Then spree

poetry & diary by Nia Davies

Tag: beach

Finland from the air

Cycling on snow in Jyväskylä

March 30th, 2011

Pleated, becheckered and monochrome, it’s possible to see the managed pine and the white ground between trees, galvanised in the light. Palette lakes: smooth pulped and pressed flat. You can see the ripped, trimmed and scored woods, the growths left to bloom in rings like boreal fairy glens. Summer house are still submerged. From here it’s a stickle-backed land, seeming far more cottaged and tended than from the ground. You see the farm ponds and where black heated tarmac crosses the crispy white ski tracks.

The vanguard of sea ice hugs the far coast:  a barrage against liquid. The edges of the Baltic are still frozen – they hold a viscous edge that peels and retreats on warm days, crusts and extends on cold. In the  shallow seas around the coast snow furs over the islets that are hugged close and made part of the land only to be released into the sea again come spring. Some of the archipelagos are linked together by stringy bridges.

Over Turku the ice loosens.  There are beaches of snow in the bays, ringed islands that could almost be Greek with their white sands in bright blue. Over Sweden I watch the land start to brown, the lakes crack. There are long white scores cut out of the trees that stretch in very straight lines across miles of field, wood, frozen sea and island – presumably they are old imperial sledgeways?

Over Denmark the clouds come and I try to make out parts of the royal wedding magazine the Finnish woman next to me is reading: ‘Diana vs Kate’ – why are they so interested?

From the land of Finns to the land of Angles – we are both fished fine angles and filled lands, finished on an ask, an Ang, a Fin. The plane has taken me from winter back to spring. On the ground the foggy air smells warmly wet – long released from ice. The willows and thorns are leafing. I have gone from zero ice to liquid pools, the muds of the new year. We are quick to forget an English winter. But the Finnish winter I am fresh from will be harder to let go of. In the leech-grey wood one tree has come into green. As the train creeps into London the land warms another degree, and the sparse trees and track-side buddleia start to show it, begrudgingly.

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Skye, November

Camasunary and the Black Cuillin

Skye. For me it’s Katy Morag land. With Granny Mainland and Granny Island. Skippers steering through the mid afternoon dusk. Sunsets as rum-red as the island’s Cuillin red ale.

By the time we reached Camasunary – a beachy crook in the Cuillin’s deep pockets – it was too late to climb the last leg to Loch Curuisk. The bothy, where we ate our sarnies, had been bagsied by three excited demobbed marines. Having abandoned their open-roofed jeep on the rocky road, they were now stumbling down the hill carrying their weight in Stella.

Several times I think: don’t even try to take photos, they come out too flat, the colours dimmed. And how to describe now the light in dark without resorting to grey? Do we leave the gradation of colours to the Romantics? To Elgol-visitors Turner and Scot? In paintings the ‘warped’ perspective of multi-angled wrap-around  viewpoints seems appropriate here, more living. We made a steady crunch of onwards before dark.

In Elgol you can find what is possibly the world’s most picturesque primary school, looking out over the Black Cuillins and the shifty sea and that Lofoten-like crashing of mountain into Atlantic. A big red cow chews seaweed off beached pontoons. As soon as we reached our car, parked in the village’s small harbour,  a huge curtain of squall was rolling over the mountains we had just left.  As if we knew too much of a secret thing and now it was being withdrawn. The marines would have to light their fires early and bunk down against the battering storm.me on a log

Driving back the snow began.  A white shred of shroud slid up the dark sides of Bla Bheinn; a strange backlit mist hugging the black rock. On the other side of the peninsula the skies were still clear.

