Cattersty Sands – Saturday afternoon on the 11th of July

Posted on 20th July 2015

A bright and windy day with the sun occasionally peeping through the cloud.

We started with the purple flowered Common Mallow in the car park which was looking magnificent in full flower and could be seen as a tall plant almost six feet high as well as a low flattened plant under a foot high. Then the massed yellow flowers of what was probably Hoary Mustard growing in the disturbed soil on the far side of the recently installed safety barrier; probably because whilst the pods looked waisted the stems were more the bristliness of Black Mustard than the white hairs of Hoary Mustard…it shows the problems of identifying some plants. We wandered on to look at White Stonecrop growing on the flat tarmac of an old road and also a lettuce flower spike (yes a lettuce…a relative of the one you might grow in the garden) but was it Great Lettuce or Prickly Lettuce? We found out following a fascinating bit of investigation…but not until the very end of the walk, so you’ll have to read the rest if you want to find out (you do want).


The flat grassy area on the top of the slope had previously been industrial iron works but had been reclaimed recently when wildflower seed was sown. There were large patches of yellow-flowered Lady’s Bedstraw (smelling rather almondy) dotted with large purple splodges of Greater Knapweed and pale blue Field Scabious. At the corner of the cliff where there are spectacular views across the cliffs and out to sea, we saw the first of the Pyramidal Orchids of our walk (by the end we must have seen thousands dotted amongst the grass and all at the peak of flower with some slight variation between them of purple and pink). Amongst them were the remains of many pale-purple spikes of Common Spotted-orchid and four plants of Bee Orchid just at the end of their flowering period. All the orchids here will have arrived naturally, their tiny seed blown from elsewhere on the cliff faces where they grew before the industry arrived.


Walking down the slipway towards the quay were more orchids and a single plant of Wild Clary which I suspect found its way there as part of a wildflower seed mix.


At the top of the dunes here were a few Marsh Fragrant-orchids (they are indeed fragrant…put your nose close to the flower and breathe in) and then at the end of the dunes, above the sandy beach, the prettiest combination of delicate blue Harebells and the white lacy Burnet-saxifrage punctuated by dots of the ever present pink Pyramidal Orchid.

More wildflowers up the steps, then another spectacular view out to sea (good excuse to pause and recover from the climb) and Pyramidal Orchids in the grassland behind us, before the walk back where we were able to compare the similar looking Weld and Wild Mignonette which happened to be growing near to each other.

That lettuce….well, we snapped a leaf and a white latex-like sap leaked out…after three minutes it started to go orange and that only happens with Great Lettuce; identity solved.