When I was asked by Northumberland Wildlife Trust to blog about my lockdown sightings, I set out on my daily walk to photograph some of the birds at the coast. But halfway to St Mary’s lighthouse I came across something that really moved me: this growing collection of small stone cairns on the beach at Whitley Bay.
Nature, art, remembrance, hope - call them what you will, these little pillars of pebbles lovingly placed by residents of our beachfront town have quickly become beacons of hope and solidarity, reaching into our isolation to remind us that we are not alone.
There are many ways to turn to nature at this time, and cairns have always had a simple, primal and universal appeal. As I watched and photographed them many other people felt their pull, pausing to make their own contribution. The reverence with which the eldest to the youngest members of our community placed their carefully chosen stones was touching to witness. Each clearly had their own reasons: remembering a loved one; trying to inspire others having a tough time; thanking key workers who are helping them through their own difficulties.
I couldn’t count the number that have sprung up in the last couple of weeks, and it is wonderful to create art as a community, with each tiny individual tower adding up to a collective symbol of togetherness and hope. Even as we create the cairns we are aware they will not last forever - just until the next really high tide - and perhaps they are even more beautiful for their transience. I just hope we won't need their solace for too much longer.