Tag Archives: North Sea

The Great Storm of 1703. Get your kite!

The Great Storm of November 1703 was reckoned to be the most severe storm ever recorded. The hurricane that struck the English Channel and the south of England was beyond anything in living memory:

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Unlike today’s storms, when we have advanced warning and can prepare for the worst, the poor souls of 1703 had very little idea about what was about to hit them, other than the fact that the country had been buffeted by a persistent south westerly wind for quite a few weeks. Sailing ships could not sail against it and had therefore been confined in great numbers to whichever port they happened to find themselves near. Inland though, people were largely innocent of the catastrophe they were about to experience. Furthermore, the Great Storm persisted not just for a few shocking hours, but for nine terrible days. How could anything, buildings, ships, farm animals or men stand up against well over a week of wind speeds like those recorded in the eastern part of the English Channel or East Anglia? They would have approached 100 mph for long periods.

It has been variously estimated that between 8,000 and 15,000 people were to perish. John Evelyn, the seventeenth century diarist, described it in his diary as:

“not to be paralleled with anything happening in our age or in any history … every moment Job’s messengers brings the sad tidings of this universal judgement.”

The inhabitants of London felt the first strong breezes during the morning of Wednesday, November 24th 1703, (December 5th 1703 in our current calendar). By four o’clock in the afternoon the winds had noticeably increased. In London, recently out of prison, Daniel Defoe, the journalist, pamphleteer, spy, trader, writer and author, of course, of “Robinson Crusoe”, had a narrow escape in the street when part of a nearby house fell down and luckily missed him. On Friday the 26th, the wind began to blow with even greater ferocity and when the Great Man checked his barometer, he found the mercury had sunk lower than he had ever seen it. After midnight the gale increased to such strength that it was almost impossible to sleep. The noise of the chimneys of surrounding houses crashing into the street made the whole family afraid that their own solid brick townhouse might collapse on their heads. When they opened their back door to escape into the garden, they saw roof tiles scything through the air, some landing thirty or forty yards away, embedding themselves eight inches or more into the ground. The Defoe family decided to stay in their house and trust in the Lord.

That night of November 26th-27th was catastrophic for the Royal Navy which lost 13 major warships, which were, for the most part, moored along the south coast.  HMS Resolution was driven onto the shore at Pevensey but the ship’s company was lucky and all 221 sailors were saved:

HMS%20ResolutionNot so fortunate were the men on board HMS Restoration, HMS Mary, HMS Northumberland, HMS Stirling Castle and the quaintly named HMS Mortar-bomb, who were all shipwrecked on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast:

Sandbanks_Credit_Ben_Salter

In the aftermath, when the tide fell, the sailors of the wrecked vessels who were able to find a foothold on the huge sandbar, were all wandering around knowing that when the tide rose they were certain to be drowned. It was said that a man called Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, organised the rescue of some two hundred of them. Supposedly Powell was so appalled by his neighbours’ reluctance to help that he gave them five shillings each for their support. Certainly, the greedy citizens of Deal were widely accused of being more interested in plunder from the unfortunate ships than in helping to rescue the crew members. Indeed, some sources say that only three fortunate individuals survived the Goodwin Sands catastrophe. Supposedly, about 1,500 sailors in total were left to die.
Lots of other naval ships were driven through the Straits of Dover and out into the storm tossed expanses of the North Sea where some survived to return days later but many others were lost without trace:

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Ships were so driven by the wind that not only did sails have to be lowered but the masts had be cut off level with the deck. Well in excess of a hundred merchant ships were sunk in the North Sea, many of which were colliers from the fleet which at the time was used to transport cargoes of coal down the east coast from Newcastle to London. Some of these ships would have been empty, moored or at anchor when the incredible tempest struck, casting them out into the open sea. Most were ill-prepared and foundered, and their crews perished to a man:

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The storm caught a convoy of 130 merchant ships and the six Men O’ War escorting them as they sheltered at Milford Haven. The warships included HMS Dolphin, HMS Cumberland, HMS Coventry, HMS Looe, HMS Hastings and HMS Hector. By the middle of the following afternoon the losses amounted to thirty vessels. Overall it was estimated that more than 8,000 sailors perished as the storm annihilated the Royal Navy. Around 20% of its sailors were drowned. The first Eddystone Lighthouse was completely destroyed:

Destruction of the Eddystone Lighthouse, 1703

Its erection had been started a mere seven years before, and  its light had been lit for the first time only on November 14th 1698.  Now all six of its occupants were killed, including the brave builder Henry Winstanley.

