We kept our heads down as we battled the wind on our way up to Stone Point, albeit occasionally stopping to gaze through binoculars at passing curlew or oystercatcher in flight or little sanderling running about on the beachline, joined in their never-ending task by chestnutty turnstone. The walk to the Stone is one that I make not nearly enough but it’s as close to a ‘wild’ experience that I can gather on this populated part of the Essex coast. A couple of curious grey seals stared at us from afar in their watery domain, their large, bright eyes customarily spellbinding. Experiences such as this are easy to access no matter where you live, and I think the art of wonder is learning how to seek such experiences on your doorstep. The Essex coast and the wildlife within it helped to shape the way I see the world, although it’s only recently that I have come to recognise that. It’s a place where the wild clings on despite human pressures. Sea and marsh dictate the boundaries of man and if the eye and the mind allows, true wildness can be accessed here in voluminous swathes.
Half way through our trek along the beachline we looked out to the shallows and spotted a black and white bird doggedly swimming upstream, rising and falling against the waves. Surely not?! We looked again. Yes, it was a little auk, a rare sight in these parts and a UK lifer for Gerald who was leading our party. We stood for several minutes, spellbound by this resilient little bird that is as tough as the landscape it was visiting. A special moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, and a phone camera couldn’t suffice, so there is no photo for you. You will just have to take my word for it. Nonetheless, a wonderful experience, almost matched on the return journey down the beach during which, amongst a smattering of sanderling a purple sandpiper stood resplendent. Again, unusual for these parts, a winter visitor but more usually for the rockier parts of Britain to the west and north.
As we stepped back on to the sea wall I turned to take one last look across the marshes. It’s a familiar landscape, but one that can surprise on any occasion, characteristic of the Essex wildness that will keep be addicted to this place for years.