Back to back, fresh from 2 hours sleep for two nights, First Light festival, packing in an opportunity to explore, be curious, an invitation from Simon Raven to Doggerland in the private Benacre woodland was intriguing.
Simon Raven and someone from Natural England were our guides (each professing ignorance but experience and interest) along the generous rides through the woodland of the Benacre estate. I never got the jist of Natural Englands role, I was beyond intelligent questions or listening, content to be led and to wonder – did he say Benacre looked after some 50 acres on behalf of Natural England? I see it’s a SSSI site). Some friendly faces, including Simon and Jo from our book club (‘You said to come here, so we obeyed’, they explained) and Christopher who it turned out worked with Jo in the 1980s both at the RSA, connecting arts and manufacturing. Ah these connecting Venn diagrams of overlap that increase with our age.
Simon invited us to go back, and be in the Mesolithic time, to be the same people but imagine the life. What’s pressing? Food, shelter and protection. (Maslow’s hierarchy, and sex!). They were not farmers. They were nomadic. They had no metal with but used flint and wood and fire. These were the people of Doggerland as much as here in Benacre. Christopher asked the question – why keep moving on when around was plenty. The answer seemed to be that plenty at one time of year was not at another time, and like birds, we needed to move to feed and shelter successfully. Plenty. I am reminded of our recent Australian journey, encountering the nomadic aboriginal peoples who had plenty. They had no need to pickle or preserve for winters, no need to collect, to save, to hoard to covert, for there was plenty where ever they went. The clash with today’s capitalism, to acquire, accrue, is acute.
Simon reading from Doggerland by Julia Blackburn and being a fabulously authentic Spearman.
We passed some magnificent old oak, sweet chestnut, beach, and young birch woodland, with some very old pollards. Fern, unfurling and green from the recent rain, carpeted the dappled light woodland floor. Wood avon, campion, Dogs Mercury.
Then suddenly we had this vista over the Benacre Broad, an area of open water lagoons and reed beds habitat for the black and white wading Avocets, Oyster Catchers, and inland the Marsh Harriers and Bitterns, although the latter two are diminishing with the increasing march of the sea. The bank on which we stood had been made 20 years ago to weaken the assault, but these years was regularly flooded over.
Christopher running down the path to the sea, before he went into it! The only one of us to swim. Beside him the naked salt dead trees. The death of Doggerland as a landmass was the story of a climate changing and rising sea levels 7 thousand years ago. Today here we are. We are loosing from this coast roughly 10 meters a year, some years and in some places 30 meters. It is dramatic to behold here. They estimate that Cove Hythe church will cease to operate 2040. Any future attempts to protect Covehithe are unsustainable and sacrificed for priority to Southwold and people.