Dr Julie Carter

 

Writer

Monday, 31 January 2022 20:19

Seeing in a Different Light

Places are like people—our relationships are constantly in flux. Places hold memories and personal meanings, but because we change and places change, nothing is set in stone.

     The Northumberland coast is a beautiful place and never more so than on our recent January visit when the skies were psychedelic, the sea was calm, and the moon was almost full. This castled edge of England was the venue for all my childhood holidays—where I learnt about rockpools and seabirds and sand in my toes and where my mother taught me how to swim. I still remember the day I first swam, about age seven, ploughing through the waves with my head-up breaststroke. I have never felt prouder or more amazed. This friendly beachy place, where I loved to pick willicks for tea, was also where I was raped and serially sexually abused when I was eleven. It has taken decades for me to be able to say that plainly and calmly. Which I can do now—because the shame of it does not belong to me. And I mention it because the events have coloured my relationship with this place ever since. And I will no longer collude with the shame by being afraid to speak of it when its pertinent to do so.

     I haven’t often been back to Northumberland which is sad, because it’s so lovely. But my recent visit was a happy one—swimming with my friend Wyn before breakfast, every day a different coloured sunrise. On one of the mornings, we plunged into a scarlet sea under a purple-red sky. I thought of the blood I shed all those years ago. The hidden blood, the secret kept, until it could not be kept any longer. This time, this sky, this sea, this morning—was an entirely different kind of red. Like a gift or roses red. The sea held me in its salty floating motion. Not for too long though as it was January, and we soon ran along the sand and rushed up to the cottage for hot chocolate and porridge.

 

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My relationship with my home in the Lake District has gone through some turbulence since the beginning of the pandemic, and especially since the end of the first lockdown. For a while I struggled to cope with what I perceived as a kind of rape of this environment—with all the crowds and litter and shit and noise. One day I had one of those moments, when knowing I was about to die, I relaxed completely as it was far too late to do anything about it. A drugged-up driver using the circuit of Derwentwater as a race track lost control and headed straight for me and the wall I was trapped against. It wasn’t until they actually missed me, half a second later that I felt scared. And I didn’t know if I could stay here, in the place I love to be at home in, any more.

     Thankfully I, along with many others, have weathered this rocky patch in our Lake District love affair, and tried our best to engage with solutions which meet the needs of both locals and visitors. Although I did give a sad smile recently when reading the Keswick Reminder, where one of our local councillors described how the National Park Authority makes him like a member of the Sioux Nation. He said it would be much easier for the Park Authority’s vision of the economy if all the residents who want to pursue lives unrelated to tourism could just be cleared out to a reserve somewhere less picturesque. I understand what he means, although I wouldn’t have been bold enough to put it in those terms. But I will stand with him, because I don’t want to be ousted. I have seen the Lake District in a different light these last two years. It is a beleaguered, worn-out landscape with an ecology way out of balance. But still beautiful, and with care and work, still capable of regeneration. But while I can only live in one place, I don’t have to be truly monogamous. I can love other places too.

     Tomorrow I’ll be travelling to what I consider to be the best country in the world—Scotland. Once we are north of Perth, heading into the Cairngorms, my heartstrings will be strumming. I love those extraordinary expanses of mountains, the hidden lochs and the pines that wreak of an ecological history much stronger than anything I have known in Cumbria. In amongst that landscape, I feel like a tiny, short-lived speck. I also feel connected to a whole much bigger than myself. Crunching my feet over the sandy granite hill paths sprinkled with glinting minerals reminds me that this earth and this me—we are both made of stardust. I’m a spacewoman and my minerals will carry on glinting.

 

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And what about Northumberland? Everything depends upon the light we view things in. I’ll not forget that bloody sunrise, and swimming in the scarlet sea. And peaceful afternoons under sunsets that if they were ever painted no one would believe they could have been real. The Peep of the oystercatchers and the Shush of lapping sea along the shore—such a peace. The place itself did not cause me harm. It’s where I learned to swim after all. Which on that never prouder day seemed like a miracle to my little self. And remembering it now, it still does.

 

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