Over Easter weekend 2015, I decided to cycle from Barnstaple (Devon) to Bridgwater (Somerset), wild camping (and, as it turned out B+Bing) along the way.
I might elaborate further on the trip in the future. But for now, here are some thoughts I had in Minehead in Saturday evening as I watched the flow and ebb of the tide.
* * *
I’ve walked along the waterfront, from Butlins on the eastern edge, to the west end in the shadow of North Hill. Behind is the RNLI Lifeboat Station, and I’m sat on a trailer for towing boats.
Further down towards Butlins, the beach is sandy but here it’s all pebbles: grey, purple and violet, smoothed to irregular shapes.
Along the shoreline to the left and right stand two fishermen, spending as much time looking behind at the wooded hill and playing with their equipment, as out to sea. A couple sit on a conspicuous shelf of concrete, which seems to be a dried dump of cement; pebbles from the shore embedded within.
I like watching the tide. A good deal of my childhood was spent in a village that is “the second most inland place in the UK”, according to my mother, though my dad is from Grimsby. The waves crash at rarely a foot high. The larger waves work further up the shore, and as the water recedes, the rocks clatter loudly, as though a smoker is taking a rattly inhale before the next crest blows in.
Sometimes the pebbles don’t rattle, the old smoker missing a breath.
I wonder: is the tide coming in or going out? After several tiny waves, I conclude going out, only for another large wave to come in, confounding me.
It’s seven o’clock, and the sky above the western horizon of the sea is golden. Wales, seen through the haze, is basking in sunshine, too, including the large power station; its smoke a barely-percepitble grey smudge.
Why are coastal towns so often furnished with sculptures? In Aberdeen, the harbourside paving inscribed with poetry, a sort of concrete poetry, or perhaps better: granite poetry. In Leith, Anthony Gormley’s frozen, rusted anglers-without-poles stand stoic.
Minehead, too. A pair of giant galvanised hands wrestle with a corrugated map, marking the start (or, depending on proclivity and angle, end) of the South West Coastal Path. Even this deserted trailer upon which I sit (a sort of sculptural memorial itself) sits three small pebbles placed upon one another.
In front of me, 100 or so metres out into the water, two structures I recognise but don’t understand, protrude from the surface. Two seagulls and a crow stands sentinel atop. A large ship approaches from the east, perhaps an oil tanker from the Avonmouth refinery. It floats in languid light, the same golden sunlight that has long been hidden from this sheltered section of harbour.
Maybe this is why sculptures seem so plentiful on the coast; a desire to make form from the unending fluid of the ocean. Tim Ingold asks of his undergraduate anthropology students to visit Aberdeen beach, and to the consider the nature of place, space (though he’d never utter that word), emergence, surface and form.
In short, looking out to sea we saw a world in movement, in flux and becoming, a world of ocean and sky, a weather world. […Apply this way of seeing to the land, and] it is the solidity of the ground itself that is thrown into doubt
Ingold, 2011, pp131-132
So sculptures: more than just an attempt to fix the sea, but to fix the land too. Perhaps seaside dwellers are used to flux and dynamism: waves, coastline, rising rivers, supermoons, spring and neap tides, rain, fog, wind, but as well as seeing this in the sea, it is seen on the land as well. Groins and piers for the sea; sculpture for onshore.
It’s getting cold, and my thirst needs slaked – so to the pub. But before I depart, I look again at the pebbles in front. The couple have left, but in their stead, a neat stack of eight or ten pebbles. And yes, now I’m sure: the tide is coming in.
2011, Ingold, T, Being Alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description, Oxon: Routledge