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This lighthouse was of inestimable importance and stood 120 feet tall,  some twelve miles to the south of Plymouth, one of England’s most important naval harbours. Even the French valued it, when during the period of construction, a French ship took Winstanley and his men prisoner. King Louis XIV, “le Roi-Soleil” ordered their release, explaining that “France is at war with England, not with humanity”, « La France est en guerre contre l’Angleterre, non contre l’humanité! »:

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The Great Storm reached its appalling apogee, its catastrophic climax, during the following night, that of November 28th-29th (December 9th-10th 1703). Between the south coast and the Midlands, entire villages from Northamptonshire in the north to Suffolk in East Anglia were devastated  as the winds of the Great Storm rampaged across the country, striking hardest in the south and east of England, sending house roofs flying, flattening barns, razing everything in its path. Both men and animals were lifted off their feet and carried for long distances through the air. Roofs were ripped from more than a hundred churches, the lead was rolled up like a sheet of paper and dumped hundreds of yards away.
Millions of trees were blown over or uprooted; knocked flat in their tens of thousands, they lay prostrate in rows like soldiers mown down in battle. It was said that more than 4,000 oak trees crashed down in the New Forest.  An attempt was made to count the flattened trees in Kent but the count was abandoned at 17,000. The diarist John Evelyn lost in excess of 2,000 trees on his own Surrey estate.
Every kind of building was totally demolished and salt spray was driven almost as far inland as Tunbridge Wells. Animals refused to eat the resultant salty grass.
The maximum wind speeds were similar to those of the Great Storm of 1987 but the bad  weather lasted for much, much longer, well over a week, and thereby increased the enormous loss of life. Here is one of the enduring images of 1987:

1987

People could not decide whether it was safer to stay in their house and risk its collapse or to go into the street where flying tiles killed large numbers.
In East Anglia the wind reached over 80m.p.h. and killed well over a hundred people.  More than four hundred windmills were blown down. Many of them  burst into flames because the friction of their sails spinning round at high speed caused their wooden machinery to catch fire. In Cambridge, part of St Mary’s Church fell down and the falling stones completely flattened the organ. It had only recently been installed at a cost of £1,500. Kings College Chapel was equally badly damaged with stone pinnacles toppled and many of the wonderful stained glass windows destroyed.
In the capital, around 2,000 massive chimneys were blown over. The roof was blown off Westminster Abbey and the Queen, Queen Anne, had to take shelter in a cellar at St James’s Palace to avoid falling chimneys and tiles whizzing off the roof. Daniel Defoe told how the Reverend James King of London wrote him a letter about a chimney which crashed down and buried a maid. She was thought to be literally dead and buried, but she came out the following day from a small cavity in the rubble.

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Floods devastated the whole country, especially in the east of England and along the Severn Estuary. In the West Country in general, flooding was extensive and prolonged, particularly around Bristol where just under a thousand houses were totally destroyed. Hundreds of people were drowned on the Somerset Levels, where uncounted tens of thousands of farm animals, mainly sheep and cattle, perished. One lost ship was found fifteen miles inland. At Wells, Bishop Richard Kidder was crushed when two chimneys in the palace collapsed onto him and his wife, both peacefully asleep in their bed. Part of the Great West Window in Wells Cathedral was blown in and smashed to smithereens. At Fairford the church’s west window, facing the raging anger of the oncoming wind, bulged inward and crashed into the nave. In Wales, major damage occurred to the southwest tower of Llandaff Cathedral at Cardiff.
The storm began to die down around December 2nd, and on December 3rd,  Daniel Defoe visited the Pool of London, where, in the section downstream from London Bridge, he saw more than 700 sailing ships all piled up into heaps one on top of another:

