Sea roads

I have been making a new Tarpaulin Cloth and it is nearly ready to put into the sea to start the rusting process on the eyelets that I have sewn into it. I thought you would be interested in the background to the making of the series of Tarpaulin Cloths that I started for the Caught by the Tide exhibition and which looks set to continue for a while yet – I still have ideas.


The Tarpaulin series considers the processes of change that occur when cloth is exposed to the elements or left to be washed around in the sea for years.

The cloths have been exposed to different processes in order to be marked by the environment and by time. They have been left outside, hanging in a salty, coastal environment for up to 6 months or dunked into the sea so that the sewn wire eyelets begin to break down and mark the cloth. Others have been soaked in salt water that I have made up – this is a much stronger solution than seawater which only contains 3.5% salt. When the salt water evaporates from the cloth it leaves a crusted, shining residue.


Recently I have been thinking more about the ‘washed around in the sea for ages’ bit. My starting point for these cloths was the discovery of several sea-soaked, dark and twisted leather soles and insoles on the tideline a year or so ago. Their traditional construction suggested great age; they could have been floating around in the sea for 50 years or more before being washed ashore by a stray current and captured by the land. I wondered: why so many? How did they stay floating around together for so many years? Why have they ended up here?

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A possible answer has been put forward by Jean Sprackland in Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach. She talks about an ocean gyre – a huge, whirling current that can catch marine debris in its slow moving vortex. The North Sea is an enclosed sea – there are only three points of entry and exit. Water enters via the English Channel in the South, via the Shetland Islands in the North and exits along the Norwegian coast. It is easy to understand that rubbish dropped into the sea can get caught up in a pattern of powerful tides and currents that move it around and around until quite by chance, many years later, it appears in altered form on the beach. It could also explain the phenomenon of recurring finds – I find an old shoe sole, and then another and a bit further on another. I suppose objects of the same shape and weight can get trapped together and transported along these slowly circulating sea roads.

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The thought of sea roads brings into focus the idea that the cold waters of the North Sea are a kind of highway that links the east coast of England and Scotland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Iceland. All these northlands have a shared identity that is historical, architectural and environmental ….

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…. there is much to continue thinking about.

The waves photographed on Cley beach on a sharp, sunny day last autmn.



4 thoughts on “Sea roads

  1. debbie.weaver

    Interesting, this could be a long project I think, looking forward to seeing more of your work, amazing photos. I would love to be able to leave stuff to be sea washed but we have the second highest tide in the world here, sea goes out for miles, I would never sea my work again. I really enjoyed Jean Sprackland’s book.

  2. debbielyddon Post author

    I don’t let go of the work if the waves are rough like these at Cley! At Wells the tide creeps in and out very slowly so there is no problem. Debbie x


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