Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A map drawn in water

I've been away.  Where?  Everywhere!

As part of my job, I'm required to spend a month going round the UK.  We're doing some marketing with the companies we want to work with, and the university students we'll be working to help.  It's just me and my colleague Paul, and I've got the task of planning the entire thing, from where we'll park right down to where we'll sleep.

This is both hugely stressful and inconvenient (as will be away from my home for the best part of a month, and doing lots of work in the evenings), yet also very exciting.  It appeals greatly to my sense of adventure, and I'm intrigued to see the parts of England I haven't thought to visit before.

This sculpture at Roker is based around the idea of navigation.  The centre encircles the lighthouse, while the constellations are picked out around the outside.  Appropriate.  And good to sit in.
 We're travelling the length and breadth of Merrie Englande in an obnoxiously orange MINI which I, being a few weeks shy of the age needed to go on the business insurance policy, don't have to drive.  This suits me fine as I'm a terrible city driver anyway (I'm too polite) and it means I get to look out the window a lot.

Although most of our stops are whistle-short, it's often enough to get the taste of a place.  What I'm enjoying most so far is seeing the different geographies of Britain.  Since I don't have to drive I can stare out the window a lot.  There's so much variety, but one commonality in it all...

One thing that's really struck me are the rivers.  We're mainly visiting universities, which means cities or large towns.  While some of the biggest ones like Leeds and Birmingham make me a bit tetchy (I'm not a city girl) what I am noticing is the omnipresence of water.  It flows through every city we've been to, causing an annoyance to building planners, necessitating the construction of ancient and innovative bridges, meandering on it's way largely ignored by much of the population.

That last fact is the most interesting to me, because of course it was only the presence of running water that allowed those cities to spring up in the first place.  Water for drinking, washing, growing crops, transporting goods.  All of this came out of those rivers, and later the canals.  They seem small.  Most of them can be crossed by bridge in less than a minute.  Since mains water became available we've not needed our rivers so much and they've become a recreational feature at best, an annoyance and litter tip at worst.  But the map of our country is a map drawn in water.  It was why we settled where we did, and no doubt it'll be there long after we leave.

Although on the south coast it's not hard, even now we're in the north-east (Newcastle down to Leeds) I seem to have an unerring knack for finding us places to stay that are a stone's throw from the sea.  For Plymouth I managed to book us into a B&B above a dairy farm in the tiny village of Down Thomas.  Despite it being pitch black I took myself for an hours walk down to the tiny, golden-sanded Bovisand beach.  It was a lovely walk in the end, although a bit hillier at the end than I expected.  I saw dozens of bats in the gloom and, briefly, a tawny owl quite close to me.

Driving between Devon and Dorset, Paul and I passed Lyme Regis and, lured in by the title 'Jurassic Coast' which has us very excited about dinosaurs, we stopped for half an hour to swim in the cold May sea.  After a long and tiring day, it was the perfect remedy.

In Brighton, despite it blowing a gale, once again I couldn't resist the urge to walk barefoot in the surf.  I got us the cheapest rooms I could find, which turned out to be on the seafront by the pier.  My room was tiny, but I was thrilled by the sea view.  I sat in the window to do my work that night, watching the waves churn as the light wind became a howling gale and whipped up the surf.

Every time we're in a coastal town and don't get a chance to glimpse the sea, I find myself very disappointed.  It may just be that I'm used to never being more than an hour or two from the coast.  Or it may be that there is something entrancing and terrifying about the sea.  The magnitude of that body of water is still baffling and unnerving to me, and I like how it makes me feel my proper size.  The little breaking waves I paddle in are just the brushing fingertips of an immeasurable ocean that could crush me in an instant.  That may sound morbid to you, but I find it oddly comforting whenever I recognise something greater than myself.

We are an island.  Saltwater runs through our blood and our heritage, even if sometimes we forget.

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