vvvvvv Daniel_Defoe_Kneller_Style

Daniel Defoe told the tale of the captain of a leaking ship who tried to escape what seemed to him at the time to be an inevitable death by drowning, and instead committed suicide—only for his ship to survive. One possibly taller tale related how a sailing ship at Whitstable in Kent was blown out of the foaming sea and then deposited more than a quarter of a mile inland.
Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Great Storm many special newspapers and publications appeared with information and eyewitness accounts:

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Conceivably this disaster became “national news” in a way that had seldom, if ever, happened before. It was just like a modern “big story”.
Daniel Defoe himself sought out testimony from as many witnesses as he could find.  When the weather ameliorated, he the whole country assessing the damage. He then produced what was subsequently described as “the first substantial work of modern journalism”, a book of more than 75,000 words, which was called “The Storm”.  It was the first proper book of Defoe’s career.

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http://historicaltrinkets.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-great-storm-of-1703-eyewitness.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Storm_of_1703

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/great-storm

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And the Hallowe’en winner is………..

Around ten or fifteen years ago, I was a teacher of Religious Studies as well as my main subject of French. We were  studying the Afterlife, so, towards the end of, I think, the Christmas term, I asked the boys to write down for homework their own ghostly experience or a ghostly encounter that either their parents or anyone close to them had had. Here is a selection of the stories they came up with.
And, of course, yes, boys can tell lies just like everybody else, but by then I had taught this class for four months, seeing them for an hour and a half every week and I did not really think that anybody was lying. They may have been mistaken in their interpretation of events, but I’m sure they were sincere in what they thought was happening. This effort came from the parent, or even grandparent, of one of the pupils…

“My ghost story”

from Daniel J Furse who lived in the Old Manor House from 1956 to 1964.

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“I bought the house from one of the printer Milward family and he told me that when he moved in there was a row of wire operated bells hanging in the passage by the kitchen, although they were all disconnected. Every now and then, at night, these bells would ring wildly. On investigation, no one was ever seen but the bells were all swinging on their springs!
Our own contribution was fairly mundane but baffling. In what was the dining room – next to the kitchen where there now appears to be a door, we had a very large Jacobean oak sideboard tight against the wall, and above it hung a picture. Sometimes, when coming down in the morning, we would find the picture neatly stowed under the sideboard, with the hook still in the wall, and the cord intact.”
I live in the Old Manor House in Lenton regularly referred to as haunted. We have some accounts of manifestations of the ghost in the past one of which I have quoted above. There is one room that is thought to be the “haunted” room. It was in this room that someone was so frightened by what they saw or heard that it caused the previous owners to have an exorcism in the house. We ourselves have had some strange experiences. We seem to have a “Visitor’s curse”. More often than can be explained, something has happened with our lighting, heating or kitchen appliances when a guest was either there or coming. Sometimes just one system fails, but the most dramatic was when a bar of spotlights fell down from the ceiling near some guests. Another time when we were expecting guests for Christmas, all lighting, heating and cooking appliances, including the Aga which runs on gas and the electric cooker which relies on electricity, refused to work.
Hopefully we can have a ghost- free Christmas this year!”

olg manor house cccccc

This was a very popular topic indeed with boys of fourteen and fifteen.
One young man told me the story of how he had seen a ghost when he met up with one of his friends who attended another school in, I think, Grantham. The boy went from Nottingham to spend the whole weekend as his friend lived quite a long way out in the Lincolnshire countryside. They stayed in the friend’s house which was very large with a very large garden. On the Friday evening, as soon as the visitor had unpacked, both boys went outside to see if they could see the phantom which the host had already explained could often be seen as it walked in the garden. The visitor from Nottingham was very excited that the garden was haunted and that he might actually see a real ghost.
The young man told me that as he stood there with his Lincolnshire friend in the early evening they saw not a sharply defined ghost, but a pale blue patch of mist or smoke, shaped like a human form. It moved across the end of the garden from right to left and by the time it reached the left-hand edge it was beginning to disappear.
Supposedly, it was the ghost of a Second World War Luftwaffe flier whose aircraft, a Heinkel III bomber had been shot down, and he had been killed.

