Thursday, 30 June 2022

The Draw of the Sea, Wyl Menmuir

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This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thanks to Random Things Tours and Aurum Press for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

In this meditative memoir Menmuir explores the appeal of the sea, its danger and healing powers. In short chapters he meets an eclectic host of characters, from those who spend hours searching beaches for washed up treasure to photographers, surfers, amateur marine biologists, and free divers. His focus is largely on the coast of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly but he also ventures as far as Svalbard. For many the sea provides a sense of peace, but its danger is never far from mind, nor the struggles of those trying to make their home in small coastal communities.

Menmuir enthusiastically (and occasionally tentatively) throws himself into the pursuits of those he meets. Beachcombing (or wrecking, as it’s known in Cornwall) becomes an absorbing pastime, but he comments on the conflict between the joy he feels at finding small pieces of plastic toys and the guilt at taking more pleasure in them than his natural finds. He is all too aware of the damage human activity is wreaking on the natural world. He meets a lobster fisherman, Jof Hicks, who goes about his work consciously and sustainably, handcrafting the lobster pots and fishing only in small quantities. When questioned on whether it’s worth the time he replies that it’s good exercise, peaceful, and time that millions of others fritter away staring at screens.

He introduces us city-dwellers to a different way of life, where families head straight to the beach for some surf time after school and where your plumber might vanish for weeks in the middle of a job on getting wind of some irresistible waves. Threats to the way of life are also highlighted with communities decimated in a wave of second homes that remain empty for the majority of the year. This, and other factors such as the profitability of short-term lets, means that many locals are being priced out of the areas they were born.

Despite the challenges and conflicts of coastal life it’s also clear that the connection to the water can be hugely beneficial for mental health. The peace and exhilaration of free-diving and the integral focus on controlling your breath turns it into an almost meditative exercise. I was also absolutely fascinated to learn about the mammalian dive reflex which allows humans to hold their breath for much longer under water than they would above the surface.

In the early days of the Covid pandemic photographers Mike Guest and Nick Pumphrey began the Dawn Days of May project, in which they took a wetsuit and camera into the sea at dawn every day of the month. It quickly became clear how grounding and calming the experience was. Enthralled by the changing nature of the waterscape and the beauty of the dawn, the project garnered a following on Instagram and inspired others to set out on similar adventures.

This is a fascinating, varied book that gives an insight into many lives and the central role the sea plays in them. You are able to easily dip in and out, never knowing quite what you’ll find in the next chapter. It certainly made me want to spend more time exploring our coastline. Special mention should also be given to the Holly Ovenden, designer of the physical book, for its entrancingly beautiful cover and endpapers that will give you a little taste of the sea wherever you’re reading.



1 comment:

  1. Great review! I hadn't heard of this one before but it sounds really interesting, I love the sound of all the characters and the mammalian dive reflex is fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

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