Solway Walk – Helen Cox – Writing

I found a number of writers and poets who know the Solway. I want to include them in this bit about the Solway and will post their writings with links for visitors to follow. Please support these artists by paying attention and buying their writing.

Helen Cox has been writing professionally since graduating from her MA in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of York St John in 2006 . Between now and then, Helen has written editorial for TV, radio, magazines and websites providing commentary on a range of topics including film, literature, travel and feminism. The publications she has written for include The Guardian, The Spectator, Film Fatale Magazine, movieScope Magazine and Film4.Com.

Visit her website here

Of the Solway, in her debut poetry book ‘Water Signs’ she says…

(the last paragraph is a killer)

I was raised on the edge of the Eden River, at the point where her mouth opens out to the Solway Firth. The Solway is a fault line, marking the brink where two continents once kissed and swallowed an ancient ocean – the Iapetus, a long-lost ancestor of the Atlantic. On a still day, this saline mirror reflects the jagged lines of Scotland, where martyrs were once bound to rocks and drowned, and the English saltmarshes on the other side where the last ammonites laid down to die.

On this windless November afternoon, when the frosts have yet to scratch their nails down the backs of the distant hillsides, you can almost smell the chill in the air. But despite the coldness of this landscape, and its cruelty, despite the firth’s deadly quicksand and the way it hold hands with its radioactive sister: the Irish Sea, even now there is a feverish singing in my blood. A siren call that lures me back to this shoreline.

Like these tides I know of old, I will always return.

Nearby in St Michael’s graveyard, the corpses of Georgian smugglers who pirated brandy and tobacco are buried beneath the Yew trees. Their ears unable to listen to the bells chime in the church tower. Bells stolen from Scotland by English raiders. Bells that sang to me on playtimes and lunchtimes when I was a student at Bowness-on-Solway – a school that stands just a hop, skip and a jump from the skeletons of dead buccaneers.

My old school gate is an Ouroboros; the end and the beginning of Hadriain’s Wall – an eighty-mile frontier where rebels and Romans shot bronze arrows through each other’s hearts.

Here is division, threat and death, and for the time I lived here that is a truth I was never allowed to forget.

Hiking the periphery of the firth, twenty-five years after I left this landscape behind, I watch eroding earth flirt with the dislocated jaw of the estuary. I mark progress by the hazard signs posted every half mile. Warning strangers about the merciless tides that grip and twist the Eden until she no longer looks like her true self. I am reacquainted with the silence that lives here on the outer rim. The only sound: the intermittent rattle of trucks clattering over cattle grids.

When dusk closes in, mauve clouds threaten to smother and in my bones I know I wouldn’t resist. Through the mist, an invisible hand inks the silhouettes of bare trees on the horizon. The only other witness: a creaking gate the farmer refuses to oil. He’d rather save the fuel for his furnace. For the day the hearth wolfs down his last block of fire wood, when he cannot bear to chop hawthorn bark with chapped hands in the snow.

While we walk through the last shred of sunlight, chased by the icy breath of the coming solstice memories wash up on the foreshore like fragments of old pottery and river glass, and with them some dead bodies.

Looking back over my shoulder at the expanse of silver water, I think about the yawning void between information and wisdom. By the age of ten, when my parents left Cumbria for Yorkshire, the universe had taught me everything I need to know. It took me another quarter of a century to truly understand what to do with that gift.

Published by

Chris Reed

Group Worker Art Maker

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