Covehithe certainly has the makings of a place that can inspire me. I spent some more quality time there today and even though I was tired and lacking enthusiasm before I got there I came away after hours of dawdling feeling calm and bright.
Most of the time the sun was out and in the late afternoon the shadows brought everything into high definition. I loved the feel of the place and the eroding cliffs and the remains of trees add interest. It’s a place where the sea it’s winning. You feel that she can have anything she wants, it’s just a matter of time. There’s quite a bit of evidence of broken brickwork and tiles so maybe houses have gone the way of the trees.
I have gathered loads of impressions, plenty enough to be getting on with!
Spent a few hours at Covehithe in the end. I got there after the top of the tide so could have walked for miles either way. It’s something I’ll have to remember, always check the tide tables. The water comes right up to the cliff edge each tide so it would be easy to get cut off. And cut off is what has happened to the land here! The rate of erosion is quite dramatic. There were large chunks of wheat field on the beach and wheat growing right up to the cliff edge, evidence of recent land slips. Talking to a fisherman I learned that not so long ago you could drive right down to the beach past the church and park there: not any more!
I think Covehithe Beach has the potential to be a special place. It’s a smooth sand strand to the north with just enough small stones to make you think you could press them all back beneath the surface. To the south there are more stones but it’s pretty easy walking. I think easy walking may be one of my requirements: however much I might love rock pools at least some stretch of meditative walking is a factor in all my “old” beaches.
It’s a clean beach too. The tide reaching the cliff base means little debris is left and the walk of what I guess must be a third of a mile from the nearest parking place puts off those most likely to litter. It has good views with Easton Wood to the south and Southwold beyond and, with the broad behind, masses of bird life.
I decided not to go to Holkham today after all. I realised that I didn’t want to spend 3 hours in the car today but I needed to digest yesterday’s visit to Shingle Street, do some writing and drawing maybe and perhaps do a short trip to Covehithe in preparation for a longer time tomorrow.
Yesterday I went back to Shingle Street for the first time in at least 15 years. It is so familiar yet strangely changed. The nature of single banks is it reflect the recent history of total action. The tide was high so I didn’t get any real idea off how the foreshore might be configured at present, but there was a spiral hook and island that wasn’t there last time I visited and the established beach seemed wider and had a greater covering of plants than I remember.
White line of whelk shells on Shingle Street
The weather was grey and damp (to downright wet) and the north-west wind was cold and raw, so I may not have fallen in love with the place had this been my first visit! Added to that the beach litter was mostly shredded ugliness. At first glance it seemed there was little flotsam on the tideline, but in fact the rubbish was composed of small pieces, mostly of plastics, as if the pebbles had ground everything up. The only natural forms were red bladder wrack, broken and ground whelk shells, a few jellyfish, the smashed skeletons of feathers, a few crab shells and the broken, dried seed heads of the crambe rolling like tumbleweed to launch themselves into the sea. The entire inventory of things I collected amounted to a square of wood toasted on one side, a couple of broken whelk spirals to remind me of the whelks, and something else black I can’t even remember now!
There was a human intervention that was delightful, and I understand that it has survived some time, which is a line of white whelk shells from the cottages to the sea: quite beautiful both close in and as a mark in the landscape.
I’m still digesting my feelings about the visit and the place, but I am starting to understand that context is important for many of the places I love or have loved. I can feel the pull off nostalgia at Shingle Street and a connection to the person I was and my hopes and dreams and fears and feelings, but I am a different person now. Shingle Street will always hold a special place in my memories, like an old lover or friend long out of touch, but I have new loves now.
I’m off to Holkham now: I wonder what it has in store for me?
Sadly I have not been able to keep up as well as I had hoped with this Tidelines blog due mostly to all the preparations for my recent Open Studios event. It’s also sad that I’ve not even been able to get out for as many beach walks as I would have liked, but I have been successful in incorporating many Tidelines ideas and influences into my work. Nearly all of the pieces I showed at the Five Artists at the Chapel in the Garden exhibition were Tidelines-related, and even some of my #Collage365 work is influenced by this project.
