Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking
6th September – warm in the sun, occasional rain, by Maxim Griffin.
Waving off my wife as she pulls the car round and back down the knackered track. It’s warm out. The sun still has some force behind it, best put the hat on. The tide is out at Saltfleet Haven, exposed creek mud riddled with wader traces. To the south, the epic reedbeds and outer marsh of Rimac and north, Donna Nook and the jaw of mighty Humber. Saltfleet Haven sits as a dune protected spit for smaller fishing vessels. As a boy I used to come here with Mum and Dad and they’d buy crabs from a bloke. Going back a bit further, the haven was used as a muster point for the armies of Edward I on their way to fight William Wallace. There’s no one about today though. Just estuary birds and the lull of slowly moving water.
Over the dunes and walking north – a few very distant ships a long way off, waiting on the tide – the turbines on the Ravenser sandbank visible – they must be huge – directly North, the lighthouse at Spurn – Yorkshire! Between here and there, miles of weird, silty creek and an active bombing range to navigate.
As is always the way, I let one plan turn into another – the debris of the shoreline is too interesting – rather than chomp miles, only to arrive at Cleethorpes, I look down for a long time. Patches of shingle on very fine sand – a baseball cap that looks to have spent time in the sea – a large orange drum – ruinous lumps of wood and metal, bit of ships perhaps – pocket bound pebbles and shells, good keepers and better skimmers – it’s a very happy way to spend an hour or so, indexing the edge of the sea.
The snout of a very dead seal sticks out of the sand – desiccated – the look of one of those mammoths that emerge from the tundra. For the next mile or so the high tide line is well decorated with bones – seal ossuary of sorts. Breeding season is not far off, there will be thousands of them here in the coming weeks. A whole spine laced in blue rope – fin joints – part of a skull – many ribs – a child’s shoe with pirate motif – spent shotgun rounds – dried seal skin, looks like black astro turf – more ribs and spines.
I plonk my rucksack down and fetch binoculars out. There is something rather thrilling about viewing a landscape through a good set of binoculars – pulling focus and panning around, one becomes a sort of film director. I pan around – 180 degrees – oh, the red flag has gone up over Donna Nook – are they expecting company?
Somewhere in the distance, someone is walking through the haze – that strange, glassy glide of a person miraged. I look for a long time, heat bending light over space. The distant figure stops, maybe they are looking this way – perhaps, I hope, I have become their mirage and that my light is being bent across space to them – maybe I’m walking the strange, glassy glide.
The tide is turning – medium-sized boats are approaching Humber – a huge blue one somewhere off Spurn occupies my mirage vision for a minute or so – rippled light, reflections and shadows casting confused shapes – pulling focus with the binoculars but such is the haze I can’t read the letters on her hull.
There is activity at the bombing range. Figures on the edge of dunes. A 4×4. Rather than make a target of myself, I move away – I’d rather save Donna Nook for another time – over the winter perhaps, tracer fire in the dark.
There’s a front of weather coming from inland – slate grey cloud cliffs – and rain to the south in sheets somewhere off Mablethorpe. Time for something to eat – I’ve a tin of cock-a-leekie and a suitable vessel to cook it in. Scrabbling the dunes for small fuel. I don’t need much, a couple of handfuls of big splinters should do. While I’d never go full Ray Mears, it is good fashioning a small fire for lunch. That squall isn’t going to help matters though – the wind picks up to skit sand fast at ground level. Blasted in the face, I turn and cover my several attempts to getting the flame to take – eventually, after an embarrassing number of failures, I have enough heat to deal with the soup. In minutes it is done, and soup is taken – the palm-sized fire is soaked and buried in the sand – have a care and leave no trace.
Bigger rain. Collars turn. Walking back the way I came, up the dune to the tip of the haven. At first, I thought it was a tyre – a curling, black hulk on the sand: a very large and very dead seal. Rank bloated and maggoty – teeth bared into a death snarl, the whole beast twisted, sea swirled, gull bitten – it’s like a Francis Bacon painting.
Moving on, I take those good skimmers I picked up earlier and head to the edge of the haven. Twenty minutes until my wife returns. I skim. And I shall take this opportunity to relay that during this skimming I cast a perfect skimmer. Seven clear bounces over the water and into the marsh beyond.
At the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the boy John Franklin used to walk from Louth to Saltfleet Haven to watch the big ships and dream. He later made a name for himself in the Navy, got himself a knighthood, became governor of Tasmania, and led the Erebus and the Terror to find the Northwest Passage – he never returned. I like the big dreams of the boy Franklin and I like that he came here to dream them.
Dust kicks up on the track and my wife rolls into view as the rain turns from big drops to hammering – a squadron of geese heads east up the creek.