Stanley’s Cockle Bight
NO FURTHER PLEASE. The sign is polite but firm. I drop my rucksack and sit on a sand dune. The early February landscape spreads out flatly, churning sea mingled with overcast sky, horizon a smudged blur, as though clouds and waves are dissolving into each other.
Despite this wintry weather and cold view, I’m invigorated and released. I’ve walked to the far tip of Blakeney Point, a wilderness of sorts, and here on these dunes I’m freed from constraints and obligations; the harsh perpendiculars that usually rule my life. Wind whips through me, birds scrawl round the sky, and the whole aspect of the North Norfolk landscape is so devoid of anything human I feel almost giddy with a sense of being deliberately and deliciously lost. For a long time I look at the view, mind empty, enjoying the shapes that sea and sand create as the tide withdraws: loops and pools and curves. A few feet ahead of me the land slopes down into shallow salt water and a low tide rips past. My fingertips grow cold and I stuff gloved hands into waterproof pockets. This is the life.
When I first become aware of what I’m hearing, I assume it’s a cry of distress. It’s something new to my ear, a weird disembodied wailing borne on the wind, swirling round in eddies and high-pitched gusts. Above me in a murky sky, I try to make out the flock of birds who must, I imagine, be producing this sound: large grey birds flapping slowly overhead, trailing this mournful music like a vapour-trail. The cry is eerie, like the unnerving ghost-squonk of geese at night. I look out to sea and there’s nothing unusual. But the sound demands a story, an explanation; it has the quality of myth and the salty tang of sea-tales.