Monday, 4 July 2016

Opposite Shores.

Having been busy in the garden until twenty to eleven, I thought tonight’s little aside might be something simple like offering a comparison of Britain’s east and west coasts. They’re quite different in structure and appearance, and maybe that’s what gives them their difference in mood. Or maybe it’s something a little deeper – something to do with near and far horizons, of old worlds and new, maybe even a sense of ancient origins and a view of new beginnings.

Once you get north of the Thames Estuary, Britain’s east coast is mostly low to the sea, a littoral landscape of sandy beaches backed by dunes and marram grass. Where the land does rise above the sea, the resultant cliffs are more likely to be earthen than rocky. It’s a place where sea and land meld gently and naturally; and since the sea is the cold North Sea, it can instil a chill sense of melancholy in the lone walker. MR James used this to great effect in his ghost stories Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and A Warning to the Curious, both set on the east coast in Suffolk. But when I lived on that coast in Northumberland and looked across the water, it didn’t feel remote; I always felt that Denmark was just below the horizon. And once you get to Denmark, it’s land all the way to Shanghai.

Bamburgh, Northumberland

By contrast, the west coast is mostly as high as the east coast is low. Apart from mid Wales and north-west England, it’s a landscape of sea cliffs and rocky promontories where there is little of melding gently. Here the sea attacks and the land rebuts, and up on top of the cliffs you stand amidst a greensward dotted with the multitudinous colours of thrift and the golden glory of gorse. It’s slightly different in the Western Highlands; there the sea invades and the mountains look down upon it, glowering. The sense is not of melancholy, but of power and grandeur. And when you look across the water, you know that you are looking at the edge of a wild ocean that stretches over 2,000 miles. On the west coast, I often wondered where home really was.

Castle Point and Dinas Head
Pembrokeshire, West Wales

No comments: