If horses – as per the title of Alice Walker’s poetry collection – make a landscape look more beautiful, then perhaps islands do the same for seascapes. Or mountains do. Or islands with mountains. You get the idea, I hope.
Sifting and resifting through the photographs I took back in May when visiting RSPB Campfield Marsh and the Solway Estuary, I’m struck by two things.
The first is how many of the images are looking outwards from the land towards the estuary, with its rivers emptying out into the Irish Sea. And so – inevitably – across to the coast of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. And how few were taken facing back towards the land. Because the tide is out, the sea itself, its water, is largely absent, invisible, but nonetheless I find myself looking for it.
This is reflected in my memories of the day. I remember spending far more of it gazing out at and thinking about the sea. I’d travelled for almost two hours across land to get to the coast, so maybe it’s inevitable to focus on what you’ve been heading towards, rather than what you’ve passed through. It makes me wonder whether the experience of arriving somewhere over water leads the traveller to turn their back instinctively on that which has been crossed, and instead focus landwards? (I will make a mental note next time I arrive at the sea to check back and look behind me more carefully).
The second thing to strike me is the effect that the horizon can have on the watcher looking out to sea. Looming faintly on the skyline in most of the images is Criffel; neither the tallest by any means, nor the shapeliest of Scotland’s mountains, it still draws the eye.
This is not to suggest at all that without the mountain there, there’s be no point looking out to sea. But it does make me realise how easy it can be to observe something without adequately considering the frame, the context, the accompaniment that completes the image. And how sometimes we can – even when we think we’re paying attention – need a second look to fully appreciate what is going on.
I’m taking time out this weekend to do something a little different. Cumbria Wildlife Trust is running a creative writing day this Saturday, 19th May, led by writer, novelist and WordPress blogger Ann Lingard.
The day is taking place at RSPB Campfield Marsh in north Cumbria, where England and Scotland face one another across the Solway estuary. Cumbria is usually thought of in landscape terms as a place of mountains and high moors, The Lake District, and the inspiration for the likes of Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin and William and Dorothy Wordsworth. But this part of the Solway coast is a very different prospect, a flat expanse of saltmarsh, mudflats and creeping tides, with its own special atmosphere and wildlife.
The purpose of the day is to spend time in this environment, being and observing, before translating these observations and impressions into words. Not only have I never visited this part of the world before, I’ve also never taken part in this kind of immersive creative writing event. I’m really looking forward to the experience, and to working with Ann, and meeting some other enthusiastic writers. And to seeing what I’m inspired to write by being in what sounds like an amazing place.
At the beginning of this year I relocated to Cumbria, in the north-west of England, and have since joined the Brewery Poets, a long-established group which meets up once a month in Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre.
It’s great to be part of a writers’ group again – something I’ve done previously, but not for a long time (the last group I was part of – in Edinburgh – disintegrated quite a few years ago, and the wonderful pub it used to meet up in is no more). Writing is – in most instances – a solitary business, so it’s never a bad thing to abandon the cave of your own head every once in a while and let others see what you’ve been smearing on the walls. Feedback is always helpful. It’s a not-insignificant part of the reason I first came to WordPress, and I’m always grateful for the comments of other bloggers.
Brewery Poets are also behind the Kendal Poetry Festival, which is taking place for the third time this year, between the 6th-9th of September. Kendal is a great place to visit, right on the edge of the English Lake District. As well as an amazing backdrop for a festival, there’s a fantastic line-up and schedule of events in place, including readings from members of the Brewery Poets themselves.
An apology to Andrew Ford
As things stand, he is the bole of this unsteady tree,
the backmost reaching into the frail chain of records,
through the sporadic diggings of our research, and
I picture him taking the days of journey north from Devon,
by the old Roman road, possibly driving one of the carts
or wains he’d made, loaded with what could not be left,
bound for a place he’d only heard of, yet believed held
all the answers. This place, that kicked the light out of me
from the moment I could stand. Then every moment after.
The one I couldn’t wait to flee. Now the insistent hands of
autumn tear at the leaves, and the bough is close to breaking,
I have no way to tell him what I’ve failed to do, how sorry I am.
first published in Forage, 2017