The sea theme stayed with us as we crossed over the magnificent Severn Bridge into Wales. From having been stuck on the M4 motorway all the way from London, suddenly you are aware of the coastline because, as you drive further into South Wales, you can see it or it is just over the horizon, hidden by a high hill with a steep cliff on the other side that occasionally gives way to a beautiful little bay that you can drive down into.
Follow that coast road and you will sometimes find a beach – and, in Wales, even one with sand rather than the stones or pebbles that are more prevalent on the English coast-side (apart from a few places in Cornwall) – as well as a town with a place to get a decent coffee, and a cute port complete with nice colourful sailing boats and great architecture. In Tenby we were lucky enough to find all three!
Getting to the sea-side in Britain is not a big deal by comparison with other nations – one day’s ride by car in most directions and you will end up at the sea. The only exception being if you head directly up the centre of the island from London and strictly do not veer left or right at any stage.
Still, it surprised me when I first came to London back in 1991 to meet people who had never seen the sea (except perhaps on TV), nor indeed travelled more than ten miles radius of where they had lived their life to date.
With one particular family I found myself showered with a box of designer English brand tea and shortbread biscuits when I hired a car and took one teenage lad and one twenty something lass down to see the sea from Brighton pier. Perhaps ironically, they were friends of a girl from the East End who I had met in Australia – and the goods were ones from the export company that the Dad worked for.
For me, seeing the sea at least once a year is almost a necessity. Admittedly it is the appeal of nice, sandy beaches as well as picturesque ports with nice boats moored in them that makes the sea- or port-side appeal, as well as sitting out on the sea-front watching the waves and the boats tossing each other about. That classic tune, Sitting on The Dock of The Bay, sums it all up for me.
The amazing thing with Wales is that some ports are so tucked away from the main bay, such as at Solfach Solva, that you can see how the place would have been great for smugglers – but also for hiding the smaller boats of the English fleet from the large galleons of the Spanish back in the time of the Armada.
Going out on the sea itself is another matter however – and, on this first trip to Wales, it was to see at least one of the little fellers shown in the following photo that we thought we would make the 20 minute crossing from Dale across to an island bird sanctuary called Skomer Island.
Although it was not exactly Sea Fever that got us out to Skomer Island that day, I do love the vibe of that poem by John Masefield (as shown below) for capturing the will that simply seeing the sea can instil to travel further, and beyond the immediate land mass one is on. Certainly the pilgrimage trail we discovered seemed to lead right down and along the water’s edge – but then where it went from there was unclear.
So, for us, it was more a case of sea further rather than sea fever that led us to talk to a local former sea-farer who, as it just so happened, owned the cottage where we stayed and had many tales as much as theories about where the tracks went to and where the pilgrims would go once they had decided to leave the land. However, for this blog’s sake, here is Sea Fever for helping to get the idea:
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)
I later learned that the teenager subsequently went and got his driver’s license – and was the first one in his family to learn how to drive.
Was it the drive down in the car to Brighton or simply just getting to see the sea that changed his life?
Certainly it was something from that one experience that was a defining moment for him and affected him and his whole family in how they were so happy about it afterwards.
Perhaps sadly, I never stayed in touch and so cannot find out what it was that made the difference for him – yet I still believe an experience like this, in seeing or doing something for the first time (and beyond one’s “comfort zone”), makes for more than just a holiday – and is something we should all do at least once or twice in our lives. Even if it is just to see the sea…