Photo: the Solway (courtesy of Solway Coast Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Working with Art

Exploring what nature means to people living on the Solway Coast with writer Zosia Wand, led to the creation of this wonderful collection of poems, Songs of the Solway. The work was paid for by Natural England for whom The Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a pilot area for the National Nature Recovery Network. ACT’s role – through conversation with the community - was to commission an artist to reflect how the community felt about the nature they experienced every day, and what nature recovery might feel like.


You have claimed me, tried to tame me, taken and enjoyed me,
exploring, relishing and sharing,
and I have given you all that I could
as any mother would.

Now affirm me, imagine all my possibility,
as your kin explore and restore me,
for their children’s children to enjoy me;
make this our legacy.


Unpredictable, mutable,
ever mercurial,
shifting and sifting,
carrying and scattering,
exploding and shattering.

Both awesome and awful,
winsome then wilful,
fearsome yet fearful,
persistently unpredictable.

She was then, she is now.
She is everything and always.
She used to be mine,
now she is yours.

Travelling South

Up here, winter sheep and
summer cattle grazed the
marshes of the Solway.
Later, harvested grass seed and turf
were dispatched down there
for tennis courts,
the old boys’ bowling green or
cream tea afternoons on some lady’s fancy lawn.

Image: sediment sloshes in Solway Firth. NASA images by Norman Kuring/NASA’s Ocean Color Web, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Michael Carlowicz., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Take Your Partner

It’s a dance, this ebb and flow
at the edge of the sea.
Watch the saline tide strut his stuff,
to fresh rain’s gush,
a do-si-do, to and fro.
Irish Sea skipping,
Lake District Fells kicking
to a melody played
by the sun, moon and earth.
Synchronicity with
its own eccentricity
in this tidal estuary.

Trace the footprints of earlier dances
in the dunes and pebbled terraces
of the Nith and the Cree.
Pulverised rock softened
to sand, clay and mud.
The frenzied, crashing and smashing
smooths and flows
to a gentle waltz,
but in the heat,
wind whipped,
pressure rising,
a tango will erupt.

Staccatoed light,
a blast of wind,
building to a crescendo of rain sleet and hail.

Photo: Bowness (courtesy of Solway Coast Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Working This Land

Men to be fed and
Cows to be milked, then
draining and ploughing,
sowing and growing
turnips and taties and kale, and
barn-building, haymaking, and
more feeding of
horses, hens, pigs and
threshing for sweet stinking silage and
here we go again.


Lugworms burrowing and building,
a honeycomb shore,
to be swallowed again by a hungry tide.

In surreptitious pools,
reflecting the sky and shadows above,
shrimps and sea anemone,
prawns and crabs,
star-fish, and brittle stars,
dig and delve.

Shannies, algae and red Irish moss
a green breadcrumb sponge,
glittering with light,
humming with life.

Land soaking and swallowing,
shrinking and expanding
as the blade of the turbine
slices through sky.

Lugworms burrow and build,
sea creatures dig and delve,
so men and women,
friends and neighbours, tread
clay with straw,
reclaim stones and cobbles,
knit turf and heather for thatch,
lime render inside and out.
A clay dabbin dwelling
that will someday crumble
like the Roman encampment before
and the farmstead after.

Life teeming, glittering,
a repeated pattern of
building and rebuilding,
over and over again.

The Between

We exist at the edges, you and I,
in the not quite here and not quite there.
The frozen become molten, the hard become soft.
From sea to mudflats to mosses, I whisper my story
through the shimmer of the leaves:
alder, willow, birch and oak are the keepers of my secrets.
Sink your soles into the bog and let me seep between your toes.

You are part of my mystery.
With the bison and mammoth,
deer and elk,
wild pigs and sabre-toothed cats,
you have roamed me, lived in me and known me,
now rescue me.
Discover and recover.
You and I have chemistry,
we share our mutual fragility.


My man is off haaf netting
salmon or sea trout for tea
out on the Solway estuary,
like his old man before him
and his before him.
A winter knitter
mending and tending,
ebbing and flowing with the tide
gambling his luck
for a few more fish.

