Monday, 25 February 2013


reproduced with kind permission from Jackie Morris

Not only do people come here to admire the sunsets and snowbuntings. But also to course hares. At night. The 'sport' is to send dogs chasing hares across the fields. Once killed, the hares are strung up on the barbed wire at field gates as trophies.

With March coming, we'll feel the resulting decline even more keenly than we have during the winter months when often they'll hop out of the dykes onto the road to zig-zag in front of the headlights, partly to confuse the preditor, and partly due to being dazzled by the beam.

One of the calls of spring is their running ragged circles around and around the fields, across the saltmarsh, chasing each other like kids. They run so closely, tagging tails, almost, I've mistaken them for labradors, seemingly so large. And of course the more famous image is of them on their hind legs, rearing up to a height of a small child, boxing.

They're a popular subject for paintings. Symbol of our meagre wild. But art rarely captures the lean energy of the creature: their scrawny bodies, wide ears, and that lope of theirs when they're poking about the fields. Their image is often domesticated, made more cuddly than they are. By far my favourite artist of hares is Jackie Morris, above). Part deer, part fox, solitary and metamorphosing colour through the year, hares have a mythological quality. More often than not, these portraits sadden me: sport three - art nil.

The hares around here, I'm told, are unusually large for brown hares. The exposed flatlands perhaps necessitate a tougher build. When not playing centre field, they keep to the dykes and hedgerows, warmer, sheltered lines. Despite being able to run upto 45mph, their young are more exposed to machinery and digs because they nest above ground. Plus their reaction to danger is to freeze.

The salt marsh is the safest place for them. No one would want to set their dogs chasing across their with its irregular sump holes that could so easily break a foreleg, or two. Their colour matches the grasses perfectly. And the tufted scape means their silhouettes are not so obvious. At least to human eye.

Apparently the hunters come from Manchester and Barrow, this being one of the last places around the NW to find so many hares. What really irritates me is how stupid these coursers are. Not only in an ecological sense, but for the sustainability of their own pleasure. Erradicate the hares over their ability to reproduce and bang goes that entertainment. The farmers don't like the hare coursers because of the danger to their cattle – startled, the cows and sheep can easily fall into a dyke to drown. £1000 lost per cow (the police have a rural officer dedicated to overseeing the area, contactable on 101).

Late last summer a guy knocked at the door, asking who the landowner was here. I told him various farmers and asked why. He was from Manchester and had a marsh harrier he liked to exercise by picking off unwanted rabbits. He was about three weeks too late for our infestation (either a fox or mixy had beaten him to it). I haven't seen him again and suspect he didn't meet with much luck – either permission-wise or rabbits.

Just last week we met a hunt on the lane. A pack of about 20-30 dogs and the same number of huntsmen/women. Red jackets, black boots, whips, the lot. Lambing time seems a odd time to allow a hunt on the fields round here. They said they were 'scent-hunting'. I didn't ask (I should have) how they controlled the dogs to divert once the scent grew strong and close. How can they?

It's the first hunt seen around here within the living memory of my neighbour Ralph, who's lived here for 88 years. I hope it'll be at least another 88 before they're back. Blatent or shady, I don't know which hunt is worse.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Genius Loci

taken by Bob Parkinson c 1950

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind." said Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

And when you fall in love with a place, rather than a person, there's so much more evident history and physicality to excavate and obsess you, to occupy mind and body as you connect with it and understand it more. It is inevitable through action, perhaps, to grow roots into the present and history of a place, attempt to preserve those and shape its future. And I suspect I'm more shaped by being in a place than I am by being with someone. There is a larger force/presence there. A greater, more constant physical interaction between myself and place. Is it this physical connection that feeds the deeper one?

I moved here two years ago, and before that cycled here regularly for over ten years, and before that, when I was twenty-odd, cooked up a dream to live in a lighthouse. I suspect this is the nearest I'll get to that. No light except the one in the channel is here now, but the cottage remains on a slightly elevated piece of land, and despite having been partly washed away once, is standing tall, if crooked, still.

Apparently the first keeper, Frank Raby, built the cottage when his family out grew the four rooms below the wooden light. He built the stone walls straight from the inland room, and when he'd gone so far realised he was about to hit the road, so cornered it slightly to accommodate the size he wanted. It was only one storey then. More children (or grandchildren perhaps - the family was here for 100 years) gave rise to the second storey.

I discovered this last year when I met Bob Parkinson, who lived and worked this and then the replacement steel lighthouse until he was 29 years old, for the first time. I'd wondered why it had the odd bend ever since moving in. The solving of the mystery didn't diminish my feelings for the place, rather generated a deeper sense of knowing it, of carrying (if unable to share) its history. Giving me a stronger sense of connection. I grew up in a house that was built by my great grandfather, lived in by my grandparents and parents. I think this experience has sharpened my attachment to 'home', attuned me to wanting to know a home's history.

Bob came round the other day. Maybe the stamina required to live here before double glazing and central heating, when the lights still needed daily tending and self-sustainability wasn't so much a middle class lifestyle choice as 'what you did', has ensured his deep attachment to the place. Exposed to whatever weather whistled off the Irish Sea, bolsters the dependency between whoever lives here, and must increase the value of 'home' faced with such ferocity.