Now that show is out of the way I’m hoping I can return to the Tidelines process in a more concerted manner, hopefully towards the structured outcomes I originally envisioned. To that end I have made a start by visiting Suffolk and Norfolk over the next few days. My son and daughter-in-law have recently moved to Kessingland so I am fortunate to be able to visit them and use their home as a base to explore two “old” beaches – Holkham and Shingle Street – and a “new” one. Since seeing pictures on Fran Crowe’s site of Covehithe beach and getting her recommendation about it, I have been toying with including it as one of my “new” sites, but now I find myself in the next place up the coast it had become a no-brainer.
So today I’m going to pop down to the beach here in Kessingland to say hello to the sea (it’s only a few hundred yards away) then motor down to Shingle Street to renew acquaintances with that old friend of a beach.
With an hour or two to low water the foreshore at Cogden was as wide as I have ever seen it. This morning’s full moon has caused a pretty big tide for here and with the gentle seas of the last few days the tide has left a wide swathe of regularly shelving beach: all smoothed out, featureless and patted flat like sandcastle walls. There is even a zone at the top of the foreshore of hard-packed sand – yes, sand not gravel or grit – that allows swift walking or even, if you had a mind to, running. This meant I could stride out and get some much needed exercise. It also meant that I walked further than intended so my walk back along the debris line at the top of the beach took rather longer too.
Another piece of the discarded sign I found weeks back
The lack of vigour in the tides and the east winds not whipping up the sea has also meant there is very little new flotsam on the beach. Nice and clean, but not great for a beachcomber with a specific quarry in mind. Really there was nothing apart from an occasional larger pebble on the foreshore and even at the tip of that days tide there was little more – just a few clumps of whelk egg cases and some small pieces of weed here and there.
So my passage back was along the very top of the beach, scouring the old debris line for bits of aluminium can. I’m looking for some naturally cut and weathered pieces to try out in some artworks I am playing with at the moment. I found a few almost complete cans but nothing like I wanted. I am also collecting sea-rounded sticks that might work as pegs for a hat rack. I carried home a few possibles. I also found another bit of the sign the letter “p” of which is in my studio. I didn’t bring this piece home.
Whe we went out to West Bay the other day I was looking for a specific thing – some red, quite thick angling line. There was nothing on the beach at all and certainly no discarded fishermens’ tackle. It wasn’t untill I had given up and was almost off the beach that I found exactly what I wanted. Today it was similar: I had given up and was just stepping off the beach onto the track behind whenI found a piece of can and a few moments later a piece actually blew off the beach and landed in front of me!!
Red line and white rectangle. I love the way the line is all neatly wound but one end snakes off over a nearby white shape – just like some work I am playing with
It has been a while since I have been able to write here – I have not even been able to finish my last post or write about the other things I saw and experienced on my stay in Brighton or the artwork that is beginning to appear from the trip. I even have notes and images from a walk before I went away! Hopefully I will catch up with the salient bits in the next week or so.
I have been pretty busy with other things and I have set up a new Twitter account (@DavidSmithArt) specifically for tweeting about my work and the arts in general. That has quickly generated some interesting contacts, including an artist in Canada called Patti Agapi. She has begun a project to create a small, abstract collage every day for a year, which has inspired me to emulate her. I am a few days behind her but started today and my feeble efforts can be seen at Scissors & Glue.
And of course my home beach has been the subject of acute media interest as the star of ITV’s crime thriller “Broadchurch” and it is to that very stretch of coast that I have been today.
