Is there a single word that expresses Shingle Street’s sense of place? I’ve described it variously as curious and haunting, alien and austere, words associated with its remoteness, the overwhelming size of the shingle bank and the always threatening presence of the sea. Perhaps ‘strange’, in the sense of otherness, sums it up best, for it is indeed like nowhere else, unique in form and spirit. The strangeness is reinforced by a feeling of transience, of precariousness. The vast shingle bulwark, behind which the village lies, ostensibly protects it from the sea, but it’s an unstable defence that is continually shifting, evidenced by the ever-mobile percolation lagoons, and is likely to change shape in the next storm. And the village is barely a village, it has no amenities – the telephone box contains only two dog-eared books and it takes an act of faith to believe that the post is ever collected from the box beside it. The community never recovered from its wartime occupation and destruction. It lacks signs of sustainable vitality. When was the last baby born there?
Strangeness attracts visitors, of course: a transient population, for whom the remoteness is a blessing, takes over the holiday cottages in the summer; and a trickle of day trippers arrive to picnic, sunbathe, fish, swim, walk, birdwatch. But there is no sand for castles, signs warning of strong currents discourage swimming and there is no welcoming pub or cafe. Like the swallows, the visitors leave as the days shorten and in winter it’s left to a handful of residents and those who look for solitary contemplation with the wind and the gulls. It reverts to its haunting strangeness, the place apart at the end of a road going nowhere.