From the keeper’s cottage one could not see the sea. This did not matter, as I knew it was there, just behind the ground which rose in sets, like waves, before me. If one fancied a sighting however, the bay would reveal itself from a chalk track which rose gently behind the house. Standing there, looking south across a greenbelt of ash and oak, the bay glittered in the distance; a tantalising, shimmering, far-off thing. And to the south-east, more reward: the slow, shingle curve of Chesil Beach, like a scythe blade running to Portland at its tip, eternal tides peening the blade’s edge.
I preferred it this way as the sea is always better from a distance. Far more satisfying to bathe in it from afar, while keeping dry feet, than standing cold and stupid in its chilly element. For mostly I love the sea not for its own sake, but for what it gives the land. There is the gentler micro-climate, the near absence of frosts near the coast. There are the sea breezes too, which on balmy days infiltrate every space, airing the woods and freshening the hedgerows. There is the light. But there is something else, something which cannot be translated in meteorological terms: the sea has power and the land can feel this.
Existing beside so vast and obtuse a neighbour, it is as if the intelligence in every flower, tree and stone is electrified. As the tides advance, the countryside bristles, swells with vigour, feels its own depth more keenly. The glow in a gorse flower on a headland is more luminous, a field stone pulses with consciousness, a wind-raked dwarf oak clings to its roots and glints defiance. In the sea’s orbit, the land always seems more vivid.