Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A Day of Two Halves - South Walney Nature Reserve, June 16th 2018

photo of Marram Grass near the Groyne Hide, South Walney Nature Reserve, 
copyright Geraldine Green

*** Delighted to have this article accepted for

It was a day of two halves. Set off from home around 8.45am amid squally rain, wind, wind, rain, more squalls and did I mention rain? … headed off to  South Walney, Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Nature Reserve that lies at the very southerly tip of Walney Island, northwest England. I was leading a full-day outdoor poetry workshop - oh yes, us poets do crazy things! And I’m thinking: will anyone turn up? Well, if not, I know I'll enjoy myself at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Reserve, whatever the weather flings.

Waiting for the tide, Lighthouse Bay Hide, 16.6.2018, copyright Geraldine Green

People did turn up. Poets I know from other workshops I run, mainly my monthly Write on the Farm ones. They came from Bolton, Rhos-on-Sea, Ripon, Sedbergh, France (by way of Grange-over-Sands) and Kirkby Lonsdale, with apologies from writers from Warrington, Kendal, Richmond and Lancaster.

Each of us had a tale to tell of the cattle we'd met on the track as we drove in. A herd of 60 or so, fine looking cows, frisky calves and a magnificent bull, complete with brass ring, that stood rock-still on the narrow road to the reserve.  Bellowing, frisking, ponderous older cattle, wind-excited youngsters.

Would they bother us? Should we be concerned? In a moment of synchronicity the farmer turned up in his Landrover, to ask if Sarah the Warden of the reserve was around. She wasn’t, but a couple of other staff were there in her place. I took the opportunity to ask the farmer if the cattle were umm friendly? “Couldn’t get a gentler lot of cattle than these” he said… well, ok!

Piel Island, Castle and seals, 13.8.2018 copyright Geraldine Green

I’d planned the day to coincide with the high tide of 1.50pm, knowing from past experience that grey seals swim into Lighthouse Bay, but which I call Seal Bay, to fish and play on the incoming tide. We gathered around in a huddle of over-trousers, waterproof boots, kags, hats, gloves, flask of hot drinks - yes, for although it was 16th June, sweeping rain and wind pouring in off the Irish Sea, plus the misty sea-fret, made for a chilly day.

Tide slowly making its way into Lighthouse Bay, 16.6.2018 ... copyright Geraldine Green

I pointed out sights they could see if it wasn’t so mist grey… over there’s Black Combe, in front of it BAE Systems covered nuclear submarine dock, to the right of Black Combe lie the mighty Scafells, right again, when it’s clear, you can see Dow Crag, Coniston Old Man, Fairfield, Kidsty Pike, Pen-y-Ghent, Heysham power station. I stopped. Faces turned towards me silently said ‘yeah yeah, we believe you’.

So we set off, heads down into the wind. I’d planned a series of stopping places, ‘point to points’ where, if the weather had been clement, we’d stop, read a poem, then give writing prompts based around place and poem. For example, Katrina Porteous’ poem ‘Dunstanburgh’, ‘Yellow-Horned Poppy’ by Vicki Feaver, ‘Sandpiper’, Elizabeth Bishop… however, as it was a flinging down morning of horizontal rain, we ploughed on to the hide overlooking Seal Bay.

The tide, a 9.6 metre, would fill the small Bay this hide overlooked. But, as it was still early on and the tide yet to come in, we discarded wet clothes, got out binocs. and cameras, opened the hide windows and peered out through mist and rain.

You could see Piel Island, ghostly ruins of its Castle, see hundreds of oystercatchers to the right of the hide, down on the marsh grass and sand that would be covered with tide later on.  And, over on the long shingle spit, where later seals would haul out and rest, were the cattle, rain-blurred silhouettes. As the bay filled, one by one came the bobbing heads of grey seals. Look! There’s one! Oh, see, there’s three of them over there! Want to borrow my binocs.? Thanks. Yes.

As the sea came in along the, at first narrow channel in front of us, a bellowing came from the cattle on the shingle spit. First, the bull gave voice, loud, urgent… his bass notes taken up by cows. They must know the tide’s coming in! We said to one another in amazement. Then it was a forget the seals, look at the cattle crossing from shingle spit to mud bank below us….

