Whitecliff Bay

Whitecliff Bay

Earlier this week Laurie and I walked down into Whitecliff Bay, taking lunch in the sun at the ‘Wonky Café’, a lovely little wooden hut on the beach. I have particular affection for Whitecliff Bay. The spark of what was to become me made its entrance here: I was conceived in a caravan up on the cliffs, my parents (thanks to the holiday spirit no doubt) never thinking for one minute that they would get pregnant in their forties, children nearly grown. My mother assumed I was a fibroid for the first six months of her pregnancy.


After I was born, I was brought here for my first holiday, this time in a little wooden chalet clinging to the cliff edge amongst the trees. I have a photo, me in my push chair on the beach with my laughing mother, she the age I am now. Haloed by a flowery sun hat, I look particularly pleased with my ice cream. We came other times too, photos of me naked in the sea, utter joy on my face. In my memories, Whitecliff Bay became a special place of magical happiness; so strange that an unexpected twist of fate has brought me back to live so close by. I visit often.


The bay resides on the eastern side of Culver Cliff, as Yaverland Beach and Sandown Bay lie on its western edge. Standing on Culver’s chalk summit, you see the beauty of both bays clearly. Culver Cliff, Yaverland Beach and Whitecliff Bay are a kind of ‘Holy Trinity’ for me with regard to my local landscape – places I visit for clarity, peace and for the joy of it too.


Culver is a Saxon word for Dove or Pigeon. I like to think of Culver as a great white dove and as such she draws my thoughts to many images of Sophia – the Goddess of Wisdom – holding her chalice, a white dove descending into it. High places seem to offer us glimpses of that deep soul wisdom, one that comes when we open to the divine source within and without. Sophia’s beautiful white bird of love, spiritual knowing and insight was also the Love Goddess Aphrodite’s bird, reminding us that wisdom can never merely be the product of abstract thought but is also the fruit of our passions and desires; the voice of our bodies and emotions too. Aphrodite was born of the sea’s foam and Culver’s chalk is land risen from the ocean bed. Actually if you stand upon Shanklin Down, looking across towards Culver, she looks like a big white bird, the bays of Sandown and Whitecliff the curve of her outstretched wings.


Culver’s shape is distinctive from both sides but it wasn’t until I saw her headland from the sea in a boat that I realised how beautiful she was. This mostly private face can only be seen from the ocean or at very low tide, and only then out on the slippery, rutted Whitcliff ledge. The hairs on my neck rose the first time I ventured onto the seaweed covered ledge, turning to view Culver’s vast whiteness patterned with its dark, diagonal seams of flint. It wasn’t just its beauty that touched me but how secret it had been. The familiar shape of the cliff’s profile from both sides was so familiar to me but this hidden face, now suddenly apparent, was so unexpectedly different from anything I would have imagined. Its profiles are deceptive, leading the viewer to assume that the eastern tip of the Island is a fine point, just like its western point at the Needles. However, Culver’s headland is actually two arched faces, wider and flatter than its profile suggests. The face closest to Whitecliff Bay has the remains of the massive rock slide from 2007, the top of the cliff sharply overhanging the crumbled pile of chalk at its base. The second curved face is Horseshoe Bay and is home to the ‘Anvil’ or ‘White Horse’, a two hundred foot jutting promontory that gives Culver its distinctive western profile. Beyond the Anvil are two caves called the ‘Nostrils’, open to explore at low tide but filling with water when the tide flows.


These secret places fascinate me, revealing themselves only at special times, their access limited and often taking some courage to visit; I still haven’t been brave enough to scramble round the base of the Anvil to the Nostrils, wary of the speed of incoming tides, the slippery ledge making the journey slow and arduous. Only last year an experienced ex-coastguard rescuer became stranded on Culver’s base, embarrassed yet grateful to be saved by his old colleagues!


There are parts within us – so similar to these semi-secret landscapes – whose access is dependant on the tide of emotion, the courage we might be able to muster to enter such inner sanctums. These places – in and outside of us – demand an honest exchange of our energy for their gifts, be it a sacrifice of our fear or physical effort; we must surrender a little of these to reach such magical places, to access their blessing and wisdom. I think caution is needed too, a sensitivity and respect for the nature of both the outer and inner landscape; within our psyche, within the world around us, there are places that hold special power for each of us but perhaps risk as well. We all have to judge the right balance between caution and bravery in our lives. As the tides at Culver express so well, timing is crucial, the respect and honouring of the true nature of an environment so important – we need to know a little of its rhythms and being.


Culver’s faces are many: the gentle enclosure of Whitecliff Bay; the dramatic beauty of Yaverland; the turf spine of Bembridge Down, its many hawthorns bent double by the south-westerlies – sky, sea, land and light.  All these thrill and move me and yet in discovering an aspect of Culver’s beauty more hidden and challenging, the magic of this entire place – the inspiration found in each and every face – has deepened for me. These secret, sacred places can bring us such energy, joy and renewal; they remind us that just when we think we know life, when all feels a little too familiar, tired and jaded, an unknown aspect can turn the world on its head; the dove takes flight.


Secret Face of Culver

Secret Face of Culver






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