Weather races here. Be careful, they say. The glows in the crofter cottage windows came on through the dark. Many houses stayed unlit; holiday homes. It was the off-season, and didn’t we know it.Elgol Primary and sea-cow

Sands of Forvie, Aberdeenshire. July

Forvie SandsEvery tread seems to disturb a bird, Sand Martin, Sky Lark or Tern, though I stick to the path and am careful in my step. I head through the dunes, past the beheaded Kirk which once stood over a village now lost to the sands. The joggers of Peterhead are the only other humans here today, charging through, pounding through this butterfly-strewn, grassy, flowery expanse.

Some dunes are so big and bare that if you blinker your eyes and cut out the smell of the sea and ignore the terns returning to their nests and the eider ducks splashing in the mouth of the estuary, you could be in the Sahara. Well almost.

An iron-red stream has caught fishing nets in its mouth on the beach. Once there was fishing, now there is petroleum.  It’s that same peaty North Sea as I found in Rye, still unfamiliar to me. I lived on the western shores of this island for two years and I miss the rocky drama of the Welsh coast.  The sea here seems muddier, but the land is lovely, full of sky and cloud and wind. It’s a place where you sense that the earth’s tilt and rotation. The flatness of the land makes for a certain quality of light: brightness from all directihigh brown butterflies on thistlesons, that northern clean-air light.Forvie Kirk

Rye Harbour, June

There is a fenced-in bird sanctuary to our left. The beach to our right. Over our heads fly terns with the silvery slivers of fish in their beaks. They still manage a squawk as they hop from sea to nests behind the fence.

Oystercatchers squat tense over their eggs. Behind a hump of pastel and beige shingle the hazy sea pulses. The terns dive in with enhanced gravity to shock those little fish.

We walk through the bunches of waxy seakale. Today you can only smell the sea once you are over the shingle ridge on Winchelsea Beach. This land is a gathering of stones, building a flat promenade stretching out to sea year on year. Towers and bastions mark old wars and old shorelines. But these flats hide nooks of nature and graceful migratory patterns must be protect behind barbed wire.

A rusty headland rises out of a beige haze to the west. I wade into the water and that late afternoon sheen runs with the waves over the pebbles. A gentle blast of green wave pumps back and forth making licks and dips in the stones.

It smells like mornings after the breakfast shift at the hotel Pelirocco in Brighton. I would rinse the smell of bacon from my skin in the sea, picking my way back to my clothes before the crowds came. There’s a cleaner kind of dirt on me now and that same South Coast smell clinging to the flinty shingles.

Penbryn, Llangranog. May

carreg y ty

I’m in Penbryn, Cardigan Bay and all the animals are at it: midges, ponies, birds that come in pairs, even the slugs. Swallows are back from their adventures. I came here once before, ‘tippled and toppled down the hill to the beach’ according to my mum. But it’s another discovery for me now.  It’s a new pocket where the rocks are black – heaped and shattered in waves and strata that curl up to make dark looming cliffs. Where squalls have hurled themselves in briny tempests and broken up the windy shore line.  And the forests are bright green and humming with the bees nosying in to  the wildflowers. Kestrels hover as if hung by string above their prey.  My caravan is parked in a grassy place ‘where you can lie on your back and look at the stars if you want to! No light pollution here.’  The cows are heavy with udder and calf and the hedgerows are singing. The birds even do jazz with drum wing-beats and trumpet-voices.

“Wales is a small coat made of deep pockets.” Horatio Clare

Culver Hole

Culver hole isn’t on my OS map. It’s a secret. A lowtide fortress for smugglers or is it pigeon-racers?

The sea spits a brain-splintering light today, here on the south shore of the Gower. Down we clamber to the shingly rock, the worn plaster-shattered plateau. This is Overton Mere – a mere mere – no sand in this crevice.

We travel with a dog, Ed – a dog with no strap to strap on, with a smaller-than-he-thinks complex. A little legged dog who has to be carried like a baby on the homeward road. ‘The reefs are working the waves,’ says Leon and I wonder how the moving parts get worked on by the solid parts. But maybe that’s the surfer’s trick – to be knowledgeable in crashable substances.

