Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whale ahoy, from the archives

You could see it from the point at Thornham Harbour. A dark shape on the sandbank in the mouth of the channel, a good mile across the marsh away. So we put our coats on, me and Matthew the photographer.

We ignored the snow warnings on the radio, being me and Matthew. And we set off across the salt marsh as the tide turned, in search of an exclusive on the whale.

Several winters back, in the February of 2004 or maybe 2005, a 60ft whale washed up on the North Norfolk coast. It was blocking the harbour and there were rumours the RAF were going to be called in to blow it up.

Best get up there quick then, we thought. They hopefully won't decide to launch a precision strike while we're out there doing pictures for the papers. It took us a good hour to get there, as sleet showers lashed the coast.

They stopped for half an hour or so, as we reached the corpse of the enormous creature. Matt made me stand next to it to give the picture some scale. The wind turned and I had an action replay of my lunch thanks to the incredible smell of decomposing whale.

Then the weather closed in, with more sleet and a gathering gale. Instead of going the long, sensible way, we took a short cut across the marsh as dusk fell - scary bears as the tide began to flood the creeks and the visibility deteriorated.

This was my first proper whale. As in the first one I got up close to. Close enough to marvel at the incredible size of an animal few get to see in the flesh. Close enough to wonder what killed this great big blow fish, what drove it to beach on the edge of The Wash.

I found the picture amid some fishing snaps from the time. I was catching plenty of pike, back then, judging by the images on my old laptop. But the whale stands out, amid all the doubles and the odd low-twenty - a far more amazing encounter with the natural world than any pike I caught that winter.

A few days later, it was gone. Carried off by the sea, dragged across the estuary to Terrington Marsh on a spring tide.

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