Before relocating Jean Sprackland realised that she would miss the beach she had walked for a couple of decades. So in her final year she paid particular attention to her stretch of sand. It makes an engrossing read.
I have vague memories of a stretch of sand down Southport way, after the BB pitched their tents 40 years or so ago. It’s flat, very flat, and the tide doesn’t just go out; it disappears. So the sand is waterlogged, and weather patterns bring changes to what may be unearthed. It is that stretch of coast that is the focus for Strands – A Year of Discoveries on the Beach.
There are barques and brigantines; wrecks that are here one day, gone the next, reappearing sporadically after years beneath the surface, victims yet to the storms that brought their end.
And there is plastic. 46,000 pieces of it, for each and every square mile of the world’s oceans. Take a moment to let that sink in. From bottle tops and pen caps, burst balloons and ‘disposable’ lighters, condom rings and wrappers and tampon applicators. It’s all there; the detritus we leave behind or cast off our decks, entrust to the plumbing or whatever.
And it enters the food chain, in tiny pieces that look, to sea creatures, like plankton, little chips from Barbie dolls or ‘disposable’ razors. These nurdles are known as mermaid’s tears to surfing fraternity, bringing illness in their wake.
Sprackland sprinkles words and verses through her texts; words from Robert Macfarlane and Kathleen Jamie among others, tempting me to read Findings once again. And she takes us to other places. We head south to the Gower, and the mysteries of laverbread. And we delve into the world of the Cunard Queens, though only to the third class dining room, with a teacup, 50 years old, washed up in perfect condition.
And there’s footprints, there would be, in the sand. But these are no ordinary prints. They are Neolithic, of aurochs and red deer, and man; sealed in the sediment and revealed, briefly, thousands of years later; a glimpse at a world that once was, like cave art.
The beach sings too, with the skylark and the herring gull with it’s gales of manic laughter -that’s Mark Cocker again. And a dead gull rests above the tide line, with carcases of sheep and seals, the occasional minke whale, and much more beyond.
Its a world of messages, and of course there’s one in a bottle, opening the door to conspiracy theories everywhere, and to the Golden Record aboard the Voyager, in search of other planets for another 40,000 years. The Lusitania spawned a few, and we’re off on another quest, to track down a family, or nail a theory.
Aside from reading Findings again, Sprackland has me yearning to head to the beach, but to do so with my eyes and ears open. My mind too. There’s much more than a walk in the sand, and I enjoyed it for that.