Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sidmouth slip poetry sighting

Sidmouth landslip: click to enlarge
This afternoon we went to Sidmouth to see the recent cliff slippage at Pennington Point, at the east end of Sidmouth seafront where Alma Bridge crosses the mouth of the River Sid (see the Sidmouth Herald: Sidmouth cliff fall closes link to town). An unknown poet has fixed to the bridge the following:

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!


These glowing cliffs reflect the Western light.
The eastern sky's a wash of pink and peach.
All Nature seems (yet merely seems) to prech
A seaside Paradise of calm delight.

A garden fallen is a fearful sight!
This path that's closed, this blockage on the beach.
This bridge to nowhere, anti-tourist fea-
ture's Nature's work as well? Well, no, not quite.

The rock revetments, and those groynes that keep
The Esplanade of Sidmouth free from ill
Effects of littoral drift, displaced the heap
Of eastern shingle. Now, these cliffs could kill!
Dear God! Our mighty leaders seem asleep;
Statistics on erosion? Lying! Still!
This is about the fairly contentious issue of cliff erosion and cliff protection in Sidmouth (see, for instance, Sidmouth Herald: "Time for action to slow Sidmouth cliff erosion"). I wouldn't know all the details, but the bottom line is that any protection measures would only slow cliff erosion. The soft and permeable Keuper Marl cliffs are observably riddled with springs and spectacularly eroded by water from inland. Chips Barber's Sidmouth Past and Present - page 11 - mentions that the cliffs to the east of Sidmouth have receded some 30 metres since 1928. The area has remarkable terrain; for instance, the erosion gullies in the cliffs below High Peak, west of Sidmouth (see below).

East Devon District Council's Pennington Point Cliff Erosion Review (PDF here) has some interesting background, particularly the existence of the Sidmouth Tunnel, a railway tunnel behind the cliff face dug to carry stone for a failed 1830s venture to build a harbour at Sidmouth. The tunnel is already breached by cliff falls: see The railway that never was and Peter Glanvill Photography. The Sidmouth Harbour Company of 1836 explores the background.

See the Devon History Society blog - Sidmouth: a harbour never built - for a more historical take on the subject.

- Ray

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