The View from Here: Of Winters Past …

To walk along a harbour wall is always to walk with history

WP_20170302_002While others talk of signs of spring, I’m still in the throes of winter.  I may be revelling in the birdsong and the sturdy, bright friendliness of the têtes a têtes; I may be delighted by the sight of scudding clouds in a bright blue sky and the clump of bashful purple crocus and the single bluebell I discovered this week (yes, really).  But I’m not yet ready to let winter go.   Shy pale primroses, shiny bright celandines and bold lemon and yellow daffodils have already burst upon the garden and the lanes here, and I welcome them.  But winter shall have her time in the spotlight too. 


Spring sees the return of many things: colours brighten, life awakens.  Spring is brash and lively and in-your-face.  Spring bursts upon the stage and we welcome it with open arms and broad smiles and fill our lungs with fresh air redolent with bright promise; eager to turn our backs on the long stretches of grey, dreary days and dark evenings.  We grab at every small sign that life is renewing; that spring is on her way: that finally, finally, she has arrived.

WP_20170309_003Is there anywhere a definitive date when spring begins?  It would seem not.  Somewhere I have a traditional gardening and farming calendar which divides up the months in the northern hemisphere: early spring, mid-spring, late spring…  I remember being charmed by it; it seemed to fit the seasons more appropriately than conventional divisions.  But I can’t find it.  So I can’t determine whether it declares March to be late winter or early spring.  I like to think it’s the former, though I fully expect to be wrong.

On a more official level, the Met Office gives us two options for the beginning of spring.  March 1st sees the start of meteorological spring and is fixed for purposes of gathering and comparing data.  The seasons are split into four periods of three months according to the Gregorian calendar: as a result, spring runs neatly from March 1st to May 31st.  The dates of our astronomical seasons vary slightly from year to year as they take their references from the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun.  Thus in 2017, March 20th is the first day of the astronomical spring: the day after the spring equinox, when once again the day is longer than the night.

I’m going for the latest possible date, so the earliest I am allowing spring to arrive here in this corner of Cornwall will be March 20th.  And since I have several wintry posts I’d like to include this year before throwing myself wholeheartedly into spring, I may have to make a fortuitous discovery of the missing traditional almanac and claim that March – the whole of March – is in fact late winter.  Until then, I’m keeping the spring photos at a muted level – I’m going to let the winter colours shine through for a while longer yet!



I think perhaps if our souls could be classified as seasons, mine would be winter.  Winter is often quiet; often subtle.  Winter is reticent; she doesn’t give up her secrets easily.  But those seemingly endless days of sombre grey and dismal cold mask treasures of their own.  I’ve always been drawn to northern climes and empty spaces: the essences of winter.

I know that here in the UK our winters are more usually defined by rain and darkness, damp and dreariness; sodden ground, cheerless dripping branches, and soulless sullen cloud-covered skies.  But there are other shades of winter and an afternoon in January gave up treasures of a different kind: an alternative wintry siren’s call that sang to me of seasons past.


This is Portwrinkle beach.  A low January sun turned the sea into liquid mercury. The waves rolled onto the shore, spume rose against dark rocks.  The ocean was restless, relentless, remorseless, pounding the beach: back and forth, back and forth.  Hypnotic.  Vast.  Eternal.  There were no wheeling gulls lamenting on the wing; and there were no people.

The winch – unused – stood stark against the sand and the dinghies were stashed well back from the water’s edge, awaiting warmer days.


These are the human colours of winter in Portwrinkle.  Nature herself was a symphony in shades of silver and pewter grey.


To walk along a harbour wall is always to walk with history.  Those strong stone structures that break the ferocity of the seas and encase a gentler haven within their stone arms have seen centuries of ships and men struggle, triumph, and occasionally perish in pitting themselves against the power of the waves.  Lives are lost in eking  out a livelihood or defeating usurpers or plotting paths to new worlds across the waters. All these stories and more were whispered and murmured as we gazed from Portwrinkle harbour.  It was necessary only to be still and to listen.  The view from here spoke of ghosts and spirits from ages past.


