THE PULL of the sea is strong and necessary in my life. I am a terrible sailor – my stomach starts to heave before I even leave the harbour – but the compulsion to be BY the sea, to smell it, hear it, feel its rhythmical,mighty suck, is ever powerful. Sometimes I might only get to the coast for a day or two a year, but even that does the trick. It plugs me back into myself somehow, and into some deeper, murkier undercurrent, a force that lies at the basis of being: of consciousness itself. It’s a measure of how unwell I have been recently, that, for the whole of 2015, I never once got to the sea.For the first time in my life. Not once. How did that happen? I am sure I suffered from the lack of it. And there was a restlessness that could not be conquered, until this week.
Since the start of 2016 – I have been manoeuvring to get to the big water at last. Top of the list for my ‘Wild Wednesday’ expeditions has been the sea, the sea, the sea. But for weeks the foul weather has stopped me in its tracks. Wind, gales, and endless rain.
Finally, this week, I made it. Cheating somewhat, by replacing Wednesday with Easter Monday, I set off with my daughter for Filey. Filey is our nearest seaside resort. Compared to the wonderful Whitby, further up the North Yorkshire coastline – a jaunty historic fishing town with high cliffs and wild seas, and the added cachet and bite of being Dracula’s “birth” place – Filey is, well, a little tame. A rather obedient younger sister. Keeping herself in check. The beach is wide and open, the sea is calmer. There is a promenade up top, complete with flower beds, and a tidy greensward with benches to sit and look out from. Not entirely my kind of thing.
But, further up the same beach, louring more bleakly overhead, is Filey Brigg: a higher, scruffier terrain altogether, with coastal walks, teeming wildlife and a pleasingly uncultivated air. For years I avoided Filey, thinking it too tame. But I was wrong. There is wildness here too. The sea is a liminal space. Whatever it laps against onshore – however seemingly serene the inland vista – the water will always win out.
So it was this time, as we walked along the shoreline, picking up pebbles, hearing the distant swell of the tide, laughing at the antics of tiny children and assorted happy dogs, as they cavorted their way through a mercifully calm and rain-free afternoon. Behind all this was something that could not be tamed. The primitive scent of danger – that the sea always provides.
When my daughter was tiny, and her father was still alive, we took holidays by the sea, in the traditional fashion.And I never saw her happier, or more free: jumping in the shallows, digging sandcastles, peering into rock pools at the strange little worlds within, oceans in miniature, timeless, oblivious. Further back in time, still, when I was in early pregnancy, I had weird and disturbing dreams every night: of deep sea creatures, swimming and swirling through my brain, of a prehistoric, subaquatic amoebic world, far more powerful than the one I woke to each morning. I know I was pulled there, by the mysterious new life that was stirring, deep in my own body. And I have never had dreams like them since. They pulled me to another place. Being at the water’s edge does a similar thing. The first and most profound stage of evolution: this deep water takes us back again and again. To the sea inside, the sea inside.