This week I finally got round to ordering my copy of Close to The Edge, by Sheila Williams.
This is a lovely, readable collection of stories about the Holderness Coast. It’s not intended as a definitive history, rather a highly personal selection of fascinatingly quirky stories.
Daniel Defoe dismissed the Holderness coast, when he passed through on his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, back in the 1720s,
…the most that I find remarkable here is, that there is nothing remarkable upon this side for above thirty miles together; not a port, not a gentleman’s seat, not a town of note…
What Mr Defoe missed, Sheila Williams supplies*.
Chapter One – Growing Pains, begins with what the Holderness coast looked like at the time of the last ice age.
The North Sea was relatively dry, known as Doggerland and linked the UK to the rest of Europe. The Holderness coast, indeed inland Holderness too, was a soggy, boggy stretch with meres, creeks and inlets all intermingled with ‘carrs’ – wet woodland and brush. The whole provided a useful area for the hunting and fishing folk of the Stone and Bronze ages and nothing much more.
It takes us through the following centuries up to William the Conqueror:
After the Conquest, however, rebellion smouldered and broke out intermittently in the North of England until eventually William became tired of it and, his patience at an end, killed off as many of the recalcitrant Northerners as he could, together with their families, pets and livestock. Not content with that early bout of ethnic cleansing he destroyed crops salted the land…and made a wasteland of the North from the River Humber to the River Tees.
This, you must be beginning to see, is a book about people in the landscape. It’s the stories of characters who are not all Gentlemen, or even men, but who lived for a long or short time, on the Holderness coast.
You could, as I did, buy this book for the stories. But be warned, you get more than a fireside read. Before long you’ll find yourself checking road maps and thinking about experiencing for yourself the ‘huge grey-blue sea that transformed itself seamlessly into the sky so that is was hard to know where one began and the other finished.’
*Defoe was, of course, reflecting the understanding, values and preoccupations of his era.