The Great Ship Swallower

The notorious Goodwin Sands, also known as the ship swallower, lie a small distance offshore from the meadows.

We have a 1973 map of the Goodwin Sands pinned up in the study

Although the ten-mile-long sandbank is exposed at low tide, it is completely covered and hidden by the high tide and currents shift the sand around, constantly altering its shape. More than two thousand ships have been wrecked on these treacherous sands over the centuries, and countless lives have been lost, including 1,200 on just one night during the Great Storm of 1703.

Two of the ships that went aground on the sands were both called S.S. Mahratta. The first was in 1909:

An old postcard of the S.S. Mahratta broken up on the sands in 1909. She was so very nearly home after a voyage from Calcutta in India with a mixed cargo of jute, rice, rubber and tea. Most of the passengers were rescued by the Deal lifeboat but the Dover tugs were unable to pull the boat off the sands.

The second S.S. Mahratta was also returning from Calcutta when she ran aground in 1939 less than a mile from the site of the wreck of the first Mahratta. Once this later Mahratta had broken up, she was found to have settled on top of the first Mahratta which is very odd. In 2008 the P&O ferry The Pride of Canterbury struck the wreck of one of the Mahrattas whilst manoeuvring in severe weather, sustaining extensive damage to her port propeller and had to be towed back to Dover.

As well as all the ship wrecks, around eighty planes crashed into the area during the fierce fighting of the Battle of Britain. The exact locations of most of these planes are unknown and the Goodwin Sands remains a military graveyard.

An engine from a German Dornier plane which was shot down on 26th August 1940 and crashed onto the Goodwin Sands. Two of the crew died and two others were taken prisoner. The wreck of the plane was located in 2008, finally raised in 2013, and moved to the RAF museum at Cosford. Photo Alan Wilson from Wikimedia Commons under cc-by-sa-2.0

A few years ago the Dover Harbour Board were granted a licence to dredge two million cubic metres of sand and gravel from the Goodwins to use as landfill in the Dover Docks redevelopment. There was a huge local outcry against this decision which would have led to destruction of the delicate marine environment, altered the pattern of erosion of our shoreline here, as well as disturbing the watery graves of countless people over the centuries. Despite many setbacks, the campaigners heroically never gave up trying to get the decision overturned.

Last month we heard the fantastic news that the Port of Dover has abandoned its plans to dredge the Goodwin Sands and has found an alternative source for the landfill. But the campaign now continues on to try to get the Goodwins properly protected so that it can never be exploited in the future.

A dredger sailing on past the meadows this week. The threat to the sands has passed for now and there is no call for dredgers here.

Unfortunately we are once again a covid household. Dave had managed to avoid catching it all this time before finally succumbing this week. I had covid back in the spring and definitely don’t want it again, especially with one of our son’s 30th birthday celebrations and pre-Christmas events planned and now in possible jeopardy.

So we are trying to keep to different parts of the house and wearing masks, but it has been far too cold to have the windows open. The low December sun is up for a few precious hours before the dark descends once more:

Meanwhile, we have a mystery on our hands here – the Case of the Disappearing Tulip Bulbs. For several autumns now I have been planting unusual varieties of tulip bulbs in the allotment to bring into the house in the spring as cut flowers.

A bunch of interesting tulips in April 2020. How uplifting

This year I planted more bulbs than ever before:

Ninety-five tulip bulbs were planted into the allotment in late November

But as I opened the gate and stepped into the allotment this week, my feet crunched down onto a little pile of tulip bulbs just inside. I couldn’t understand what they were doing there, but then I realised that every single tulip bulb planted in the allotment had been dug up and removed. There was a grid of little holes in the soil mirroring where I had planted the bulbs.

Looking on the internet, squirrels seem to be the main culprits blamed for digging up and caching garden bulbs but we only very rarely see a squirrel here. The cache of bulbs must be enormous and I wonder where that is? Personally I suspect rats although actually I am amazed that either animal could smell and locate the deeply planted bulbs so accurately.

I replanted the few abandoned bulbs that I had stood on and put a trail camera on them to see if the suspects will return to the scene of the crime and be caught red-handed.

Nothing so far but the ground has been frozen for much of the time since then.

The frost pocket in a corner of the second meadow. The ground here remains frozen long after everywhere else has melted. On this particular day there was freezing fog out to sea, with fog horns sounding atmospherically from the lightships and buoys guarding the Goodwin Sands, as well as the deep voice of the Dover Port horn to the south

It is the time of year for tree planting and we have added seven fruit trees to the orchard and planted a whitebeam as a memorial to my father whose funeral was last week.

We plant some trees every autumn but don’t want to go too wild because every new tree will need to be well watered throughout the next summer as they establish a proper root system.

This new little copse of fruit trees has two crab apples, a russet apple and a plum tree

A few winters ago a heron fished all the frogs and newts from the wild pond. It felt like a mass slaughter with the dice being very heavily weighted in favour of the heron.

Now a heron has started visiting the pond once more:

Long distance photo taken from the house. The heron circled the meadows, eventually landing some distance from the pond and walking down. That may have been its first visit to the meadows but now it has started appearing every day

The camera looking at the pond is fogged with condensation but its photos are just about good enough to show that the heron’s patient fishing technique is reaping rewards:

Heron and male frog with his white throat. Male frogs will be hibernating in the silt at the bottom of the pond at this time of year, their skin being permeable to oxygen

In the past we have solved our heron problem by deploying our scarecrow, MacKenzie, at the side of the pond. This week he has once more been put out on duty:

MacKenzie, guardian of our amphibians, standing over the frozen pond

But unfortunately the heron visiting this year seems to be wise to this trick and has continued to fish under Mackenzie’s very nose. In February hundreds of frogs will gather here to spawn which will be a bonanza for the heron unless we can sort something out by then. One thing we can do is lay down some more squares like this at the edges of the pond:

Whilst admittedly not very attractive, they do offer a safe refuge for the frogs and newts.

Other recent and interesting photos from the meadows:

A robin puffed up into a little ball to keep warm
You might have to take my word for it, but this is a weasel running across the gate. Interesting to see that it is still out and about and actively hunting in this cold snap
The sparrowhawks are always out hunting
A beautiful fox portrait as dusk falls
Rabbits are still venturing into the meadows at night…..
….although there is now one fewer of them than there was
A bedraggled magpie at the end of a rainbow

The bird ringers have been bringing trainees to the wood to give them experience of ringing good hauls of woodland birds. On one of the sessions they ringed twenty-nine blue tits!

A coal tit and a marsh tit
A tawny owl coming to one of the mini-ponds in the wood
Jelly ear fungus on elder

The bird ringer has been photographing purple sandpiper in Broadstairs harbour:

These dumpy little birds breed in the tundra at the top of the world but about thirteen thousand birds migrate down to the UK to spend their winters around our coasts.

Christmas is just around the corner and I finish today with a festive flourish – I absolutely adore this knitted topper that adorns a postbox in Wye where one of our daughters lives. Someone there is incredibly talented:

Happy Christmas to one and all.

9 thoughts on “The Great Ship Swallower

  1. Happy Christmas to you and hope you remain well. Very odd about the tulip bulbs, especially as a similar thing happened to tulip bulbs my mum planted! She never did find the culprit. X

    1. Happy Christmas to you too, Shazza. The tulip mystery is solved here – it is rats, I’ve got them on camera! I’m planting some more this afternoon since the sun is shining – they are going under chicken wire this time though….

      1. Oh goodness, it must be rats at mums then too. Yikes! You don’t always realise they are there living with you quietly.

Leave a Reply