And still they come!

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The Lizard, Cornwall. WikiCommons

Cornwall’s currently overrun with tourists, or so the county’s official Tourist Board tells us. If you are down there right now, crushed between other curious holiday-makers, we can only thank you for choosing somewhere to go for your holidays which is at the other extreme of the country from us, up here in the far north east.  Folk are apparently flocking in unsustainable numbers to the extreme south west of England drawn by their obsession to see the very spots on the Lizard where Poldark, the country’s favourite screen adaptation, is set but not exclusively filmed. The fourth, most recent, series has just finished on BBC1, but there are five more novels to adapt, so plenty more opportunity awaits for even more to get caught up in the Cornwall craze. Well, locals of the Lizard, you have our sympathies though, to put it bluntly, you are doing us a favour by focusing the nation’s collective imagination for a few years. Recent newspapers have been full of articles lately detailing the strains placed on the infrastructure of Cornwall by the seasonal influx – water shortages, intensely crowded beaches, bulging litter bins, non-existent parking spaces, over-inflated house prices and ironic dismay over the tourist board’s call to bring visitors to the county.  We know what you mean!

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Daily pooh removed by us: one dog’s holiday

Imagine, therefore, our dismay and incredulous amusement when on what was intended as a comic pitch from alternative destinations, on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 lunchtime news programme, World at One, we heard a spokesperson for Visit Northumberland plugging the beauty of Bamburgh and the sea trips to the Farnes. Oh no, we cried! As though we need any more visitors! Northumberland long ago lost the right to be known as the ‘Secret Kingdom’ or ‘England’s Most Tranquil County’, in large measure thanks to Robson Green and the television programmes which bruited the quiet joys of this historic and magnificent coastline, bringing in tourists in unprecedented numbers and obliterating the off-season more or less entirely.

The problems resulting for a tiny resident community with only a handful of litter bins and one daily collection from them,  two small car parks, a narrow main drag along one side of which drivers still park, despite double yellow lines, and too many selfish holiday makers who take what they want without thinking, are obvious. The detritus on the beach, the out-of-control dogs, careering madly about in an environment most of them are entirely unused to, creating stress for local dogs and their owners alike, the sheer weight of numbers making every instance of anti-social behaviour seem that much worse. We know what it is to be outnumbered; to be treated like a theme park, into and out of which people can drop as their fancy takes them. Sure, some locals make easy money from renting out family property but most have to work tirelessly for longer and longer in keen competition with each other just to make a living, putting out more and more as the visitors’ demands and expectations become ever greater.

We are currently waiting for the day soon when the Scots to go back to school, the first lessening of the tourist load; then the British children begin their academic year. But, most families busy elsewhere, September heralds the influx of older walkers and retired visitors, plus more divers and groups of various sorts. It never stops, and neither does the bagging and/or picking up of other people’s dogs’ pooh, plastic rubbish, barbecues, clothes and tents. So if you fancy swelling the crowds on the Lizard’s beaches, please be our guest; you will find the locations usefully listed here:

https://www.visitcornwall.com/poldark/blog/poldark-film-locations

But you can look up Northumberland for yourself!

 

 

 

The end of the beginning?

20180508_150721‘Now is the month of May-ing’ . . .

. . . and – at long, long last – as if by magic, the wintry scene has shifted, the sky has cleared, the wind dropped, the sun is out and all natural things are on the move.  All this time, as we mourned the loss of light and life, the divinity which shapes our ends has been quietly at work and with this weekend’s gloriously hot weather, which curiously coincided with a national holiday, the fruits of those labours were gloriously made manifest.

Only last week migrant birds were still a rarity:  since sighting the first few sand martins in mid-April, the rest of the usual crowd were nowhere to be seen as we looked up day by day towards their nest holes in the dunes, entrances now obscured by the winter storms.  Only last Friday, there were but four pairs of house martins at Bamburgh dunes and none had flown over our house. Though the church swallows had safely returned to their roost inside the porch of St Aidan’s in Bamburgh, across the fields generally the usual laughter was missing. Such a long-delayed Spring made everyone sad and sorry. Every day for the last 20180430_070254month we have carefully checked the natterjack toad pool for signs of spawning, and every day we found nothing except a dead adult male a couple of weeks ago; and so we passed on and waited. Instead, the beach was strewn with plastic detritus and dead creatures, like this poor dolphin, washed up having half-delivered its calf – an eloquent image of time out of joint. Thus it was that April passed into May, and nothing much changed, except the daily to and fro of rain and chill and mist and murk.