Or you’ll be off with the flood
to be washed up and tangled
and covered in mud.


Barefoot boys
trudge across mudflats at low tide,
balanced between land and no man’s land,
blissfully wrestling in muddy goo,
groaning and gurgling,
grumbling and rumbling,
the cockles click clicking and tick tick ticking,
glot, glot, glottal.

A warm woosh,
wading through shallows,
friends and brothers,
tramping for flounder,
feeling your way,
stride by steady stride.

Easy does it,
avoiding the eels.
Something moves in the ooze.
Foot to the middle,
let it wriggle a little,
then still,
thick slimy sponge.

Reach down and pluck your prize!


Little Jonny Rook, lying on his back,
grinning up at his vast sky,
clouded by pink footed geese,
coming home.
We’re coming home.
Every evocation echoing,
reclaiming his land,
his heart.

Photo: the Solway (courtesy of Solway Coast Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty).


Remember the glow of the moss fires at night?
The wetlands of Weholme Flow,
Glasson Moss, Drumburgh Moss
and the common at Bowness,
Ditches dug,
rivulets of rain water trickling away.
Earth made firm.

Family industry.
Father would cut it,
(there was a knack to it) and
Mother would wheel it and
I would stack it in
the big shed to dry.
The deeper you dug
the better it burned.
Grandfather would go,
How Flow to Low Flow,
with the old pram in tow,
stacked with peat
to heat
home and hearth.

Then machines,
faster and stronger,
peat stacked
to dry in the wind.
The mill gang loading the buggies.
Ten trucks on a railway line,
up and down from
moss to mill
and back again,
feeding the beast.

The hunger.
The thirst.

Now earth drinks up rain
restored again.
Weholme Flow,
Glasson Moss, Drumburgh Moss
and the common at Bowness,
marshy loveliness.

Children Of The Solway

Playing rounders at the Barracks at Glasson,
hopscotching between houses,
climbing in and out of the engine shed,
autumn rosehipping for pennies and a badge and
a bottle of Rosehip syrup from Scott’s or
tatie picking on Thompson’s farm,
tatie pot and a rice pudding for lunch and afternoons spent
roaming the railway banks and making dens.

Jeanie in her little dungarees,
selling rabbits to the railway men,
or perched on the gate,
waving to the steam trains with
the birds and the grasshoppers and the sway of the cotton grass.

Kathleen kicking off her clogs to
dance to the fiddle of Captain Babycham,
wily old white beard,
wintering at Whiteholme,
whispering tales of wild African adventures in his catamaran.

Churchill’s voice on the radio and
Hey Presto -
two city boys appear
on Margaret’s orchard swing,
squished into the house with mammy and daddy and

all us little ones and Granny too,
and their mammy and baby next door, and
sharing the school and
all jolly squashy and fun in
our little piece of heaven on earth.

Anthem II

There’s no taming me, that can be your only certainty.
Shifting, scattering and shattering,
but I have nurtured and comforted too,
I was mother to you.

Now affirm me, imagine all my possibility
as your kin explore and restore me,
for their children’s children to enjoy me;
make this our legacy.


To create these poems, I have drawn on the memories recorded in Remembering The Solway, a project to collect, share and celebrate memories of the life and landscape on the Solway Plain, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Solway Wetlands Landscape Partnership Scheme. Some of the interviewees are named in the poems. Thank you for sharing your experiences and giving me a real flavour of the human history of this extraordinary place.

I also drew information and insight from the wonderful book by Ann Lingard, The Fresh And The Salt, The Story Of The Solway (Birlinn Books 2020). Thank you to Ann for generous feedback. For further information go to:

Thank you also to Emma Austin of Natural England and Naomi Kay, Manager of the Solway Coast AONB, for introducing me to the area and sharing your love of this landscape, and to Fran Richardson of ACTion with Communities in Cumbria for co-ordinating the project so cheerfully during a very difficult time. And thanks to Caroline Gilfillan, poet and friend, for editing suggestions and support.

Zosia Wand