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.
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?