Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A trip down memory lane with Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

In the Summer of 1987 I moved to Hoylake, on the Wirral, at the age of 9. It was a big move - we (my mother and 3 of my brothers) arrived from Kent full of excitement and nerves for our move to live beside the sea and for all the, hopefully, exciting opportunities that might lie ahead. We had gone from a busy town road in Tunbridge wells to a house not 50 metres from the beach. My mother had, on the occasion, taken us to Brighton, Hastings and other Kentish coastal spots but this was our first experience of the wild North Sea.

The very first thing that I became aware of were the huge tides at Hoylake. We would walk for what seemed like hours towards the shore over an ever expansive sandy beach. Our dogs "Gentle" and "Gates" went crazy with excitement for the chance to run in any direction and the slightly odd pleasure of rolling about on dead birds, jellyfish and any other detritus they seemed to find. We all felt incredibly free. Once there we would occasionally see Grey Seals bobbing their heads up for a closer inspection of this motley crew of 2 and 4 legged creatures, the smallest (me) waving crazily at them!

We would return home and later in the evening, for the last dog walk of the day, be blown away by the tide having made its way to the promenade wall - a good 2km in distance. This was my first very real experiences of tide and it was here that I became aware that I was a tiny part of a great big huge world that had forces exerted upon it by things you would never believe - the moon in the sky thousands of miles away.

I also soon realised, thanks to my science teaching mum, that the tides would offer us great days out - for free! On the right tidal times, we would make our way from Hoylake along the beach to West Kirby, "mud skating" on the way wherever possible. Once near West Kirby we could make our way out to "Little Eye", over to "Middle Eye" and to our final destination - Hilbre Island. If we had gauged the tide times right - we could stay over there over high tide and watch these mammoth tides engulf the shores of this small island.

Once we reached the shores of this trio of islands we would explore the rockpools and find beautiful little shells - one of which my mother informed me shared my name (almost) "Mya". We'd find crabs, mussels and cockles desperately trying to dig their way in to the sandy substrate with their "foot" before me and my brother Will would, innocently, try to grab them tight with their foot still extended.

On the main island we would walk up the slipway to find houses, a small lighthouse and a path to the most exciting Northward point of the island. We would make our way to this tip which was still surrounded by sea. Once here we would expectantly look to the sea for any sightings of the seals which we often saw from the shore to the North of where we now stood. Soon if not immediately we would see the slopey heads of the grey seal - pop up and I was sure, in my small mind, that they recognised me. If I looked towards the Welsh coast I could see the sand bank which supported a small colony of a couple of hundred lounging seals.

This was my first experience of the sea and it was from those memories and experiences that I developed a love for the sea. I wanted to know so much more about this watery world and I was determined to do just that. Fourteen years later I found myself being invited to lead a guided walk to Hilbre Island for Cheshire Wildlife Trust. It was such an exciting opportunity to go full circle and revisit the birth place of my love of the sea. So I found myself talking to children about the creatures that we were finding on Hilbre Island. There was one girl who had aspirations to be a marine biologist and it was wonderful to see her enthusiasm for all things marine!

One of the things that really struck me is that sometimes it is easy to forget as a "grown up" what inspires children. When in Devon, on my rockpool rambles we see wonderful creatures and such a huge variety of species. The water is clear and the chances for inspiration from snorkeling through crystal clear waters, surfing on crisp, clean waves are pretty vast. But I often forget what simple things can and do engage children.

Hilbre is an incredibly beautiful place with a fantastic array of sea birds and waders and seals. There was a moment when I looked at the rockpools and thought to myself, "there isn't much here". I had to stop myself from going down that adult thought process and remind myself of my 8 year old self - how excited I was to see mussels, crabs and cockles. The fact was that I had an inspirational lady (my mother) to show me all the wonderful creatures and explain them to me and the reality and power of nature are a very mind blowing thing for a small child. For a moment, I might have thought my Devonshire rockpools were more interesting but in reality they are no less inspiring than any other coastal spots no matter what their condition.

Honeycombe Reef at Hilbre Island - a BAP priority species, Mussels and Sea Lettuce.

The steps up from the seal look out point at the tip of the island.

3 young children get inspired & spot seals!

River Dee at Sunset
It was fantastic to meet the families from the Wirral and to meet the Cheshire Wildlife Trust crew and see all the fantastic work that they are doing both on Hilbre and Wigg Island in Runcorn. It was also a great opportunity to remind myself what inspires children...and return to Hilbre once again.