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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Return to Dawlish - The horror! The horror!

Until 2015 I must have visited Dawlish several times a year from the early 1960s onwards. Shops came and went, the one-way system up Brunswick Place and down The Strand was introduced, and Gay's Creamery doubled in size, but other than that, nothing changed much. 

Then we lost our biscuit tin by the sea and visits became rarer, the most recent being pre-Covid in May 2019. The sea wall between Dawlish and Dawlish Warren that was breached by a particularly ferocious winter storm in February 2014 had been fully repaired and a new upper section meant you could now walk all the way to the Warren at high tide.

And yes, given climate change, and since re-routing the railway track inland between Exeter and Newton Abbot was apparently a non-starter, something extra was going to have to be done to protect the line - and houses close to it - from the sea. I just wasn't prepared for the brutalist disaster that are the town's brand new flood defences.  

The shell-shocks started as soon as we parked the car at the top of the hill and walked into the shady little park on top of the cliffs called Lea Mount to find many of its trees gone. 

At first I thought there must have been a major landslip, but then I realised I'd have read about it. A bit of googling revealed that they'd been felled - the first of many railway-related alterations that were about to challenge my sensibilities.

The view along the coast towards Teignmouth also revealed construction work at the northern end of Parson's tunnel, with heavy plant in the field alongside the coast path, which was one of Son the Elder and my favourite's during our evening walks.

left-hand photo taken in May 2019; right-hand photo August 2023

We then looked towards Dawlish. Even from on top of the cliffs we could see the old stone wall, with its familiar steps had gone, although the scale of the new walls wasn't yet clear. 

upper photo taken in May 2019; lower photo August 2023

This was what greeted us on - can we call it a promenade? You can walk along it, but if you decide to sit down on one of the benches, you can't see the sea. 

The local stone walls are gone; the sheltered section with its wrought iron pillars is gone; the old coastguard's boathouse is gone. With the exception of a carved stone panel depicting this last lost treasure, there's no attempt to give this feat of civil engineering any humanity at all. It makes the Berlin Wall look homely.

In fact, even the flyover in my home town has metal reliefs of aeroplane engines - because that's what we make there - to enliven and yes, relieve the monotony of concrete, and it always cheers me when I'm reminded that someone somewhere bothered to commission some art for it. 

I'm not an engineer or a climatologist, and I can't afford to travel by train, so I can only comment from an aesthetic standpoint, but I think this wall is disastrous for the town, its people and its tourist trade. It's as if the planners and Network Rail only took account of the need to keep the trains running, at all costs. As a result, to this outsider the whole scheme 
feels like a declaration of war on nature and the local population, and if I was visiting Dawlish for the first time, I wouldn't come back.

But of course, it wasn't our first visit and we had Important And Timeless Things to Do, like have an ice cream at Gay's Creamery and spot the black swans. 

The rest of our walk along the sea wall to Dawlish Warren was also unchanged. 

Because they are still relatively young, my sons climbed Langstone Rock and explored the cave, and because I'm not, I sat on the beach for a bit.

Back at Dawlish, I was still trying to take photos of scenes that hadn't changed beyond all recognition. If Son the Elder wasn't so keen on the place, I think I'd sooner just walk how I remember it in my head from now on. 

a samphire cushion on a stone bench

CLOCKWISE:  sheep's-bit scabious; Michaelmas daisies; Jersey Tiger moth; yellow toadflax; hornet mimic hoverfly


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