HERE is a picture of the great swamp on Amberley Wildbrooks where my wife nearly disappeared for ever.
There is a notice on the footpath across the mire saying Caution. Dangerous Marsh. In other words, keep to the footbridges along the footpath which wends its way north to south for two miles.
Well, she did keep to the footpath but even so, sank suddenly up to her knees in what looked like liquid liquorice.
She was faintly terrified, and cannot even bear to say the words “quick sands” let alone think about such places.
The thought of Morecambe Bay sets her shivering, while the mudflats of Pilsey Sands in Chichester Harbour, across which I once led her and our tiny daughter on a brent goose watching expedition, are best never even thought of in case of thought transference.
Having once or twice met Noel Sedgwick, aka Towerbird, one time editor of the Shooting Times, and read all the books of BB, aka Dennis Watkyns-Pytchford, I myself learned from their first-hand experience of swamps and quicksands. Both had in their shooting days, been trapped and in fear of their lives. Each had kept their head and got out to tell the tale.
But it was no use telling my wife that she was quite alright as she started to sink because I had met a man who had survived what she was going through and had got away with it.
Nor was it any use telling her that what she had to do was to lay down on her back and think positively. Anyone can swim on their back out of a quicksand. It’s just that they mustn’t let their feet disappear but act spontaneously, throwing themselves backwards.
Fortunately there were bits of dead willow wood around on the Amberley swamp and I was able to stand on these and haul the poor lady out with a loud sucking sound and I had then to extricate my own feet from the mud pie.
While all this was going on I was thinking positively about the wonders of this vast flood plain with its 350 species of wild flowers which includes rushes and sedges, trees and waterweeds. Also the fact that nearly all the hundreds of snipe which used to winter here, and which bred in the Brooks, have now all but gone.
This spring I shall again listen out for that curious bleating sound which the bird makes with the two outer feathers of its dispread tail as it falls like a brick from the skies. But doubt whether I shall hear one. This strange “song” or territory marker is or used to be heard at night.
It baffled many people on the moors in the past, for it sounded just like a lost lamb bleating for its mother up in the stars.
But I doubt whether my wife will accompany me on my expedition into these old Sussex swamps. Not even the sight of the will o’ the wisp arising in ghostly form from the depths would draw her back into that place again.