Always on some edge


I am back on Coral in Schull. I arrived here yesterday evening, after a long journey–three buses and a flight to Cork. Schull is much busier than when I was here in May, the main street bustling with tourists, the harbour packed with boats. I lugged my bag down to the waterside, found my dinghy in Simon’s yard, and carried it, along with the outboard and all the other gear I had left with it, down to the slipway.

I couldn’t get the outboard to start, despite persistent pulling on the starter cord, but I was saved the long paddle out to Coral by a kind family in a dinghy who gave me a tow. Everything on board was fine, and I settled myself in quickly. Today I must sort out the outboard and get everything ready for Suzy and Gib who are joining me on Wednesday. I met them when I was running sessions on nature writing for their Masters in Outdoor Education at Edinburgh University. Suzy is from Germany and Gib is from Thailand. Neither have sailed before, so it will be fun to teach them a bit as well as explore the coast on our way north toward Galway.

But I need to back up a bit. As I wrote in the first paragraph, I flew here. I caught an Aer Lingus flight from Bristol to Cork, going against my longstanding intention not to fly any more. I could just let the fact pass, but I need to notice it partly as a confession to myself. I hate the way so many people casually mention flying to holiday places, apparently with no awareness of the environmental consequence: carbon released into the higher atmosphere is said to be some seven time more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon release at ground level. Of course, it is one of many, many things I do that are ecologically unjustifiable, but it has been a little political act on my part to be able to say, I hope without too much smugness, “I don’t fly any more,” and start a conversation about climate change.

I flew because it was more convenient. Far more convenient, for it would have taken the best part of two days to get here by other public transport. And we do many things that harm our natural living space because they are convenient or habitual. The airport was heaving with people and the plane completely full. Being one among so many, I thought to myself, “It is utterly irrelevant whether I fly or not.” Is this a rationalisation? Probably.

I am reading The Loch of the Green Corrie by Andrew Greig, an account of a trip to fish in a remote loch in the northwest Highlands. Shortly before he died, the poet Norman MacCaig had asked Greig, a longstanding admirer, to find the loch and fish in it for him. He didn’t give the loch its correct name, nor say exactly where it is, so he offered a challenge and a journey of discovery. On the plane I came to the section where the schoolboy Greig first met the older MacCaig, having sent some poems as an act of homage.

“I have read your poems,” says MacCaig. “I quite like some of them… But then I would, because some of them are quite like my mine.” Greig is momentarily overjoyed and then dismayed, while recognising the truth of the comment. But the important bit is what MacCaig says next, “Perhaps you should write some like your own.” As Greig says, his comment is funny and cutting and true.

So as I sat on the plane with all these other people, wondering if I should be there, I realised it may or may not be relevant whether I am one among many who continues to fly. But it is not irrelevant whether or not I write and write well, whether I am able to show the links between day to day experience of our world and the great ecological patterns of which we are a part. As my friend Peter Hawkins points out in his discussions on leadership, you have to find what you are uniquely placed and able to offer the world, then get on and do it as thoroughly as you can.

I have come back to Coral to explore “on the western edge,” that liminal space where the wild Atlantic meets our homely islands and to write from here as truthfully and as evocatively as I can.

Once I was on board, and after washing the sweat off my face and stowing my gear, I made a dish of pasta and pesto from the ship`s stores. The sun gradually lost its heat and dropped below the hills behind the town. A light mist rose, casting a thin blue haze over the slopes of Mt Gabriel, and covering the surface of the sea so the islands in the bay seemed to be floating above the water. All was quiet and still, but not so far away the planes still fly and the traffic still roars.

I am beginning to learn that I am always on some kind of an edge.


  1. Jane Shemilt says:
  2. Miriam Darlington says:

    Lovely to hear you’re back at sea Peter. I appreciated the comment at the end ‘always on some kind of an edge..’ yes, this writing is resonant and real.

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