East Cliff, West Bay
I think it was something about the light – grey and diffuse but not too dull – that made the cliffs seem even more massive and monumental than usual. They really did seem to bulge with the heaviness of the recent rains: pregnant with landslips. It was quite clear that there had been some falls today, with rocks having made visible tracks as they rolled down the sand, marks that hadn’t been erased by the tide. There was one large boulder freshly fallen quite a way down the beach, shattered fragments on the wavecut shelf at the foot of the cliff from first impact still bright and unweathered. These recent falls really impressed on me that there are far more rocks littering the base of the cliffs that there used to be. I was quite shocked. The quantity of rock has grown without me really taking it in.
I’ve been staying in Brighton both as a birthday holiday treat and to gather information and inspiration for my Tidelines project. Yesterday I revisited my old haunts along the coast from Brighton to Rottingdene, but today I visited the first of my “new” sites, Cuckmere Haven.
I chose Cuckmere Haven because I read an article about it in a newspaper where the author clearly felt it was a hidden gem. Perhaps they felt the same way about the place that I do about my special beaches and so that would give me an additional way to look at the place maybe. Of course there is the iconic backdrop of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head behind so it was ripe for a bit of investigation. I checked it out on line and on maps and it seemed like it could provide some magic.
Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven
So today we drove to have a look and to be honest I was not sure where we should park to most easily get to the beach on the west side of the Cuckmere river. None of the maps and sites showed access from the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre (it was only last night that I discovered that Ordnance Survey Get-a-Map doesn’t work on Android!) We had a little drama when we turned off the A27 to find the road was closed at Alfriston: but the diversion took us past the Long Man of Willmington so there was a little bonus for our trouble. So when we reached the car park at the visitor centre we decided to check our options. We saw we could walk down the road and take a path on the west side of the river and decided to park up there.
It was great to walk along serenaded by skylarks and with excited expectation, but distressing to see the amount of rubbish – clearly flotsam from high tides coming well up the estuary and salt flats. It was sickening to be reminded of the lack of care we have towards the environment. The path had not that long dried out and become packed down, smoother in places, by passing feet. A week earlier and I suspect we would have been in sticky mud. We saw plenty of Canada geese, oyster catchers, egrets, pochard (an informed guess at distance) and a species of wader that eludes me at the moment, but I was surprised how few birds there were really.
For my first impressions and my evolving thoughts about some of the ingredients that are becoming clear in what makes a beach special for me you will have to wait for another post as all the walking, taking in visual stimuli, good food and wine has exhausted me.
I am pleased to be progressing with my work on the Tidelines theme and I have been in the studio the first three days of this week working on some pieces about chaos and control (my favourite theme!) inspired by Holkham and the ever unique interplay between sand, tide and wind (with a bit of Cogden thrown in).
Now I am looking forward to a few days in Brighton, with a trip to Cuckmere Haven. This few days away is my birthday treat from Sally and we will meet up there with my daughter, who shares my birthday and is exactly half my age this year.
This trip will mean I can revisit one of my important seaside places of the past and my first visit to one of my chosen “new” beaches. I can’t wait to do some work there as well as have a nice break. I just hope it doesn’t rain too much.
Last Thursday I went for a walk along Hive beach and found there was hardly a tideline at all: the sea had been right up to the cliff base and taken all the debris and swept it down to Portland or buried it under a carpet of fine gravel. Even close to low tide the wind was propelling the occasional finger of foam right up the beach.
Really the only things I found were whelk egg clusters and numbers of pieces of drink cans ripped apart by the sea and shore . The tin can pieces dance east, driven by the wind at a pace I can’t keep up with walking. I have grown quite fond of these ragged bits of aluminium and am thinking I may do more with them.
Battered drink can on Hive Beach
I caught it up later
I walked a little way on to Cogden Beach where the tideline was messy and mostly composed of battered wood and reedy weeds. I didn’t see any dead or injured birds. It was only when I got home that I started to hear about the terrible problems that guillemots and razorbills faced from a slick of as yet unknown pollutant. It looks as if commercial greed is the culprit again: most likely a ship illegally flushing its tanks.
It was quite a shock to feel the strength of the wind when I turned to come back. It was then that it became important to tread lightly and save my energy.