to become unstable and it slumps, constantly falling on to the foreshore.

Mr Winbolt was walking in 1923, the board says, when he recognised that the stone drains he came across were Roman. The first excavation began soon after.

I helped on another excavation, a community project nearly ten years ago, when long summer days baked the clay almost too hard to break with mattock or archaeological pointing trowel.

We were literally rushing against time, before the site slips away forever.

Now the sea inhales and exhales waves, as it did for Mr Winbolt and for the Romans who lived here: always changing, and always the same.

A 2nd exercise for new Nature Writing course, City Lit, London 

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s