Friday, September 28, 2007


Hastings Country Park

Saturday September 22, 2007:

Well I thought that the country park walk, a mere 4.5 miles, would be a peaceful stroll along cliff tops! How wrong was I?

It was a fabulous day. According to my companion, who waxed lyrical on the subject, the sun shone out of a perfect clear blue sky. The sea glinted turquoise to dark blue, grey to silver. The grass was green, the gorse a cheerful yellow and the ferns and brackens every shade of green, the hedges dark and full. As I walked across the springy turf, I breathed the gentle air, so warm and fragrant that it could just as well have been May instead of September.

The coast between Hastings and Fairlight Cove might once have been flat and smooth. A million years ago or more it had been squashed like a concertina. Now it was a series of violently steep lightly wooded,-gorse strewn hills and valleys.

Breathing heavily, I inhaled the damp woody greenness of the woods as I climbed carefully down the jumbo steps to the first glen bottom. Beyond the trees, surf rushed the rocks on the beach far below. High in the sky the gulls shrieked, in the nearer treetops, robins and tits sang as though it were spring again.

More energetic ramblers puffed past me as I struggled to climb the huge steps leading to the next cliff top. It was necessary to crawl up these and I fervently hoped, as I heaved myself up to my feet for the fifth time in as many metres, that I wouldn’t have to go back down them again!

Atop the cliff, the sky widened and the sun streamed down. Far below, behind the buffeting wind, the sea roared. I caught my breath and made ready to ascend the next glen, lured by the promise of a nice beach.

My knees shrieked their protest as I clambered slowly down. There, standing on the valley bottom, my companion described the sea, framed by trees, pushing its way between the scarred rocks.

Limboing under a gate, we squeezed our way past the official signs warning of the instability of the cliff edge. Nearby, a stream tinkled invitingly.

We edged our way down the crumbling cliff face. Someone had made rough steps, restraining the unstable earth with heavy railway sleepers. Placing my feet in my companion’s footsteps, I shuffled across a precarious plank bridge over the bubbling stream and slowly clambered down the uneven steps which snaked down the cliff face.

A half spiral later, we rested on a bench on a rough-made terrace overlooking the beach. Next to us, a shrine festooned with flowers, soft toys and other offerings had been set up in honour of a small girl called Kylie, killed by a drunk driver. I took a twig of slim leaves which I had been wearing behind my left ear all morning and placed it on the shrine, making a silent prayer for the little girl and those she had left behind.

Rested, we made our way down to the large sea-weed covered rocks, and the pools of seawater that they held. We climbed carefully across the shifting stones and down to a rough rock circle which seemed to be inviting us to rest further.

I sank down gratefully and began to explore underneath the great boulders for stones and shells. My Companion climbed amongst the nearby trees in search of fuel to make a fire.

The rocks waited and held me as I sat casting the circle and calling to the beings of this place. The steeply wooded cliffs, our backdrop, a huge bowl in which we sat, safe and warm.

At first, the fire resisted our call. The wind blew out the matches again and again. My companion, an expert at beach fires was having none of this. Persistently, she shifted and stirred, blew and fanned the tiny flames until they began to eat at the dried vines curled between the rocks. I wafted a smudge stick and soon the sweet sage smell, entwined with the salty tang and sour rotting smells of the seaweed, rose upon the smoke of the fire. To encourage it, my companion began to sing to the fire.

Make of my heart a burning fire, fire.
Light burst
As from the earth, the moon the se

The flames snapped and crackled, the dried wood took and the fire roared with gusto, encouraged by the song and fuelled by the sharp sea wind.

I sat back, and allowed myself to become still, aware only of the sounds of the fire, water and wind and the solidity of the rock beneath me.

Down the steps, a small girl, yellow dress flapping about her thin thighs stepped purposefully. She balanced on the rocks as she moved across the beach. From amongst the trees, a taller girl in flapping purple velvet loons, teetered carefully across the uneven rocks, her steps hesitant, shoulders bowed but chin set in determination. With a jolt, I recognised my two selves; the sad and lonely little eight-year old, bewildered and scared and the angry, brittle sixteen-year old, doggedly moving forward despite her terror. Peering round, the little girl caught sight of the other one and began to head in her direction.

From the safety of my ring of rocks, I watched as the two figures met, the smaller one, reaching out to take the hand of the taller one and lead her to safety. Carefully, the small girl guiding the older one, they picked their way across the beach towards the ring of rocks where I sat.

They sat down either side of me. I reached out and took their hands. They reached out to each other to complete the circle. We sat still for a long, long time, no one speaking, no one moving. Between us, the fire danced bravely, consuming and transforming, cleansing and purifying.

The sun moved and the sea crept closer. Soon it would be in our rock circle. On either side of me, the girls moved nearer and nearer until there bodies merged and melted into mine. Now they lay safe at last. I sat still, breathing, integrating.

Someone was climbing down noisily past me. The pebbles skidded under the heavy forceful footfalls. Back in the present, I shook myself, rubbing my wet eyes. The smoke circled me and I breathed its familiar smell.

The beach was emptying. Time to climb up and out and treck up and down more glens till our day was done. I thanked the spirits of the place and my younger selves for coming here today. Gathering our belongings, we made ready to make the stiff climb up the rock steps to the summit of the cliff once more.


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