As a Local Journeys associate I spent a stimulating and enjoyable two and bit days recently in the company of some fascinating and lovely people from the Netherlands, Germany and UK after Local Journeys was invited by Antony Lyons and Owain Jones to join some of the activity they’d arranged locally for ‘Between the Tides’ – a cross-disciplinary research and exchange project focusing on Tidal Cultures. It’s a joint project with the Universities of the West of England and Groningen but includes visual and sonic artists, theatre makers, ecologists and writers alongside academics from history, geography, linguistics, art history… The continental European visitors came from, or had connections with the low-lying Wadden Zee region in the north Netherlands and north western Germany where tides and rising sea levels are, and have been for generations, a prominent feature of life.
The first day (with a dismal weather forecast), was a visit to Brean Down, the site of several Local Journeys projects that were included amongst the presentations in the cafe overlooking the beach. We also heard a script reading excerpt from a potential community theatre project in the low-lying Wadden Zee that explored the ideas of invasiveness – by water and people, and prior to venturing outside we were also given an overview of the ecology of the area by the Somerset Coast Ambassador, Nigel Philips whose fine book highlights the diversity and beauty of this small region.
We left the warmth of the cafe with its elemental views for a stiff climb in strong wind to the top of Brean Down with expansive views across to Wales then a welly-booted paddle amongst the rocks on the wet sand of the long, long beach.
The day concluded with a companionable meal in a very different cafe – the cosy, carved wood ‘den’ of St Werburgh’s Farm Cafe, where the evening included a live music performance inspired by and including samples of sounds gathered during the day.
The next day we crossed the Severn to the Newport Wetlands Centre that had been created on the site of the ash waste from the nearby power station.
Here we heard about the history of the site and the wildlife that now lives in or uses the reserve as it passes, and from Owain we also learned about growing up on a farm in this tidal landscape and more about the Wadden Zee region’s geography and culture and the Wadden Zee Academy. Between showers we headed out through the reed beds to the shore for more expansive views over the marvellous mud, past the curlews and across the water back to Brean Down and to our own home territory – Portishead, Portbury, Clevedon; it’s surprising how a physical shift of view can realign your perspectives on familiar territory.
The final gathering was a morning session at Windmill Hill City Farm where a presentation about ‘The Forgotten Landscape’ explained the relatively new South Gloucestershire Heritage Coast project that’s focused on the Lower Severn Vale Levels. Research topics and creative projects being undertaken by some of the group were also discussed and demonstrated such as a sound gathering, mapping and playback app based in the West of England and South Wales, and story collection – along the Severn, and a similar proposed project in the Wadden Zee. A personal highlight was discovering the inventive, thought-provoking and witty Future Museum, hosted/curated/represented by Jethro Brice – perhaps I was swayed by the free gift he handed out…