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Letter from Goldcliff Seawall

19 Aug 2023 5 minute read
Goldcliff Seawall looking westwards (Photo by Gwyneth Marshman)

Gwyneth Marshman

The sea

I have been fascinated by the sea for as long as I can remember. Half-Welsh, half-English, I grew up in (non-coastal) Lincolnshire, but my maternal grandparents lived in Swansea, and childhood holidays were spent on the Gower.

Never one for sunbathing, I much preferred the times when we would wander the cliff paths, picking blackberries and gazing at the roiling watery expanse below. The arable fields and Roman roads of my home county had their own sense of vastness and space, stretching into the wild blue yonder, but this was something else: the sea was the wild blue yonder.

Living mostly inland throughout my life, my love affair with the water was rekindled on two occasions.

Castle Mound

I vividly recall, as a postgraduate student in Aberystwyth, sitting on the Castle Mound, gazing out at the Irish Sea, and feeling I belonged there in a way I had never felt anywhere before.

Then, years later, on a road trip up the American west coast, I found myself emerging from a redwood forest to see the Pacific Ocean rising up ahead of me, and the sense of belonging came flooding back.

The sea was a force of nature connecting my soul to the distant horizon: it was my true emotional home.

Sunset over Newport
Photo: Gwyneth Marshman

Living on the seawall

I now reside in Goldcliff, to the south-east of Newport; the water here is technically “estuary”, but I will be brave and claim it as the sea nonetheless.

I live, literally, in a gap on the seawall; it would be impossible to get closer to the water except by diving into it.

Lying awake at night, I can tell the position of the tide by the sighing of the waves, gently or wildly approaching or receding. Further coastal sounds are provided by the myriad of birds who are my companions here: herons, gulls, oystercatchers and more compete with my cat, who makes “ek-ek-ek” noises at them from her perch in the skylight.

The weather, delightful or inclement, engulfs me – and the birds – at all times: wind rattles the roof tiles, rain assaults the windows, and the sun exposure, even through cloudscape, gives me the semi-bronzed look of a permanent tourist. It is raw, exposed, elemental… and I love it.

The land

The sea extends in front and to either side of me, but behind me the landscape is oddly reminiscent of my Lincolnshire origins: flat, and consisting largely of fields and ditches (“reens”, as they are known here). This is the Gwent Levels: land reclaimed from the sea, and protected from it by the very wall on which I live.

The Wales Coastal Path, heading inland at Goldcliff, leads past the Goldcliff Lagoons to the RSPB Wetlands Reserve (with a wealth of fauna and flora), where it rejoins the sea for one more gasp before bidding it another temporary farewell, to cut through the industrial parts of Newport for possibly the path’s least picturesque stretch.

If I lift my eyes upwards, I can also glimpse the Uskmouth Power Station, the wind farms of Nash, and ultimately the hills of Newport and, beyond, Twmbarlwm. This is industry juxtaposed with nature: a truly South Walian vista.

Evening sky over the Gwent Levels
Photo: Gwyneth Marshman

Community

Life on the seawall is isolated, but there is a community of spirit that emerges from its peculiarities. I like to walk eastwards, to sit and take in the view, and find myself passing the time of day with anyone from fishermen to dog walkers to daytrippers.

I recently exchanged observations on the local wildlife with a lone photographer – “a heron flew past me earlier”, “I saw a stoat peering at me from amongst the rocks” – and a few weeks back I spotted the telltale sign of students out for the summer: a cluster of school shirts covered with a patchwork of felt-tipped farewells.

For travel into the “outside world”, there is a demand-responsive bus service that can carry me into town if I do not feel like driving; or alternatively I can walk in via the coastal path – although at 3.5 hours, this is more a half-day hike (with the promise of a pub at the end) than a quick jaunt to the shops.

Moon over the water Photo: Gwyneth Marshman

Ethereal visions

In addition to the territories of sea and land, there is a third domain that cannot be ignored: the sky. The morning sun rises over the Prince of Wales Bridge and enters my home through the bathroom window. But it is at night, particularly under a full moon, that some of the most ethereal visions are to be had.

As I look over the water towards Portishead and Clevedon, the tides shimmer under the luminescent orb that guides their movement, and at these times it is impossible not to feel part of the whole interconnected fellowship of the natural world. Sea, land and sky reach out and touch each other, and within this embrace, I feel small, but never insignificant.

Whistling wind

I walk out, early in the morning, and sit in my favourite spot on the seawall. Waves lap below my feet. The sun warms my face. The wind whistles in my ears and ruffles my hair. I gaze outwards, to that distant horizon, and feel at one with everything.

This is the sea. And I am home.


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Lottie Williams
Lottie Williams
10 months ago

So lovely x

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