Come unto these yellow sands

20160506_070626Yesterday was, for us up here in the extreme north east of England, the first really lovely day of early summer. After a few weeks in which winter’s temperatures returned with a vengeance and, whatever else was happening with that light in the sky, it remained cold and windy, yesterday we all felt we had at last crossed the boundary between one climate and another. Today the sun’s warmth fulfilled its promise, rising cheerfully and posing charmingly above the islands and the sea. What wind there had been had dropped overnight, maybe to a 2 or 3 on the Beaufort Scale (there was no shipping forecast on the radio this morning, so Kemo Sabe says we can’t be sure); the beach was deserted, the tide a way off, the rocks revealed and the sands as comforting as the beams which warmed them.

On such a morning, as we all gaze in wonder out towards Holy Island and Cuthbert’s hermitage on Inner Farne, blessed beneath such an expressive sky and such promising light, sparkling with possibility, it’s not hard to see why this place has a magnetic quality and transformative power, too. One’s imagination fills with words from that poignant creature, Ariel, about how the sea brings home its riches, some of greater worth than others, to such a shore as this. The famous words are sung here as they were at Stratford for the RSC in 1978 by the much-missed actor Ian Charleson, with music composed by Guy Woolfenden, who died only recently and whom we will always remember for bringing the songs of our favourite famous poet and dramatist to life in memorable and unique ways.



Berwick-upon-Tweed to Whitby

20150926_065912The sea is tentacular today, the kraken stretching his arms in restful joy out towards the Farnes as hardly a breeze moves above the surface. And thus it was predicted and thus, it is predicted, it will remain for the next few days. Things are settled, and high pressure apparently reigns in Dogger (where under the sea, a forest shows there once was land). How reassuring; like a blessing!

Every morning, at 5.20, we listen to the Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4.  There is something almost prayerful about this routine. Overnight, the boffins at the Met Office have prepared detailed information about the waters surrounding the British Isles and, as the day’s broadcasting begins on Radio 4 proper, the listening nation looks out from the land towards the sea and, in its imagination at least, considers those who must contend with the vicissitudes of the sea.

Map from Wikipedia

The endless miles of the watery main are divided into shipping areas, with names like Bailey, Trafalgar, Malin, North and South Utsire, Fitzroy. You can learn a lot from them not just about the wind you’re likely to be battling on the beach, and how far out you will be likely to see to the tankers advancing towards Norway but also about the geography and history of these islands and, with a little bit of extra work, the history of our relationship to the places just beyond our shores. We all attend to this daily liturgy with especial interest, particularly when it comes to Cromerty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger:  for there we find our little coastal community on the cusp of Forth and Tyne, once so heavily fished by massive fleets but now mostly the preserve of the lobster pot brigade.

The Shipping Forecast is a national treasure, often selected by castaways on Desert Island Discs; its ritualistic rhythms, as well as its inherent importance to the thousands who must go to sea, is both homely and reassuring on the one hand and curiously thrilling, on the other, particularly when gales are predicted and our minds race to those who must decide whether to turn for home or stick it out in the hope of a bigger profit and more food on the table. For us, today will be settled, with a variable low wind, mainly from the warm south and visibility is set fair. Who could object to that?

If you would like to hear the forecast broadcast this morning, when it was still dark up here in Northumberland, please go to this Radio 4 web page: