open country

Share this article

I was lifting short cuts of wooden boards out of my car when I decided to empty the rest of the items that did not need to be in their just now.

There was also a bucket, a box of nets, white trays and bug boxes – the remnants of some beach activities in July.

I pulled the nets out to clean and sort them and I noticed something that was not a net. A knobbly stick, blanched by the sea was among the green and blue mesh. I pulled it out and smiled as I felt the smooth weathered areas and looked at the orange stone with quartz seams.

Then I noticed a couple of red-brown spots. That was where my finger bled after I snipped it with the scissors. The children who came that day were energetic and I was fighting my tiredness. I had also promised a couple from Coldingham that I would assist them with wildflower identification.

I was determined to please everyone – the boys wanted to river dip and the girls wanted to make journey sticks. In my head I calculated a slot for each activity and now I was hurriedly getting string ready so that we could collect our pieces of memory on the walk back to the sands.

The children were elated at the sight of my blood dripping on the dry pebbles. Instead of retrieving my first-aid kit I wrapped a tissue round the small but open wound and tied it with string – now it has become part of my memory/journey stick.

If I had compartmentalised the activities in my head, they certainly have now been formatted that way in memory. As if it was a new activity I began to go through the dense mats of wild flora.

On the edge of the sands a herbaceous border has built up with many common flowers that are not peculiar to coastal margins. Hawkbit with its small stubby leaves that look like a creature has bitten them, the gently fragrant lady’s bedstraw, the clutching-climbing meadow vetchling and the creamy white clover.

Push back some taller plants and you will see the small but beautifully formed doves-foot cranesbill; a miniature wild geranium. Tangled in the grasses are the little white stars of lesser stitchwort and occasionally showing are the less seen white campion.

Among the coastal plants is common rest-harrow, (top of page). This hairy perennial is extremely robust despite its array of attractive pink pea-like flowers. Although most common by the shore, it may also be found on lime-rich pasture. Its English name comes from the time when the tough root system would quite literally “arrest”the plough.

In small pockets of sand-rich soil, as well as the grass borders and banks, bladder campion grows. It is also white but the flower is held up by a bulbous sepal cup known as a calyx. Bladder campion, Silene vulgaris, is widespread in Britain but differs from the also common sea campion, Silene maritime. The latter grows on shingle shores and cliffs, able as it is with its waxy coat, to withstand the salty sea spray.

Three types of thistle grew in different places in the short stretch that we concentrated on – knapweed, spear and creeping. When I turned my back on the sea and sand there was an abundance of giant, almost Jurassic flowers on the road verge, including burdock and great willow-herb. The latter is a tall, hairy plant growing up to six feet in height with deep hot-pink flowers.

I was glad someone had made me stop and study the flowers closely. I am glad they made me slow down as people left the beach with towels, buckets, spades, windbreaks and bare feet covered in sand. I am so used to naming the flowers in my head that I do not rummage through the grass to look at the basal leaves. The flowers are still waving in my head and crouching coyly near the ground as I fall asleep.