By Mike Smith
It’s almost monochrome, the seascape, like a bleak Lowry: a single eye-scarring line across the off-white canvas. But there are other lines too, not quite level, drawn on the sky in soft pencil, Prussian blues among the clouds’ grey, not quite horizontal. And the horizon is not true. Dull green-grey hillsides, the heather not yet in flower, slide to the sea’s edge a mile or two across the inlet.
And the foreground mud’s sprinkled with rocks like chocolate chips scattered on an over-baked cake. Up close, grey-white pebbles, streaked and scored, when you get your eye in, with all the colours of the rainbow; shingle banked up to the low dunes, the sand too coarse and grainy for making castles however well you wet it.
Sea-wrack at the tiered tide lines, grey-brown, softens it, and strung out banks of what might make good compost that has been washed out from beneath the grass further up, where the fields fray. Seagulls and oyster catchers, and a solitary whimbrel — its long, curved beak thin as the thin stick legs, give it movement. The sea is too far out for waves to show and islands of mud, tinged green, are settled in pewter grey.
To the west, the peninsulas of Southern Scotland, to the south, where imagination and sight mingle on the true horizon, the Isle of Man is a possibility among clouds. Some days it’s so clear and bright and seeming near, you think you might wade out to it, or even throw a stone. Ancients, they say, believed it moved: drifted, floated, came and went at its own will or that of Gods. Some think of it as Avalon, wither Arthur went after his sword –drawn from stone by the iron-master’s Art perhaps – thrown into the lake, had been caught and drawn to deep water.
Writers of local history – and J.R.R.Tolkien, no less – have seen the name as a link to the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, but others, no less authoritatively have asserted that Grune is a corruption not of green but of groyne, signifying a sea-defence. Certainly, if you walk the coastal path along the stepped concrete from Silloth through Skinburness you will pass many groynes, the northern ones with their asymmetric piles of shingle and stone facing the south, four foot of rotting timber showing on the north side. From Skinburness it’s rock armour; stacked boulders the size of armchairs to break the force of the waves, but these are far more recent, by a millennium or more, than the naming of the place.
Look out from your seat on the dunes, a cut log or a fully rooted tree, washed down by the rivers and cast up on the beach, smoothed and softened by the rub of sand and water and weather, heavy as rock when wet, light as papyrus when dry, your collar turned up against the steady breeze up from the south, the gorse behind you too prickly to shelter in just yet, and the emptiness before you is palpable. There is the sense that you could sit here for a week, a decade, a century, a thousand years and nothing would come to pass that would not pass and become the same, but slow forces are at work already that time will not reverse, and this place among those will see those changes first.
Turn around. Face north and see the curving sweep of Scotland’s shore. Look eastwards across the spit. Beyond the billiard-table Solway plain the tips of mountains Hadrian knew and of Northumberland. To the south the lumpy, soft peaked Lakeland fells flanking Skiddaw.
Closer, just off the point, the course of rivers running in and out to sea: Eden, Wampool, Waver, sticky with black dots of foraging birds, slick and sticky with mud in the ten foot channels where water’s only inches deep, but where the mud would grasp you by the ankles and hold you fast as the fast tide, faster than you can walk or even run, rises.
People love or loathe this place. It lies beyond the sounds of traffic. Even on a summer’s day, when it bakes under an unshaded sun, you may have it on your own, perhaps a couple leaving as you arrive, a couple arriving as you depart, a solitary figure, half a mile away across the gravel bank, silhouetted against the sky. Even on a summer’s day when the sky’s so high and wide you think you might fall in, it may have you on your own.
Once, on a midsummer’s eve, the sun touching Criffel, we sat and watched a lone canoeist, soundlessly, the slow paddle barely breaking the water surface, come in, riding the rising tide, a hundred or so yards offshore, the sea carrying them on, perhaps from Skinburness or Silloth, or who knows where? And, reaching the point, where storms gouge and notch the gravel tip, to what rendezvous, we wondered, were they being carried?
You can be alone here, barely a mile from the nearest house nestled in the gorse, from the last of farmland hedges, from the bungalows lined up behind the slight embankment of the coast road, only those with garret windows in the roof catching a glimpse of the water that one day, undoubtedly and perhaps soon, will wash them clean, and this gravel tongue itself, away.
Then it will fade in memory. Eerie. Peaceful. Silent save for bird song and the keen call of the wind. Bleak and beautiful. Magnificent and mysterious. A place where you might be confronted with the awesome sky, and the mountains far and near, and the almost monochrome seascape, or with yourself and nothing else but an inkling of eternity.
-  A barrier built out into the sea from a beach to check erosion and drifting.
 Hadrian was a Roman who ruled from 117 to 138. He built the Hadrian Wall to define his extent of rule in Britain.
Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL