James Canton teaches at the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. He has taught the MA in Wild Writing at the University of Essex since its inception in 2009, exploring the fascinating ties between the literature and landscape of East Anglia.  His book From Cairo to Baghdad was published in 2011.  Out of Essex, a collection of writing inspired by rural wanderings in the county, was published  in 2013.  He is currently working on his latest collection of wonderings.

Covehithe to Southwold

There on the cliff top lie the broken ribs of the church at Covehithe. Where once people prayed the wind whistles through empty pews. Here is a skeleton coast littered with the pale bones of the trees that once stood tall and now lie anchored in the soft sands. A floral spray of roots rest upon the high tide line: a wooden posy to the folk of Easton Broad – long departed Suffolk souls whose homes framed these sea-breeze fields. Halt a moment. Listen as you walk these empty beaches and you will hear their voices still – in the soft susurrus of the marsh grasses, in the swirling streams of sand that play at your feet as you walk beside the open underbelly of the cliff face. The sea will take all in time, they sigh.

Sizewell to Aldeburgh

Step with that numbing crump of stone ever present, following each footfall. There are clumps of purple-spread splendour – sea kale Crambe maritima – that rest up on the pillow of the sloping pebble beds, hidden tap roots digging deep underground seeking fresh water. Such strange sea creatures stranded here over the tide line. Walk on, blown down the beach into a cloud, an invisible smirr of exotic scent – the coconut perfume of the gorse in bloom. A burst of brilliant sunshine: the furze flowers reflect the fishermen in their Day-Glo jackets who shelter tucked in tents beside their rod antennae, which stick from the sands and with gossamer threads reach into the deep grey sea, the German Sea. The beach huts here are surrounded with a rusty sea detritus: scatterings, smatterings of once brave boats now broken, sunken, splintered by the waves, the winds, the tide of time. And behind the backs of all, that vast puffball, unnaturally perfect circle of white cloud which blots the horizon, an ever present moon dropped from the sky.

Shingle Street to Felixstowe

Stand on the beach at Felixstowe and stare across the mouth of the River Deben – to the whale back sand bars, to the vast, glorious folly of Bawdsey Manor. A spray of exotic tree tops rises unkempt above the perfect oriental cupolas, their china blue, eggshell virdigris glorious even against the cloudy skies. To the east the red crag cliffs fall to the grey German Sea; to the west sit the matchbox houses of the quay. At the gloaming time head south to Landguard Common. Creep in the shadows of the cranes, those hideous monster herons leaning poised above the waters.  There stands an acropolis of steel: modern temple for the Port workers, lit in the glowing glare of artificial light. On Langer Park, strange, stepped statues rise from the beach in dusk-deceiving shadows – sacrificial sites it might seem, but no – just the bare butts of gun emplacements, mere mementos to the fear of foreign feet invading – like those stoic stone shells, the towers of Martello; the pill boxes peering out to sea. Invasion haunts these Suffolk shores: Remember the Dutch at Cottage Point, whisper the ghosts of Landguard Fort. Four hundred years is nothing to a land which seeps dinosaur bones from its soils, deposits sharks’ teeth on the beach at East Lane.