I realise that yesterday’s waves were nothing to write home about. When you can see the explosion of breakers showering sea spray higher than the shingle bank: when you can see spume carrying on the wind over the salt marsh; when you can hear the action of the sea smashing into the shingle from Bard Hill, then you have something to construct a letter around.
There are not just one or two places where the breaking waves throw up crowns of white water. The huge fans of spray are seen above the shingle bank at any point you choose to watch. The beach is being constantly pummelled. Encouraged by the following wind, the sea’s assault on the banks of stone defences shielding the low-lying flood plain is relentless.
At high tide, I am standing on the top shelf of the beach. This is quite close enough. I can taste the brine, feel molecules of spray landing on my face. My sunglasses begin to get clouded by the sea salt carried on the air.
The inter-tidal range this morning is 5.65 metres from highest to lowest tide. Here there are two high tides each day, so the sea will two big bites at the shingle today. Further along the coast to the east at Weybourne, incursions by the sea are common.
Where I am standing used to be the site of a popular seasonal café. The café was for many years a makeshift affair that then developed into a healthy business, even setting charges for car-parking. But the higgledy-piggledy building could not withstand the wintry rigours of the North Sea. It was badly knocked about on numerous occasions before eventually being submerged by shingle washed inland by a particularly vicious storm. Today, there is absolutely no evidence at this place of the old shack having ever existed.
To repair this shingle bank takes considerable time and effort. Huge yellow mechanical shovels, driven on caterpillar tracks, have to push the shingle back toward the waterline to restore this long heap that rises over the marshes. It is a thankless task. How much longer it is worth committing energy to this activity is a moot point.
Around the old abandoned port of Cley, now an inland collection of well-maintained flint and red brick cottages, there are newer, more solid defences. The River Glaven is heavily embanked and can be closed off from the sea by a new flood gate, but there is an increasing risk of inundation from the rising sea-level. How long will it be before the sea is again brushing up against the old quay?
The sky is bright blue. The rising Sun is still low enough to dazzle. The wind takes the temperature down close to freezing. There is a gloomy, deep grey cloud bank filling the northern horizon. An ominous dark watery wall envelopes the off-shore wind turbines. What looks suspiciously like a small snow shower drifts quickly inland in a south-westerly direction towards Blakeney and the port of Wells-Next-The-Sea.
The strong wind provides a kestrel a perfect opportunity to show off its ability to hold still in flight whilst hunting. The bird holds its wing position perfectly in the face of the strong north-easterly wind and stalls without any visible effort scanning the grass below. When satisfied that there is nothing worth hanging around for in one spot, the kestrel tips itself so that the wind lifts under its right wing and it lets itself be carried to the next likely site, a few metres downwind, where it returns to its previous pose, holding still in mid-air.
The sunshine belies the temperature. It is little warmer than yesterday’s dismal evening.
The combination of dry sunny days and strong cool winds off the sea ensure that Norfolk folk venturing outside become either raw, pink-faced or deeply dark tanned. Warm weather here starts when the temperature reaches fifteen degrees centigrade, but the skin tones of many local faces would complement any Greek island.
I spend a while watching the waves thinking about what into happen next. It seems that the first wave of the coronavirus has swept through the land. Deaths are still counted in hundreds each day. The Prime Minister’s pre-recorded, yet still incoherent address to the nation yesterday signals a shift in emphasis in government policy.
From being kindly accommodated here temporarily for want of anywhere suitable to live through this crisis, to where? I look out across the white horses to the fore-shortened horizon. For now, I am grateful to be here.
11th May, 2020