Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Bay during war time: crusader knights, French pirates and anti tank ponds

Peaceful, tranquil…
Druridge Bay attracts many of the descriptions we associate with natural and fairly empty wild places. Put aside for a moment that inland of the dunes the terrain is intensively farmed or the restored sites of old open cast mines: the contemporary Bay is steeped in a mix of big skies, ceaseless breeze and seaward horizon. For me though the Bay has always had a slightly curious feel: for example this blog on 23rd February with Robson Green, his polite skinny dippers and other users of the Bay a few entries ago. Another of the unsettling elements of the landscape are the hints at a militarized past. The anti-tank blocks on the beach itself arte the most obvious, but there are also scatted pill boxes and block houses plus, best of all, the deceptively reworked ruins of Chibburn Preceptory which sports gun slits added at the start of World War 2. The Preceptory is associated with the Knights Hospitallers of St John , a military order founded in the Crusades so the more recent military ruins are nothing new. The original Preceptory building was also fortified including a moat, so the more recent additions of gun-ports and observation slits are not so anomalous. The site even had an unfortunate encounter with French pirates in 1691who ravaged Widdrington. However most of the military remains are not so old although they lie half buried. The sand has covered many of them over and the occasional pill box tumbles out of the dunes in the wake of a storm.

One unexpected outcome is that the second world war created some ponds along the dunes. I’m not sure but if anyone knows I’d like to find out. In several places, notably just out on the dunes by the Country Park, are long, narrow, fairly straight and steep ditches, as in the photo above. I’ve never seen anything like this in any dunes anywhere; they look like they were excavated on purpose, although in amongst these tumbling dune scapes it is hard to work out what the purpose could be. They might well be an antitank ditch. They hold water well and provide a refuge for wetland plants and animals as many of the shallower dune pools dry out.
You can find out much more about the military architecture of the Bay in a superb report which includes some delightful old maps

Peaceful… tranquil…. But hinting at a more ominous past
If you know what those ditches are please let me know

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