I’ve always loved John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever; it’s opening line of
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky
has an urgency about it that I understand too well. But the second verse:
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
makes me feel like the tide is running in my very blood. I’ve spoken often to others of my hiraeth or “blood-remembering” of a certain place from my childhood and I’ve spent a few days there working this week and this verse just sums it all up really.
I’ve also discovered I’m becoming more interested in birds than I ever thought I would be. I know so very little about them and this area of North Wales is fabulous for bird watching, so for once I looked up and realised how ignorant I am about the seabirds wheeling above my head. As a child I thought seagulls were just generic grey and white avian waste disposal systems for getting rid of the fish and shellfish trimmings from our summer fishing excursions! Being there in late winter and spring means I see different birds because of migratory and breeding patterns and it’s piqued my curiosity. It’s really hard to take pictures of flying birds with a point and shoot camera when you’re standing on a headland in strong winds just attempting to keep your feet but I had fun trying! It was so breezy the gulls were flying backwards…
Some of the birds I recognised gave me a real thrill. There are always the super common Herring Gulls and rarer Great Black-backed Gulls (and in summer Kittiwakes) but it’s many years since I’ve seen a Cormorant. We used to see lots of them when we went out along the coast in the boat mackerel fishing. As a child it intrigued me how they would stand on the cliff faces holding out their wings to dry. A black arrow darting over the waves made me follow it’s path from my perch on the rocks and sure enough this Cormorant alighted amongst the sunbathing gulls on a little rocky island and arranged it’s wings in the way I remembered. I was really pleased I’d remembered to chuck my little camera in my bag (I was only on the way to the shop!) and zoomed it as far as I could.
I could hear Curlews mewing overhead – we have them around our home here quite far inland so they aren’t strangers to me – but thanks to the dazzling sunshine I didn’t realise until I uploaded the pictures that I’d caught a blurry Curlew on camera too.
I saw my first ever pair of Oystercatchers standing on the shoreline below the house but I was as surprised to see them as they to see me and they’d taken off before I could grab my camera, seeing these was a big bonus even if I didn’t get to view them for more than a few seconds, both wading and in flight.
Other birds I saw but couldn’t photograph were the Ravens that the area is named for, Choughs, Arctic Terns and although I couldn’t absolutely swear to it, a Manx Shearwater swooping over the surface of the waves – it’s late enough for them to have arrived certainly but although I thought it was a shearwater I wasn’t certain. Next time I’ll be armed with a bird book too!
Mundane things like popping to the shops to fetch milk are hardly chores when you’re running over the headland and along the beach…
And there was a fair amount of the flung spray and blown spume certainly.
The scent of seaweed was mingled with the sweet honey tones of blooming daffodils and gorse on the headland warmed by the sun
Back at the cottage I was hard at work stripping away years of neglected overgrowth and brambles, I worked solidly whilst I was there and slept like a log with the sea air and physical exertion but still found time to pause to eat my meals and have my coffee breaks sitting in the sun. Sun warmed stone at your back, a glorious view, bracing sea breeze, good coffee, SeaSalt chocolate and knitting. What more could you ask for?
Especially when your knitting colour coordinates with the landscape…
Not all the birds I spent my time with were specific to the coast. The hedges were teeming with garden birds familiar with back home, robins and all the usual Little Brown Jobs were squabbling over the bugs I was turning up and I shared my lunch one day with a super tame blackbird. I thought I was imagining it to start with but as I watched it wobble and dip on the wall I realised it actually only had one leg.
As someone who has dealt extensively with amputee animals in my previous job as a vet nurse (and my own rescue dog is missing a limb) I’m intrigued by how animals cope in the wild with missing limbs. I’d have thought that this is a disadvantage that would shorten life expectancy quite considerably where survival of the fittest is key in a harsh environment. However this cheeky chappy seemed to cope incredibly well and I suppose the mild climate helps provide easy feeding most of the year. He wasn’t scared of me and after a few minutes hopped off the wall and down onto the weed covered patio at my feet. Like my three legged dog he seemed to have worked out alternative coping mechanisms to deal with challenges and whilst it’s a good idea to stay on your feet (foot!) and keep balance by dipping your wings when danger is around, he evidently felt I wasn’t that scary and soon settled down on the ground on his tummy whilst he got down to the serious business of turning over leaves and debris to pick up worms. He was obviously quite full already as after a few minutes the sun was making him sleepy and he started to nod off and his eyes closed. I slowly stood up and moved into the house to fetch my camera, sure he would be frightened off by that but he was fine with me creeping around and I was able to take pictures of him and whisper to him for some minutes before he decided to casually mooch on somewhere else.
I just hope I see him again next time I’m there!