Headonist

My East Yorkshire adventure continues…

After a good night’s sleep in Beverley it was time for a very scenic journey north and east until I reached the coast and my next objective; Flamborough Head.

Courtesy of Vera Lynn and decades of subsequent WWII nostalgia, most people associate English white cliffs with one particular location, but Dover doesn’t have exclusive claim upon sea-washed chalk.  The song’s writer, Walter Kent, was American, which is why he pictured bluebirds in his lyrics.  Sorry Mr Kent, but they’re not indigenous here.  Still we might stretch a point and assume he meant martins and swallows which do at least have a hint of blue.

Flamborough too has calcium carbonate and birdlife, but here the North Sea replaces the English Channel, a sea that has carved, undermined and pierced the chalk into a variety of shapes and in doing so created a habitat for seabirds.

Before I could explore the avian colonies though I had a decision to make; make my way to the large arrowhead shaped outcrop of land that forms the “head” or to the bays that lie to the north and south.  With so much of my photography this year at sea level I decided to maintain that approach and drove to North Landing; where the steep slipway that once provided the launching point for the local lifeboat still exists and fishing boats in various states of disrepair sit precariously on the slope facing the water.

The birds however were too far away so I climbed up to the clifftops – an area I was reluctant to explore too closely due to the obvious risks of walking on soft rock above active water.

Still, it turned out to be the best place.  When I later visited the South Landing I was able to get closer to the shoreline species, but as soon as I unpacked my camera they were scattered by an enthusiastic bulldog thrilled to be off the leash.  I did at least capture one shot of what I think was a sandpiper.

And so to the clifftops.  I’d come hoping for puffins but not a trace (unless they were amongst the swarms of black shapes gathering and diving out at sea).  Instead I got the inevitable gulls and kittiwakes but lots of razorbills too.  Almost as comical as puffins but without the technicolour bill.

Altogether now:

There’ll be black birds over, the white cliffs of Flamorough…

Oh, and the odd wheatear.

Erosion & Corrosion (Venezia 118)

About 18 months ago the city authorities imposed Venice’s first ban on motorboats.  It was only for a few hours, but during that time only electric, hybrid, or human-powered vessels were permitted; most of the 7000 or so registered craft were not.

Why the ban?  To highlight the effect of exhaust fumes in damaging the fabric of the city’s architectural riches.   Venice has to contend with so many threats; the slow sinking into the marshes, the flooding of Acqua Altathe acid effects of air pollution, and of course the water erosion caused by the wake of the higher powered vessels.

Of course, with so many residents owning a small boat to get about in, any curb is bound to be controversial, but we car drivers are gradually adapting our vehicles so perhaps there’s hope yet.

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Return to Mulberry*

APW_0141_2_3-EditDown the beaches
Hand in hand
Twelfth of never
On the sand
Then war took her away

Europa and The Pirate Twins 

I must apologise for bringing Thomas Dolby back to these pages with such indecent haste, but his showing/performance of The Invisible Lighthouse at the Tyneside Cinema resonated so strongly that I could not resist.

English: Orford Ness Lighthouse
English: Orford Ness Lighthouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film is a blend of autobiography (though whether the subject is Dolby or his beloved Suffolk coastline is a moot point) and documentary exploring the decommissioning of the lighthouse that illuminated his childhood bedroom.  In doing so he also explored the fragility and validity of human memory; his own recollection of a catastrophic Aldeburgh conflagration, being slightly undermined by his mother’s observation that he was in another county when it occurred!  He began to question how powerful the light had been since to his adult eye it seemed week and insignificant, though thanks to a 50-year-old copy of the Guinness Book of Records he was able to establish that the light had once been the brightest in the world.

His love of the North Sea coastline with its tidal erosion, wartime defences, UFO sightings  and piercing lighthouse beams may be romanticised but has long formed part of the mythology of his oeuvre.

APW_0180_1_2-EditPerhaps this partly explained the appeal that his songs hold for me. This is after all the same grey sea that I have looked on for years, facing the same invaders, ravaged by similar natural forces, and protected by red and white monolithic guardians. The beam of Souter Lighthouse was as potent in the mind’s eye of my youth as Orford Ness was in his, and indeed it also held the title of world’s brightest at some point in its history.  Souter has not troubled the night sky for 25 years and even its foghorn gave its last blast earlier this year.

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I asked him how he might change the experience when he takes the film on tour in the US, for this seemed an essentially English experience. His response was that other than the addition of a second performer providing live foley (sound effects) he didn’t intend to change it at all, explaining that whilst the loss of the lighthouse was a real source of nostalgia for those neighbouring the North Sea, when taken further afield it becomes a metaphor for any significant artefact facing obsolescence, and therefore capable of generating a similar emotional response.

For me there was no need of metaphor for though the topography of the South Tyneside coast is very different to that of Suffolk, Souter may well face the same fate.  The Leas car park, one of a pair used by visitors to lighthouse (which like Orford Ness is managed by the National Trust), closed several months ago following a cliff fall, and it will never re-open.  It is currently being reclaimed by nature, as it awaits it’s sudden and inevitable descent to the shore.APW_0137

The power of the sea is clear, the coast is scattered with limestone stacks and sea-washed caves.

So what would you mourn if its loss was imminent?

When I was small
I was in love, in love with everything
But now there’s only you

*Cloudburst at Shingle Street

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Private

Fancy a little secluded slice of paradise?

For just £2.4 million you could buy your own Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

Too pricey?

Well then only £1.7m will get you 12 acres of beach-front in St Lucia.

Still a little rich for your pocket?

Half an acre of virgin land on Mayreu in the Grenadines will set you back a far more modest £103,000.

Or you could go to Marsden Beach on a cold and grey November lunchtime for free.

Not as appealing?  Maybe not if you’re a devout sun-worshipper, but for the crash of waves on a sloping beach, swirling foam,  towering cliffs, and sculpted rocks its hard to beat, and for half an hour today it was all mine.  Not a soul to be seen and even the prints from the morning’s dogs were being erased by the advancing tide.

Even on the greyest of days there was colour as the russet sands were swirled into the gunmetal waters, yellow limestone shone in its coat of salt water and the sky managed to inject a little glaucous hue into the deeper waters.

Here nature plays out a battle between the sea and the land and there will only be one winner, for though the cliffs stand tall and the rocks hold fast the sea has time on its side.  Imperceptibly scouring the surface of the stones that emerge from the sand, sucking at the feet of the great limestone walls above, grinding pebbles back and forth along the shore.  The plentiful grains of sand indicate the fate awaiting those seemingly stout defences.

After a while I decided it was time to beat a retreat before my escape route was cut off and as I began my ascent back to the cliff tops met Scott bringing his two dogs for a little exercise.  I felt I was handing over custodianship of a piece of treasure.  For a little while at least.