The chant of the waves, the warmth of the sun

The clouds hung low over the earth and I struggled to remember what the sky colour was. It had become an undulation of white and grey, shadowing the sun and darkening the nights. The calendar had ticked into Spring and apart from a slight warming of the air, it was difficult to tell winter had gone to other latitudes. I had resigned myself to a long wet spring, hoping summer would be worth the wait. Until, one day, unannounced, the clouds parted and the sun began to bathe the earth in its warmth. May had arrived.

I hoped on the bike and pedalled to the Cycle Touring Festival, I lazed in the garden after work switching my black uniform for summer clothes, I rode into Lincolnshire to reach a sunny work festival in Yorkshire before coming back home with a head full of microadventures plans. June was going to be a month spent outdoors.

I was sound asleep when the phone rang. It was work. I hesitated before picking up, but I did. It had been a long week since coming back from the festival and it was possible my colleague needed some genuine help. Instead of the familiar voice of my co-worker, it was the stressed out voice of my manager than reached my ears. Nobody had showed up in the shop that morning. Left with no solution, I had a quick shower and cycled the fastest I’d ever done to work. Phone calls after phone calls only lead to my colleague voicemail. The day went by and my worry grew. Nobody knew where he was or why he wasn’t picking up his phone, until 9pm when my manager texted. My co-worker had resigned, leaving me the sole employee of a shop about to enter its busiest period of the year. I felt all my energy drain out of my body as my microadventures plan slid away from my grasp. There was nothing for it. I would have to work almost every shift until we could find some help.

Day after day, I harassed the recruitment agency who kept sending unsuitable candidates. I was left with no choice, I had to hire the least worse person so I could get a  day off at least. A day of intense training took place before I was able to crash into bed. I had not had a proper day off for two weeks. I turned off my phone that day, resolute that I would not be dragged into work.

More frenzied phone calls with the agency followed. I had a holiday coming up for the end of the month and no plans to cancel it. I spent my days sifting through CVs, while trying to run a shop and train useless staff at not messing everything up. Until, three days before my flight, the agency called. They had found the perfect candidate, or so they said. I went through the formalities of the interview, knowing beforehand that if the person could talk and presented well, they would be hired. They were. Not only could she talk, presented well, but she had lots of desirable experiences and a strong work ethic. I knew then the agency had finally found someone reliable.

Three days of full-on training followed until 5pm rang on that Sunday. I rode back home, each pedal stroke pushing me away from work and shedding every thought of the shop behind. I was on holiday. At home, I packed my bag, checked-in my flight, and slept like the blessed.

The following morning could not pass fast enough but finally it was time to get to the airport. I emptied my bag for security, chatted with them about recorder music and licorice while they scanned my items repeatedly. Eventually, they found I carried no deadly weapon and let through. The plane journey was uneventful and I lost myself in ambient music, dozing off to sleep every now and again.

We flew over the clouds, over France, over the Alps, and finally we looped around Nice before descending over the sea to the airport. There was not a trace of clouds in the sky. The heat struck me as I took a step out of the plane. The thermometer was a lot higher than what I was accustomed to but I embraced it. The warmth was all-encompassing, like a hug from the arms of the sun, and after months of dreary grey and cold, I could not moan about it.

My friend was waiting just outside the security gates. We had not seen one another for three years. I could not believe this amount of time had elapsed. She is my muse and inspiration. Ideas and creativity flow inside of me like a raging torrent every time we meet. It is easy to live with her around, chatting endlessly into the night, walking miles after miles in cities, and eating all the good food. Life is better when we’re close.

We drove to her apartment and I met the new addition to her family, Hawaii, a beautiful gentle English cocker spaniel. I dropped my bag, emptied its content, and forgot about the world in Bristol. We talked, we walked, I met her friends, we made plans to go to the mountains and to the beach. Life was easy. We could just follow it wherever it lead us. Work that had been so difficult and tiresome seemed to be a distant memory as time stretched to the rhythm of my body.

A week passed and it was time to go back to the UK. I did not want to leave, not so quickly, but time was not my own any longer. My boarding pass dictated I had to sit in a plane that day. We said rapid goodbyes, better than lengthy embraces, and I fell asleep in the plane. Drifting into sleep was much easier than having to think about leaving my friend behind.

