'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Places: The Place

I've spent the afternoon down at Mawbray, the great bank of sand-dunes between Allonby & Silloth, a Cumbrian place unknown to tourists. The dunes conceal the foundations of a Roman milecastle, one of the line of fortifications that went south-west along the coast from the end of Hadrian's Wall. On their windward side there's a line of five cottages just on the beach, with small-holding allotments, lines of washing waving in the wind, and ponies grazing on the green. In high summer when there's a hot sun and a cool wind off the sea, it feels as if you've wandered onto the location of a neo-realist movie. I'm always half-expecting Monica Vitti to stagger out of the dunes and poutingly demand to be swept away to Ravenna and made love to in a revolutionary manner.
No such luck today, so I walked out over the sands and realised I'd had the good fortune to arrive at low tide. The banks and shoals stretch out for several miles to the low water mark and are a public fishery as well as some sort of oddly defined heritage site. The first great swathe of sands are hard and flat: locals bring their sand-buggies here in the evening, lethally fast karts powered by dirigible kites that the driver steers from his seat. Further on, I met a jolly Geordie fisherman and his spaniel, plunged elbow deep in water, feeling for crabs beneath a stranded boulder. His mate was driving a quad-bike half a mile distant, gathering sacks of cockles. They'd been here two weeks, he told me: the cockles were business, the crabs - a whole half-barrel of them - for their supper. The spaniel looked pleased. Further north, there's a line of tree-stumps poking out of the sands, a remnant of who-knows-what Mesolithic forest. Far beyond this, two miles out, you walk over a final bank of hard dry sand, and see navigation buoys pitched askew in the shallow waters of low tide. Lift up your eyes and Scotland is enormously close: you've walked a quarter of the way there - ahead there lies a final deep shelf down to the low water mark, and beyond it the shoals of Robin Rigg, the Blackshaw Bank and Barnhourie, sands whose names echo from the tales that my grandfather the lifeboatman told me. Turn around and you're rewarded with a view of Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Grasmoor and the western fells that nobody ever sees because closer to shore they're obscured by Mootah and Tallentire Hill, at this distance reduced to low ridges dwarfed by the mountains beyond. Look along the waterline and you realise, your sight attuned to the nuances of the plane, that the sands are anything but flat: the banks rise tens of feet in a mile, blocking out the distant horizon. It's just as well that they do, for this is no Morecambe Sands with its fierce tide-races, and even at the turn it's still possible to walk the two or three miles back to the shore, and terra firma, where I'm writing these lines.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying reading your blog. Lots of cross references led me here in some kind of cyber derive.

Just wondered if you had caught the BBC radio programme The Cumberland Odyssey? CD of the material is gathered here - http://www.veteran.co.uk/VT142CD.htm

"A box of 78s left forgotten in Carlisle's Records Office leads Mike Harding
on a journey retracing the story of two friends who, in the 1950s, embarked
on a mission to preserve the traditional songs of Cumberland."

Also, noticing that you are reading The Idea of North this week, I wondered if you were aware of the Scots/Brittany writer/poet/waybook essayist Kenneth White and his school of geopoetics?

Sorry if this is posted out of context.

23/5/05 4:54 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Certainly not out of context - thanks for the comment & the good words: very pleased that you like the work.
I'd be really interested to know how you came across the blog - the 'referring address' page of the stats counter is shot to hell at present.
Thanks for the steer on the Mike Harding programme. I've not yet come across Kenneth White, but he sounds as if he'd be interesting. Any suggestions on where to start?
And come back & visit again . . .

24/5/05 6:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking for a link to the book The Supernatural and English Fiction for my livejournal, which I had been inspired to read after following up on the many people referred to in Peter Woodcock's "This Enchanted Isle" and after Googling I hit this link to The Deep North, http://www.rereviewed.com/thedeepnorth/index.php?p=85
I was intrigued, read a little, followed the links...So, par hasard as they say?
Kenneth White I heard on BBC Radio Scotland in interview and reading his poems in the early 1990s (i have a copy of this in mp3 format).
I was taken by his blazing conversational style which threw in all manner of erudite and esoteric references to capture the intellectual nomadism he practices in the natural world. His essay collection On Scottish Ground was the first book I bought, the library here in Edinburgh supplied access to the rest of his out of print books and a cassette of his poetry.
Since then i have attended an exhibition and two book festival conferences which drew me deeper in and let me hear him speak in public. A great and inspirational fellow traveller.
There are a few links to his work in Google which can give a flavour of his work.
Knowledge of French may help.

25/5/05 12:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick darling, I'm sooo sorry - I never knew you felt that way !!Ciao bello..

30/5/05 7:44 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

Carissima Signorina, you should have said. What a shame, all that wasted time . . .

1/6/05 1:39 pm  

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