Breathtaking and heartbreaking

The Great Empress Nature has been testing her might, subjecting the country to her angry blows, using her strength and power to drench and pound towns, farmlands and coastlines. Over millions of years she has created the landscapes that we love, crafting each stone with the wind, the seas, the rivers and rains. Now she continues that transformation with a new vigour, changing and shaping, shifting and eroding with an unrelenting, unforgiving passion. On this fine early Spring day the sun has at last come out and I can almost hear the collective sigh as we bathe in the glory of its rays. It is a welcome reprieve and we take full advantage. Bill and I drink in the smell of the sea and our familiar Downs, eyeing the cotton clouds stacking up out to sea hoping they’ll keep their distance just for today. Our walk takes us across Long Down with its panoramic view to East Dean, Bullock Down and eastwards where the colourful kites fly in the blue sky above Beachy Head. The stillness is serene marred only by the distant voices of walkers. Bill sniffs around tree roots, probably scenting traces of fox until, bored, she searches for her ball. It soon becomes clear that she’s dropped and lost it down a hole. Oh Bill! We take a late lunch sitting on the Downs looking down at Whitbread Hollow and the sea beyond where a yacht sails alone in the blueness. On the seafront the bandstand is surrounded by its dirty wrapper, hiding the facelift taking place underneath. Bill, without her ball, goes in search of a stick. Walking westwards we take the lower paths away from the cliff edge, keeping Bill safe as I throw her new-found stick. She plays the ‘drop at your feet and wait’ game with an older gentleman who, giving in with a boyish grin, throws it far as she races off without so much as a thank you. As we approach the cluster of buildings we can see the silhouettes of the crowd looking over the cottage wall. A car alarm sounds and smoke rises up from the garden. It seems a place of chaos and destruction. Drawn in both Bill and I look over the wall at Birling Gap which has found a new fame, reaching the heady heights of voyeuristic tourism with visitors flocking to see where the cliffs which stood there less than a month ago are now piled and scattered, pure white, across the beach below. The steps to the beach are mangled, useless. It is at once both breathtaking and heartbreaking. On the west side the atmosphere takes a different form. It is quieter, more reverent. A woman stands looking at the destruction, a look of loss gathering across her face as she struggles with her untold story. The sense of melancholy is palpable, a sadness that this tiny part of our landscape is disappearing, taken by the elements and dragged into the swirling sea as Nature decrees.