Back home in Liverpool I couldn't stop thinking about the peace and quiet of St Bees. By the mid 80s I had already been back a few times staying with Mrs Atkinson at her seaview B&B and gazing at the maritime landscape from my breakfast table in the bay window of her front room before exploring, walking for miles and gathering thoughts in quiet places.
I had started my own little chandlers shop in a Liverpool suburb and would listen to the radio from behind the counter. It was an ancient wooden cased valve set and was powerful enough to pick up Radio Cumbria most of the time, so I was able to gather snippets of news about St Bees every now and then. I became a regular listener to Julie First and Kevin Fernihough.
Indeed, as an aside, it was through Julie First that I became aware of some music that has stayed with me through the years, Gallagher and Lyle's version of 'Desiderata' being a good example and one that also encompasses the spirit of St Bees "...in the noisy confusion of life be at peace with your soul, for with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world...."
But I digress a little. In the shop I was helped each day by my wonderful grandmother. She was an inspiration to me and was a huge figure in my life. She probably knew me better than anybody else did but I was surprised one day when she asked if she could come up to St Bees with me. My Grandfather had passed away a year or two earlier and she may well have been seeking some quiet contemplation herself. I rarely spoke of St Bees with anybody outside my circle of trust as it was so very special for me and I feared the magic spell might be fragile and broken if shared with those less attuned to such things but my Grandma was so tuned in that we would speak of 'my village by the sea' often. Nevertheless it was a special request and one that I was happy to accept. So one bank holiday weekend we set off, the two of us, to share what would be the first of many visits together to my little bit of heaven by the sea. The train journey itself to St Bees should be mentioned because as many of you will know it is spectacular indeed. Hugging the coast for much of the route it provides a stunning vista of the coast and sea with incomparable marine views.
The photos here include one of my Grandma at Fleswick Bay, a serene, cathedral-like place backed by tall sandstone cliffs and the sound of water eternally ebbing and flowing. I have often noticed that here even the seagulls are reverential, standing silently looking out to sea from atop the rocks that are scattered on the pebble shore. They always seem to be deep in contemplation and they most probably are. Surreal things can happen at Fleswick Bay and they usually do. If magic is real then here it can be found. Take the time, in more recent years, when my partner and I arrived at the bay to find actor Tom Conti sitting on a rock. But that's another story...
Following that first visit together, my Grandma travelled with me to St Bees on several occasions and we shared happy, thoughtful times there throughout the mid 1980s. Then when she became older and more frail she couldn't travel as much. And I stopped going, unwilling to face the fact that she may never see the swirling sea and the green fields and smell the summer scent of gorse on top of St Bees head again.
I could no longer be there alone.
She never did go back although I did - much later with somebody else. Unexpectedly and happily - and we collected some pebbles which we were able to take home and give to my Grandma as a memento of those long ago happy days. Shortly after that she passed away. But in St Bees, if I go there today which on occasion I do, I can find my Grandma again. In footprints in the sand and the wide open spaces of this special part of the world. This special part of my life.
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