Jennifer Chante lives near the north Essex coast and is currently studying MA Wild Writing. Her dissertation will explore how embodied experiences inform a sense of place (and vice versa) at the Naze. She enjoys beachcombing and watching the wildlife in her garden.
You can find her on Instagram @velvet_atoms
“I came to see myself as growing out of the earth like the other native animals and plants. I saw my body and my daily motions as brief coherences and articulations of the energy of the place, which would fall back into it like leaves in the autumn.”
– Wendell Berry
The Naze is a good place for contemplation. I don’t know of anywhere else locally where the temporality of things (geological periods, marine organisms, human-made structures) is so immediately evident. Here you will find iron-stained seashells, recently released from their fifty-million-year stint in the red crag cliff layers, next to WW2 pillboxes sinking into the shore. With each visit, I’m reminded that time is ever marching on; that ancient sea creatures evolved into us, and that, in turn, our concrete structures of war evolve into habits for sea creatures.
These pillboxes were originally built on top of the cliff around 1940. Their position shows the extent of the cliff’s erosion since that time. They’re left sitting quietly on the beach while the land retreats, retreats, and the sea reclaims the clay.
Once the home of anti-aircraft machine guns – artillery designed to shoot down metal and men – the pillboxes now provide a home for seaweed, barnacles and limpets. Sometimes you will see Turnstones running about them, flicking over rocks and clumps to find food.
Even the last remaining pillboxes on top of the cliff are being reclaimed by nature, most notably by the delightfully named Maritime Sunburst lichen. Lichen is formed via a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae, whereby the fungus creates a safe structure for the algae to live in, and the algae, through photosynthesis, provides carbohydrates to the fungus.
Through this cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship, the fading, crumbling war structures are splashed with bright, cheery yellow. And for all my writerly ambition, I’m not sure I could ever write better poetry than that.
The Naze is indeed a humbling place.