Walking to Holy Island

This week saw me finally meeting Patrick Norris from Footsteps in Northumberland to walk across the Pilgrim’s Way, a pathway that only becomes available when the tide is out, to reach Holy Island. This is a nature reserve rich in resources for rare and special wildlife. It was such an amazing walk, as we set off at 5.30 across to the island. getting over there, in the rain and wind at times, we were getting by the howlings from a gathering go grey seals hauled out onto the sand flats. They were grey, but also mottled white, and black and brown, and had such a way of moving across the sand. Patrick called it ‘garlumphing’. And to hear them sing. Their haunting cries carried to us within the wind, in harmony with the wind. It was like the sound when there’s a window left ajar and the wind comes inside. Like a draught coming inside. After a picnic on the island, for the way back, we saw the setting sun. It was all about the light.

Just as we stepped off the causeway, as dusk was starting to settle in for the night, out from the long grass, flying low across the tarmac to the banks of seaweed on the other side, was a beige-tawny, wide wing span of the curlew. The curlew, featured within the Northumberland National Park’s logo; this was my first sighting of the bird. It was a wonderful way to end the evening with it’s evocative ‘curlee-curlee’ call sending us off home.

Postponement – Black Nature Writing Group

Unfortunately, due to illness we had to cancel our scheduled writing group session. I was most disappointed as I find these meetings, with writing exercises included, a way to focus my attention. Making this specific time and space to work together on our individual residencies is really useful. I find that the weeks go by and I might be thinking about the writing, the landscape, the message, but putting pen to paper to try and make sense of it all, ends up being at the bottom of my to-do list. Then it keeps getting switched to another list when I don’t reach the bottom of the list each day, each week.

At least with an hour or so, sat down with the other writers and talking and sharing about our work, our writing and our residencies, then I’m in the zone and something usually comes out of our this together. So I suppose I”m saying, lets organise our next meeting for sometime soon, as I need the discipline of turning up to the page together, please. Thank you.

Post event: Online Nature Journaling Workshop

For the online nature journaling workshop which took place on International Earth Day, 22 April, we had five participants. It was a lovely group of women with different experiences of writing, but everyone brought their enthusiasm to the table. It was so lovely to have Gill Thompson, the Park’s Ecologist, there presenting around the different landscapes, fauna and flora to be found within the National Park, as well as giving it a personal flavour with insights into her personal delights.

The workshops was part writing and then going out into the landscape on the participants’ doorsteps. If we were meeting within the Sill, National Landscape Discovery Centre, we would have been able to walk out together, probably up to Steel Rig and along the crags for a bit of a jolly, making sure all our sense were open to the surroundings and what they had to offer.

But I think it worked well, with the hour outside alone and then coming back to the group online for the final task of creating something from the outing. What I used to structure their musings while out there, was something I picked up a few years ago from the book Writing Wild by Tina Welling. There’s three parts to the exercise; naming, identifying and interacting.

NAMING – serves to alert our conscious awareness to our senses.
Name what you see and then move into the other senses, notice the smaller things – e.g. the clouds, the tree, the straw coloured grass.

DESCRIBING – engages our senses and body responses on a deeper, more intimate level.
Choose one thing that attracts your attention and describe in detail e.g. lichen – the feather tangle, delicate filigree, soft against the finger, pale snowy green in colour.

INTERACTING – invites us to create a relationship with our surroundings.
It’s when you open yourself to place and allow an exchange, or interaction , between the outer works of nature and inner world of emotion, experience and memory.

Try it next time you’re outside and want to get some words down, record some kind of reaction that you can work on later once you get back home.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some of the women’s writing, as well as some of my own, once the Park has created a writer in residency page on their website. More details to follow soon.

Writing in Community

All the writers in residence for the project met again virtually for a writing workshop over the weekend. I’m really enjoying this space where we get to create together, as well as share our developments and concerns about how each residency is going. It is definitely a life source for me as I have to move in other circles where I am the only Black face in the room. Usually in these space, I am communicating, or so I think. But from the reactions or usually non-reactions, I feel as if I’m on the other side of double glazing and trying to connect to the group through words and actions but they are just not listening, not even giving me the time of day.

This is what it’s like moving through this world as a Black woman and being judged on my appearance rather than on the value and worth I could bring to the table if you only took the time, and gave me the rightful respect, and listened.

Within our little group of writers, this isn’t the case. We meet under the understanding of our shared experiences. Of being deemed as ‘other’ within white supremacy society, even though again and again through our actions and words we strive to centre ourself in our own experiences. In our space, writing, talking and laughing together, ‘whiteness’ is not centred. We are centred and this is liberating and food for me soul.

I want more of this. More. Thank you fellow writers for being on this journey with me. You make this ride easier and much more enjoyable.

Back at the Sill

Just over a year ago, the writers involved in Black Nature in Residence met at The Sill, National Landscape Discovery Centre to launch the project. The next week, identity on tyne, the coordinator of the project went into a self-imposed lockdown ahead of the national lockdown that was called a couple of weeks later.
Black Nature in Residence has been put on hold since then. Even though we tried to restart happenings in October 2020, things have been taking place virtually and very piecemeal.

