Walking on the beach; I miss it now that I live in Edinburgh. Especially when it is windy, like it has been lately. Is there anything better than wrapping up and being blown along the shore? In either direction is good. Walk into the wind and you feel like your worries are being sand-blasted away. Walk with the wind at your back and you go at double speed, propelled by an invisible helping hand. It’s a win-win. Yes, there might be a couple of days a year (just about) when you can run about the beaches of Ireland and Scotland swimsuit-clad, but we Celts are a hardy lot, and we appreciate the beauty of the beach year round.
I can easily drive (even walk) to the beach at Portobello on the edge of Edinburgh. A short drive and I’m at the coast, a welcome sign telling me I’ve arrived at ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’. Portobello has a promenade with sea-front cafés, masses of dog walkers, views over to Fife. The Firth gets a little choppy on stormy days, but nothing approaching what I’m used to back on the north coast of Ireland. When the tide is high, the beach at Portobello is entirely eaten away but when the tide is out, it’s a bit of a disappointing beach; a little dull. Well, who knew? Turns out I am beach snob!
Before we turn to beach wars, though, I must confess that I have been to some beautiful Scottish beaches. Keep driving northeast from Portobello and you’ll come to a stunning beach at Gullane. (I’m glad I am typing this, so the Scots don’t judge me on my erroneous pronunciation. It is a matter of great importance, dividing the population of the East of Scotland, and I am assured I should be pronouncing it ‘Gillan’. Digression over.) Anyway, that place beginning with ‘G’ has a beach to rival (but not outdo) the beaches of Ireland. M. tells me to go to Fife, where he says the best beaches in Scotland can be found. Really? What about the Western Isles, I wondered? We all have our favourites, achieving their status in the pecking order over time with memories of walks, picnics, swims, sandcastle building, thunderstorms, handstand competitions, constellation spotting, midnight shenanigans walking home from the pub.
Yesterday I had my first walk on an Irish beach for a few months. I bump into L. and S. and we remark upon how the beach has invaded the promenade, inches of sand blown up by the recent storms. “It came up with Ophelia, and Brian was supposed to clean it away again,” they told me. We all agreed that Brain’s work wasn’t up to scratch. Had it been storm ‘Briana’, she’d probably have re-distributed the sand perfectly. Men!
This week I’ll spend time walking on beaches with my Canadian family and the forecast tells me we might not get sand-blasted by the wind. I’ll take what comes, for if ever I’m feeling that life is a bit of a b**ch, I hit the beach for an instant happiness fix. After all, Seamus Heaney recommended it. And while you might argue about how to pronounce ‘Gullane’, there is no arguing with Heaney.
‘Postscript’, by Seamus Heaney
“And some time, take the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”