Having now been to parts of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, I think of their interior landscapes as distinct.
- England is more countrified in rural areas, and industrialized in sprawling cities.
- Scotland is more spare and haunting in rural areas, and ancient in more contained cities.
- Wales is more forested, interspersed with mining, and shire-like except in Cardiff.
- Ireland is one farm rolling into another, with a few cities spaced across the coast.
These are generalizations, of course, but if I mix up all my landmark-free photos I can still pretty much tell one landscape from another, until I get to the coast.
Because I'm not as good at distinguishing between rocky shores, inlets and especially cliffs. Without taking a boat and circumnavigating the islands you don't get the same repetition you do of the land when driving across a country. All I can say is there are some mighty daunting and beautiful edges to these lands, far more plentiful than we have on the eastern U.S. seaboard.
I'm not saying we don't have striking stretches of coastline. Mt. Desert Island in Maine has fjords, of all things. Fingerling inlets carved by glaciers, bordered by immense cliffs. Every state and province from Florida to Nova Scotia has stretches of land that dramatically arch over water. But beaches are far more common, bordering towns near sea level, collectively filled with millions of folks. Houses precariously perched on a sand dune are much more common than those on a bluff.
I love beaches, I’ve grown up on them and still head for them as soon as I’m out for a walk. But cliffs are dramatic, and in contrast beaches are boring. Cliffs are dangerous—you can slide off any moment—while beaches are wading-in-by-inches safe. Cliffs are isolated, no one can hear you if you scream, while beaches have lifeguards whose whistles summon help for miles.
I haven’t yet seen the more distinct cliffs. England has near-white Dover, and Ireland has Moher, in the running for the most beautiful in the world. The cliffs I’ve seen are similar, gray with white striations, a long hard rock face topped with a tuft of grass hair, banked at the bottom by rocks and crashing waves. Downright daunting to swim near, even if there is a spit of sand. Looking up, you gain perspective on your size and importance within the universe. Looking out, the ocean sings to your soul.
Living near the beach is fun but I imagine those who live near cliffs are wiser for it.