he111-5 zzzzz

Previously, I had been told about a slightly similar ghost by a now retired school technician called Frank. When he was young he used to live on the southern side of the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire. Naturally, as a boy, he was keen to explore, and on one occasion he went with two of his friends out onto the salt marshes south of the estuary. He told me that there was a lookout tower right on the edge of the land, overlooking the waters of the estuary and of the North Sea. It had been put there for military purposes, probably either in the First or the Second World Wars. It was now in ruins but the shell of the brick built building was still there.

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As the three boys made their way across the absolutely flat landscape, a saltmarsh covered in vegetation which was no more than four or five inches high, they suddenly saw a figure on the top of the tower.
Apparently an adult man, he stood there for a little while, and the boys watched him. I do not remember from the account whether he seemed aware that he was being watched, but I suspect that he did not. Anyway after five minutes or so, the figure leapt off the top of the tower which was at least twenty or thirty feet high, exactly as if he was doing a parachute jump or, as they always say, something silly. The three boys certainly thought so because they ran along the path which led to the building, to see if they could help what they presumed would be a fairly severely injured man. When they got there though, the place was completely deserted. Nobody was there.
What makes it so strange is that the landscape was such that he could not possibly have run away across either the saltmarsh or to the distant sandy beach without the boys seeing him. In any case it had not taken the boys long enough to get to the tower for him to have disappeared. He had not passed them on any of the paths which led across the marsh. They searched the tower but he was not there. They presumed therefore that he was a ghost of some kind. Later on, Frank explained that tales had been told of an occurrence just like this having been seen before in the very same location, but nobody had ever been able to explain what it was.

Two other stories were very scary indeed…..

“The crippled Ghost that learns to walk

Every so often when I lie awake in my bed at night and I leave the door open I see an old man in a brown wheel chair. He has grey hair and a mutilated face like it’s been taken off and jumbled about and then stuck back on.
It moves towards me without using its hands to move the wheels at all. Then when it reaches the door it stops and stands up. It starts to walk towards me. At that point I turn away and face the wall and try to force myself to believe it’s not real, it’s not real.

Then when it reaches my bed, it reaches out to touch me. The reason I know this is because I see its shadow on the wall. But as soon as it touches my head it disappears and so does the wheelchair which disappears as soon as he gets out of it. The only other thing that is strange about the man is that he is extraordinarily long thin fingers and shoulder length white hair.”

This extraordinary tale is recounted more or less exactly as the boy wrote it down. I have not altered anything at all except to make the tense used the present tense, rather than a mixture of several different ones.
What would be really interesting would be to try and trace in the history of the house if there was anybody who ever lived there who had the long fingers and long white hair, perhaps of a musician, or the mutilated face and the wheelchair of, perhaps, a Great War victim. It is however, even with the Internet, extremely difficult to trace who has lived in any house, and what his job was, or the hardest thing of all, what he did during his life and what happened to him.
And the winner is…….
…….This very last final story, which was clearly connected with my preparations for Christmas with the class. It is dated November 4th 2005, and is entitled…

“The white man with no face”

