“MAU KEMANA?”, yelled my Indonesian friend, as we watched a brown-skinned, long-haired and long-legged girl in a yellow floral sun dress stride purposefully by.
“DOWN TO THE SEA”, came the translated reply.
“Where exactly?”, said I, waltzing over, but relying on my friend to translate.
“Where the lands end, and the ocean meets the sky”
Extract from a book on travels overland, from London to The Antarctic, which I will write one day
I only thought it was me who had had that romantic notion, when I finally said goodbye to London in August 1993, to not stop when I got down to Dover but just keep travelling over land and sea until I reached the furthest point South, where the sun sets on icebergs.
That end point would be one where the only place further, beyond that cold grey ocean, is The Antarctic continent where night and day take vacations for several months at a time.
At the beginning of the trip, I thought that end point might well be somewhere off the coast of Stewart Island, a little known place in New Zealand and its unheralded third island. Little did I know there were other places farther South that I could dare go, and wonder where all land, sea, moon, sun and sky simply begin and know no end.
It was that simple lyric itself – where the ocean meets the sky – that had helped inspire me onwards, when I first heard it in a classic old Rod Stewart song. It made me wonder how I would feel if/when I could travel no further and had seen all that was possible to see on land – apart from under the sea itself.
It’s now almost twenty years on and I was recently reminded of that notion to see that Antarctic Ocean, with its icebergs majestically floating by, by a new young musician – inspired by seeing a sunset over a calm evening’s sea when visiting Land’s End – to make that same lyric the title of his song .
However, rather than make me think about how far I did get at the end of my travels all those years ago, I now realise that I am spurred on as much by thoughts of beginnings and what leads those few crazy others to take to the road or the sea like I have done. To “go walkabout” as they call it in Australia, or take a sabbatical as the academics like to call it here nowadays.
In the olden days, long before transport was automated and we could travel long distances freely, such notions would have been considered crazy – as there was a theory that the Earth was flat, not round like we know today, and that if one travelled far enough then one would simply fall off the end of it.
Yet some were just driven by the sun, and a desire to see where it went once it set. This is indicated by such things as the expression “go west“, meaning to follow the direction where the sun goes after it sets – but nowadays, perhaps ironically, it is more of a euphemism for someone dying or for something coming to an end.
One thing I have noted so far about the ancient British pilgrimage trails, on my travels this time around – including where I went down to the waters’ edge in Wales just recently – is that the ones in the West all seem to lead down to places where you can most appreciate the land, sun, sea and sky – but with little else to tell you why.
The one thing that many of the most picturesque stopping-off points seem to have in common – which I had started to realise in finding them myself on trails back in 1991 – is that there is often a Celtic cross marking the site of the sight where the Sun sets the best, especially in spring. Perhaps I was just fortunate in happening to travel then when it is most likely to be noticeable – but certainly this is something I intend to explore now in retaking these roads.
At the very least, Celtic crosses – which I have also come to understand as also being called the Sun Cross – make a great silhouette in a photograph. I was reminded of this when we got to St. David’s in Wales with the cross poised in the center of the little city there.
So the next time you are at a great seaside spot in Britain, or simply at a place where there are frequently great sunsets where the sun can be seen to sink beneath the sea, have a look around and see what I mean. It is just a little thing I’ve noted – and may not be significant at all.
I am not sure if it is my mind playing tricks with me but I do seem to remember when travelling back in 1991 that when I found one away from any church or formal settlement, then I knew that that was a place to go and see the best sunsets – especially when near a place with views out to sea! 😉