‘The Therapeutic Value of Coastline’

I was once asked where my favourite place was, ‘outside’ I quipped but a moment’s reflection led me to qualify it; ‘in nature’. Cities, completely man made, assault the senses with artificially loud noises, a barrage of entirely human concerns from advertising, to fast food smells, talk, footfalls and traffic. Many of us have to live and work there but in the countryside, although the hand of man is everywhere apparent, that constant hubbub is removed and stress begins to fall away.

Decades ago now, it was discovered that stroking your pet cat or dog lowers blood pressure, more recently, wandering through woodland has been added to the list but any natural environment will do the trick. At least it should, because for millennia before the advent of farming and its food surpluses enabling the first city states to arise, we lived in places that today are approximated most closely by the countryside. Not that such places were without danger or difficulty but learning to cope with them brought a quiet confidence that isn’t paralleled by adapting to the constant intrusive demands of commuter smoke-stacked skylines. And there is one outdoor space that has changed much less than others.

When you walk along coastline in a rural area, you are getting as close as you can to a timeless place; the sea, whatever its temper, looks as it would have looked to our distant ancestors whose names are not remembered. They would have heard the same crash of waves, felt the same wind and seen the wheeling fulmars flying high above the sea skirting the cliffs below them, then as now.

It is this sense of the past that gives added grandeur to the shores, dunes and cliffs. Remnants of different ages lie like shipwrecks along the coast. From pill boxes to castles and old mills, these ruins stimulate our imaginations, evoking the lives of the people who built them and lived here once. Within the crumbling walls of ruins, where nobody lives anymore, you can sit quietly and feel their atmosphere.

By the ocean, the sense of elemental contact is much stronger. To walk here is to remove yourself to a special place, a place where two worlds meet, the land and the sea; the shore belongs to both and neither, it is ‘betwixt and between’, a liminal space. The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin root, limen, which means ‘threshold’. The liminal space is the ‘crossing over’ space. On entering such a space, people also ‘cross over’ and attune to things they are normally too busy to contemplate or even notice. This is why so many writers and artists love the sea, allowing them to think creatively.

A great part of being in such a place is simply the experience of it, yet recently technology has eroded our capacity to experience. Too often people are thinking only of taking a ‘selfie’ beside a ruin rather than exploring it; their next ‘Instagram moment’ eclipses the present moment. Rather than thinking about communicating with other people, a walker should try and commune with what is around them; this does not involve talking but rather listening to the noises or silence of the natural world without an earplug soundtrack. Sadly, whatever conveniences hand held communication devices have brought us, many are now so addicted to them that they are afraid of silence. In this regard, digitalisation has led to a diminuition of our humanity. Switch off the phone for a couple of hours. The magic of the moment is in the moment, not in the recording of it.

Walking at night is another removal from the everyday world. We are naturally diurnal, daytime, creatures but if you are crossing open ground on a clear night with a gibbous moon and resist using a torch, your eyes accustom to the light and you can see where you are going. A beach is ideal for this. Even familiar beaches will seem strangely different in atmosphere at night and watching the moon cast its silver pathway over the lulling waters is a truly magical and immediate experience. Get addicted to that!





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