Jake Campbell (Poet); Tim Collier (Photographer); Mike Collier (Visual Artist) and Rob Strachan (Sound Artist) with Hive and Sam Wiehl) 

Exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery
22 August – 15 November 2015

Ghosts of the Restless Shore: Space, Place and Memory of the Sefton Coast was an exhibition of new work in 2015 integrating visual, aural, historical and written experiences of the natural and social history of the Sefton Coast. 

In my childhood, I spent many early summer afternoons with my family walking along the Sefton Coast. Mum would have her ‘Illustrations of The British Flora’ by W. H. Fitch and W. G. Smith in tandem with the ‘Handbook of The British Flora’ by George Bentham and Sir J. D. Hooker (she would hand colour the illustrations and date them in the book). This piece (detail above) uses 48 of Fitch’s illustrations of some of the key flowers I encountered on my walk along the Sefton Coast in 2014. 

The Sefton Coast is highly valued for its intrinsic beauty and biodiversity, some of which is rare by European and UK standards. It is alive with special wildlife and its coastal waters are ‘home’ to famous shipwrecks like the ‘Star of Hope’.

Photograph by Tim Collier

A number of my pieces are based on a study of bird names which present an ‘unpredictable and haphazard richness’ with names drawn from the very roots of our language. (British Birds: Their Folklore, Names and Literature by Francesca Geenoak).

For example, one of the many colloquial names for a swift is DEVILING – perhaps because of its inaccessibility; its speed in flight. The name WASHTAIL (Pied Wagtail) arises from the similarity between the constant up-and-down movement of the bird’s tail and the action of dipping and lifting made by a person washing or scrubbing clothes (or dishes) by the waterside. Avocets utter loud yelping cries when disturbed, hence YARWHELP; SPARLING makes reference to the harsh call of the Common Tern and LAVEROCK (Skylark) is from Middle English laverok andOld English lāwerce lark

Photograph by Tim Collier

This play on words is also reflected in the piece Birkdale Nightingale (see below). The Sefton Coast is one of the most important breeding grounds in the UK for one of its rarest amphibians, the Natterjack Toad. It is the nosiest amphibian in Europe and its ratcheting call has brought it two local nicknames: the Birkdale Nightingale and the Bootle Organ. 

The poet Jean Sprackland (who lived in Formby and wrote the forward to our book) talks of ‘the cosmic sound of [the toads] clamouring all around me. I knew it was the males calling the females to the mating pools, but it seemed, as I stood alone in that vertiginous darkness, that they were throwing their voices into the sky, a sound as timeless as the stars themselves’.

Ghosts of the Restless Shore: Space, Place and Memory of the Sefton Coast has been coordinated and organised by WALK (Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge) – a Research Centre at the University of Sunderland. The aim of WALK is to examine the way we creatively engage with the world as we walk through it.