On Dover Beach

“The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!…”

This famous poem by Matthew Arnold, read out to us by Jolene at the start of the session, really got us all thinking and sharing our thoughts and experiences of oceans and coastlines. Our responses were varied, as shown by the poems, memories and reflections which follow. We hope you enjoy reading them.

Jolene Sheehan


Ice cream drips puddle in the gaps between pebbles,
Gaggles of children gather in the trenches of sandcastles,
Scattered sunbathers sink into soft sand
Overseen by flocks of squawking seagulls 
Who demand still more of the sky.
Their voices cry out, as Atlas’s muscles must,
And I wonder at all of it.
The seamlessly endless call of sparkling sea
Draws me then pushes me away again undecidedly
Until, with resolution, I pass the barrier of crashing waves
And a reverse evolution is set off by leaving the coast.
I float and sway,
A baby carried by a dangerous yet hospitable host,
Transformed momentarily into
Marine life again.

Zainab Amer

It is where I belong, I’m sure of it. Near the ocean, coastline, sea, water. As the salt air sweeps past my face and the crashing waves draw closer, tides of hope are brought with it. Hope for a better future, a better version of myself, and hope for the natural world’s survival, that hangs on by a thread.

It is where I feel less alone, I’m certain of it. As waves fold onto themselves, one after the other – predictable, reliable – carrying with it ripples of love, like an embrace from a close friend or lover, accepting you for who you are.

All the while, life’s commitments hover in the background, the interesting and mundane, the boring and fun. I start to feel overwhelmed, this is not a surprise, and the ocean begins to call. Her waves continue crashing on the surface, offering life, love, and freedom. Is this her allure? A passage to an imagined future, or an opportunity to learn and bring flickers of her teachings into life as it is.

Jean Thompson

We are a small island surrounded by sea, sea is allegedly in our blood. It has inspired painters, poets and other writers and artists over centuries. But like rain, the sea can be a friend or a foe. For our enjoyment or as a danger to us.

But not for me the soft lapping of gentle waves on soft sand. No, give me the excitement and awe of a sea in full flood, crashing against the rocks, roaring in your ears, but only if you can watch it from a safe distance. Never forget the power and potential destructiveness of the sea. We should remember that sailors, fishermen, lifeboat personnel are all called upon to put their lives in this force of nature to rescue or serve our needs. Remember too those people who now are tossed about in flimsy boats or rafts in order to bring themselves and their families to this small island where they feel they will be safe. We do not have to put ourselves to this particular test, so let’s respect the power of the sea and not pit ourselves against it unnecessarily.

For me, I usually enjoy being on the sea, but I remember one, fortunately very short sea journey, from Guernsey to the Isle of Herm on a small ferry. We had been warned that we could only have an hour on the island as the weather would change and the last ferry would have to leave at 11.30am. Herm is a very small island and I just wanted to say I had been. Also, how bad could the weather get in a so short a space of time? Well I was to find out on the journey back. The short journey felt like hours as the little boat tossed and dipped and waves crashed against the windows of the cabin. I like to think I am a reasonable sailor, but I was put to the test that time.

So enjoy the sea but do not mock it, and remember how it can turn and change in a moment.

Swollen waves on the sea, with pink tinges of a sunset in a pale blue sky.
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Babs Cain

My initial thoughts were wonderful memories of childhood holidays with my friend Brenda and her family, in Talacre, North Wales.  However, as I listened to Jean sharing her memories it took me back to summer 1973 and a day trip to the Isle of Man. It was the summer before Stan and I got married and we were on holiday in North Wales.  We decided it would be an adventure to take a day trip to the Isle of Man.  This entailed a 6 hour round trip from Llandudno to Douglas and we set of with much anticipation.  It was my first experience of travelling by sea and one I will never forget. But not in a good way!

There was a general air of excitement and lots of hustle and bustle on board. The sea was quite choppy that day and the happy atmosphere began to waver as people began to feel a bit seasick.  It changed drastically when a man carrying a young child began to run across the deck to the side of the boat, unfortunately before he made it the child was sick.  The wind carried it to places you don’t want to think about.  I won’t go into too much detail but suffice it to say they ran out of sick bags and were swilling the decks with buckets of water. Not a pleasant memory.

After what seemed like forever we finally docked and alighted for our big day out.  I was so poorly that I cried.  I told Stan he’d have to leave me there forever (drama queen!) as there was no way I was getting back on that ferry.  He was so kind and soothed me with the promise of sorting it out.  We saw very little of Douglas, we spent our time getting me a flight home to Ringway airport.  It was my first experience of flying (two firsts in one day) and although I was scared to be going alone it was a massive relief not to have to get back on the ferry.  I think it was a 20-minute flight.  I was soon nicely settled in Stan’s family home awaiting his return.  His poor mum’s face when she opened the door to me. She was very confused but relieved to hear he was OK and would arrive for me eventually.

Of course, he had to endure the three-hour trip back to Llandudno then drive to Manchester, pick me up and drive us back to Wales.  He was definitely the hero of the day.  We often joked, had this happened after we were married, he’d have left me there.  At least I hope it was a joke!

A sweeping view of Llandudno beach, with pebbles in the foreground and the sun shining on a gentle sea with waves lapping the sandy shore in the middle of the photograph.  The bay is lined with the traditional white-painted seaside hotels and there is a view of the Little Orme at its end.
Llandudno beach by Ian Capper, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Annette Bennett

Oceans And Seas.

Our oceans and seas
are very important indeed.
Not only are they full of seaweed
and Krill, upon which fish
and also, other creatures feed, 
they are a living lifeline to
our planet Earth 🌍.

We must be good custodians of these precious treasures
In all their diverse, abundant measures.
Learn all we can about them, so that marine life
is better understood, respected, encouraged to thrive,
enabling us humans to continue to survive.

