I know my little bit of the North Sea, Filey Bay, very well. I live a few hundred yards away from its edge. I have spent time beside it with my dogs for about eight hours a week during the last fifteen years or so and known it for a lot longer than that. It is always changing, always surprising, never ordinary, but I rarely think of it as dangerous. Those who go out on the North Sea know and respect it but for most of the time those of us who only walk beside it are blind to its power. There are plenty of days where it laps gently and in the summer small children toddle in it happily. There are even a few days each year when it could almost be a lake, turning over gently at its edges. A rough sea is not one which is dangerous, just something to marvel at. Only rarely do we get to see and feel its real power, the kind of power which can smash down walls, kill and destroy. This happens when a storm, accompanied by gale force North Westerly winds acts on a high tide to form a tidal surge, a rush of water which sweeps in towards the land with enormous force. The most terrible of these was the tidal surge on 31st January and 1st February 1953 which caused floods along the East coast of the UK and in the Netherlands, with damage extending into Belgium and Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes and an estimated 1836 people lost their lives in the Netherlands alone. It was the worst natural disaster in Europe in modern times. It doesn’t get talked about much in England but I was part of a Norfolk theatre project about it, back in the 1980’s, so it has always been at the forefront of my mind. Last night, as the light of a winter day began to fade, I was given a sharp reminder as, sixty years later, I watched the same conditions come together to produce a smaller but still potentially lethal storm surge. It was both exhilarating and humbling to see my familiar stretch of beach being ripped into as waves tore into the cliffs and toppled the sea defences next to the sea wall. The wall itself stood firm. It was built in 1893/4 by Victorians who knew a thing or two about large scale engineering projects and didn’t skimp.
Last night the sea was playing rough,
piercing the soft side of the cliff,
gouging holes in their fragile confidence
and replacing it with foaming water.
Last night the sea was chucking giant boulders
down from their battle stations,
spraying them with contempt
and leaving them for dead.
Last night the sea was lashing the slipway
with tongues of spluttering, icy water,
claiming its right to ownership of its land
by shooting volleys of spray up into a dark sky.
Last night the sea was making rounded balls of clay,
decorating them with pebbles
and rolling them out across the seabed
just for the fun of it.
This morning the sea is sparkling under a blue sky
pretending nothing has happened,
but out in the distance the horses of the storm
are rearing their defiance.
They will be back.