Late, we landed in Bristol, the clouds had parted and it was like I had brought back the embrace of the sun with me, a trace of my friend. My partner was waiting in the car park, ready for our holidays. We drove home, my head full of Nice, the mountains, and the seaside. I threw my clothes in the washing machine, hung them up, and packed them again the following morning. It was time to head to Devon.

The sun seemed to settle in the sky as we drove south and west. The drive was uneventful, a straight line down to the coast. Needing a break from the road, we parked by the seaside, ordered fish and chips, and settled on a sandy beach. It was all a bit cliché but we didn’t care. The food was good, the sand was comfortable, and the sun soft on our skins. I dipped my feet in the sea, the temperature so much colder than in Nice but I didn’t mind. I crouched, getting more of my body in the water and began to swim. A part of my brain was going berserk, imagining every shadow on the sand to be a monster, every wave to be part of a hand ready to cling around my body and drag it into unknown depth. I resisted the urge to scramble out of the sea and kept on swimming. One stroke at a time, I silenced my brain. I swam a length, another, another, another, and I began to enjoy the caress of the sea.

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Later that evening, we made it to our accommodation. Both too tired to do anything, we had a quiet dinner inside and an early night. The following days we explore the South Devon coast, dividing our time between hikes and sea swimming. The chant of the waves was our constant companion, one that I sometimes greeted with a song or two from my recorder. Time stretched on again as we forgot the hands of the clock and lived to our rhythm.

Eventually time caught on and it was time to head home. I had forgotten about the troubles at work, my ex-co-worker a distant memory of another time. The sun, the seas, the mountains had taken away my stress and worries. Ten days had elapsed but I felt like a month had gone by. I was ready to face whatever had happened in the shop in my absence. But nothing had happened. Everything had rolled smoothly and the shop was not a disaster. I slid back into my role, my shoulders relaxed, my smile fresh and genuine. Life was good.

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Introducing… well… me

www.allysseriordan.info

Things have been quiet on the blog over the Summer. There are several reasons for this. One is my annual struggle with August, but another is that I’ve been busy developing new projects. One such project is a website about me.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve most likely noticed that on top of the blog, I have a Twitter account, an Instagram account, a SoundCloud account, and even a YouTube account. Put like that, it’s a lot. So why add a website to the mix?

A bit of background

Before I answer this, let me give a bit of background. I started Beste Glatisant back in January 2014. My online presence before then was confined to the world of fandoms and fanfictions, my name and avatar a presence on a multitude of forums. But in the early 2010s, I began to move away from television and into the outdoors. I discovered right of ways and the concept of microadventures. Expeditions were not confined to a screen or the pages of a book any longer. But as with anything starting was the hardest part. So I logged onto WordPress.com, created a blog, and shouted to the world that I was going to step outside of my front door.

And so this blog became a drive to get me outdoors. I would have no content to post about if I sat in front of the television all day. So I walked out, sleeping in my garden at first and taking day walks around London. And as I built my confidence outdoors, I built my confidence as a writer. I began to experiment with words, pictures, and soon afterwards sounds. I expanded onto Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, and YouTube. But at the core of it all was this blog, Beste Glatisant.

Why create a new online space?

The trouble with Beste Glatisant is that it has always been deeply intertwined with microadventures. And while this has been fine for over three years, it is now becoming a problem.

There is no denying that my outdoor life is at the core of my creativity. But my projects are outgrowing the niche I created here. I have albums coming up this year and creative writing plans for the future. So I built a website, a place where you can find all of me under one roof.

A portfolio of my work

This new website collects all of my work whether in words, sounds, or images. If you are only interested in my microadventures, the best place to follow me is still right here. But if you want to know more about what my life outdoors inspire in me, and about my work with sound, be sure to visit www.allysseriordan.info and to subscribe to my newsletter. It will contain all of my latest news and exclusive sneak peaks of upcoming projects (hint: an album trailer will land in your inbox very soon. Be sure to subscribe).

www.allysseriordan.info

In the footsteps of John Constable

Still I should paint my own places best; painting is with me but another word for feeling, and I associate “my careless boyhood” with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful; that is, I had often thought of pictures of them before ever I touched a pencil…

Letter to Rev. John Fisher (23 October 1821), from John Constable’s Correspondence, part 6, pp. 76-78

John Constable (1776 – 1837) was en English romantic painter born in East Bergholt in Sussex. He spent his childhood on the banks of the Stour, sketching the landscape around him in his free time. Although he lived in London for most of his adult life, the landscape of his youth never left him and he spent many hours capturing them in his later work. And it is easy to see why.

Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’), 1816–7

Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’), 1816–7
Tate Britain

Last month, my partner and I took the train to Manningtree and began walking in Constable’s footsteps following this handy guide. The walk began straight out of the station, down into the car park, and into a rural lane surrounded by gold autumn leaves, illuminating the landscape with one last dash of colour before the onset of winter.

Our footsteps were silent on the carpet of damp leaves allowing us to listen to the breeze in the trees and occasional bird songs. In a few minutes we were walking along the river banks, reeds separating us from the water. Everything was flat and we could see for miles around. There were cows endlessly grazing in their pasture, a silent heron flying low over the water, and the distance churn of a train passing by. The path soon became shadowed by vegetation and slippery with mud momentarily turning our attention away from the water to our feet.

We emerged into a green field, proudly bearing a National Trust sign as we entered the AONB (Area of National Outstanding Beauty) of Dedham Vale. Passing 56 Gates, an Environment Agency Flood Defence Barrier that used to separate the fresh water of the river Stour from the main estuary, I couldn’t resist recording the clang of the metal as the wind slide into its cavity, making it sing with the stream below.

Leaving metal and concrete behind, we headed for Flatford Mill, a scene well-known by John Constable. The landscape is now managed so visitors can experience the same view that inspired the painter. But trees have come and gone and the water level of the river has risen since the 19th century. It is only a pale comparison we can see today. There was no horses when we arrived and the mill was silent, the hive of activity it supported long gone. In spite of those changes though, it was easy to see what had inspired John Constable to become a landscape painter. Everywhere we looked, palettes of green and brown were displayed before out eyes, waiting to be captured.

We left the tourists and school children behind to enter another field. We hugged the serpentine river, occasionally disappearing into tunnel of woods before reappearing into vast field. Everything was flat and green, the perfect illustration of typical English lowlands. The views there were the same as the one John Constable knew, the only trace of modern life marked by airplanes streaks in the sky.

Dedham from Langham, ?1813

Dedham from Langham, ?1813
Tate Britain

We made it into Dedham and visited its old church in search of a work of the artist but there was only a laminated copy of one of his painting resting on a table. The original was undergoing restoration. A little disappointed not to have been able to immerse ourselves in the vision of Constable, we walked around the village in search of a pub. Everything was quaint and old-fashioned. I felt like we were walking in a quintessential English village. This feeling wasn’t diminished as we found a pub and sampled the local ales while resting on a leather sofa by a chimney. On the table in front of us lay the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley News, a paper filled with stories of conservation, countryside life, and art.

Eventually we extirpated ourselves from the warmth of the pub. We had a train to catch in Manningtree. We rejoined the river Stour, crossing the same field we had walked into previously and retraced our steps back to Flatford, to 56 Gates, and finally to the golden paths.

The sea and me

I’ve lived in the UK for over five years now and I’ve come to realise how inescapable the sea is. It is the place where I can travel no further with trains or my bike. I come to a stop and imagine France, Canada, or Norway on the other side of where I am even though the distances and places are often obscure to me.

Of course, I knew before moving that Britain is an island. I’ve seen it on maps for years, looming over France in a history full of conflicts and complicated relationship. I’ve looked up at it, yearning to learn more about it before finally making the jump. But I never considered its border with the sea. You don’t need a boat to go to the UK nowadays, you don’t even have to acknowledge that there is a sea around it. I certainly ignored it.

But then, I went exploring the country and the smell of salt began to permeate my journeys. I took regular trips to the seaside, drawn to the edges of this new home of mine rather than to the lands inside. I saw the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, I’ve walked along the rugged Jurassic Coast, I’ve watched the Irish Sea lap the coast of Wales, I’ve plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in Northern Ireland, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the North Sea in the Orkney Islands.

I come back again and again to the water, watch and listen.

Those are not the water of my childhood to be enjoyed and played in. Those I fear. They enclave me on an island and in an odd way I feel at their mercy. They could rise up and swallow the land. They lick the stone and melt the borders. They are mighty and I am frail.

