Rob Turner is currently the Resident Armchair Artist at The Beaney in Canterbury.
I made an artwork based on the Folk Tale called ‘The Wantsum Worm’ I mentioned this in my previous blog post. I liked the idea of maps and stories merging together. The result is difficult to describe, it’s definitely a sculpture, it’s also a globe and by drawing a 2D image of the Wantsum Channel onto a 3D sphere distortions inevitably occur. In this particular case Herne Bay has Deal as the town next door! I’m not going to explain why or how, but this has to happen to enable the drawing to join up.
So, on a quest to discover my own ‘Wantsum Channel’ story I decided to invite two of my friends on a bike ride to explore the other side of the Channel that I had not explored on my previous ride! I had not particularly researched the route but I planned to follow the Saxon Shore Way to Plucks Gutter and see what happened.
My friends had only met each other once or twice a few years ago and riding bikes was all they had in common. One friend had to lend the other a suitable ‘off road’ bike for the tracks and grasslands we would encounter. Everything about this ride was exploratory in both route and relationships. Things started off very smoothly along the coast from Whitstable to Reculver, but as soon as we turned off the sea front into the low lying land irrigation channels hemmed us in (which was a taste of things to come) and we had to ride along the edge of a field of wheat or barley to reach a wooden bridge and out under the railway line and onto where I was sure I had seen Saxon Shore Way signs.
We were surprised to find a guy standing dusting himself down, clouds of dust were blowing off him and then it became apparent his hand and forearm was covered in blood, his knees were bleeding, arms, thighs and elbows grazed quite badly. He had hit a patch of loose gravel on this path and fallen off his bike pretty heavily. He was relatively alright and we chatted a short while and agreed the best course of action was to wash off in the sea which was less than a mile away. So his Wantsum Channel story was a painful one.
Our Wantsum Channel Story
We found the Saxon Shore Way signs and things progressed quite well for a while until we got to what used to be called the Sarre Wall. This was a causeway across the channel, formed in medieval times when the channel had shrunk to a small silted up river. The Sarre Wall is now the A28 from Sarre to Westbere. We either missed the signs, or they were missing and we spent a lot of time chest high amongst cereal crops riding around the edge of fields into dead ends. We systematically went field by field to try and find a way out; we doubled back on ourselves countless times, but were stymied every time. Hemmed in by irrigation channels on one side, the River Stour on another and blocked by the railway line we eventually found ourselves stranded on the wrong side of the river having a choice to make. We either had to concede all the ground we had covered and ride a considerable way back to the A28 and then down to Grove Ferry, or we somehow get through a bank of nettles and into the pub at Grove Ferry which we could see just upstream a short distance on the other bank. The thought of going all that way back was hard to swallow so I picked up my bike and threw it into the nettles. The weight of it bent the nettles over, revealing the stems near the ground, followed by lots of stamping down the stems to flatten them down to the ground. I did this several times and realised using this method it would be possible to forge a pass through this patch of nettles. The nettles were taller than I was, and I reckon the cutting we created was 30 to 40 feet long through these stingers.
The picture shows my friend taking a photo of me taking a photo of him in the channel we created through the stingers. I was wearing my cycling shorts and inevitably got stung. My legs were fizzing by the time I forged through and reached the river bank. I had to dangle my legs in the river to relieve the heat. It felt great. But we were locked inside the boat yard. Razor wire, tall spiked fences and a series of gates with combination locks prevented us from getting to the Grove Perry Pub for a well deserved drink. Just for a moment I thought it would have been better to have ridden all the way back. But no, we found a boat owner who knew both the combinations and he opened the gates for us.
A plan of my Wantsum Channel Story.
We had a relatively uneventful ride home. All was well.