My mother is always reminding me that lichen is a sign of clean air. So now every time I see a tree or boulder which is green with the bushy little parasite her words come back to me. I stick out my chin and take in a deep lung full of the good stuff.
Towards the further most tip of Butney Bank, where on a cold winter’s day the thick fonds of the ferns are the colour of orchre, there is an ancient oak tree. It’s isolation, out on the strip of land in the middle of a tidal creek, means that it has grown into a perfect and rather splendid dome. The whole of this tree, from the tips of it’s bare canopy to the thick roots pushing into the muddy ground, is bright green.
The matty coating of the lichen is soft and fuzzy, negating its barks true purpose as a protective armour. If ever a tree needed hugging, it’s this one.
If you were to send a postcard from Butney Bank your message would describe a narrow spit of land, rather like a long straight finger poking out into a peaceful creek. (You would for the sake of romance ignore the traffic hum from the A39) You would write of golden gorse, grasses, ferns, moss and strange birdsong. (Unless of course you are a twitcher and then you would fill the rest of the postcard listing various wader birds.) This green diget stretches out into the creek where the river Carnon and Kennall meet. The tidal mudflats that surround the bank are ever changing. Daily, with the seasons and with the centuries. Some days the mist rising from them is so thick you can imagine ghostly smugglers ships hiding in the silent inlets. In spring they are pink with thrift and at high tides they vanish completely under a mirror-like lake of water.
All is natural and serene. But Butney Bank has a secret. The postcard may have seemed like a foolish idea. A nonsense thought, after all where exactly is the nearest postbox? And who would you write to from here? But the history of this place is quite different from how things now seem. Where Canada geese now graze on grassy mudflats ships once sailed. The whole creek was a hive of industry, chimneys billowed smoke, furnaces roared and ladened boats brought timber from Norway and took away mining machinery to destinations as far flung as South Africa and Brazil. Below the surface tin miners tunnelled out beneath the river beds hunting for deposits and the waste they created was piled up creating artificial islands. These islands became landing stages and platforms for further mine shafts. All was black clinker, iron red dirt and grey smoke.
But in time all dust settles and nature claims even what was never really her creation. So Butney Bank settled down into the mud and became a different kind of anchorage, not so much for boats but for acorns.
NB: I should note that I have not been able to find the name Butney Bank in any historical record, it is the name my father, who has lived in the area of more than 70 years, gives the bank. He doesn’t remember why it is called this but played there as a boy.