Yesterday, as writer in residence for Northumberland National Park, I was able to return to The Sill and walk around the landscape again. It felt good to be back and just enjoy the open views safely.

Hopefully moving forward, I’d be able to continue to explore this vast and amazing county each week leading up to the end of this project in October 2021.

Online Nature Journaling Workshop

Get ready to immerse yourself in the Great Outdoors on this special day when everyone is encouraged to think about nature.


About this Event


Bring the #OutdoorsIndoors on International Earth Day


Northumberland National Park’s writer in residence Dr. Sheree Mack loves immersing herself in nature. She has learnt to destress through nature and found inspiration for her creative writing in the great outdoors.

Date And Time

Thu, 22 April 2021
11:00 – 14:30 BST


Join Sheree and National Park Ecologist Gill Thompson on International Earth Day to discover how to get the most out of your personal nature experience.
From some hints on where and when to find hidden natural delights to practical tips on capturing your own precious memories through journaling, this online workshop will prepare you for a meaningful connection with nature.


Book your tickets through Eventbrite. Joining details will be sent ahead of the event.

Black Nature Workshops: writing sample

For the past month, we’ve been gathering as a group to workshop together. Taking it in turns, we’ve been setting each other writing tasks to create some original work in community together. We’ve been sharing how our residencies have been going as well as discussing what nature writing would look like for us, from us.

Jini Reddy, born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and she was raised in Canada, has written about her relationship with nature, She writes, “…back in the UK and sensitive to the mood of the day and the things I’d read and the voices I heard, I worried that I didn’t love nature in the right way, that I didn’t bring my gaze to bear upon Her in the approved way. What made me feel even more of a fraud was that half the time I didn’t even think in terms of the word ‘nature’. More often I’d be thinking of a specific place, some amazing, sigh-inducing landscape or a cool, twisty tree, or a small creature or squawky bird I spotted while on a walk in the countryside or in some meadow or park in my neighbourhood.” Extract from Wanderland, short-listed for the 2020 Wainwright Prize for nature writing. 

This extract created a really good discussion within the group around what is the norm, or accepted in terms of nature writing and how our own writing might fit into this or not. I know that I’m not going to be afraid to use this residency to dive deeper in to my own relationship with nature. And I don’t want that separation, of saying the ‘natural world’, as I believe there’s only one world and we are all part of it, and we are all one within it.

Anyway, during our final writing exercise, of just choosing one thing in nature to focus in on and produce some thumbnail nature writing, I chose the curlew. The curlew is the emblem of the park, and apparently the park is one of the best places in the UK to hear the bird. This is what I wrote:

Curlews     

curleee.   curleee.   ghosts heard within the fog, through the winter, along the coast.

within the mudflats, with downward curved bills, rich pickings for worms, they balance on bluish stilt-like legs.

come spring, look up. catch their white rumps sailing across the sky onto the uplands to breed, we hope. 

these mottled brown and grey waders are a keystone species, holding the whole system together. 

once upon a time, in abundance, curlews overhead were a signal of a storm brewing. 

curleee. curleee. ghosts heard less and less now, as bad weather is already upon us. 

SeaSwim

Wintering into the New Year, taking it slow to come around to this thing called society, work and the ‘new normal’, whatever that might be, I take reprieve and solace, through sea swimming.
If I get irritable, not nice to be around, I know it means I haven’t been to the sea recently.

The other week I managed to get into the sea five times, following the movement of the tide throughout the week. I love when the tide is in the most, at my local bay, Cullercoats, the sea seems much more full and welcoming and powerful.
Here in this film, the sea breaches the sea wall again and again as the wind and the new moon, therefore producing a huge Spring tide, rushes into the shore again and again with such power and force and roar.
Being this close to the sea, being intimate with her is a blessing for which I am deeply grateful.

Slow Walking

Catching a dry day, with bright light, is a rarity during these past few weeks. Today was such a day. I’m not walking in Northumberland yet. I haven’t been there for nearly a year, not since we had our first Black Nature in Residence meeting in March 2020 in preparation to start the project. And then Covid-19 hit.

I would love to be out in the Park exploring, but I’m adhering to the lockdown rules and not traveling far from home. I’m also a bit fearful of exploring unknown territory in the North as I would stick out like a sore thumb; a Black woman in red woolly hat. I worry that there will be other people out, see me as a stranger and call the police. I’m not sure if I would be taken seriously if I said I was slow walking in the landscape with notebook and pen and camera for work. But I would be.

I mentioned this residency to a friend recently and they didn’t know that such a job existed. They congratulated me on doing something I loved, but it made me feel the need to it only explore my nature connection but also a need to elevate the position of writer in residence to others to make sure it is seen and recognised.

A lot of work to be done, but I’m in no hurry as I enjoy the slower pace of lockdown to explore what lies just in front of me with each step I take. Mud, leaves, mixing to mulch, a low lying golden sun, frosty aid and wood pigeons cooing in bare grey trees.