A rare, in this year of years, letter from Sarah. About her life and the things she loves. “Herring gulls eating starfish” are involved. Elemental, like hope.


All the normal things I usually do in my life have, this year, been harder. The pandemic arrived like a whirlwind in my life, like all of our lives. Pandemic being from the Greek, meaning ‘all people’. A mercurial change none of us wanted. And then everything became different. Everyone affected, all plans changed or cancelled.

Work has continued for me, and although it has been hard for me and my colleagues in the funeral industry, I am equally grateful that I have had work and therefore an income. 

In my ‘normal’ year I would have had more trips away from home to go sea kayaking, and that’s one of the things I’ve missed the most. Hardly any trips and so much less than usual of my own contributions to this blog. 

In July as the first restrictions changed to some more permitted activities I had a day trip and then an overnight stay in Wales, giving me two days on the water. I found that hard, the taking of cautious steps into a new world, that I observed at the time was ‘the same, but now completely different’.

July 2020, Ynys Las – photo by Geth Roberts

Autumn arrives and with the end of the year in sight there is good news about vaccines and a possible end to the pandemic. 

More good news, my delayed hand surgery from March has been rescheduled for the third time this year, and is now due to happen in December. I have written before about my treatment for Dupuytons contracture, a benign but frustrating hand condition, that I have had radiotherapy for. It’s notoriously difficult to treat, and I am now into the surgical options. 

Knowing I had this surgery and also with the announcement of a brief relaxation of travel restrictions to Wales I am grateful to my good friend and coach Geth Roberts in Anglesey for the opportunity for a December winter paddling trip.

This begins with an afternoon ‘mossing’, as I call it, at Treborth Botanic Garden near Bangor, looking for bryophytes for the online course I’m doing. Happy to be in a new habitat and so close to water, right on the edge of the Menai Straits.

A mossy lunch at Treborth

For the next two days I’m with Geth, plus friends old and new on the water, easily able to be socially distanced and safe outdoors. A joy. 

Geth Roberts

And so these are two days where the only things that matter are ebb and flood, the times of the tides, the wind and weather. And have I got the right kit and my lunch? That’s it. Back in my familiar environment of shore and seaweed. 

Part of the holdfast of Saccorhiza polyschides, a large brown seaweed.

We put in at Soldier’s Point near Holyhead and paddle to North Stack and around into Gogarth Bay, towards South Stack.

Seals are occupying a bay where we might have stopped for lunch, so we can’t land. I have lunch and a hot drink sitting in my boat, while the others go round South Stack. I enjoy the silence and stillness of here. Alone but not lonely, not at all.

Returning to Soldier’s Point with the others, and I’m happy. A week today I will be in theatre having surgery. 

The next day is windier and we head for the partial shelter of the Menai Straits. Exploring moving water which Geth always calls ‘playing’, although I spend most of the time hoping I can remain upright and in my boat! Today it felt a bit like playing though… especially compared to the rest of this year.

We paddle down to Plas Newydd, where there is some time for ‘mossing’ for me, and to find lichen too. We have lunch, and return with the starting of the flood. 

We’re back in ‘the swellies’ (the section of water between the bridges), and at low water the kelp is exposed, and there are herring gulls eating starfish, greedily gulping them down. 

Herring gull eating starfish, this photo from Wikimedia Commons

This elemental joy. The simplicity of my day defined by ebb, flood and slack. The state of the tide being uppermost for me, for once. Not living predominantly in a pandemic for a few hours. 

And I reflected that for lots of my time on the water I had forgotten I’m living in a pandemic. And that felt very, very good. The sea doing what it always does, the great outdoors a healing balm for me. I am so grateful for that.

A week later and my flask is not providing a hot drink for me on a rocky beach, or in a bay with seals curious about my presence, but is here with me in a hospital room after my surgery. My hand now in plaster. 

Friday 18 December 2020

I return to hospital today, on the shortest day of the year, and my plaster is replaced by something smaller and a splint is made for me on the spot. I am grateful for everyone in the NHS, for their roles all year, as well as for fitting in this relatively minor ‘procedure’, surgery to my hand with local anaesthetic, which has managed to happen, despite all the difficulties of living in a pandemic. My result is looking good, and I hope it will stay that way. 

Saturday 12 December 2020 in the Menai Straits

So as I sit in clinic today while the earth turns I’m reminded that we don’t always get advance notice of change, but that we are human and as so, resilient. We adapt, we await better times. 

Better times for us all. I’m sure you all have hopes for the new year, as do I. Some of my own things that I hope for in 2021 being that I’ll see more of Geth, and more of those herring gulls eating starfish. 

Elemental, like hope.

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