This is my bay, and my beach. I say my bay, but of course I don’t really own it. Only in the sense that I owned Vermeer’s The Milkmaid when I stood there in the Royal Academy looking at it for so long that I began to see the milk that she was pouring move. It is mine because I have been spending time on it for almost all of my life. For the past twelve years that has meant about eight hours a week with my dogs. My house is close by so I am rarely far away even when I am not standing on it.
I first saw the bay when I was about eight years old. You could hire and ride horses along it then and my early holidays were spent saddling up and taking other visiting children up and down the beach on a leading rein all day after two hour rides cantering through the surf. It was magical- although my heart sinks now at the thought that I did it all without even a riding hat. When I wasn’t on horseback I was walking around with my head down looking for stones, shells and fossils. I would find tiny jellyfish and watch them glow and vibrate as they swam their way around my bucket. If it was a very low tide I would search out my dad when he was digging for bait and steal a razor clam to set free. They would put out their white foot to dig, slowly tip up, and shoot downwards into the soft sand like a sinking ship. I spent hours reading in a deckchair next to my mother, huddled up against the wind and never got bored down there once. These family holidays continued to be part of my summer right up until the time that I eventually came to live here and I never wanted them to stop, no matter how many other places I saw and loved.
This beach is a fine place for sorting your head out, especially when it is big and empty at low tide. I have gone down there, upset, angry, grieving, rejoicing, uncertain, excited or in love and I have always found myself working my feelings out along the waters edge. There is something very soothing about the calm straight line of the horizon and the restless, repetitive movement of the sea. One of my favourite poems by e e cummings sums it up perfectly. “Whatever we lose, like a you or a me, it’s always ourselves that we find in the sea.
I’ve seen the bay in all weathers during the years that I have lived by it. When there is a thick fog at low tide I can’t even see the cliffs if I walk out to the surf. There is only sand and sea, the world fades to grey in every direction around me. To be out there alone on a sharp bright winter day under a huge expanse of sky with cloud formations rushing over your head at different speeds is breathtaking. On a wet blustery day I can see that I am going to get soaked long before the approaching storm cloud reaches me as I watch it circle round out at sea with a soft shadow of rain under it.
The light changes through the day too. In the early morning, if I am lucky, the sun sparkles on the water and lights the clouds from behind as if they were a stage set for the seagulls. All day the light constantly changes and shifts on the sand and the water to give endless variety. The cliffs glow pink at sunset and after dark I can watch the flashing of Flamborough Light and Brigg End Buoy and admire a pale trail of moonlight on the water. The sea responds to the weather and the sky. It can be still and welcoming, or full of breakers rushing in at speed with white horses out in the deep water catching the light, dark and grey or a light shimmering blue. Even the sand has its moods, soft and friendly making a perfect summer playground or vicious and wilful, stirred up by a winter wind, whipping round my legs and stinging my face.
In autumn, winter and most of Spring I am usually down there alone, free to amble around looking at the flotsam and jetsam, turning round slowly or staring into space. Sometimes if the beach is dry and clear I run with my arms out and my eyes shut, just because I can. On busy summer weekends when the sun gets out I have to behave myself and fight my way through several hundred people who park themselves on the sand with tents, windbreaks, digging equipment, inflatable dolphins, endless amounts of food in polystyrene containers and hunker down while their children forget how sophisticated they think they are and lose themselves in digging, paddling and running. There are ice creams, chips, strange dogs who can’t believe their luck, balls, bats, random shouts, even whole conversations carried away on the air, rugs, kites and towels. All this is swept away come October and the wading birds are safe to march up and down again, reclaiming their territory. The dogs and I do the same. It is my beach after all.