WRITING KNOWHOW Inspiring Landscapes

This week, KnowHow ventures out of the cities and heads to the coast. What can our own inspiring landscapes offer as a way to see a world through the eyes of a child? KnowHow Editor, Eleanor Pender takes a closer look. 

KnowHow is always looking for ways into inspiration, finding the right atmosphere to pull all the threads together and help create a world and characters for your stories. We've explored arts centres, festivals, museums and literary charities, looking for ways to help writers ease into the mind of their intended audience.

But what can our countryside offer us? The countryside. Forest and glades, fields and rivers, hills and valleys. They all paint a picture and offer a context that adds colour and atmosphere to a setting. Head a little further to our coastline, and did you know there are 43 unbridged tidal islands which may be reached on foot from the mainland? These tiny islands can offer great inspiration for setting and atmosphere.

Hilbre Island, Wirral
Heading to the north-west, where I grew up, Hilbre Island is set at the mouth of the Dee Estuary. Together with Little Eye and Middle Eye, the island is part of a long rocky strand that forms the mini Hilbre archipelago.

At a low tide, you can walk between the islands crossing the tidal sands and mud. Caution is required though; the sea moves fast, and safe access is two hours either side of low tide. In the swirling mist, the thrill of crossing the vast sands of Liverpool Bay is heightened by knowing the tide is creeping towards you. On a sunny weekend, the air is full of happy picnic-toting folk on a family adventure.

Discover beautifully sculpted cliffs, caves, stacks, wave-cut platforms and small sandy beaches. There’s also a bird observatory (part of a national network that monitors migrating birds) and the ruins of a lifeboat station.

St Mary’s Island, Tyne & Wear
What is it about a lighthouse that sets the mind whirring, spinning stories of loss or love, hope or longing? St Mary’s Island, near Whitley Bay, can help set that scene, with a lighthouse considered to be one of the most photographed spots on the north-east coast.

Neil Reed / Aerial photo of St Mary's Island at high tide
But don’t just stop at the lighthouse! There is an abundance of wildlife here too. Grey seals can be seen here for most of the year, though they don’t breed or raise young on the island. They visit from the Farne Island colonies, 40 miles to the north. The daytrippers of the sea! In the freshwater pools, wading birds can be found roosting and feeding. Purple sandpiper, turnstone, sanderling, redshank and golden plover can be seen loafing on the rocks, the wetland or the clifftop grassland.

St Mary’s Island is one of those exciting places cut off at high tide. Most of the time, it is easily reachable by foot across a causeway but twice a day it is a real island. Be sure to check the tide times before heading out!

Ynys Gifftan, Cardigan Bay
On the south-east shore of Traeth Bach, in the Dwyryd estuary near Portmeirion in Gwynedd, North Wales, you’ll find one of the most unspoilt places in Cardigan Bay. Ynys Gifftan is surrounded by vast tidal sands, salt marsh and mountains. And you need help to find it!

Follow the derelict fence line into the salt marsh, a puzzle of gleaming curves of interconnected channels and sun-dried mud hollows rich in wildflowers, with otters, seasonal wildfowl, egrets and herons to spot. Navigate around the larger water-filled channels on dry land or jump in and squash through the gloopy mud of the channel bottoms.

Cross the tidal sands to the rocks at the southern tip of the island, where you’ll find emerald-green pools. Take in the views of the fairytale turrets of Portmeirion, the mountains of Snowdonia and the distant ruins of Harlech Castle. Uninhabited since the mid-1960s, you can continue around the sands of the foreshore and explore the ruins of the old farmhouse halfway down the east coast.

These are just three of the many islands accessible from our coastline that offer shrouded mystery, teeming wildlife and beautiful cliffs. Which setting has enchanted you?

Main image by Simon Rae on Unsplash


Based in Bristol, Eleanor lectures in digital communications and chairs YA and middle-grade events at festivals including Bath Children's Literature Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, and YALC. She is currently working on a young adult fantasy novel.


Do you have any helpful organisations or centres dedicated to children in your area? Tell KnowHow! Email our KnowHow editor, Eleanor at knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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