I’m often amazed, as I walk along the beach below the cottage, by the changes that are evident each day in the shape and structure of the sand. Beaches are real shape-shifters. Although I’ve noticed this many times before – it never fails to surprise me that incoming and outgoing tides can constantly create such wonderful and beautiful transformations along the shore.
Shifting sands are often characterised as bad and dangerous and to be avoided. All our precepts about solidity and reliability lead us to regard the unstable world of moving sands as very dubious and untrustworthy.
I’ve come to see these constant and organic changes along the shore as a beautiful part of the cycle of nature. Dylan Thomas described it as ‘the force that drives the waters through the rocks drives my red blood … the hand that whirls the water in the pool stirs the quicksand’.
Attachment to special places seems to be part of our emotional makeup. Memories come flooding back when we visit locations that have personal significance. These places hold, and release to us a landscape of feelings, experiences and memories. They enable us to reconnect with part of our lives that have past – different times and experiences.
It seems that realising the context in which memories are created is crucially important in remembering them later. The idea is known as ‘contextual-binding-theory’, and it recognises that context in building memories is important. Not only do events and experiences become associated with each other but the context in which these occurred is significant – and location seems to be particularly important.
When I walk along the beach below the cottage it’s a double joy. I’m able to enjoy the ever-changing beauty of the shoreline and the memories that are released by the sandy location of special times and special people.
We’ve got familiar blue-grey-green tufts of Marram grass growing along the edge of the beach just below the cottage. Each year this edge changes – advances of retreats according to the storms and tidal surges we get – but it’s an ever present backdrop to all our activities on the beach. It has lots of uses. Traditionally it was used to thatch cottages on the island and has been woven into rope, cordage and baskets.
Of course, it’s main role – and it’s most important to us – is to stabilise the dunes and prevent too much coastal erosion by water or wind. It’s fibrous, matted roots bind the sand together and encourage other plants to colonise amongst its glossy drought-resistant leaves.
It proved its worth this winter when we had huge storms and tidal surges.
Living with the sea only a few steps from your door is peaceful and soothing but not totally silent.
Apart from a very occasional still day when the sea is smooth and viscous – there is constant motion and constant sound. The opera of the sea washes over everything and the wave-music is carried on the slightest breeze along the shore, across the dunes and through the marram. The rhythmic pulse is steady and harmonious and gives a heartbeat and pace to each day.
On some days the light quality changes here on the beach. Amongst the bright, sunny days with clear skies and deep shadows we occasionally get silvery days when the light is diffused through a blanket of thin cloud. Both land, sea and sky take on a much more muted palette with subtle changes in colour and hue. An amazing combination of tranquillity and beauty.
It starts with the journey. Moving deliberately through the water sailing slowly towards the horizon and leaving the mainland behind. This gentle process seems to break the bonds that tie us to the stresses and strains of our ‘ordinary’ lives.
This is not something to be endured – it’s something to be enjoyed and savoured. Part of the unburdening process, accompanied by anticipation, that is completed as you take your first step onto the island.
The tranquil beauty of this island never fails to amaze. Whether it’s your first visit, or one of many in a long line of visits, the impact of the shape and form of the land, the wide and open sky, the crystal clear water and the vivid colours never fails to press the heart and still the turmoil.
Some will navigate the uncertainty to visit the island this year. Others will wait with increasing anticipation for next summer before they visit. An extreme case of deferred gratification!