Cattle crossing! Copyright Geraldine Green, 16.6.2018

… in an unhurried, yet purposeful, fashion they wended their way down the mud bank on the far side, into the incoming tide, only hock deep, so they were fine. Then, sedately, cows and calves plodded up the mudbank towards us. It was like watching a documentary on wildebeest. The bull watched then took up position in the centre of the herd. The calves were skittish and leaped through the tide like pups.

photo copyright Geraldine Green, 16.6.2018

One cow with her little white bull calf went a little more to the left of the stream of cattle, where the water was deeper. Well! Her calf bounded as if it was on springs through the tide. Tail up in the air, to the other side.

photo copyright Geraldine Green, 16.6.2018

It was a primeval, ancient sight to witness, the bellowing, splashing, determined plod up the mudbank… and us knowing that across Morecambe Bay is Heysham Nuclear Power Station, Onshore Gas stations at Barrow, BAE-built nuclear powered submarines, wind farms, and, round the corner from Black Combe, Sellafield. And there’s us, witnessing the procession of what poet-farmer Jane told us were Beef Shorthorns, and yes, thankfully docile.

The tide came swiftly in. Cattle safely processing back down the track towards the nature reserve centre and car park. We sighed, still in the throes of what we’d just heard and seen through mist and rain.

photo copyright Geraldine Green, 16.6.2018

And then it was time to write. Handouts were given. Poems read by individuals or the whole group, a stanza or a line each. We read from poems I’d planned to read at various points around the reserve. Due to the wildness of the weather we voted to do some writing, have lunch in the hide, then later venture down to benches near the Groyne Hide.

The group read back poems they’d written. We lunched. Then it was out to brave the still teeming down rain and Irish Sea westerly wind. We didn’t stay long at the Groyne Hide, where seals fish on the outgoing tide; where the sea rushes out of the Bay; where fierce cross-currents crash against each other and the old stone groyne; where seals muscle-power their way back from open water to shingle spit, for haul out and rest.

Yellow-horned poppies, 13.8.2018, photo copyright Geraldine Green

On the way back we paused to look at horned poppies. Later, when back at the picnic benches where we enjoyed hot drinks, blue sky, sunshine, more sandwiches and flapjacks, I asked for volunteers to read poems I’d brought. Poems about ‘sandpipers’, ruined castles (Dunstanburgh), ‘yellow horned-poppies’, 'on being a lake' (I suggested they imagine what it would be like to be the sea), poems on ‘what the water gave me’, ‘sea to the west’, ‘between mountain and sea’ and ‘song of Caedmon’…

Viper's bugloss and bee, 13.8.2018, photo copyright Geraldine Green

… beautiful to hear poems read in the open air, looking at the outgoing tide, listening to oyster catchers, eiders, herring gulls, looking at Piel, bathed in sunlight now, at the fells, at Black Combe below which poet Norman Nicholson lived at Millom, sniffing salt-laden air, enjoying the sound of poets’ voices, warm wind, and pleasure in each other’s company, having shared the fierceness of skin-wetting wind and rain... 

...witnessed the crossing of cattle, fishing of grey seals, sight of 100’s of oystercatchers, viper’s bugloss purple-blue spikes pushing through… all this, and the strange (to me) juxtaposition of wildlife living cheek by jowl with humans, industry, nuclear energy, gas, wind farms whose bases, I’m told, are home to barnacles…all in the presence of wide sky and the Irish Sea.

photo copyright Geraldine Green 16.6.2018

We ended the day by reading Norman Nicholson’s poignant and uplifting poem, ‘Sea to the West’ 

Walney Wind Farm, copyright Geraldine Green

Birdsfoot trefoil, Sea campion on Piel Island, Geraldine Green copyright 23.5.2015


I'm delighted to share with you poems written on the 'day of two halves'. Thank you to all who came and have so generously given permission to allow me to share their poetry with you:


Take us some pictures, Mum!
So I took one
of the castle,
one of the ocean,
one of the bugloss –
three in all, one each.

But what of the cattle
stomping like rhinos
to a water-hole at dusk,
the lark that will keep tweeting its ascent,
the snails' swirl shells, toffees and cream,
the seals' black rubber swim-caps,
the oyster-catchers seated in silent lines, a necropolis,
the mist of morning,
ebb at midday,
stillness of air and water
soon lapsed as the incoming tide
disrupts the channel
that had charged my eyes?