Portwrinkle’s harbour is tiny.  It’s unlikely that its men set forth to discover new worlds.  But like most of the local coastal villages, it will have seen boats come in under darkness bearing contraband, and it had a long fishing history which is now entirely gone.  The fish cellars have been incorporated into housing and the once flourishing pilchard industry is a footnote in history books.

But even this small harbour retains the spirits and callings from its past.


How many women stood here as I am standing, seeing this view that I am seeing, watching and waiting?

How many boats passed this point, their nets straining with fish to be salted by frozen fingers?

As I stand here I listen for the voices from the past, and the sea sings a wistful song.  Where is it going, this glistening mournful mercurial swell, where is it going?  And where has life gone?

On this gentle January day with its diffuse light and its gleaming heavens, the waters, the skies, the beach, the village are empty.

There is only us and the whispers of history in the wind.

Cornwall, Portwrinkle c. 1952
Portwrinkle 1952

In a couple more months, Portwrinkle will be filled with families enjoying the waters and the sandy beaches.  That now is the role that it plays; that is its place in the world.  In a few months.  For now I shall leave it to its quietude, and its murmurings; I shall leave it to its memories of winters past when the beach and the harbour were never deserted by fairweather crowds – because people’s lives depended upon it.


41 thoughts on “The View from Here: Of Winters Past …”

  1. What a beautiful post – words and images complement each other perfectly.
    In France I was always hankering for more winter, because I never felt I had quite done my full share of skiing. But here I have to admit that now the daffodils are out and my camellia bush is just budding too, I am DONE with winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Marina! I do know what you mean. I am thoroughly enjoying spring really; I just need more ‘winter’ time on the blog because as usual, I’m behind! 😀 Hopefully I’ll be through with winter before summer arrives!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful essay! I especially like the tinting you’ve done on the black-and-white flower photos. I only learned about the two start dates for the seasons while reading the Autumn WWT anthology. I like that it can be variable, almost to reflect how different the experience of the seasons can be in different places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca 🙂 I almost never use filters on photos on the blog but it seemed right to do so for the purposes of this post. (I also like your reference to it as an essay: much nicer than ‘post’!)


  3. Lovely post and those pictures of the sea at Portwrinkle are stunning! I’m a winter person too – when I go out I like to have to bundle up to keep out the cold and get a red nose and feel my cheeks sting. So it can last as long as you like – up here, it’s been known to last well into July… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooooh thank you, FictionFan – a fellow winter soul! Since winter can last into July where you are I’m thinking you must be close to the arctic circle. All those hours of darkness – no wonder you’re able to get through so many books! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Katrina 🙂 Portwrinkle was beautiful. There’s something haunting about a lovely beach in winter – you have many in your part of the world too I’m sure!


  4. When I need a reminder of the beauty and gifts of winter I will remember this post Sandra, just wonderful and full of apt gratitude for a season that is just as necessary as all the others. I perhaps love this part of winter where we are being given a taste of what is to come, so while it is still cool, the spirit is lifted by the new light which stays a little longer and the soft sun that invites the buds to sprout forth and tempts the birds to talk even louder than usual. Beautiful photos, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Claire, thank you 🙂 And you’re right that winter falls into phases. I’ve not considered this before. We are now in the final phase of winter and your description of it is perfect. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow–such a beautiful post! I’m very intrigued by the notion that our souls could be classified as seasons–I would be winter, too, or maybe autumn. I need to think about this. And when I see those winter waters and tiny harbors, I always think of stories about the lifeboats and people waiting at the harbor walls for some sign of a rescue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kerry; it sounds like we are in tune 🙂 I suspect that I could make a case for each season resonating with my soul – during each particular season. I think it’s just tapping into what’s beautiful about each time of year and listening to the resonance. That said, I do know that I’m moved more by colder climes than tropical ones. I had a friend once who couldn’t understand why my list of places to see one day seemed to include almost nowhere warm!


    1. Joan, thank you so much 🙂 (I’ve just popped across to your blog – and recognise its name from Katrina’s. Such an interconnected blog world! When time permits I’ll work out how to reply to blogspot posts…. There’s plenty I’d like to say!)


