We recently returned from a holiday in Cumbria. We stayed for a week on a caravan site in Haverigg. The site's situated on the edge of a lagoon on the far side of which stands a lighthouse. The lagoon was once a vast industrial site - an iron-ore mine - which has since been flooded and turned into a nature reserve. Literary associations kept popping into my head all week: every time I looked out of the window and saw the lighthouse I found myself thinking of Virginia Woolf and of Mr Ramsay telling his son that the weather wouldn't be fine.
Fortunately, it was fine. I didn't have to resort to cutting out pictures from the Army and Navy Stores catalogue to while away the time. And then, looking at the surface of the water, which stretched away to the lighthouse from just outside the door of the caravan, I couldn't help wondering what lay beneath it. It would be interesting, I thought, to lower an underwater camera into the water, to explore the landscape of the lagoon-bed see what remained of its industrial past. I was reminded of JG Ballard's The Drowned World - another book I very much enjoyed reading. I had a silly thought, too, that this was the way Mordor might look, fifty years after the defeat of the Dark Lord, the pits of the orcs landscaped, filled with water and turned into bird sanctuaries and suchlike.
It's a few miles north of Haverigg to Silecroft beach. You get there down a road that winds back and forth over the railway line through a series of level crossings. There's very little there - once you've driven through Silecroft village, there's a small caravan site, a handful of old, substantial houses, a couple of bungalows and little else. The beach itself is a shingle beach that curves away to the north for miles, up towards Ravenglass and Sellafield. On a good day, we were told, you can see the Isle of Man. On our first couple of visits, try as we might, we could see no sign of it. Then, one particular clear morning, we drove down to the beach and there it was - hilly, substantial, filling a good part of the horizon. It's easy to see where myths of magic vanishing islands come from.