Interview with my Dad:
What size and age did the ghost appear to be?
He was a six-foot male…age impossible to say.
But roughly did he look middle-aged or quite young?
He was oldish but that’s the most accurate description I could give.
Did you contact any spiritualists or mediums about the ghost?
No I didn’t; it never crossed my mind. It didn’t really bother me personally, but I never thought to ask my wife whether she thought we should get somebody in to try and sort things out.
What was the scariest thing about the ghost?
It would be that every time you were fast asleep, this ‘thing’ could be looking over you; I wasn’t frightened about it at all, but it didn’t do anything… just stared endlessly at you.
If only I had ever seen the ghost and you hadn’t, would you believe me about it being ‘around’ or not? Would you look out for it?
I would believe you, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find something that could only be found if ‘it’ wanted to be.
How did the ghost appear and what did it look like?
I was in deep sleep and there was a wind as if all the windows were open, and my shoulders felt cold like ice. Both your mum and I woke up basically at exactly the same time, and we saw ‘it’. All it did was just look down at us. I can’t remember the curtains blowing just a fairly strong wind, so the windows were definitely not open. My wife asked me: “Tell me what you just saw?” trying not to put any ideas into my head, and her expression when I replied, confirmed this was not a dream. We both looked away, and after a period of time I cannot remember, I eventually look back to see ‘it’ had vanished.
Did you ever feel like you are being watched?
Well obviously you knew there was something around but you just had to ignore it. My wife at the time was so terrified; she nearly moved out of the house and lived with her parents for a short time.
Did you ever stay on your own in the house?
Yes, of course, it didn’t bother me that much, it was your mum who was worried about it the most. However, this was one of the reasons why we eventually moved house. My mum has told me that for weeks she was terrified of the ghost reappearing, and too many times felt her shoulders turn ice cold even during the summer (just like when she first saw the ghost).
Apparently I saw the ghost on many occasions – more than my parents – and that I asked them “Who the white man in my room was” more than once. The ghost could communicate with “the living” as it asked me what my name was.
Chloe my sister regularly saw the ghost – which was obviously concerned my mom, and on one occasion she told my parents “a white man with no face keeps waking me up and then just staring at me”. At the time she wasn’t afraid of ‘it’ as she was too young to realise what was happening. Chloe can’t recall any of this but my parents remember it all too well.

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A twitch to west Norfolk

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I used to be a “twitcher”, the sort of birdwatcher who might travel hundreds of miles to see a species which is rare in whichever country he lives. A hardcore British twitcher, therefore, would travel vast distances without any hesitation to see a Common Grackle or a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Great Britain.

An American twitcher would react equally strongly to news of a Northern Lapwing or a Eurasian Siskin in his own country.
Twenty five years ago, I kept a diary of where I went in search of unusual birds. So, on Sunday, August 21st 1988, I know exactly where I was, and what I was doing…

“A minibus trip to North Norfolk this time.”

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“Not a lot on Birdline to chase, but one half decent bird is a Ruddy Shelduck.”

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Here’s a short, but lovely, film taken by “paulboyish”

“This beautifully plumaged waterbird will be, hopefully, still at Lynn Point, just a few miles north of north of King’s Lynn.”

“I try to persuade the minibus driver to hotfoot it out there straightaway but he’s very reluctant. He thinks the bird must be one of those from a zoo that you can never hope to count, one of those wonderfully colourful birds that is almost by definition an escape. Something along the lines of Golden Pheasant, Mandarin or Carolina Wood Duck. Or Red-breasted Goose.”

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“O Ye of Little Faith. The mood of the passengers is one of optimistic keenness to go and see a new bird. When the minibus driver poses the hoary old question of how many people would actually like to go and see the Ruddy Shelduck, in an effort to prove once and for all that there will not be enough to fill a minibus, and therefore, we ought not to bother going, his effort at token democracy turns out all wrong. Absolutely everybody wants to go to Lynn Point to see this stunning bird, no matter how dubious the tick might be.”

