Writer Liz Feretti unlocks the magic of the Sunrise Coast
PUBLISHED: 14:16 22 July 2014 | UPDATED: 14:16 22 July 2014
Beaches are precious to me because they are where I turn my back on the world.
Here, on England’s east side there’s an extra benefit – you can be the first to greet the new day, wiped clean as our planet turns and the sun bursts over the horizon. It’s a magical moment – no wonder our ancestors thought they were seeing the face of god.
Before we get to the Sunrise Coast though, my journey starts inland with a change in perspective that gets me peering into our sandy heaths and commons. The Suffolk Coast is blessed with smoky pockets of purple heather, where the air is dry and the sand under your feet is a strange grey-blond. Crickets chirrup, reminding me to take note of the miniature perfection of heather bells, spotted, individually pinker than I expected. There are bees humming in and out of the heather sprays. I imagine the taste of this landscape in the honey they will make.
Ahead of me is a sand path, intersected by patches of peaty earth worn away by many feet, though there’s no one about today. This is the start of my long wind-down to the sea. The path goes across the heath, into several miles of silver birch and scented pine, beneath which it is dark green and cool. Down a slope and suddenly I’m in out into the bright sun, walking through great walls of gorse. Their mass of yellow, coconut flowers is a powerful hit after the muffled silence of the pines. I stop in a sheltered rabbity patch of grass. Butterflies, mostly orange and black, some blue or white, flutter over the tops of the thorns. There’s a proboscis partially uncurled. I can hear the sea in the distance, smell the salt in the air. I could stay here forever, but it’s time to go.
Down a narrow, scratchy path through unripe brambles, the last of the yellow gorse. Now sand gives way to tarmac and the unwelcome intrusion of cars, but when I walk past a family – kids with buckets and balls, impatient to get going while adults balance a picnic and a windbreak – their excitement is contagious. ‘Where’s the mallet?’ but I am gone before I hear the answer. Through the ordered Victorian and Edwardian streets, I reach the sea and stop to take it in before joining the promenade, blessing the foresight of our ancestors.
I pass the amusement arcade, ice cream, the pier, the wonderful smell of fish and chips, the anticipation of the queue and the banter, the overloud voices of visitors hyper on the sea air, the wheeling freedom of the seagulls. It’s not quite like flying but near enough, my spirit soars at least!
The sea is flat calm and sparkling today, reminding me of the Mediterranean, though more steely blue. I hear the chugging drone of a fishing boat, a Thames barge motoring out of the mouth of the estuary, beyond them are the Greater Gabbard wind turbines – it’s is clear enough to see the blades turning today. On the shore, the delighted shrieks of paddlers and hardy souls taking a dip, kiosks and cafes, bright colours of beach huts, Nanna’s Rest and Bide-a-wee! I am tempted to stop, but I’ve got something else in mind.
I abandon the ease of the promenade and jump on to the beach, immediately feeling the strain of the shifting shingle on my calves. I leave the homely comfort of our seaside town, and tramp along the shore, past soft eroding sandstone cliffs, idly watching for holey hag stones, heart stones and shark’s teeth – don’t try too hard, they find you, not the other way round – and then I see what I have come here for. Little terns, exquisite, delicate birds, narrow head with a neat black cap, hovering above the sea, white and grey wings outstretched; they twitter excitedly, suddenly swooping into the water for a sliver of a fish, like swallows after flies. Like swallows, they have flown here from Africa. I watch them for ages, thinking about their extraordinary journey, until my attention is caught by a stone nearby. It’s a perfect hag stone, a hole right through it, and it feels like a gift from the sea.