I’ve been thinking about some of the positive changes that have come about in my life due to the impact of the pandemic lockdown. One of those is getting to know my square mile. I have lived in this small coastal town for 20 years, but in truth I’ve not really spent much of that time walking its streets, getting to know it. My own road was really a bit of a stranger until I was forced by the lockdown to stop driving out into the nearby countryside.
Even my daily walk with Oscar was a 10-minute drive away where I was able to take in the sights of the River Adur. It’s true – if it hadn’t been for the lockdown I would still be getting in my car every day and driving there. But suddenly that was not an option. For a week or so I went on a road walk – just around the extended housing block. The change was palpable. Very few cars on the road, and if anyone was walking on the same pavement and approaching you, one or the other would cross the road. That used to be seen as rude, but suddenly it received a smile, and a thank you. It was peaceful. I could hear the birdsong. There were no light aircraft flying along the coast from Shoreham. But the street walk, although definitely doing Oscar’s claws good, was not a replacement for our river walks. I walked across the lock gates to the seafront and that was lovely, but the lock gates were still quite busy, even during the lockdown.
Then one day as I walked along the main road above the harbour I noticed some stone steps. What the hell, thought I, it’s not like I’ve got to be anywhere, let’s see where they lead. So down we walked onto a lovely green space on the north side of Shoreham harbour. Ok, it wasn’t exactly picturesque, but it was quiet, there was green space, and the bank was just about to burst into the flowers of Spring. Right at that moment, we were alone. I walked over and sat on one of the big mooring stones in silence. It was so lovely. I sat a while listening to the gulls, then I caught the cry of one of the Peregrines that nest upon the chimney of Shoreham Power Station, a fish jumped out in the harbour as a large ship moved ever so slowly by.
It was one road away from my house, and had been for 20 years, yet I’d never stepped foot down here.
So since that time my walk with Oscar has taken me there every day. We soon began to explore the paths along the harbour and where they led, and I was delighted to find a quiet path that meandered along beside the harbour, one edge the water, the other a bank of growing wildflowers and shrubs. It’s been the bank that has been the biggest surprise. I could spend a year or more just studying the plants that grow there and I still would find more. On and above the harbour water I’ve seen Gulls, but also a Crested Grebe, diving for food, Cormorants, and the family of Swans who every year raise their young just along the path. In the water, there have been shoals of Jellyfish, and just a few weeks back the Bass, Grey Mullet and Pollock fry were born in shoals of thousands that flitter just beneath the surface of the water. Rats too, almost every day I see rats, and foxes walking lazily along the path, stopping to look at me before diving back into the undergrowth. The truth is that just one road away from my home I have seen more wildlife, more varied plants and birds than I saw in all of the years I had been walking the Adur river bank.
And all within the square mile of my home.
The knock-on effect has been that I’ve properly met my neighbours and others who live locally to me who walk the same path every day. Home has felt even more like home.
As the lockdown has eased so others have returned to that small patch of green beside the harbour. There is now a regular row of people fishing, often families picnicking, and I also now know that its the location where the local youth gather and drink beer. All of that has always happened on that little space, and I am only now being introduced to the normality it has lived with for decades. For a while it was my sanctuary of peace, now I am just another part of its daily life.
This afternoon Oscar and I will walk there again. Just down the road and across the next.
What will we see today?
I have no idea.
How wonderful is that.