And what – will they see how the castle sits on water,
hear how the ocean breathes like a motorway
and the bugloss trumpets blue?
And … and … they'll never flirt
with the lovely young Dane,
his light beard and sparkling eye,
tall and relaxed in a doorframe –
he is forever mine.

Elaine Briggs

The Gathering – Walney Island

… and the cryptic seals
            gather in waves
                        waiting for tides
                                    waiting for fish

and the oyster-catchers marshal
            orange beaks fend wind clouds
                        gulls cry slurs over this spit of land

and the flatness is an engraving
            mud inlets raking into salt grass
                        sluiceways, a sky vast
                                    pewter grey, bright oppression

and the castle sits proud in the sea,
            ruination fixed, a marker for us
                        and we wait for the bob of seals …

Elaine Briggs

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Minute in your seaside bed of cropped grass, I can barely make you out. Imagination makes up for what the failing eyes cannot see and the ramrod backbone refuses to bend to be grasped. That blur of yellow, I think, divides into swollen claws, each tipped with orange fire, spurring out from plain green, clover-like leaves. This brief description to account for your name. And because nowadays, what you are, the wonder of knowing you, carnally as it were, getting under the skin of your whys and wherefores, needs must be superseded by faint remembering – the long days when you, and bluebell, pimpernel, speedwell, gemmed my small world of childish delights, the long days when essence of pebble would hold in my hand.

Elaine Briggs

Piel from Walney (after K Porteous'  Dunstanburgh)

There is a castle by the sea
only reachable by boat;
on  farthest edge of the shingle shore
a wall and granary that served the fields.
Grey ruffled sky and rising grey  water
mask a refuge seen from miles away.
Lodged in round smooth stones
with years of wind, rain and sleet
 hammered into stumps.

R Marsden
June 2018

Cattle corner
Silhouetted on the shingle edge
sea gazing and grass grazing
alert to his herd
head moving and watchful
like a sentry.
At a sign unnoticed, he swivels his hooves toward the spit
with body following purposefully
 intent he comports the sand
briskly nodding through the rest
some boldly stride in rising tide
calves bounce and leap
up  sandy bank.
Processing the gravel path
leading from the middle,
Herd safe job done

R Marsden
June 2018

The noise of the weather does not stop.
Beating, bashing, hammering.
Gulls and oystercatchers stand to attention
in packs
weathering the noise
on diminishing land
their pan pipe calls blowing through.
at what point will they take off ?

R Marsden
June 2018

Which one I hear you ask
spear, apple, water, striped...?
Ubiquitous, a familiar scent
flavouring potatoes new from the ground
chopped with vinegar to go with lamb
or thrown in a pot with spoons of sugar.
Thriving everywhere, too everywhere
so it has to be restrained;
but mint still finds a crack in a stone
and up it comes relentless, resilient
long after cold and snow have killed its neighbours.

Plain green, green and cream, green and yellow, green and dark green
smooth, veined or bumpy leaves
spreading upwards and outwards.
An impromptu vase of indoor green
humble and honourable
despised by some, loved by others.

R Marsden
June 2018

there is a castle by the sea               after Katrina Porteous’   Dunstanburgh

there is a castle by the sea
rising from rocks
stacked high
some say flung by devil’s hands

no-one goes there

at a high window
a figure stands
waiting  watching
only steamships from long ago
slide silently below
night ghosts
in endless transit

there is a castle by the sea
lashed by high tides
at a high window
a figure waits
waits for someone
until the sun rises red
from the sea
turns orange then yellow
as it sets out across the sky

Ruby McCann

Song of The Tide on Walney Shore

I sing of the drumlins
disguised in the shingle
rifling and prodding
their beaks in the sand
    of the grey seals swimming
on the rill of water    
bobbing their heads
above waves in the wind

I sing of the cattle
whose inherent instinct
brings them to safety
to graze on salt grass
    white crossed oyster-catchers
lined up in regiment
stabbing for food
backs to the tide

I sing of the hills
rising in sunshine  
looking down on the
town     the factories below
    of windswept flowers
sea holly     horned poppy    
 sealed to the seashore
 by salt spit wind

Kathleen Swann

South  Walney

Knots, a line of dots, a dash of oystercatchers flying low
along the shingle line, the waves falling, falling for the sand,
wind flowing inland, washing over, roiling,
its rougher brother known for skipping small stones.

Curlews cry and wind sings round wooden hides,
greenshank stick their long beaks in the shore’s business
searching blindly for juicy titbits on the flats.

