I have decided to keep a journal now as well as my blog so that I may better chart my progress as the book develops and grows. To help me on my way I bought a small recorder (Dictaphone?) that is more than proving its worth. Little more than four inches in length and about one-inch-wide, it is a miracle of modern technology that can hold very many hours of dictation.
So, at7 o’clock this morning under leaden skies, I slipped it into the pocket of my waterproofs as I set off for a morning walk. It is but a short drive to where I begin my coastal walk, Fifteen minutes in the car and I am parking up in the village by the old church where I was married so many years ago.
From there my walk takes me through the village, past cottages heavy with thatch. White walls, oaken door and a thick roof jutting out over small windows like the brow of some forgotten Neanderthal, they are charming, but one suspects, hardly practical. A mile further on, and a narrow lane lined with gorse takes me down to the cliff-top path and a view over an estuary that is a grey reflection of troubled skies, a mirror, its surface cratered with falling raindrops.
There is little of spring’s promise about this morning, the sun has been absent for many days now, still, at least there is no wind to drive the rain and I can look out from the hood of my Gore-Tex cocoon to the rain-shrouded distant headland that is my goal.
We used to play on these cliffs, and the fields that back them, when I was a boy. My school chums and I would get part of a tarp to throw across a low branch – or a tent that some lucky boy had received for his birthday. Then, with mother’s permission, an old blanket made a groundsheet and the feather quilt from my bed, folded, made a warm sleeping bag.
With whatever food we could beg from our mother’s kitchens – or steal from an unguarded pantry, we would camp here at the weekend. Sitting around our campfire before settling down for the night, many a light was seen out on the flats. Back then the mudflats and sandbanks of this estuary were infested with smugglers and pirates. They attacked our camp on many occasions, leading us to post guards on the cliff edge so that we could sleep in safety – or at least until tired eyes brought the guards in to the tent and comfort.
Today there are no pirates or smugglers, nor childhood friends; just me, the rain and seabirds that swoop and whirl overhead in a beautifully-choreographed aerial ballet. The path is almost overgrown, everywhere fresh shoots amongst last years growth – grass swishing against my waterproofed legs, the odd drop of water finding its way into my trail shoes, cold, but part of what being here is all about.
Into a small wood now, dark with old oak, the branches heavy with rain. Leaves tipping under the weight of water, their content falling in large droplets to plop, plop, plop on my hood. Then the land falls down to flood plain and salt marsh, Marsh Samphire here in plenty in the season, slightly salty but when smothered with butter and served as an accompaniment to sea bass – the taste is sublime.
That rivers meander is obvious in this place. The river that once pounded against the cliffs during autumnal gales now runs ever further south of its old position. Mudflats are now colonised by Spartina grass, turning mud into meadow.
All too soon the ground begins to rise again to the headland, the lighthouse and an old church where my car waits for me. Time to slow to short, reluctant steps as the end of my sojourn approaches, time to take out the little recorder and back-to-the-rain, put my thoughts into an electronic file to be listened to later at my desk.
My walk is never enough – just five miles in which to remember the past and plan the future, then home to a hot shower, coffee and something to eat before I sit down at my desk and begin to write…
‘I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.’
Hilaire Belloc – The South Country