“I navigate for the first bus, and Alan navigates for the second. We have a short diversion around the docks at Fisher Fleet, which was the scene of my first ever Mediterranean Gull, only a year or so previously, watched at close range as it fed from the wagons full of steaming hot shellfish waste which emerged at regular intervals from the factory.”

med gull

 

“We eventually find the mud-bath that rejoices in the flattering title of car park and set off along the seawall, out towards Lynn Point. It is throwing it down with heavy rain, and I begin to get very nervous indeed at the mood of the other birdwatchers, as we gradually get wetter and wetter. They seem to walk terribly slowly and not at all to like the idea of leaving the car-park. One woman actually says within earshot, “We’re a very, very long way from the bus.”, obviously racked with terror at the prospect being any distance whatsoever from her preferred method of vehicular transport. I begin to understand what Moses must have felt like.”

moses
“Things are not helped one little bit by having to make a gigantic detour inland to the concrete bridge which allows you to cross one of the many enormous drainage ditches that are met with so frequently in this sodden landscape.
To be honest, it isn’t pleasant marching into driving rain, but on the other hand, for a new bird it’s obviously worth it. Suddenly catastrophe strikes. We are faced with a bright green electrified fence that the farmer has erected across the path. We all stand there like a flock of lost sheep, milling around, not knowing what to do. Several people wring their hands and talk seriously of turning back. No chance. In for a penny, in for a pound. With a loud cry of “Twenty years in an SAS Suicide Squad taught me this one”, I step over the fence, followed by Alan, and then, with his trousers at their usual go-faster low-slung crutch height, Paul. The fun really starts when Paul’s wife makes the attempt to get over the fence, and gets electrocuted. Not badly, but just enough to make her squeal loudly with surprise. It’s all Alan’s fault of course. As always, it’s the husband who gets the blame. We all want to dissolve into unsympathetic howls of laughter, mostly at Alan’s attempts to smooth things over, but none of us dare.”
“Off we go again, into the hurricane and the sleet and the slight rain of volcanic ash and the radioactive nuclear fallout that has just started to come down. Eventually, we decide to walk to a certain spot in the distance, stop there and then take a good look around the saltings. If there is no Ruddy Shelduck on view, we will all come back and not pursue the quest any further. We do this, and, sure enough, Alan, who has a wonderful talent for finding specific targets, locates the Ruddy Shelduck within less than thirty seconds. It’s with a flock of twenty or so ordinary shelducks, swimming about thirty yards off shore, slowly making its way towards the opposite side of the estuary, then finally reaching the muddy bank and striding ashore. It’s at fairly long range, but would seem to me to be a female. A prime candidate for genuine vagrancy I would say, particularly as it’s in the correct part of Britain, at the right time of year, with exactly the required winds, namely, gentle warm south easterlies. Indeed, Paul reckons that there are several other birds from roughly the same part of Europe and the Middle East, present in Britain at the same time.”

“On the other hand, we are also in exactly the right place for one of the Dutch feral population to have made landfall across the North Sea. King’s Lynn may not be exactly Amsterdam, but it’s not that different for a Ruddy Shelduck in a storm. Soooo… overall, it’s not a complete tick, well, only if you’re either unscrupulous or plain desperate. Still, at least, it’s a moral victory.”

This short film is by Peiselkopp

“On the Long March back, we see a Marsh Harrier, and we are treated to one of Kevin’s by now legendary live commentaries on the bird’s progress, delivered in his fantastic foghorn of a voice. He sounds like a reversing bus….MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… OVER THE BANK… BEHIND THE TREES… MARSH HARRIER… MARSH HARRIER… FLYING AWAY… IT’S FLYING AWAY…IT’S NEARLY GONE… IT’S REALLY GOING NOOOOOW… IT’S GONE”

This lovely film is by Thomas Harris

and this one, equally atmospheric, is by John Watson, and was taken  on the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia.

“Nobody on any of the three shores of the Wash could have been in any doubt whatsoever about what was happening at that stage in the development of Kevin’s universe.

As we cross the huge dyke, a couple of waders fly up, and whirr off along the edge of the water.”
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“Closer inspection reveals them to be Wood Sandpipers, two very decent birds indeed to see almost as an afterthought. Indeed, I can’t remember ever finding a completely wild Wood Sandpiper for myself before. All the others were plastic dummies carefully placed by the Warden out on the marshes at Cley-next-the-Sea to attract middle aged visitors.”

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