I should avoid them, stay inland and explore the hills and fields of the countryside, safe on solid ground. But I don’t. Know your enemy, they say. So I travel to the seas. I explore their edges and familiarise myself with their rhythms.

The pebbles sing under my shoes, the sand hums under my bare feet, the waves mark the passage of time. I listened to it all and fell in love.

The ever changing seascape stopped being immense as I went from place and place and discovered local plants and scenery. Piers and sea defences made me feel welcome, myths and legends weaved stories through my head, and the raucous sound of the pebbles being called back to the sea and foam fizzing on the sand became a treat to be cherished by the shore.

Those are not the water of my childhood to be enjoyed and played in. Those I respect. They sing for me and in and odd way protect me and bound me to the land. They come and go, faithful and reliable. They wash over my feet and bid me welcome. They are mighty and I am humbled.

Alone on the isle of Hoy

In September 2014 I went cycle touring in Scotland and the Orkney Islands. It was my first cycle touring trip with a tent on the back of the bike. It was also my first time alone in sparsely populated areas where nature was everywhere. This is an account of my first day on the Isle of Hoy.

I stopped the bike and listened. There were no sounds to be heard. The boat was on its way back to the mainland by now. I looked behind me but there was no one to be seen. The few people who had disembarked were gone on other paths. I thought of the young woman I had talked to on deck before the wind carried our words away. She was heading to Rackwick on the west coast of the isle, like me. But I knew I wouldn’t see her here. She was not one for the roads. She was somewhere to my right, walking among the hills.

I looked at the road ahead and shivered. I took my phone out of my pocket. There was no signal. I glanced over my shoulders, tempted to cycle back to the pier. The boat was gone but there had been houses and a road going south, to Lyness where there would be more houses and even a hotel. I got back on the saddle and pushed the bike forwards. I was going to Rackwick.

My heart was thumping hard even though the road was flat. I tried to ignore it and immersed myself in my surroundings. The sky had disappeared behind the fog leaving me alone with the hills. They stood enormous above the ground as if coming from another world and it wasn’t hard to visualise the tales of a giant building this island as he threw lumps of earth around. My legs began to slow and it was difficult to keep a momentum going. I wanted to get to Rackwick and find the safety of the village but at the same time I couldn’t tear my eyes from the hills. They encompassed everything around me and in that instant felt like they were the entire world. And I, I was the only human in it, on a bike with a tent for only shelter and a few scraps of food in a bag. A chill ran through my body and settled in my legs, grinding me to a halt. I knew this was irrational. This was a very small isle, there were people around, and I was not in any danger. But reason was of no use. My frailty was too glaringly obvious between those hills and I had to face it.

‘I’m okay,’ I whispered tentatively. ‘The worst that can happen is a fall from my bike. I wouldn’t break anything.’ I paused, considering. ‘Would I?’ I took a deep breath. ‘No. I wouldn’t. And why would I fall from my bike? Stop being ridiculous and get back on it.’

I obeyed my own order, trying not to let my sudden fear of death take over me. I was starting to fall into a rhythm, the movement of the bike emptying my mind with each pedal stroke, when I saw stones protruding from the hill. I stopped, intrigued. This had to be one of the burial chambers the guide at Maeshowe had talked about. Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave from 2800BC. I had visited it the day before and had learned about death rituals on the Orkney Islands from all those centuries ago when people were deposited into small chambers made of rock. I left my bike by the side of the road and followed the path leading to the grave.

History and legends had been what drew me to the Orkney Islands. All I had know prior to my visit was what the Arthurian legends had taught me, and I knew most of it was lies. I had wanted to find out for myself what those islands were truly like and how people had lived in the time of King Arthur’s legends. What I had found had been more fascinating than I could have imagined. A whole village from ancient times (between 3180 and 2500 BC) had been preserved at Skara Brae, stones circles still laid on the land free for all to visit, and burial mounds littered the ground. Those traces of the past were mostly left on their own, or so lovingly cared for you couldn’t help but feel initiated to their secrets when being guided through them.

