THE SEA AROUND US
During lockdown, craving the ocean but unable to get to it, we turned instead to The Sea Around Us, the iconic classic by marine biologist Rachel Carson.
First published in 1951, The Sea Around Us is the second in a series of books Carson refers to as biographies of the ocean. It is an utterly compelling meld of science and literature, delving into marine biology, ecology, conservation, oceanography and history. Seventy years later, the science has moved on but the wonder remains. Carson writes, passionately, eloquently, masterfully, about what she knows and loves. Her insight is remarkable. This is the stuff that switches us on, that makes us really see the world, that gently guides us into care.
In her National Book Foundation award acceptance speech Carson said 'No one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry'. And that's the thing. For all her scientific knowledge and expertise, it's the lyric beauty that captivates. As you read, you're really there, seeing what she sees. She's captured it completely.
THE BIG BLUE
Underwater epic The Big Blue, tells the story of Jacques Mayol, and his friend and rival, Enzo Molinari. Visually stunning, the film begins in 1965 as a young Jacques teaches himself to dive. The black and white footage, elegant and soft, soon blooms into fully saturated colour, as the action leaps forward into 1988, and Enzo, fully-grown, seeks out Jacques, persuading him to compete in a free diving competition in which he is the current world champion.
At times as intense as Jacques' own preoccupation with the sea and the creatures that live within it, the film has a lightness that carries you past its more surreal and frustrating scenes. The locations are beautiful, the soundtrack hypnotic and the casting near-perfect. At the end of the day, what's not to love about a man who just can't resist swimming with dolphins?
NEAR, FAR, FURTHER
Now and then, when I grow nostalgic about my ocean childhood - the wauling of gulls and the smell of salt, somebody solicitous will bundle me into a car and drive me to the nearest briny horizon.
- Sylvia Plath
UK-based this August but heeding the call of the sea, we'll be ...
NEAR: Taking a day trip to Kent and walking the Viking Coastal Trail from Broadstairs to Margate. Checking the tides, we'll walk as far as we can along the shore's edge, periodically climbing up onto the cliff paths whenever we want the bigger picture. Starting at Stone Bay (diving in for a swim before we've even begun), we'll wind our way through surfer's haven Joss Bay, the quieter, sheltered Kingsgate Bay, and on to marvel at the chalk stacks of Botany Bay, before arriving at Margate, for dinner, drinks and maybe a dip into some ocean-side art.
FAR: Camping in Cornwall and heading daily to Porthcurno Beach. The magic begins on the walk from the main road, a giant-leaf lined path that renders us Borrower-like. Reaching the cove: soft sand, sheltering cliffs. The water shimmering turquoise whenever the sun hits, or the best kind of moody on white-grey days. To one side, a stream: children's delight. On the other, a stone staircase hewn from the rocks. At the top? The Minack Theatre, the sea a backdrop to every production.
FURTHER: Dreaming our way to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper, desperate for the truly wild. Disembarking at Inverness, we'll jump on a bus to Ullapool, and onto Achiltibuie, where we'll catch our first glimpse of the Summer Isles, the mostly uninhabited archipelago located in the North-West Highlands to which we've been heading. We'll spend our days walking, sailing, gazing, thinking – but maybe not swimming (cold, cold Atlantic!). Remote, otherworldly, exhilarating. This place has our heart.