On Cleethorpes Beach (part two)
A postapocalyptic folk-art wonder
A month or so ago, I wrote about going walking on Cleethorpes Beach in the early morning, and I said at the time that as the tide goes out and comes back in, I would come back here with more to say about it. Well, I’m not the only one. Yesterday The Guardian published a travel article about just how nice a place Cleethorpes is to visit, including the beach of course, and including the thing I was always planning to write about in Part Two. So, before you click on that link there, read this first.
If you walk along the cycle path that divides dry land (and miniature railway) from marshland, and look out to see, you might from some spots see a flag fluttering out in the dunes beyond the marshes. If you wander along the tideline, let the marsh fall between you and the dry land, and wade across the beck, then you will start to see a strange, organic growth on the horizon, between the dunes and the smooth tide-washed sand, with flags flying above it. The flags are usually tattered and torn, because they don’t last long in such a windy spot.
As you get closer it becomes a strange agglomoration, as if something has grown out of a strange affair between the sea and the marshland. Every surface is covered with something, with writing, with ornament, with rope, with decoration.
This is the Buck Beck Beach Bench, named after the beck which we waded across on our way here. If you look closely, you can see there are places to sit, although they are hugely overshadowed by all the other decorative parts of the structure.
It all started, apparently, a few years ago. A couple of the local dog walkers, who visit the spot regularly, fancied having somewhere to sit and take a break midway through their walk. They pulled together a few big pieces of driftwood, and made a rough bench, which they could sit on when passing. And from there: it just grew. More people added new parts, and started to nail and screw it together to make it a bit more robust. People started to bring decoration, to specially make signs with their name on and add it to the bench. Slowly, without any single guiding hand, it turned into the structure that’s there today.
You might be able to see changes between one of the photos in this post and the rest, because one was taken several months before the others: the tattiness of the flags is a clue. Some people must bring things a long distance, must bring hammers and nails to make their mark on it. Every winter parts get blown down or washed away, and each time people come and try to mend things, try to bring the bench back the same but different. A community has built up around it now to take care of it, to try to ensure that it is built up from wood and that plastic parts are if possible removed, and to generally make sure it stays safe and well-maintained.
If you are at the bench, it looks as if there is a tempting direct path straight back in a line to dry land. It’s not. What looks like a path actually leads straight through a bed of thick, sticky, black mud, as my friend Ms T. found when she tried it. The safe route is much longer and contorted, with a large double-back to it, and still is rather dangerous at times due to the creeks winding through the marsh, several feet deep at high tide. As I said I prefer to wade across the beck at low tide, when it spreads out across the sands into a delta a mere few inches deep. The most dangerous route of all is to cut directly across to Cleethorpes seafront, through a maze of flooded channels and sticky mud. There is a firm bar of sand out near the bench itself, but walking from that bar across to the Prom is much more hazardous than any other option.
Nothing lasts forever, of course, everything grows and then fades once more. Maybe the bench will become a victim of its own success, now it’s appeared in the national press. Maybe it will keep growing and evolving and changing until it is unrecognisable; until it will become almost a castle of gnarls and tangles, or picks up its feet and begins to walk. Right now, though, it is a lovely spot to visit, a lovely spot to clear your mind, a spot to sit and watch the waves go by. May it stay so, at least for now.