This particular tomb (Dwarfie Stane) was a large rectangular slab with a small hole on one side. A smaller rock was placed in front of the hole, obviously carved out of the main block. How did people transport it here when all I could see was peat and heather? How did they carve such a block out of this huge slab? It was unfathomable to my mind. I knew that all those millennia ago, the world had been very different and there had been more people on this isle, but they hadn’t had the technology we have today. Carving a block of stone, and then creating two small chambers within the main block must have taken ages and be a difficult job. What had it meant to them? Why hadn’t they simply buried their loved one in the ground? All those questions remained unanswered as I explored this ancient tomb, sticking my head in the hole, walking around it for signs of runes and modern graffiti, and leaning against the smaller rock watching the circle of white the sun created in the grey clouds. Eventually I walked back to the road and pedalled towards Rackwick, my head full of questions and my fears extinguished for a moment.

As I approached the village, the road divided into a fork. On my right, I could continue uphill towards the village, or I could follow the road for a few more metres before it petered out into a footpath on my left. I wanted to walk to the Old Man of Hoy, a 449 feet high sea stack, and I knew I needed to go right for that but I veered left. I could see a motorhome before the start of the footpath and I was hoping to be able to pitch my tent next to them, but when I reached the vehicle I discovered that the parking area was entirely made of tarmac. Anxiety began to bubble inside of me and once again I forced myself to ignore it. Instead, I pushed my bike through the grass and leaned it against a toilet block before walking down to the beach. There was an old blackened out house at the edge of the sand.

‘You must go to Hoy’s bothy when you’re there.’ The words of the campsite owner I’d stayed at a few days before echoed in my head. This had to be the place she had talked about. It was as she had described it. Magical. A lone house by the sea with a garden plot on the side, it was easy to fall in love with the sight. But all I could feel were my hands trembling and my breath growing shallower. The shelter was only a few metres from the sea, barely raised from its level. What if the weather turned and a storm battered the beach? This was a stupid thought. This house had obviously been on that spot for many winters without being torn to pieces. This was a safe place to be. I knew it but couldn’t reason with my body. So I walked back to the junction and wheeled my bike to the village.

I didn’t know what I was hoping to find, but a hostel wasn’t on the list. I walked to the door, read the notice on it, and phoned the indicated number hoping someone would come to open the locked building for me or let me know where to collect the key. Instead a grumpy woman told me in no uncertain terms that without prior notice the hostel wouldn’t be unlocked but that yes, I could pitch my tent in the garden but that there was a bothy down by the beach. I hummed and agreed, relieved to be allowed to sleep in the garden.

There were a handful of houses around me, and although they were clearly empty I felt safe in their midst. Nothing bad could happen here miles above the sea level and away from the cliff edge. I leant my bike against a wall of the hostel and prepared a snack for the walk to the Old Man of Hoy.

‘Hey!’

I raised my eyes, a little unsettled to hear a human voice I recognised. ‘Hi,’ I replied to the young woman from the boat. ‘How was the walk?’

‘Great. How was the ride?’

‘Great’, I lied not wanting to reveal how scared I had been feeling since disembarking at Linkness.

‘Are you staying at the hostel too?’

‘Not really. They’re closed and when I called the number I was told no one is going to come unlock it as I didn’t book in advance. But you can try. They know I have a tent so probably can’t be bothered to come.’

She dropped her bag to the ground and tried the number but it quickly became apparent that she was receiving the same answer as I did.

‘Well I have my tent if you want. I only have a sleeping mat but if we spread some clothes on the floor I’m sure it’ll be okay and we can open my sleeping bag into a big blanket?’

We agreed this was probably the best course of action as there was no boat leaving the island before the following day. I finished packing my pockets with sweets and went to refill my water bottle from the tap in the shed. As I came out, I noticed a piece of blue plastic sticking from under a flower-pot. I lifted it and found a key ring full of keys.

‘Heather,’ I called from the back of the house. ‘I’ve found keys.’ I run back to the front of the hostel and excitingly inserted one of the keys in the lock. It fitted perfectly and under my command began to turn.

‘Tadam,’ I exclaimed pushing the door wide open. ‘We have a bed for the night.’

We giggled like two school girls and stuffed our bags in the entrance hall before pocketing the keys and setting north in search of the famous sea stack. The village receded behind us, the waves crashed at the bottom of the cliffs, and the wind ruffled our hair, all isolating us in a world shaped and dominated by nature. But I wasn’t scared anymore. I had a bed for the night and a friend by my side. I was alright.