  6. I love this essay (thanks Rebecca, for suggesting this, rather than the work-a-day word ‘post’). I too once lived by the sea, in Southsea, and like you found winter evocative. Sometimes mournful, sometimes thrilling when the wind snatched at the breakers, but never dull. Tripperish summer was quite different, though sunrise and sunset, when they weren’t there, was magical. Sadly, inland winter often disappoints by being grey, muddy and dank, rather than crisp and energising. I look forward to your remaining winter essays (posts?)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. J > You’ll surely have spent a good while working on this post, Sandra. This is lovely thoughtful writing – the sort I find it difficult to find time for, these days. There’s another criterion for the change in the seasons: our mood, our readiness, our … I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. A poet probably could! You declare yourself in Spring whenever it suits, and if the delay is whilst winter works itself out – producing posts as good as this in the process – then you just take your time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jonathan, thank you! You’re right about the process taking time but I love it and get huge satisfaction from both the process. I choose to make time for it which is a choice not everyone has available to them. Your chickens and animals are likely to protest long and loud if you tinker with sentence structure and filters on photographs when they require attention! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you Sandra, for a really beautiful, inspiring ode to Winter. Winter has a beauty all of it’s own, but is best seen, I think, in open and wilder places, and the sea and open skies carry the colour of Winter perfectly.
    Such lovely illustrations too.
    My season is Spring, which begins ,for me anyway, in mid Feb, with the first shoots and catkins, and finishes before the full flush of May. Like you, I am attracted to the cooler months and cooler climes. There is a purity to cold and cold places which I love ( provided I’m warm of course!!).xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A purity to cold…. I love that. And you’re right. I think of my affinity to moonlight and realise that it’s the coldness of the silvery light that I love. And of course, the purity of untrodden snow – there’s very little which can better such a sight…. All best enjoyed I hasten to add, through the clear glass of a window – or wrapped up in many layers. Like you, Pat, I love the cold, but need to be warm! 😀

      (I’m actually sitting here writing an email to you. Fingers crossed I get it finished before I get distracted…. xx)


  9. Thank you for this. I too am not ready to let winter go, though its presence seems to be inevitably loosening. I’m grateful for beautiful things that come with limited time, though, as it makes the time they are here that much more special.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well Rae, we don’t know each other, but your line about being grateful for beautiful things that come with limited time is so true and resonates perfectly with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The sky was stunning, Sue. Those are the untouched photos – that is how it looked. The flowers on the other hand, have been muted of course. But they’ll reappear soon – in all their technicolour glory! xx


  12. Thoughtful and evocative writing and photos, Sandra. Thank you. Although I am in hot and humid KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa (and we are feeling the shift of the seasons towards winter, although winters are comparatively mild here) I can relate to your descriptions of past and present winters, and the lovely silvery pewter greys of sea,sky and sand. Winter reclaims the wildness of the coast it seems, whereas summers, colonised by holidaymakers, seem comparatively domesticated. Your evoking the fisherfolk of the past somehow made me think of the unexpected melancholy of old sea shanties captured by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman and recorded some time back (accessible via YouTube if you haven’t heard them already).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Winter reclaims the wildness of the coast it seems, whereas summers, colonised by holidaymakers, seem comparatively domesticated.” Yes, exactly my experience and perfectly expressed. I shall enjoy listening to those sea shanties, thank you 🙂 In Cornwall, there is a group called Fishermen’s Friends who are now known nationally for their sea shanties. I’m keen to see them but I want to wait to see them perform in an appropriate harbourside setting. Hopefully in the summer!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This was so lovely to read. Winter doesn’t deserve its shabby reputation and it’s good to see it relished like this. Great photos too x

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I count Spring as the first of March. It’s so that each season has three months. I’m kidding myself so that early winter is December, mid winter is January and late winter is February. I reality Nov till March inclusive are very wintery in Scotland. I don’t like winter and much prefer the Spring. I perk up amazingly. What I really like is listening to Mr Blackbird singing his head off, trying to get a girlfriend, with his repertoire of song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – the blackbird’s song is glorious as spring gets underway – and the robin’s song: my two favourites. Dates are arbitrary really of course, when it comes to the turning of the seasons. The weather is notoriously fickle. January and February down here were really very pleasant considering the time of year. March has been miserable! But soon there will be no doubt that spring has finally arrived 🙂


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