Future generations, to inherit,
will depend upon our merit,
how we succeed or fail
with the task in hand.
So let us each prevail, 
grasp the part, even if only small, 
we can play in the preservation, 
health, prosperity of our oceans and seas.
Start today, without delay
Then we can say, with hand on heart, 
“I’m doing my bit”
And be content with it.

Shane Murray

Our A to E of the NE

We first discovered the Northumbrian coast over 30 years ago when our kids were little and, being short of money, we were delighted to dog-sit and house-mind for friends in Gateshead flying off to exotic locations. There is a stretch of this magical coastline to which we keep returning, where new experiences delight us each time:

Starting at Alnmouth, “the Riviera of the North East” boasts the village post-master. I have to agree having strolled past the fine houses and welcoming pubs along Northumberland Street to the estuary and views of St. Cuthbert’s Cross on Church Hill, detached from the village over two hundred years ago by a violent storm which caused the river Aln to break through the headland.

Do you have any more in this series?” I ask the post-master as I browse the small book collection in the back of the shop.

Just the one. Glad to see it go!” he replies tersely. Best not enquire too much about the mystery of the famous Scottish crime writer who lived there for a time.

Along the beach and over the headland to Boulmer – a small, offbeat and sad looking hamlet despite the pub with its sizeable restaurant. Seeing the upturned fishing boat on the beach I am reminded of the Peggottys of Great Yarmouth and Emily’s tragic entanglement with David Copperfield’s charismatic friend Steerforth.

Beyond Boulmer, via delightful Sugar Sands and the breeding colonies of kittiwakes at Cullernose Point, lies Craster, famous for its Smoke House and perpetual smell of kippers. The harbour wall provides protection from the elements, and is a great place to sit and enjoy an ice cream whilst spying fishing vessels returning to this modest port. Rested and re-fuelled in Craster, the majesty of Dunstanburgh Castle beckons in the distance.

A view of blue sky, the sandy beach, grassy sandy dunes and a sparkling sea and sand dunes on a sunny day, with Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance.
Along the shore towards Dunstanburgh castle

This stunning 14th century fortress perched on a clifftop speaks of dynastic struggles and political intrigue – rebellious Earl Thomas flexing the muscle of the House of Lancaster. Walking on over the ridge and atop the sand dunes, we stop briefly to peer in at a crumbling, squat concrete sea defence – a reminder of more recent threatened invasions. Looking back, Dunstanburgh’s grand facade changes and its remaining turrets present a row of ragged broken teeth. The sea, the sky and the light here is entrancing. Come back after sunset in summer and watch a galaxy of stars illuminate the night sky.

We drop down to the beach at pristine Embleton Bay to admire the rocks of the Emblestones which appear and disappear with the tides. Before we cross the burn and make our way to the Ship Inn at Low Newton for a beer and sandwich, we look out to sea.

“We should have our ashes scattered here.” I say to Josie.

“Mmm. I’m not sure. I’m afraid of the sea.”

A conversation between Margaret Kendall and Nouri Marvi


I’ve enjoyed many walks along coastlines, often on cliff tops, feeling the wind on my face and in my hair and experiencing magnificent views of the sea.  I described to Nouri a stunning walk at Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve, near Scarborough, where we were lucky to see puffins coming ashore to breed and nesting gannets very close to the cliff path.  They travel thousands of miles to get there.

Three gannets on the top of the cliffs. One has nesting material in its beak. The sky and sea are bright blue and the grass at the top of the cliffs is long and bright green.

Nouri listened with interest, then said that although he’s lived in this country for 35 years, the only places he’s visited on Britain’s coast are Blackpool and Liverpool.  His wife was unable to travel by car, so for holidays they flew from Manchester to visit relatives in Germany and Istanbul.  He had a memorable time in Istanbul, happy to be reunited with his nieces and nephews able to travel there from Iran without visas, but sad when his wallet was stolen from his back pocket in the Hagia Sophia.  His sister would like him to visit her in California, but a seven-hour flight is daunting besides the expense.  Although they are literally “oceans apart”, they do see and talk to each other these days via their smartphones.

We talked about the vastness of the ocean from Ireland westwards to America.  I described being shocked when I visited a nineteenth century replica ship in New Ross, South East Ireland.  I learned of the terrible conditions endured by Irish people during the famine, forcibly crowded onto ships formerly used for cargo, on the journey to America. 

We talked about the present-day tragedies of lives lost in the Channel, as people risk the journey in small boats.  We talked of how being an island has affected Britain’s relationships with other countries throughout our history, and of the impact of colonialism.  Nouri’s first thoughts about the topic had been to picture a world atlas.

In Iran, he lived inland.  When he was six years old, he remembers loud knocking on the front door and a neighbour shouting to his father “don’t go out, the town is occupied”.  The oil refinery on the river had been bombed, and when they did eventually go out, he remembers seeing soldiers lying on the ground, with guns pointing ready to shoot.  He was a child and thus fortunate not to understand what was happening, but there was such pain and sadness in those times.  

We sat for a few moments in silence, but he said no more.

Pauline Omoboye

When I think of oceans
I visualise the waves.
My mother cries,
her heart yearning for Jamaica.
I see her tears as the ripples rise and fall.
I hear her mourning calls in her morning prayers.
Her heart bleeds for the son left behind.
That luscious land where her ancestors lay.
I hear seashells on the seashore.
I hear you wanting more.
You sailed the ship for weeks.
The waves bounced against the rocks, turning hands on clocks.
Time stands still for no-one.
© Pauline Omoboye
Under a grey, cloudy sky, the wake left behind a ship stretches back almost to the horizon.
Photo by Margaret Kendall

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