Sands of time and tide on poetry walk at coastal nature reserve
Take a Bronze Age burial site, add a tsunami from Norway that saw off Doggerland, fossilised tree stumps, and tales of Grace Darling. Plus wonderful birds making the most of a reclaimed opencast mine site, and some fine, atmospheric poetry. These were the inspirational ingredients for a poetry walk around Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Hauxley nature reserve on the North Sea coast on Saturday.
The walk was conducted by Northumberland poet and author Paul Mein, who has just been named the trust’s first poet in residence. Before we started our walk he confided that “this is a bit of an experiment” and modestly added that he was “no wildlife expert”. But he would be encouraging us “to look, to listen, to smell, and to take in the atmosphere”.
Pauline, a trust volunteer, accompanied us and provided us with tips and info about some of the birds we could see from the hides – greylag and Canada geese, shelduck, goldeneye, lapwing, oystercatcher, and heron, to name but a few - while Paul concentrated on reading his poems inspired by the area at various stopping points during the walk.
We were in sight of the lighthouse at Coquet island, a mile from the coast at nearby Amble, where Grace Darling’s elder brother was the keeper. Paul told how famed 19th century rescue heroine Grace once rowed down from her father’s own Farne islands lighthouse to Coquet island, up the river Coquet for a picnic, and back to Farne, all in the same day. He also read a poem, titled simply ‘Grace’.
Another poem, set on Hauxley beach, “backlit by a lazy sun”, mentioned nearby wind turbines and “a Don Quixote landscape”. Another beach poem talked of how “once in a blue moon at Hauxley” freak tides revealed “Doggerland rocks”. He also conjured up “petrified footprints” from that long-inundated North Sea land that still wait to be discovered.
Paul spoke of the tsunami from Norway that swamped Doggerland, and of fossilised trees found to be from even further back in time. We saw the stumps of two of them near the wildlife trust entrance. We also viewed the burial site thought to date back 4,000 years beside the trust building, that was recently uncovered and is thought to have been preserved for so long by sandstorms.
One of Paul's most touching poems, ‘Tide’, begins with these deceptive words about an often violent relationship :
I love you, the sea sighs,
tender for a time.
I love you too, the rock replies,
lullaby safe, ripple soothed.
At the end of the walk, helped by tea and coffee, we were invited by Paul to jot down a few lines inspired by our walk, which he intends to turn into a collaborative poem. Out of curiosity, I asked how many of the dozen or so people on the walk were already poets. Four put their hands up. But it seemed as though everyone was keen to contribute some words, if not whole poems.
An impressed Paul promised to circulate the poem he would put together from our jottings. His collection The language of sands contains a number of poems that he read on the walk - and his next guided tour of the Hauxley reserve, part of a local string of such reserves after mining ended in the area, will take place on 9 March. PS There are quite stunning views of birds on the nature reserve waters from the trust's Lookout cafe. Entry is free, although donations are welcomed, and there is a £2 parking charge.