The Goodwin Sands are one of the last true wildernesses of Britain – and by extension, of Europe. They are loved as much for what they represent as for the physical place they are. I was raised opposite them. When night fishing for codling from Deal’s shingle foreshore I often heard the roar of the rising tides across the distant Goodwins. Walking the chalk cliff path to Dover and back I could sometimes see them out there in the Channel, all greys and yellows ringed with white water. I knew some of the fishermen who worked the rich waters around them; men whose other job was often to serve in the Walmer Lifeboat to save the live sailors marooned on them. When I left Deal and began travelling to research and write I headed mainly north: to the Lakes, Northumberland, the Western Isles, Norway and Iceland. I never saw, nor heard of, a place quite like the Goodwin Sands. Not once.
So if they’re more than a place what is it they ‘represent’? For one thing, they are somewhere humans cannot stand for longer than it takes for the tide to come in. That’s a very humbling thing for a species that has destroyed so much: it’s a reminder of our impermanence. For another they are a still-living history that connects us to a past and present too easily forgotten, which we should always protect. No greater evidence of that forgetting, that losing touch with what we daily need, is the idea that we can treat them as a physical resource. The economic arguments for such despoliation, based as they always are on flawed and partial research, are by definition specious and absurd. We do not any more cut down ancient oaks because the wood is useful; nor do we willingly despoil mountains and moorland, wetlands and heath. We let them be, we cherish them, we honour them.
By simply being what they are day-by-day, tide-by-tide, the Goodwin Sands remind us that one of the greatest arts of being civilized is leaving well alone.
Campaigns like ours must always be fought and fought hard. My mother was one of those who fought the planners in the 1950’s who wanted to demolish the ‘slums’ of North Deal and replace them with ‘improved’ housing. She and her fellow campaigners won that fight – and the so-called slums became the Conservation Area it now is, to be enjoyed for generations to come. We must win our fight for the Goodwins, a place we need never visit to measure its value. It is here already, in our hearts and minds and spirits and it is immeasurable. In respecting such wilderness we respect ourselves.
William Horwood, author, November 2017
William Horwood was raised on the East Kent coast, mainly in Deal and Walmer, right opposite the Goodwins. After studying Geography at Bristol University, he became a teacher, trade journalist and Fleet Street reporter until his first book, Duncton Wood, was published in 1980. The Dunction Chronicles and later books including The Stonor Eagles, Callanish, Skallagrigg and the Hyddenworld series are all international best sellers.
His memoir The Boy with No Shoes is set in Deal, re-named ‘Stoning’ in the book. It was shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year in 2005 and is a deeply moving account of a heart breaking childhood as the illegitimate last child of five. It describes the austerity and harshness of existence along the Kent coast in the post war years; and life in the simple, unheated fishermen’s cottages along the seafront that faces the English Channel and the Goodwin Sands. The warmth and hospitality of those men and women, their love of the sea and respect for the elements and wild places has stayed with him all his life.
William’s mother was amongst those who campaigned to prevent Deal from being ‘modernised’ after WWII by means of ‘slum’ clearances. This conviction and foresight led to the creation of The Deal Society and ensured that the town retained the character and charm that exists today.
William Horwood still has family in Deal and many connections with East Kent, often returning for and writing retreats. He has become a staunch supporter of the campaign to protect the Goodwin Sands from destruction by dredging.