‘Behold, the sea itself/And on its limitless, heaving breasts, the ships’. Anyone who knows the stirring music that breaks over Walt Whitman’s words at the start of Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony will find the same salty exuberance in the pages of Tom Fort’s new book, charting his east to west coastal journey.
Watery excursions occupy an honoured place in the English literary canon. In Fort’s case it’s not so much Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat as one man on a bicycle. What the reader gets from this odyssey is a mixture of reportage, personal reminiscences about family holidays past and pertinent reflections on how the Channel coastline has interacted with the Englishness of the seaside, and all its quirks, charms and challenges.
Fort peppers his narrative with the bizarre and with the words of the visitors and residents he questions on his way about the hold the coast has on them. It is done somewhat in the