These are rough notes, made during a walk on 4th May between Aberlady and Dunbar with Hannah Lavery, Sheree Mack and Roy Moller. When we agreed to do this, to celebrate the launch of the CoastWord programme, we had no idea if it would work as a piece of writing practise. It did. During each leg we took notes, photos, tweeted and chatted, read to each other what we’d written. It was a lovely experience. It resonated with my take on Kenneth White’s ‘geopoetics’, with numerous renga sessions, and my enjoyment of writing in the company of other writers.
Heart urchin tests, barnacled whelk shells, ancient oysters, clams, Venus shells, giant cockles, razor shells, the circular depressions in the wet sand where you pour the salt to make the spouts pop up, Laminaria saccharosa, unless its name’s been changed, ripples where the last tide flowed, played fast and loose with sedimentary grains, worm casts ejected as we watched, sand hoppers on the dry sand, the multi-coloured plastic tidelines, a dead gannet at North Berwick, wings folded back as if killed mid-plunge.
Cherry blossom in the garden
by the bus stop. Gullane,
however you pronounce it,
a good stopping-off point.
The Zen of waiting.
Down from the B&B
with baby David, joined
by friends with their own
for a picnic, sheltering behind
the basalt pillar. The wind
blew sand in our sandwiches,
which is how they got
The gannet-whitened rock
juts out of the sea. From here
you can’t see the prison ruins,
nor St Baldred’s cell, but
the wind carries scents
and sounds, messages
Crushed shells underfoot beside
the volcano’s plumbing.
Rusting pipes from the disused sewage system
emerge from the sand, head out over the rocks
to the sterilising sea. Yellow lichens
stain the black rock. The sea,
blue since morning, now gone grey.
A three-legged dog runs past –
one two, one two, one two. Four silent writers,
looking for words.
the noises from Rosa’s firetruck.
A hut, a shelter, like the cortals
built by medieval shepherds
in the limestone lands
A place of safety, refuge, refugia,
for conclave or conventicle,
the space formed
by the multiple trunks
of the Ormiston Yew,
where covenanters would hold
their services, en plein air,
free from ecclesio-political
Growing things, the wild ones in the Lady’s Walk by the old mill ruins, and the deliberate things, selected for specific places, in gardens. An Osteospermum outside a North Berwick house, the white petals so bright, with a blue tinge suggesting it would glow in reflected UV light – a beacon to bees. The name means ‘bony seeds’, but we didn’t check. A tulip redder than any red has a right to be, selected, bred from its tiny predecessor in the Middle East or Turkmenistan. We take from the wild, exaggerate, customise, and that’s fine, but it’s good to go back to the wild sometimes, to see what wild can become when left to itself. Like everything else, wild changes in unpredictable ways, turns into a different wild.
Spaced out along the beach, the writers sit, each on their own personal; patch of sand, but together in this place, this practise, like the big rocks in front – The Gegan, the Bass, the May Island, St Baldred’s Monument at the end of the promontory, where I once rashly walked out in an unnoticed rising tide, and had to wade back, with a face reddened equally by the sun and embarrassment.
But that was a good walk long ago, on a fine October day, from Peffer Sands at Tyningham to Seacliff, and back again, not long after we moved to East Lothian and discovered its hidden treasurelands.
Today it’s another fine day, with the hardy teenagers in the sea, where I wouldn’t venture without a wetsuit, old softie that I am. Here’s the smallest harbour in Scotland, allegedly, and today there’s a boat in it. I think about St Baldred here, being rowed out from Auldhame to his monastic cell on the Bass, with his meagre stores of flour, oatmeal, salt, and of course, his Bible.
On the point at Winterfield, start of our last leg, waves splash on the rocks below. In Belhaven Bay the gannets are circling, looking for shoals, and terns skreek overhead, that sound of theirs so impossible to set down in words that I won’t even attempt it. Oh, I think I just did, but self-contradiction’s only human. Martins and swallows swoop low over the trimmed grass, and a series of buzzing notes from my chest pocket announces that my phone has picked up a signal from somewhere. Who wants to tell me something? Who wants to sell me something? The golfers have sunk their balls behind us, and are moving off to hit them somewhere else, with that sound that’s also impossible to set down in words. A sort of metallic ‘pink’? The vocabulary of sounds is so limited, and it’s hard to avoid metaphor. We usually have to define them by comparing them with something else, but that’s not enough. I need a translator from birdsong, naturesounds, into language, from the sound of the sea into poetry.