Speculative - for Guardian Country Diary

Date August 11, 2017 11:06

Deben estuary, Suffolk

 I’m making a journey today – by nose. It’s unintentional - the best journeys often are, I find. Because, it’s not what I’m seeing on this walk from Woodbridge to Waldringfield that holds me, but what I sense on the air – atomised and attached to waking dream.

 Smell is so powerfully linked to memory it’s a wonder it has a purpose in the present, at all. A whiff will waft us across space and time – in a heartbeat. Which is amazing. No wonder I keep losing my sandwiches.

 Which has me searching for the map. Where am I? I’m approaching a strip of beach at Kyson Point – a wind-scoured slice of headland on the River Deben, about 8 miles from the sea – following a path that will skirt a shimmering mile of broad estuarine creek, and take me through woods and wheat fields, and down bushy sheltered lanes. But right now, I’m standing in a leaf-tunnel of hawthorn and willow, in the shade, where all the best smells live. But what do I detect that carries me so? I’m not sure. Everything?

 Grass, brackish water, hot bracken. Worms, damp stone, dung and green. Cows, and beetle carcasses. Sun on bark. Chlorophyll. Sighing leaves and corpse. Meadow flowers, seaweed and hay – hint to stench, life to death; from giddying rush, to subtle sway.

 But I’m not certain, any more, even that it’s me doing the smelling. Disembodied, I’ve stopped in my tracks. I am once more the boy who first sensed such things – all else is suspended. Could odour be linked to ancestral memory?  Perhaps the people who walked this way a thousand years ago – to fell the trees to build the ships to bury their lords at Sutton Hoo – nosed the air as I do now, and thought of their own childhoods, throwing play-spears of bracken too?


Mark Tunnicliffe

Mark Tunnicliffe’s blog, ‘River Rat Diary’, can be found at http://marktunnicliffe.com/blog

Posted August 11, 2017 11:06


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 In the summer of 2016, Mark Tunnicliffe threw his life to the wind and moved 100 miles to a boat on the Deben estuary in Suffolk. He now collects buckets, and shouts at birds. Can his dreams stay afloat?  

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