"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Suffolk coast

The Suffolk coast is my home. This thought struck me, incongruously, halfway along a 3 week walk through the Nepali Himalaya in 1997. On the other side of the planet, surrounded by huge mountains, I suddenly understood that if I have a home anywhere it's on the flat east Suffolk coast. This wasn't homesickness: I was having the time of my life. It was simply that I suddenly understood what Suffolk meant to me.

My mum and her side of the family came from Suffolk, and when my brother and sisters and I were growing up we spent lots of holidays on the coast there:

It's difficult to explain why this coastline has such a deep hold. Family connections and childhood memories are a part of it, but it's more than that. Somehow, over time, the place itself finds its own way into your soul.

Andrew Hurst, in his introduction to Carl White's book of photographs of this coastline, puts it well:
All counties are old; but Suffolk gives us age that resonates. To reach the coast one drives for some time, or takes a train with changes to branch lines, passing through rich wool country with its prosperous Cathedral churches and its Constable pasture and woodlands. At last, after the confines of car or carriage, there comes the long walk over pebbles that steal your stride and make you work - really work, if laden with kit or children - before you come over two or three heavy drops to stand on the shore and watch the big waves crashing in and hiss away in retreat over the stones. Here is the big sky, the vast sea, the buffeting wind and mile after mile of shore - bending, curving, rounding, but going on and on to the unseen horizon.

This is no sun-spot or fairground attraction; there are no warm blue sea or crystal wave - yet for many it is the best coast that we know in all seasons, the most compelling, arresting and awe-inspiring. It dwarfs us, soaks us and chills us, yet it is hard to turn away from[...] It tells us [...] that we are small, insignificant in the end, and only here on terms that are not our own, but part of something which we cannot really comprehend. And this sense acknowledged, realised so gently, can leave us happier, cleaner, reappraised and refreshed, in ways a hot-sand beach never could.

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