If there is one theme that recurs in many of the stories I have gathered during my walk along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path thus far it is that of the sand and sea ultimately determining human activity along the coastline. In my workshop in the Tolbooth Museum in Stonehaven in the end of April, I met a fisherman whose boat had sunk twice. The first time it had done so after a trip to the Northern Isles, on return in the harbour of Stonehaven. Yet, this fisherman went on, it was exactly this challenge that drew him to the sea. To harvest the mussels and prawns from between the rocks he has to position his boat carefully above the rocks that lurk just below the surface, all the time avoiding actually damaging his boat. On return from one of those trips, however, a wave cast his vessel on the rocks just outside of the harbour.
Other stories are quite similar. At the start of my walk, in St. Cyrus, a storm had eroded the dune-top path to the point of inaccessibility. Six hundred years ago, in the dunes of Forvie National Nature Reserve, a storm covered the village of the same name in a storm that lasted nine days. The shifting sands have now revealed the kirk.
Inked in your ways, unmovable
A stained glass mosaic in yellows, greens, blues
Printed on weather-proof paper
You lull the walker in a legend
Lead her to negotiate
Streets, fields, beaches
Fiction may be your tale
Footings dissolve, fences surface
Dunes shift in the hourglass
Paths wander off on the wind
Re-stain the glass legend
Etch new lines in lead
Though the above suggests that the environment conditions opportunities for human activity in the coastal landscape on a large scale, I strongly feel that on a smaller scale this interaction with the environment is mutual and subtle. As part of my walk I have started to pay attention to my own interaction with sand and sea and am comparing this with the daily practices of fisherman. This will be one of the themes I hope to take up during my poetry walk at Forvie National Nature Reserve on Tuesday 27 May. The walk, to the cursed village of Forvie and the beach, will start at 10 am at the Waterside Car Park just north of Newburgh. The walk is free, but you’re asked to register your interest with Scottish Natural Heritage at 01358 751330.
Copyright text, poem and image Petra Vergunst