To the sea...
Being based in Salisbury for the next few months means that we have a whole host of wild spaces right on our doorsteps; from chalke downs rolling for miles, to bubbling streams flowing through picturesque villages, as well as the ancient oaks and expansive heathlands of the New Forest. Those are all easily within a 30minute drive, and for others no carbon footprint is required. It also means that if we hop in the van and head on down to the coast, we can be immersed in the spectacular Jurassic Coast within an hour. So that’s what we did last weekend.
Before we lived in the van full time, we regularly frequented places such as Swanage, Kimmeridge, Weymouth and Portland. They were easy for us to get to and they had plenty to offer. Whether we wanted to relax by the sea, walk the rugged coast path, get lost in lush countryside or head for coffee in a quirky café (plus there’s usually some pretty decent fish and chip shops).
The weather was sunny, but with a chill in the air and a stiff breeze kicking up leaves and tangling my hair – it was a woolly hat kind of day. The perfect day for a trip to Portland for a cup of tea with a dramatic seascape view, and possibly a portion of chips in the old harbour at Weymouth later on (it would be rude not to!).
The views from Portland were spectacular as always, and as we reached Portland Bill the looming lighthouse gleamed in winter sun, a poignant red and white feature to those sailing on the treacherous seas. And, boy were they rough today. Consistent frothing sets hit rolled in and broke thunderously on the famous Portland stone. Further out towards the horizon white flecks, glinting in the sun, twirled and spiralled dancing between the air and the sea. A quick glance through the binoculars told me they were gannets. The diving birds with necks of steel and eyes the colour of the ocean.
The Portland Bird Observatory makes its home in the old lower lighthouse here. It acts as a field centre and a great place to see the arrival and departure of various migratory species with fantastic view out to see. It’s interesting to follow the latest sightings on their website and it’s a good indicator of what spots might crop up on your visit. It is only open to members, but they do have an onsite natural history bookshop open to the public, with both new and second-hand titles (you can get discount on selected items if you are a member). Unfortunately, it wasn’t open during our visit – probably a good thing, living in a van means there is only a small amount of room for books.
Lunchtime had rolled around and the smell of fish and chips on the old harbour was calling. Nothing beats sitting on the harbour wall in the sunshine watching the boats coming in and out going about their business. We usually park in the quieter carpark by the RSPB Radipole lake, just one of their two reserves here in Weymouth (the other is Lodmoor), so that we can have a wander around before heading back. There’s plenty to see, especially from the small onsite coffee shop. They have a fantastic viewing window and scopes, so you can enjoy a hot drink and up-close views of cormorants, gulls, ducks and sometimes a water rail that picking through the mud for a tasty treat.
The reserve is comprised of a large expanse of reed beds and makes it the ideal location for plenty of birds to hide amongst. Bearded tits and cetti’s warblers make their homes here and marsh harriers are sometimes seen floating featherlike over the delicate stems of reeds reaching up to the winter sun.
Whilst we didn’t spot any bearded tits skulking, like winged mice, through the mishmash of stalks we were lucky enough to spot a marsh harrier. And it was a spectacular spot as well. I was busy adding the shoveler and little grebe to my #my200birdyear when I was golden speck in the distance caught my attention. Illuminated by the low winter sun, it positively glowed as it quartered a section of gold just in front of us before dipping into the beds out of sight. To me that was better than any of the sightings of the marsh harriers I had had in the Norfolk broads, because it was a sighting of resilience. The fact that the reserve is situated close to a sprawling seaside down and a busy mainroad just further highlights to me that our wildlife can thrive in the most unexpected of places if it’s just given a chance. Wilderness is everywhere if you know where to look.
Today had been a good day; marsh harriers, new additions to the bird list and a bag of salty chips in the salty sea air. Both of us travelled home with cold noses lungs full of sea air and smiles on our faces.
Top Wildlife Spots
· Swirling gannets off Portland Bill
· Little grebes and shovelers at Radipole Lakes
· Hunting marsh harrier at Radipole Lakes.
· Portland Bill for dramatic seaviews.
· Portland Bird Observatory for new and second-hand natural history books.
· Radipole Lakes Visitor Centre and reserve – excellent viewing area, great coffee and fantastic information boards with friendly knowledgeable staff. You could even buy some duck food to feed the hungry gaggle that hang around outside.
· Bennett’s Fish and Chips on the old harbourside in Weymouth. Eat in or takeaway, takeaway is the best option on a sunny day but watch out for the over-zealous seagulls.