20180508_064739But, at last, the Spring ‘clad all in gladness’ has indeed burst upon us and ours are the riches. As if by magic, the brackish toad pool was early this morning chock full of tadpoles and by the afternoon the sky above the dunes swirled with an ever-increasing number of martins, feeding furiously and staking their claim on last year’s mud nests under the sewage works eaves. Our faith is awakened: no matter how dreary our routine seemed, Spring has indeed banished Winter’s sadness and, even though we know the clouds will gather and the showers intervene, for all things must pass, there’s no denying this tremendous step-change in the seasons. No matter how transient life’s joys, it is in recognizing them that we are blessedly human, as Touchstone knows and Jacques cannot admit. Indeed, this is a moment for unalloyed celebration, an As You Like It moment, and here expressed so simply and so optimistically, with music by Thomas Morley, in Shakespeare’s song from that glorious pastoral comedy. Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity:

 

 

 

 

Stranglers on the shore

20180404_070742The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men.

T S Eliot makes it sound so beautiful, and so poignant, here by the relentless sea. Indeed it is but, increasingly, it is more than a repository of discarded and lost fishing tackle with a tale to tell: it is a world of plastic and the enduring legacy of umpteen needless purchases which have woven themselves into our environment, abusing it and threatening the wildlife in myriad ways.

20180329_071300Recent reports came in from the National Trust warden on the Isle of May about spotting near the coast a seal enmeshed in rope. It is not surprising at all. More extraordinary is that we see so few of the effects of the polluted sea upon the creatures within it, caught up in the twine and the balloon ribbons, choked by the plastic toys, applicators and multi-coloured nurdles.  For we, who are among the first on the shore each day, witness an ever-increasing quantity and range of stuff cast up along the shore. We are no longer surprised by what we find. Sad to say, dead guillemots defeated by the recent storms seem normal and utterly acceptable by comparison.

20180404_071211Some jetsam is more troubling than other stuff and the sheer20180404_070917 variety can be utterly baffling. Recently a shipment of fine wooden planks was cast up on the north east and Scottish coast; this chemical toilet probably came from a boat, and we took it for a boiler cover until we gained a closer look. Nothing would surprise us.

20180401_072118However, the shipwrecked oddities which once had meaning and real purpose in everyday life are part and parcel of the big weather events, are to some extent expected and, of course, are usually easily removed. Not so the blanket of plastic rubbish of all kinds which is simply enmeshed in the seaweed and dune grass. The rubbish is ubiquitous and the task of eliminating it as a threat both to wildlife and the aesthetic enjoyment of our coast is obviously Sisyphean. Several of the morning dog walkers routinely collect what they can, bringing bags for the purpose as their dogs gambol and amuse themselves nearby. It is, of course, a hopeless task but as they say, every little helps. And today, reports in the Times suggest that since the charge on single-use plastic bags was levied in British shops, there are indeed fewer in the sea around us.

Now that the holiday season is about to begin, to what there is already will be added the additional throw-aways of the tourists: the barbecues, the full nappies, the plastic water bottles, the buckets and spades, the bags full of dog pooh – so carelessly discarded. After the BBC broadcast David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II this winter, the population of these islands responded with horror when they saw the effect of plastics in the world’s oceans. Perhaps the corner is beginning to be turned. Let us hope that what we undertake really does begin to make a difference.

To learn more about nurdles, go to: https://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/

To read about the Isle of May in David Steel’s blog, go to: https://isleofmaynnr.wordpress.com/author/davidsteel2015/

 

 

Just one of those days

20170710_064337This morning, trundling along the beach (so far, so routine), it felt different. It was just one of those days: magic, despite evidence being to the contrary. Rather grey and utterly still; the sea quiet, and almost indistinguishable from the sky. A tide drawing ever nearer (by the end of the week, we’ll be watching our step), but plenty of sand still stretched ahead of us, and the waters themselves touched the shore tentatively, gently. Looking about, you might expect it to be chilly, were it not 14 degrees and so a good five more than yesterday, when the sun was bright and clear. Obviously, the clouds were on our side. The unexpected nature of perfection can surprise us; it is true that – often – we get what we need.

