Wild for the coast

Explore land, sea, sky and earth and you may discover the boundary between you and the wild is not where you expected, says David North

‘Wildness as far as you can see’, that’s not a bad description of parts of our fabulous Norfolk coast. In busy, densely populated, bustling England places that feel this wild are rare and deserve to be valued, guarded and protected.

I love the squidgy, oozy, muddy, saltmarsh wildernesses with their snaking, sinuous channels that fill and empty on each tide – tides that leave behind mazes of shallow mirror-like pools that reflect the vast skies that arch over these flat tidal saltings. 

I love the strange patterns of these marshes that can only truly be appreciated from a bird’s-eye view. There are patterns too that can only be viewed close-up: the trammel lines ploughed through the mud by feeding shelduck, the dainty star footprints of redshank, the spaghetti-casts left behind by lug worms.

Then there are the sounds – spine-tingling calls of curlew, raucous cries of black-headed gulls, and the full-throated, head back ‘desert island discs’ clamour of the herring gulls.

Every season the marshes have a new soundtrack: in winter the Slavic purring of great gatherings of brent geese and the higher-pitched clamour of their Icelandic cousins, the pink-feet, as they wing their way in great sky-lines between marsh and land.

In spring redshanks trill, marking their territories in wing-flicking flights, while lapwings perform aerobatics accompanied by strange electro-acoustic cries. In summer bees hum and skylarks, little more than dark feathered dots in blue skies, cascade their songs to earth-bound listeners. 

There are smells and colours too: nowhere smells of sea, wind, tide and mud in quite the same way as these vast, life-filled plains of samphire and purslane; and the colours of this marshland tapestry change moment to moment  – ask any photographer or artist why they keep coming back and they will probably say ‘the light’.

To me these marshes seem as truly wild as anywhere on earth and to spend time listening, looking, smelling, touching and wondering at them is a privilege.

There is much talk today of the benefits of ‘mindfulness’ as a way of coping with the seemingly ever-increasing stresses and strains of modern life. But ‘wildfulness’ – simply spending time in nature – can also bring great rewards.  Our Norfolk coast and its many diverse wild landscapes of sand, sea, shingle, mud and marsh is a great place to gain a sense of perspective, to see things both literally and metaphorically in a new light. 

We open ourselves to details in the landscape that we might otherwise miss by spending quiet time, sitting or walking, listening and looking.  By doing this we often become aware of patterns, from tiny detail to landscape scale, and literally begin to tune-in to the sounds, smells and textures of nature around us.

Whether you are visiting, or live locally, find an excuse to come and walk the great shingle, marshy and sandy edge of Norfolk and explore the boundaries between land, sea, sky and earth. In doing so you may begin to discover your own connection to the timeless cycle of tide, sky and season and discover that the boundary between you and the wild is perhaps not where you expected.

Is wildness inside us or outside?

David North is head of People and Wildlife at Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Go wild

The Wildlife Trusts have developed hundreds of ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ which are easy and free to do and can help you engage with nature wherever you are. In June the 30 Days Wild challenge asks us to commit to taking a few minutes every day to build awareness and connection to the natural world. What better place to begin than the Norfolk Coast? There are free resources for families, schools and individuals at www.mywildlife.org.uk/30DaysWild.