Country diary: there is nothing permanent about a sand dune

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Country diary: there is nothing permanent about a sand dune

Morfa Harlech, Gwynedd: From under the moody pines, we look out with that uncomprehending way of holidaymakers

Pines on dunes.

Thu 26 Aug 2021 00.30 EDT

Where the shale road through forestry gives out on to a bank of dunes, the last of the lodgepole pines rise from the sand more like masts or aerials. These tall, rangy trees have an uncanny atmosphere at the end of something; they are beautiful but thinning, darkening, fading of time and place.

On a dune-top under pines that has the air of an MR James story, we view the country with that uncomprehending way of holidaymakers, as the mists roam the summits of mountains, as the estuary lays its mud and snakes into a sea that heaves over the far horizon. We are gormless in a brilliant land, exiled for a couple of years in which everything changed. So we hang on to the familiar: the percussion of trains sidling under raven-speaking woods, swallows gathering on barbed wire in fields where sheep rest in the rain, the reversing alarms of bin lorries at the recycling depot, the sly mirth of gulls.

The ways that brought us here are left by tides of history that feel a long time ebbed: a grid of concrete roads from wartime architecture only survived by subterranean labyrinths of ants, heather remains from a coastal heath before the Ministry of Defence buildings, and polypody ferns hanging on as relics of dune vegetation before that. The spaces between the tracks are filled with planted and regenerated vegetation: oaks and buckler fern, birch and bramble, pine, spruce – a complex jumble of closely grown trees with an eerie understorey of shadow and suggestion.

From our lookout point under the moody pines, circled by a beautiful but eldritch vibe, we look over the fence into the seemingly endless sea of marram dunes, and the only solid things are the cattle grazing the protected botanical treasures. There are mysteries: why are there so many blackberries spilt on the track? Why are branches of sallow snapped at particular intervals? Who is the man in battledress hiding something in his car?

The mist and fading light obscure the works of people and there is no sense of permanence – only tides, weathers, waves, sand and wind in the trees. We have no right to be here, which makes this the most beautifully alive place.

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