20170710_064625.jpgIt seems months, and probably is, since we left the dark morning runs and Kemo Sabe’s vital head-torch behind. It will be several months until they resume. Meanwhile we sustain an ever-growing number of holiday-makers for whom a morning such as today’s, and the deterioration in conditions which followed it, is usually a disappointment, deterring all but the weather-hardened from the beach, and crowding the coastal castles, their galleries, gardens, grounds and tea-rooms instead.

20170510_074634On such a morning, there’s a kind of hush, as though a great juggernaut has just past by, as visitors sigh and rest a while longer on their pillows, gathering their thoughts and changing their plans in the face of the weather forecast, while the locals quietly look about them, the veil lifted in the peace.  Above the kitchen window, some resident sparrows  – who’ve already raised one brood (pictured here) in their house-martin box – decide to mate again, committing themselves to each other for more weeks of tireless work, placing their faith in something bigger, and another day. Part of the joy of this area of England is the changeability of the weather, sometimes from hour to hour. Only this Saturday, it was sweltering and the place was full of folk. But this morning was magic and then the rain came, and the birds took to the mere, bringing the bird-watchers joy. ‘The Poet sees!/ He can behold’, as Longfellow writes:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!
The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.
From the neighboring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Engulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.
In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard’s tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!
In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man’s spoken word.
Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.
These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!
He can behold
Aquarius old
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
Scattering everywhere
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.
He can behold
Things manifold
That have not yet been wholly told,–
Have not been wholly sung nor said.
For his thought, that never stops,
Follows the water-drops
Down to the graves of the dead,
Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
To the dreary fountain-head
Of lakes and rivers under ground;
And sees them, when the rain is done,
On the bridge of colors seven
Climbing up once more to heaven,
Opposite the setting sun.
Thus the Seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change
From birth to death, from death to birth,
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
Till glimpses more sublime
Of things, unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
Turning forevermore
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.

The vicissitudes of life

 

20170221_130308A week of ups and downs; of Freddie Frankfurter and ‘Doris’ Day. Kemo Sabe laid low with illness; the weather swinging wildly between winter and summer, throwing everything at the country on one mad day; an enchanting encounter with our newest relative and me, your gentle author, in pain once again. What a week it is proving to be.

20170219_072818At first it was so extraordinarily mild. 16 degrees and still only February, we thought! Daily, the eggy dawn illuminated our morning run reliably once again. Truly, we have turned winter’s worst corner, we thought for, whatever the storms to come – whether rain or snow – might throw at us, we have regained the early morning light and our hearts swell to be united with it once again. Our high-vis vests and Kemo Sabe’s head torch have been stowed away until the depths of next winter. Leaving the house first thing takes a good ten minutes less than it used and, except for the muzzles, we are free to bounce on dunes we can see and clamber over rocks without fear. The wind careered forcefully, but warmly, from the west and we looked around and were pleased. That is, until I injured myself in that mysterious way of mine which nobody has ever witnessed and, hors de combat, I was left alone, at home, while the others got on with things. It is depressing and, indeed, I look very depressed by my incapacity. What is there to enjoy for a spaniel like me If I cannot run free and enjoy trundling again with the boys?

20170221_130429All of this happened after we said goodbye to our tiny nephew, Freddie, with whom I think it’s fair to say that we are all smitten. Maybe I pulled something playing with the fearless little chap on the floor. Nico couldn’t get enough of him,  latching on to his writhing form and arching his back with delight as the childish one gazed in admiration, fascinated at his size and similarity. The siblings and their little nephew have such a lot in common and look like a family. Beloved sister Tiggy watched on in dignified silence – utterly ignored – as did I, at the furious and fearless antics as Freddie and Nico rolled and darted and squirmed and chased about, their eyes only for each other. Come back soon, we say.

