Book Review: ‘Strands’ by Jean Sprackland


Sprackland, J. 2012 Strands – A Year of Discoveries on the Beach Jonathan Cape ISBN 978 0 224 08745 2

‘This will be a kind of travel book; but the travel will all be on foot, and will revisit again and again the same small area…’ pgxii

‘I’m embarking on this year of discovery not as a naturalist, a historian or a geologist, but as an ordinary walker. I’m setting out, armed with curiosity rather than expertise, to pay a different kind of attention to what I see. I hope to cut through the blur of familiarity, and explore this place as if for the first time. Some of my finds may be real surprises, and others more predictable, but I shall pick them up and hold them to the light, regardless.’ pg. xiii

Jean Sprackland undertakes my kind of traveling as she introduces us, poetically and elegantly, to the hidden treasures of Ainsdale Sands between Liverpool and Blackpool.

Strands is book about what is lost and buried and then re-discovered, about flotsam and jetsam, about throwing away and coming back.

Strands describes a year’s worth of walking on shifting sands. Jean Sprackland, poet and story-teller, is a natural guide to the revelation of the found. Her quick portraits of the sea’s idiosyncratic cast-offs are inventive and precise, as this beautiful image of the dead bird shows:

A wing lifting in the breeze, like a page printed with paragraphs  pitch, slate, smoke, salt  and only the wind skim-reading them.

Shipwrecks, neolithic footprints and messages in bottles, are found washed up on the beach: things that tell stories, things that remain mysterious, living things, things long dead.

It’s a book that manages to feel both local and general at the same time. It’s a book that reinforces the idea that we can connect with a landscape wherever we find it – it does not necessarily have to be classically beautiful, exotic or inaccessible. We just need to open our eyes, ears, mind and curiosity, and spend time with it.

Evocative, observant and a delight to read, in Jean Sprackland’s hands beachcombing becomes a profound, creative, meditative, even philosophical activity.

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