A small, rugged headland in North Cornwall
On my father’s shoulders. How old? Around two, I guess.
We have climbed the path from where we lived, two hundred yards from the beach below.
I can’t speak for him, he has passed on now, but for me this is the place, and that was the time I first knew it.
You know you have a place too, don’t you? A place from which you measure every other place.
You think you haven’t? Look back. It may take time to recall and it may not be the first place you remember, but, believe me, it’s there.
For you, it may be a room, or a house or a patch of country. It may even be a place at someone’s side.
For me, it’s Steeple Point, Duckpool, North Cornwall.
And what I saw that first time was not the coast, or the rocks, or the waves, or the sun on the water – but the horizon.
“See the ship, Bill?”
Ships where we lived were occasional smudges on the horizon.
You could just see them, maybe not the full ship – just a funnel or two, working their way to or from the Bristol Channel.
And that was the magic.
Where had they come from? Where were they going to?
What lay over that long, magically curved line?
From that moment, I have never stopped searching horizons.
I have stood on the shores of four continents.
You would think each horizon would look the same. But each has a subtle twist – just out of sight.
We left Duckpool when I was seven.
Over the years, I have returned and climbed the path to Steeple Point many, many times.
I have felt the ground beneath my feet and searched that same horizon with the same sense of excitement.
And every place I visit is measured against this view.
I have often tried to put these feelings into words, but it needs a poet.
Some words by Philip Larkin, (“Here”, The Whitsun Weddings, Faber and Faber), came close, when he wrote about reaching the coast:
” . . . . . . . . Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.”
I feel comfortable with this.
I am even more comfortable with Mendelssohn, who, in writing about music, said:
“Music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague but because it is more precise than words.”
I have the same sense with my feelings about Steeple Point.
As I said at the beginning, a sense of place is unique to each one of us.
Like everyone who was born in Cornwall, I feel Cornish blood stirring in me.
This coast has an innate beauty. People are drawn to it.
They come to live here, to holiday here, to retire here.
Many fine words are written about it and, wherever I am, I am cheered by them.
But, and it is important to be honest about this, this place is not the end of the journey for me, but the beginning.
And Steeple Point is not so much a place I am always going back to, but one I am always leaving.
That horizon has always been and will always be there – stretching out before me.