Perhaps message bearers hid here in the well-worn sea smooth crack of the cliff. The blues are pale and the cobbles round. But above the tide-line the rocks stay jagged, unworked on by the waves. In the crack is what seems like a building’s façade; stonework that includes windows and doors. It towers well above the beachy bottom.

It’s all perfect for bouldering, hanging, swinging but my limbs have gone dis-flexy since London claimed me. Leon is up in the masonry before we know it whilst Zoe and I are left wondering where our courage has gone to. We try to dangle on the rope but uneasiness takes over. Neither does the hobbly ladder dangling on another bristly rope and clanging against the cliff-face inspire much confidence. Ed is more interested in rock-pooling. Leon says it smells like pigeon shit in there. And so one purpose of the place is made clear – it’s a pigeon roost.

And maybe smugglers took roost here too. Inside there are walkways and stairs. Perhaps the hole’s one-time occupants caught the brandy flotsam and the rum jetsam. Little crafts could row right up to one of the portholes to drop off their contraband.

Nothing about Culver hole is very clear. But the name may come from the Old English for pigeon and, according to my google search, this place may have been somewhere to farm pigeons in a time when foul winters drove ‘desperate people’ to eat these scraggly birds. It is the home of the Blue Rock pigeon, a species gone interbred and feral. They are quick-shaggers, independent of tilling and sowing and back breaking. Tasty.

It also isn’t far from Port Eynon’s Salt House which is could be another clue. There are mentions of a pirate lord, John Lucas, who built a smuggling empire on this coast in the 17th century. Kind, powerful and criminal in turn, so the story goes, eventually he was beheaded by Cromwell. In other lore I find that Culver hole may have been used to store ammunition and could have also been the sea entrance for a long-gone castle.

And then I find, that in an archaeological dig in 1989, ‘a small fragment of an antler was found trapped in an alcove’. Well well, the mystery deepens and it smells distinctly of pigeon poo.

(copyright, Nia Davies, March 2010)

Diary – Dyfi

There’s sweet haze over the sand behind Borth. The light over the beach looks dusty but it’s really full of moisture, marking where the Irish sea is thrown up in the sundown.

The train snakes past Ceredigion’s green dragon hump with their spiny fences and blackened marks on the undulating horizon. For a long time now, I have thought of these hills as a perfect combination – soft but exposed – mossy green tufts with odd, crooked edges.

From the estuary we follow the Dyfi inland. Pink strips of sun-cloud reflected on the river’s surface make a glistening strip that coils bright through the dark soaked grass. Green eve turning blue.

I’m thinking of rivers, thick and furious in places, swollen but calm in others. Rain here, in the words of my taxi driver in Aber, is ‘like a dishcloth – always needs to be wrung out’. It’s a place of literary cabbies and a land ripe for kayakers. In Cumbria there are ‘extreme care teams’ – canoeing rescuers paddling around checking that the stranded sheep have got plenty of bales to chew on. I imagine these flooded fields hide sheep corpses – there are no paddling saviours here. Oh well, they must make do.

The Dyfi’s watershed is an ever-damp net that is always catching the Atlantic’s squalls in its lush skirts.  And Aberdyfi’s sea-front’s glints white, ever bewitching. The unavailability shines at me across the water. I have never ventured that far, making the place practically exotic.

Meanwhile, London’s giant grey pull is hauling me back after a few frenetic days in Aberystwyth. The cities have undergone a brief role reversal.

But now I’m thinking rivers: the one I was floating down in my dreams recently. The kind of summery luxury only dreamt of in December. I was drifting downstream, past the buzz of water-skaters and the trees spilling in on both sides. Roger Deakin passed by and I greeted them lazily.

Watery imagination is elliptical. And now I come round to it – perhaps I am sailing past some sort of psychic conference – where my Elysium future on earth is cupped in the hands of certain powerful people currently in conversation in Copenhagen.

© Nia Davies, 2009