Escape from it all

Section Editor Heather McKay finds solace in escaping to the countryside – especially to the coast...

Newhaven Harbour on the south coast of England


Crashing, roaring and inescapably, rhythmically present. In and out, in and out, in and out, just like the way my yoga teacher tells me to breathe. But this isn’t my own hollow little lungs, it’s the vast expanse of the sea, hitting the shoreline. Again and again and again.

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The British coast isn’t always particularly pretty. It’s often a sludgy grey-brown, with occasional flecks of mildew green. But boy is it powerful. A big expanse of sky and water, often indistinguishable. The thunderous sound, the nostril-invading briny smell, the endless, hypnotic repetition of the waves…

Somehow, after some time by sea, I feel as though someone has grabbed a scouring pad and given the inside of my head a good scrub.

And with the political events of the past week, I’ve felt a very strong need for a tidal spring clean. I’m writing these words nine floors up in a city centre tower block. But I want to be beside a large body of water and just stand and stare at it. Watch it be changed by the wind and the light. I want to feel small, not just on a personal level – but to be reminded that there’s something there so much bigger than us. That humans are actually not all-powerful, and that, with any luck, our impact will eventually pale to insignificance in time.

I love the sea because to be beside it is to watch seconds and minutes and eventually hours pass by. When you are struggling with a powerless situation, seeing that inevitable passage of time in action can be wonderfully soothing.

I grew up in a northern coastal town that struggled to find an identity in a world of cheap global travel. Every year without fail, our family holiday was to the same place, my grandfather’s holiday home in south Devon. I got to know some of those beaches as well as the one at home. My parents now live on the Isle of Wight, a beautiful sleepy retreat that I love visiting, immediately dragging them out for a beach walk every time I arrive. Last Christmas, my brother and I, with hundreds of other people, ran into the sea on Boxing Day. My mother, armed with towels and jumpers, thought we were mad, but came to watch anyway.

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We all have our own personal relationship with the sea, but it’s always present in our lives. And for me, it’s such a significant element of our countryside. As an island nation we are of course surrounded by our coastline, but that boundary need not hem us in. We can be stirred by this ever-moving, constantly changing force of nature to adapt, and to welcome that our shared experiences can be richer than we ever dreamed without needing to be controlled on a microscopic level.