"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky"
‘I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky’
At 6am, I leave the house and head down to the shore.
That line of poetry has been with me half my life. It triggers the same yearning that makes me walk – a desire to be in two places at once – both in this place, and another place. That other place feels like a parallel, imaginary word. I recognise it – as the world the artist must enter every day; as the place you write in.
But the door into it is very much here, feet on this ground, making the effort to keep doing these early walks. Both are an effort – to walk the boundary between the two, one foot in each place.
Anyway, I cross under the railway line, and then over the Inverness-Beauly road. Across another field and – the land stops. The fields roll down to the edge of a small bay. One fence seems to have lost its field and simply marches out to sea. Or was it part of a pier? It’s impossible to tell now.
The farm is on a promontory sticking out into the Beauly firth, five miles west of Inverness. The sea curls round us. Mountains and hills to the north and west bear the brunt of the wet, westerly Atlantic weather. Things seem to have been like this always, season in and season out.
They haven’t, of course. As late as the 1820s, the low lying fields flooded. Kim’s great-great-grandfather drained them. A mile inland, neighbours’ ploughs still turn up seashells.
If sea levels rise as predicted, half the farm will disappear again. After the brief gift of it to us, the sea will take it back out of our clumsy hands.
There is no beach, just intertidal mudflats. Sea grass. Stones. Burns chuckle down from the hills behind us and along field boundaries to reach the shore. Then the streams snake out across the mud in shallow channels, as if the fresh longs for the salt, and cannot wait until the tide returns and they dissolve into each other.
The tidal run is huge, almost a mile in and out twice a day. The water travels at speed all the time.
Walking back later, I recall with pleasure that the shoreline was clean. No rubbish – no degrading sea wrack that won’t actually degrade for centuries, just break down and invade our food chain. Until, the plastic floating in the sea floats in our blood in the same way, degrading us.
I reach the road I must cross to get back onto the farm track. Here, it’s different. I join the road in the village, ½ mile up from the turning. In the village, where people mow their grass to the road edge, it’s also rubbish free.
Go five steps beyond the last house, where the verges teem with vetch, gorse, dog roses, buttercups. Within ten steps you’re crunching plastic bottles, cans, sweetie wrappers, and fast food papers under your feet.
And I think – people have had to open their car windows, and make the effort to chuck this lot out far enough to reach the boundary of road and countryside. Rather than, take it home, carry it from the car, and open a bin lid.
Is that really such an awful effort that it’s better to shit litter in the verges? Really?
Highland Council cuts the verges twice a year. The abuse of them lay buried till last week. The smell of fresh cut grass now mixes with the sight of mangled plastic and aluminium. The abuse makes me angry and sad. These boundaries are our common joy. Please take rubbish home! The Beauly firth does not want this.
(Poem quote: Sea Fever, John Masefield)