FOR the last four years, I have lived three miles from the sea. I can jump into the car and be standing on sand within ten minutes.
Having experienced this luxury, I’m not sure that I would like to live much further inland any more: the sea has become a haven for me, its healing powers weaving their magic time and time again.
In my twenties, I embraced a hectic life amongst grimy London streets. I loved the feeling of independence as I slipped anonymously between the tall buildings. The transient nature of many of the people who lived there meant that it very quickly felt like my home and even today, eight years after leaving, it still feels like my city.
But after years of burning the candle to oblivion, the arrival of our daughter prompted a move north and we dipped our toes into rural life.
There was an irony to living on the edge of County Durham, nestled in a dale close to the Lake District. A short walk from our house took you to tree-covered slopes, cradling a fierce river as it raced though the valley. Beyond the woods lay miles of moorland: sparse and forbidding, often beneath a slate-grey sky. Yet despite the enormous, beautiful surroundings, I found this part of the world claustrophobic and oppressive in its bonny bleakness. The skies above my house reached for ever, yet I felt a million miles from home.
Happily, a holiday to Northumberland my husband and I had taken a couple of years earlier had refused to budge from our thoughts. We had fallen in love with the beaches and a little street of terraced station houses and, with a third daughter soon to appear, I was desperate for a home we could call our own.
And so we landed in the Border county, on the very street we had discovered on our holiday. Further still from everything we knew but nearer to the mighty North Sea.
The closest beach to our house has a wide, sweeping bay. The estuary creeps round to a calm inlet where coloured boats bob on the water. This is our sanctuary.
Yesterday, after a dark, wet morning, the sun appeared for a couple of hours, so we headed to the beach. Driving into the village, the sky was hazy with drops of water thrown up by the huge waves thrashing the sand. The tide was higher than we had ever known it, licking the seaweed scattered on the tideline.
The children screamed as water cascaded over the tops of their boots, and they hid amongst the long grass on the sand dunes. I had been feeling cross and tired after a week of interrupted sleep and an endless list of jobs, but standing on the edge of the dunes, staring at the grey frothy waves, my shoulders relaxed and a little calm was restored.
The sea has saved me again and again when life has been stormy, and it feels more special now than ever.
My six-year old asked me recently what was on the other side of the sea.
“Denmark is over there,” I told her: four hundred miles of sea between us and our neighbours. We imagine Vikings in their longboats;I tell her of our friends in Copenhagen and the many trips we enjoyed there before she was born.
For me, that expanse of water represents opportunity and adventure rather than a barrier. But it feels as though our island is retreating, shrinking into a sea of voices that don’t represent me.
So I will continue to stand on that dune and shout into the wind because, far away from the screaming headlines and negative soundbites, it is good to feel part of a wider world.