But I think there is more to it than practical allegiance between people and stone and cement. I think it epitomises our animal need for security, our scenting a nest. Out here, in the barely changing landscape (up until the recent drastic change in sea temperature/level), the changes we make remain evident for longer. Bob's life is set in the earth, walls, outhouses, path and imprinted deeper, as I bear witness.

We walked around the house and then up the garden while he pointed out where the garage was; how the fish house was sunk below ground to keep it cool; where the lighthouse ladders hung on the seawall for easy access to the light; how the washhouse was larger then than now and the pig they kept in it; where the well was and how their water pump had pipes into and out of the house, with two troughs to collect water from; the shed he built for his motorbike; the new stones where the house had been washed away, rebuilt and reinforced. 

As we wandered, his walking stick as airbound as earthed, I drank his memories, nodding like some chick being watered by their parent. In the larger scheme of community, he is the parent. I am carrying the (non-genetic) baton of place. While I grow vegetables, a blackthorn hedge, prune the apple trees, wipe the moould from inside the house, I am also learning about the house, the Rabys, Bob's time here in comparison to mine, alongside mine, almost as mine. 

Beatrice Parkinson, Bob's mother, was celebrated by Pathe News (below). Bob's role of lugging paraffin oil and lighting the lamps before or after school was overlooked for the sake of the 'newsworthiness' of her being the only femal lighthouse keeper in the UK, I suspect. But no place can be fixed as one person's. We all have the responsibility to light its beacons.

Monday, 11 February 2013


It is the time of geese migration. Earlyish in the morning, hundreds, thousands of them sweep and honk across the farmland towards the bay. I always hear them first, always think 'what's that?' then look up, away, and spot their blurry bent line a mile or two across the fields. They don't stop here, which is maybe a good thing, but disappear into the opposite side of sky.

There are a number of ways people disturb the birds around here (and therefore me): sending dogs onto the sands, regardless of the waders out there, or maybe because of them; humans walking out towards them isn't much better, just slower; quad bikers hoon over the sands of Sunderland Point, which affects not just the birds but the integrity of the sands; every so often we have a couple of paramotorers hanging about overhead, low, slow and noisy noisy; yet things are far worse at Spurn Point, where they're struggling with the pros and cons of windfarms built across migration routes, and the news has gone quiet on what caused the vaseline coated guillemots and puffins on the south coast.

Birds do stop here, braving the human invasion, polluted mussel beds and warm water from Heysham power station. Plovers (happy to be corrected, they're always a distance away) fly low over the water's edge, usually in bright white contrast to the surrounding grey sea, and flash in that fish-like way of turning to vanish, the entire flock, out of sunlight, then cut back again into view, in the same clustered form. Mesmering. As are the lapwings that will suddenly fling themselves upwards, like ash catching on the wind, in some telepathic agreement. The herons, only poke about at low tide it seems, so are always too far away to awe at. Unless I accidentally send one up from a dyke at a field edge, its pterydactyl wings sending me back to some ancestral time of my deep imagination.

I'm not a birder or twitcher (although they come here in numbers, last time for a dowitcher), just easily gobsmacked, snared by beauty and happy to crank back my neck and gawp.  

Monday, 4 February 2013

Car Park

I'm not talking painted bays or a three storey... This car park, before it was a car park, would have been a bicycle park, and before that, a farm track leading to a field. Although I wonder if it ever was just a track.

Visitors would have come here when the lighthouse was built in 1847 (with compensation money from the railway company that built the bridge further upstream so finishing Lancaster's career as a port). The lighthouse marked the channel to Glasson Dock, just another couple of miles upstream. As well as a marker for boats, lighthouses also act as beacons for landlubbers to walk to, acknowledge as journey's end, land's end and leave.

It is still is a farm track, one that bellies out just above the shingle beach/marsh opposite the lighthouse. A slither of gravel, puddles, broken bricks and silt. A beauty spot. Tyres and feet keep the field verges back.  Despite the wind-hammered fence posts, every so often either broken in half or at skewed angles from the ground, the wiring keeps most of the cattle in the field - apart from a sheep or cow each year or so.

(The cow that appeared last summer lay bloated on the beach for a couple of days before it was hefted away. A sheep, the summer before, rotted down to bones still strewn amongst the marsh.)

I like the car park. I like the improvised nature of it; that the farmer accepts the tradition of visitors coming to look at the waders, lighthouse, sunsets; that he doesn't seal the road so the pot holes grow year on year (you wouldn't park there in a car with low suspension); that what has drawn the visitors also brings crap to threaten its beauty; that it is locked every night to give the oystercatchers, dunlins, lapwings, herons, curlews, godwits peace from the walkers and their dogs. On low tide at sunsets the birds are all out, calling come here, go away, come, go ... as if they've pulled out whistles, horns and tooting streamers for a nightly party, I'm univited to, somewhere just beyond, low, in the dusk. An invisible avian metropolis, diminishing with the marsh year on year.