High tide is a mere three hours away as I decamp from the van and gather my camera gear together. Will I manage the march in time? Or will I be stranded on the narrow strip of ‘nowhere’ land between my destination and the mainland when the ocean claims back the shingle landscape? Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. I pull on my wellies as swiftly as I can, don my cap and finger my way into a pair of black fisherman’s mittens before heaving my backpack and launching my heaviest tripod onto my left shoulder.
Hastening from the tiny carpark under who’s protective height barrier I’d managed to inch Raven, aka big black van, I’m unsettled by the gnaw of the waves. Foulney Island is perhaps a couple of miles walk away. A hike of shingle and mud at that, never the quickest or easiest to traverse, especially in wellies, or Technical Gumboots as the salesman called them. Eider Ducks accompany my arrival at the half way point, their call a shocked expression of surprise - hooOOOoo which always amuses me.
The Advancing Waves
Grabbing a few video clips of the advancing windblown waves on the way, I struggle to the shingle outcrop which is to be home for the day. I hear the hiss of the tide as the east and west fronts of sea finally meet and take the path, stranding me for several bird-blessed hours. Dropping my heavy backpack I say my hellos to the place. I kneel down, gather a salt scented handful of shell strewn shingle and inhale the wild sharp aroma of life on the coast.
The wind is constant, a steady unwavering roar from the north that eventually turns anticlockwise to become a mean northwesterly by mid afternoon. My world is surround sound wind speak and wave clamour which steals away the melancholy pipings of the waders that have to share their high tide roost with me. Already I sense an excitement rising within as the birds wheel and spiral over the still rising tide. Thousands of them. The gale forces take hold of them as soon as they are aloft and slams them into flight, a chaotic tumble of feathers that somehow navigate the atmospheric currents with what looks like playfulness.
Plovers and Turnstones
Abandoning my camera bag for a while, ensuring it’s sufficiently out of reach of the encroaching tide, I brace my tripod and begin to catch the stories that are being thrown my way. Morsels of strange tales are cast to the four winds and all seem to conspire to keel me over. Ringed Plovers and Turnstones quickstep through the strandline as Sanderlings snooze, their long fine bills warmed under wings. A crew of Cormorants play chicken with the tide, jostling with the breakers until their feet are dislodged from the shingle where they seek respite.
This, my final day of shooting for my newest film, is going perfectly; wilder, better than expected. I have the island to myself other than the thousands of birds and occasional seals that bob their heads out of the surf to check me out. Just the way I like it. We all settle into a routine that plies with the tide, a weather eye on my camera bag which needs to be reasonably close but always above the changling tideline. When the sea reaches it zenith a calm besets the islet, apart from the insistent gale that channels the energy of a behemoth blasting us all with cold oceanic exhalations.
A Driftwood Shelter
I sit in the somewhat-shelter of a driftwood arc, waders roosting yards from me. My tripod hums and whistles new tunes as the wind wraps around its three sturdy legs. Pulling my collar close against the bite of the Bay I too rest for an hour until the tide begins its recess back to the distant horizon and the birdlife twitches into wakefulness, hungry for the littoral banquet now being revealed by the retreat.
A clouded sky slowly fills with the thrum of a thousand Eiders who too come to forage on newly exposed mudflats, their gathering crowd shot through with occasional black presences of Cormorants. Finally released by the ocean, my job done, I thank the myriads of companions for a bracing day, cast a few pieces of silver to the wind and begin the long trudge back to Raven to boil a kettle of respite and storm reprieve.
At last I can rest in the knowledge that I’ve done my best to portray a little of the character of Morecambe Bay. A place of beauty, solitude and renewal that shapeshifts into an unpredictable trickster hungry for blood and breath.
Never a place to take for granted, a landscape that demands a depth of knowing and awareness, the Bay has become an enchanting mystery for me. Her siren call pulls me to her centre, a place of birth, a place of death. I choose respect and renewal as I wander Jenny Brown’s Point, Cockersands, Sunderland Point, Jack Scout et al, always with the voices of those taken by the Bay whispering their warnings in my ear.
The film below is the outcome of days spent seeking stories along the shoreline. Jenny Brown's Point, Cockersands, Silverdale Bay and Foulney Island are all featured.