Wind turbines and oil rigs pierce the table of the sea, dwarfed
by massed clouds overhead.  Inshore the sea is fawn, tan, offshore
turning to turquoise, aquamarine, blue-green,
green-blue, marine blue.

Through binoculars the horizon is not a straight line,
small waves chip and chop, flocks of sea birds fly over,
drop out of sight.


Go on ‘til the end (they said), go on,
follow the road on, and on until

no land, no more sand
no miles of salt marsh
no beds of reeds, no seed-heads

go on ‘til you reach the end

sea, as far as the eye can see
water, waves, blue-green

to the horizon

where water meets the sky
where you have no idea how far
how wide

just go on

Louise Hislop



One of those gull-flecked days,
autumn sun low in the sky,
still a little heat left in it.

A peninsula, not quite an island,
topped with grass short as green velvet,
a shingle beach with multicoloured tidelines
patterned with oystercatchers waiting
for the tide to turn.

Seals bob their heads up, stretch long necks,
point snouts to the sky, and sink. 

The sea is a badly knitted Guernsey,
a coarse Aran, the wool poorly spun,
the fibres twisted and roped round huge wood needles,
left with holes and mistakes
and never mended.

‘One of those crow flecked days’ – Rose Cook, Running Before the Wind, Anthology, Grey Hen Press

Louise Hislop

To  Lie  Among  the  Pale  Shells

I cut my fingernails,
enclose the clippings in a decorated box                                
as sacred, belonging to god.

When I die
the box will be taken to the beach,
the lid opened,
and they will be offered up to the wind

to fly,                                                             
to land along the shore,
to lie among the pale shells
of piddock, oyster, cowrie and limpet.

Louise Hislop

You'd think the sea

would lick its feet, clean
of this cabin, strain
its wooden walls and doors,
pull wide its windows
let in the seabirds:

black and white waitered

orange-billed oystercatchers, 

black-backed gulls

lesser and greater, herring gulls, eider
greenshanks, cormorants, dunlins, all 

would fly in calling, calling their musical news
these feathered towncriers
these tellers of storms and oilspills,

tell us news of whales and dolphins
of turtles, plastic-tangled, 

of gannets yellow-throated, diving, diving

of mackerel shoaling, 
netting clouds and sky.

This wooden cabin is shaking
its floors are shuddering,
its static self nailed, inert,
to earth.

Geraldine Green, Write on the Shore, 16.6.2018

copyright remains with the authors

Here’s a poem I wrote on a previous visit to the reserve:

Fishing on the outgoing tide

Heysham power station,
to the west, across the Irish Sea,
offshore wind farms.
Inland, Centrica BAE and
among all this
grey seals,
pink-footed geese,
curlews, dunlins -

a kestrel I startled,
as it startled me
sat on the roof
of the Groyne Hide
close by to where I
perched on a plank bench
watched seals fishing
in the outgoing tide.

Swing your gaze around:
Pennines, Piel Island,
Black Combe, Scafells
Coniston Old Man
Dow Crag, Red Screes,
Kidsty Pike, Froswick,
Ill Bell, the Howgills,

dizzying mantra, audience
to the winged-tide,
dazzling your eyes

A seal, sleek-nosed,
wave-shined, mimics
sun-splattered sea.

Geraldine Green, fr. Passing Through, pub. June 2018 by Indigo Dreams Pubs.

Viper's bugloss and bee, 13.8.2018, copyright Geraldine Green

Poems used as handouts and prompts:
Dunstanburgh Castle, Katrina Porteous
Song of Caedmon, Matt Simpson
Between Mountain and Sea, Norman MacCaig

What the Water Gave Me, Pascale Petit
Sea to the West, Norman Nicholson
Horned Poppy, Vicki Feaver
Sandpiper, Elizabeth Bishop

Yellow-horned poppies 13.8.2018, copyright Geraldine Green

Yellow horned poppy, track lined with scarlet pimpernel, viper’s bugloss hanging on in there, seal watching, with the background skewering shrieks of arctic, little and sandwich terns and arrival of the first over-wintering curlews, under the stern empty eye sockets of Piel Castle. 

Geraldine Green 13.8.2018

All photos copyright Geraldine Green

Delighted that an earlier version of 'A Day of Two Halves' is now on the The Land Lines Project website!

No comments:

Post a Comment