img_3tet8wStorm ‘Doris’ threatened us with snow but, in the end merely chucked a day of rain at us and some moderately high winds – miserable certainly but nothing terribly dramatic, unlike other locations, particularly to the west. The next day, by contrast, the sea had settled and the sun was out, crisp and clear the air. Our garden birds, as hungry and ever, waited for refills in the feeders, nyger seed providing the veritable flock of goldfinches we now entertain on a daily basis the sustenance they need to see them through.  Their plumage is wondrously bright, new minted, one could say. How wonderful to look and feel so well.  As for my poorly shoulder, or whatever it is, I will leave it in Kemo Sabe’s prudent hands, as it were. I have enjoyed some lovely meaty meals today, and extra biscuits, too, hand fed by her, as I lay prone and disinclined to put any weight on my left front leg. Perhaps another couple of days’ enforced rest will ease things up; if not, it’s the vet’s again, I suppose, and who knows what after that. How we long for ordinary times again.

 

 

‘No beautiful thing lasts . . .’

20160914_165238Carl Sandburg was right. Just look at it today!  To the left of these trees, Bamburgh Castle lies atop the Whin Sill wreathed in sea mist. Ever since dawn we have struggled to see familiar landmarks and, as the day dragged on, we saw less and less of the world as we know it, taking on trust what we believe to be there but is now utterly cloaked in murk. It feels miserably damp and chilly, despite it not being that cold. But it is one of those days on which all the landmarks shift and nothing is but what is not. The islands beyond the harbour have disappeared, the sun is resting and most of the seagulls are silent and thoughtful. The sparrows and tits got up late and have retreated to their resting places for most of the day, huddling together wistfully. The contrast with yesterday could simply not be more extreme!

20160914_170107Exciting things continue to occur, though. For the next ten days location filming for one of those big blockbuster films – Transformers: the Dark Knight – is taking place on the beach nobody but us wanted this morning. Just past six today, a crew was laying track and digging out the stream to carry cameras and equipment on to the dunes; wherever are we, the expressions on these men’s faces seemed to say. Around them the fog rolled and thickened.

To 20160914_165845think that one day soon millions  will watch the fruits of their labours on screens across the world; that we’ll be welcoming Anthony Hopkins and Mark Wahlberg to our familiar trundling-ground; that money will be made from making Oswald’s beach a place of action; that celebrity footprints will displace those who have gone before – the saints included – on this historic shore. And that tide after tide will efface them all as time brings in the darkening year. As for us, the closed beach (a first!) means that running towards the rising sun will take less time and, ironically, bring us into the light more quickly. A metamorphosis indeed.

 

Season of fruitfulness and unexpected plenty

20160907_122146The weather this last few days has been absolutely glorious and today the country is expecting somewhere or other to break the records for September heat: the hottest it has ever been this late in the year. Up here we have the paradox of Summer clasping hands with Autumn. Everywhere you look, there is plenty, bright sun and yet the feeling – despite everything – of emptying out. The arable fields have yielded their crops and along the newly-dug furrows our seagull friends do homage to the newly turned-over earth which has nurtured the cast-aside cereal they can fight over and enjoy. The roads are choked with agricultural vehicles bearing grain to the store beyond Bamburgh where it is weighed and dried. Just outside the kitchen window our vigorous fig tree keeps putting out more and more branches, bearing the tiny fruits which will never be ripe enough to eat; we are grateful for the tree’s optimism and fecundity, results which show that no effort is 20160907_122340ever in vain. Our apple in the front garden – far from ideally situated as it is overshadowed by several other lovely trees – is laden with rosy fruit; despite their size, they’ll be tasty and crisp, like last year’s crop. There are still plenty of colours out there, too. Though the wild roses have now finished flowering for good, their rosy-golden hips remain, both as food for the birds and as ornament to the world. The laden branches bend thoughtfully over the florets on the buddleia bushes, mostly brown now, and regularly dead-headed, but still a draw for the butterflies of all kids which have drunk from them hungrily over recent days. Nearby, other roses remain, cream and darkest pink; they will persevere for some weeks yet but their buds are increasingly unwilling to open, even when brought indoors. Several local families of swallows and housemartins are making the most of this Indian Summer, cascading across the sky and chattering wildly to each other as they gain confidence – and weight – when the majority, including our sandmartins, started their long journey in the mist and mournfulness at the end of last week. Thus, we are saying goodbye and good day simultaneously: things are different, but they are also very much the same. As Carl Sandburg wrote:

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.