Country diary: the elements collide in a rite of autumn

Budle Point, Northumberland: As people often do when watching sunsets, we slip into a reverent silence, as if observing a ceremony

As a cold easterly whips the Northumberland coast, the blood-orange ball of the setting sun seems to be crashing slowly into Budle Bay, turning the river that meanders through the sand and mudflats into liquid fire. We are meant to be hurrying back to the car, but I come over a brow on Budle Point to find my partner sitting rapt on a bench, all sense of haste dissipated before the spectacle.

I join her. As people often do when watching sunsets, we slip into a reverent silence, as if observing a ceremony. Though the outcome of the ritual is predictable, the progression towards it is never the same. As the land darkens, the brilliance of the setting sun is amplified in the sinuous tracery of water, the wind picks up, and the clouds are edged with flame: earth, air, fire and water all momentarily aligned. The collision of elements seems appropriate for the transitional nature of the season – a rite of autumn.

The glory of the sunset is so absorbing that for a minute or two I hardly notice the living movements and sounds of the bay. In the reddening skies, congregations of gulls are appearing from different directions inland and drifting down to mass together in huge numbers on the flats and shallows. Looking through binoculars, I see currents of birds streaming over each other like aerial traffic above the fluid sandscape of the estuary.

The clamour of the gulls forms a wide white noise that sounds homogeneous and distant at first. But as my ears become attuned, the mass of sound reveals further layers, depths and details. I travel over the estuary by ear, picking up the calls of greylag geese, lapwing, ringed plover and others that I cannot identify, many no doubt on migratory journeys.

A curlew appears from somewhere above us and flies into the bay. Its looping, bubbling call joins the others but still remains distinct, the loveliest voice in a dusk chorus of tens of thousands of birds from near and far, as captivating a sound as the sunset is a sight.


Carey Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Country diary: shadows reveal a road less travelled in recent times
Kingswood, Northumberland: This track, a sunken green line much older than the motor-era road, hugs the hillside at an angle more suitable for horse and cart

Susie White

29, Sep, 2018 @1:13 PM

Article image
Country diary: only the adolescent seals still hang out here
Hilbre Islands, Wirral: Visitors hoping to glimpse grey seals will find only a few stragglers. The rest are off to their breeding grounds

Ella Davies

05, Nov, 2018 @5:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: the autumn arrivals are swelling in number now
Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex: It’s almost springlike in the trees with all the birdsong, but the marshes are filling with greylag geese, teal and wigeon

Rob Yarham

12, Oct, 2021 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: the swifts are long gone, and the swallows too
Talsarnau, Gwynedd: It seems these summer birds were barely here at all, driven off by gales before they’d even settled on the wires

Jim Perrin

11, Sep, 2020 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: Seascape and saltmarsh make a feast for the senses
Warkworth, Northumberland: Redshanks and breaking waves provide a perfect soundtrack in crystal clear air

Phil Gates

30, Sep, 2022 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: signs of autumn fill the senses
Little Casterton, Rutland: A brilliant production ushers in the darker months, fungi are everywhere and trees form hard shadows in the sky

Simon Ingram

16, Oct, 2020 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: ravenous brent geese fly in for an eelgrass feast
Strangford Lough, County Down: Thousands of light-bellied brent geese – three-quarters of the world’s population – have arrived from Arctic Canada to overwinter here

Mary Montague

06, Oct, 2018 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: on the tail of heavenly godwits
Whitley Bay, North Tyneside: The waders are happier here on the sand than out on the weed-strewn rocks

Richard Smyth

01, Oct, 2020 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: the seven-coloured linnets
Inkpen, West Berkshire: Goldfinches are dextrous feeders, tipping upside down, wings spread for balance

Nicola Chester

10, Oct, 2020 @4:30 AM

Article image
Country diary: migrating birds follow the tides
Pagham Harbour, West Sussex: Waders check out the newly exposed mud as swallows and house martins chatter overhead

Rob Yarham

09, Oct, 2018 @4:30 AM