When I was a kid I didn’t realise that some people didn’t live near the sea. The ocean was such a big and seemingly permanent part of my life that I just assumed it was the same for everyone. As I grew older, I learned that not only did some people not live near the ocean, but some had never seen the sea, heard the waves crashing, smelt the ozone or been chased by seagulls.
I appreciate now how lucky I am, and also how lucky my dogs are. A trip to the beach, literally a couple of minutes up the road from me, is certainly one of our favourite walkies. Merlin is a bit of a humbug because he knows – he just knows – where we are going and whines and barks in his car crate.
All my dogs love the water, admittedly some more than others. Merlin likes to wave chase, playing at being King Canute and turning back the waves. I think he is quite convinced one day the waves will turn back. Sparrow, however, after initial caution, now loves the sea and quite happily swims. Cadbury will swim too, but prefers a deep paddle so he can keep his feet grounded.
Over the last couple of years the beach has changed considerably due to coastal erosion. Vast swathes of the cliffs have come down, while new ‘mini-cliffs’ are being formed out of the shingle. While this is all completely natural, it does mean the paths I was familiar with have gone, and the cliff face is no longer covered in trees, but just a great wall of sand. The beach is forever changing, yet at the same time it feels wholly permanent.
Up above, on the clifftop, are the old war emplacements. Great concrete constructions, which are now tumbling to the beach. Some of them fell down a long time ago and make a great spot for a photo opportunity. Other more recent casualties are the ‘Do Not Climb Cliff’ signs put up by the local holiday park on their land. They now reside halfway down the cliff, further victims of the wild sea and the storms it can throw up.
One advantage of the erosion is the cliff has receded at a point where it was possible to be cut off by the incoming tide. That happened to me last year when I failed to notice the tide pouring in and had to wade through water which was getting alarmingly deep. The dogs were not best pleased, especially Merlin who had to be rescued from his perch on dry land and carried through. Now there is a lot more beach because of the cliff falls, and less risk of difficulties.
There is something so peaceful about walking by the sea. After a busy week, full of stresses and sad news, strolling the sand and shingle, listening to the water and watching the sun reflect on the waves brings a sense of restoration, of content, of balance. Somehow this landscape is old and new, ever changing yet eternal, and that strange contrast is somehow reassuring. I don’t think I could live far from the ocean. I need it nearby, I think it’s in my blood. My ancestors were fishermen, long attached to the sea. Salt water almost runs through our veins, along with a healthy respect for the contrasting nature of that sea and its whims and tantrums.
Often as I walk by the water I think about those people who came before me. Some drowned in that same ocean, others lived their lives upon it. I wonder what they would make of me and my dogs walking the shoreline? Would they recognise this coastline, even? That ocean is not the same ocean they knew, nor is it the same beach, or cliffs. Their homes have long gone, swallowed by the greedy sea, but perhaps they would understand the draw I feel to return time and time again to the same spot, to walk the same route and to stare out to sea. Perhaps that is another reason I love to walk near the ocean, because it connects me to the past – my past, my history. We all need connection. I am just lucky I have found mine so close to home.