I take two buses to reach the coast, and when I get off I’m within sniffing distance of the sea. The sun shines, but it’s cold. A chill wind circulates around my neck, slips in a cold finger. I wrap my scarf around my head and neck and pull up the jacket zip.
A few people are walking dogs on the beach at Spittal. The waves rear up, tip over, rush up the sand.
I walk along the promenade and then follow a path that climbs up to the cliff top and continues alongside the railway. The path is muddy and to avoid the little craters filled with water I go close to the cliff edge.
Some of the rocks below, splashed by the waves, are layered like carefully planted bricks, like the ruins of some building, but it cannot possibly be that, no-one would have built a house of rocks beside the water, yet it persists in looking like an abandoned dwelling, beloved perhaps of mermaids or lobsters, or even perhaps, some smuggler’s hideout long ago, when people did not walk on cliff tops, when there was no railway and no viaduct spanning the valley entrance to this sea port.
Cliff headlands are made of red rock. There’s a long ship out at sea, near the horizon, but it’s coming closer. In the small bay far below, receding waves streak the sand with lines of white foam. There are a few yellow blossoms on the gorse bushes.
The sun has been behind clouds but it emerges for a little while, throwing a line of shadow over cliff and sea.
A small bump on the horizon, like a ball of string, unrolled from the coast, is Lindisfarne. The length of the connecting string gleams pale gold in the sunlight. It always seems as though the sun shines in some distant place on the horizon – that’s the allure of elsewhere.
I stop and drink the coffee I brought with me. The miracle of the thermos flask. When has coffee tasted so good?
A warning hoot, a humming in the train tracks and then a train hurtles past.
Walking back, the sunlight catches the little town of Berwick, clustered round the sea.
The big ship has crept closer
and there’s another one, anchored in the small bay, filling it entirely, dwarfing the buildings round the sea wall – houses and church and small bridge. The graceful rail bridge, on its stilt arches, lies further back, bleached by sunlight, merging into the duns and browns of landscape. The mighty ship is called Aldebaran. The other one is just nudging into the harbour as I walk past.
Although the light has changed since the solstice, the birdsong has changed, and we hear the preparatory trills of birds responding to all the changes that come from the sun’s course and light, it is quite dark by the time I get off the bus and walk home. It’s a clear night with no moon, but lots of visible stars. Orion leans on the horizon. And just above him, the constellation of Taurus, with the Pleiades and the bright eye of the bull – the star Aldebaran.