The Ray: transition zone


Mersea. Sunday morning. rising tide. two twitchers in the rough field looking for the Lapland Bunting (40) reported here. I spend a half hour looking for my dropped glasses.

I found the glasses on the sea wall, just where you can see Ray Island over the channel. I walk here often on family visits. This place means a lot – I worry, talking about it. But I think the Ray will disappear whatever I do. Take the plunge.

(Your dad loved mud, my mother has often said. Me too – claiming it as a creel of roots*)

My mother looks at a book I give her, and picks up on this sentence: “Ostensibly serene and untroubled, the Essex marshlands are also possessed of a distinctive melancholy, especially so in the winter months, which can either be character-forming or near-fatal.”**

Mersea is a tidal island connected to commuter-land by the Strood, a road covered by midday tides. Cars accelerate at the no-speed-limit sign: I wonder how many drivers glance at the Ray just to the south.

Out of sight, on the other side of the estuary, is Bradwell (1) Magnox power station, currently being decommissioned. Bradwell (2) is proposed here: what (Blackwater Against Nuclear Energy asks***)  if nuclear evacuation was required? will the Strood be heightened above tidal reach? how much will that cost?

I want to leave the speeding cars on the Strood,  and get to the Ray. This is an island where mud became rooted, to rise above sealevel as self-made land. In winter, it is a brown line of thorn; at a distance it is dull against saturated wheat-green.

Close-up, the mudslicks and air of the Ray is busy with migrant waders: their calls are the calls of parting.**** Also homecoming.

The Ray is unprotected by sea wall – unusally for this part of the world. Incredibly, its extensive ‘natural transition zone’ is allowed to be itself.  It is a route to something more-than-human. It quietly has its devotees.


Mud – saltmarsh – coarse grass – scrub: meshing slowly and lengthening as a southern profile. Above, looking north: below looking south.

The warden points out it is increasingly eroded on the higher north east side: this is how the Ray could disappear, he thinks.

It is also where picnickers come, Islanders and yachties.


The Little Soay flock have a managerial brief: to assist workparties clear the blackthorn. The rams are just out of rut, shedding wool. Plucking wool was the St Kildan way – not cruel to sheep in the slightest, we agree. A lucky flock, I think.

Dave points out a seventeenth century drain, for what was then arable land he thinks. And there are many small mounds, inexplicably arising only on premodern ground, I learn.

I return later and lie in the grass, watching reed and corn buntings dislodge each other from the top of an outlying hawthorn.

I must go, cannot afford to be caught by the tide. While I can still see my way.

Notes

Many thanks to David and Georgina Nicholls, wardens of Ray Island on behalf the Essex Wildllife Trust, who guided me round the Ray.

http://www.essexwt.org.uk/visitor_centres__nature_reserves/ray_island/

Visits are possible only by boat unless with the warden’s permission; tidal and weather conditions can be hazardous.

References:

* From the poem Polder, by Seumas Heaney in Field Work, Faber and Faber, 1979

** Ken Worpole, East of Eden  in Towards Re-enchantment; Place and Its Meanings, edited by Gareth Evans and Di Robson, Artevents, 2010. (p63)

*** Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/ground/bradwell.php

**** JA Baker, edited by M Cocker and John Fanshawe: The Peregrine, The Hill of Summer and Diaries, 2010, Collins (p243)

Status of this post: This is an early draft introducing early work in progress. My aim is to make connections around the Ray to respect its history and current existence. Accepting that its long term conservation is unlikely, given rising sea levels combined with isostatic shifts on the Essex coast – I wonder about future visits, where a re-engineered Strood may afford views over mud, that was the Ray.

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