Belinda Moore lives on the Suffolk coast, where she swims in the North Sea and embraces the watery world on her doorstep... Here she reveals why the coast and the North Sea are so special to her

The weather always looks worse from inside.

Small drips that you don’t notice when you’re in the open air blat up against windows spreading a dull grey smudge, filtered by a layer of dastardly condensation. From inside, the outside looks awful. Transport yourself to the other side of the glass and you’re transformed.

Great British Life: Dramatic skies over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore Dramatic skies over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore

Yes, it’s a bit chilly, yes there’s some damp in the air, but it’s not half as bad as you thought. Trotting along the coast with your hat on, you’ll soon remember just how lucky you are.

In Suffolk, our coastal winter skies are extraordinary, flooded with colour that you don’t see in the summer. Summer skies are honestly rather boring; bright blue, light blue, dark blue, blue with cute clouds. In the winter, the sea skies are purple and golden and silver and brown, an enchanting pallet of colour that you wouldn’t believe possible were you not actually soaking it in.

If you’re walking along the beach and the tide is low, walk along the sand. Look out for shapely shingle stones; hearts, faces, lucky stones with holes right through. Find one and thread it when you get home, hang the luck in the hallway or on the side of the shed.

Great British Life: Collecting stones is a favourite pastime. Photo: Belinda Moore Collecting stones is a favourite pastime. Photo: Belinda Moore

Chances are, you’ll also come across seaweed and drift wood or a storm muddled tangle that’s caught fishing lines and feathers of its own. Every piece is an art objet worthy of examination, if the wind isn’t too cold. You don’t even have to take a photo, the pictures in your head last longer.

Look at things you wouldn’t look at at other times of the year. Dunes and the shingle bank beside you, find a washed-up plank of galleon with huge wooden pegs, a fish can with a Russian label, some long stripey feathers.

When I was small, I carried a little bag for collecting treasures on a beach walk; bones and stones and feathers and fragments of flint. When the walk was over and we were home again, we spread the contents of our bags on the table and spent much of the rest of the day, or longer, examining them, running a finger back and forth along a feather, dividing the fronds and putting them back together again until we understood how they worked.

Great British Life: Dramatic skies over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore Dramatic skies over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore

We popped the fat beads along a string of seaweed and smelled the sea inside. We wondered at a rabbit bone and where it had come from.

There is weather, of course. Be prepared for winter winds that feel as if they could blow you over or sandblast any inch of exposed skin, and sea spray from waves that seem so impossibly heavy it’s remarkable that they land at all, let alone bounce spray back up at you.

When the tide is high and an easterly is blowing, you can be faced with the option of slogging along the shingle, or turning in. If the weather is against you, or your knee’s not up to it, head for a smooth adventure on one of Suffolk’s gorgeous promenades (locals call them ‘fronts’), Felixstowe, Aldeburgh, Southwold, Lowestoft, to name a few. You still get the skies, you’ll see the beauty and find your own treasures. There’s nothing not to love.

Our coast is a staggeringly beautiful distraction from the harsh inland world, somewhere to look and a place to listen to the sounds of the sea, to wonder at the things that you find and save the picture safely in your head.

Great British Life: Mermaid's purse washed up on the beach. Photo: Belinda Moore Mermaid's purse washed up on the beach. Photo: Belinda Moore

Watery Winter Visitors

It seems churlish to mention it out loud, especially as we’re a region that relies on tourists for income, but as we turn into winter, seeing the summer visitors go brings a cool relief. No more pavements gridlocked with people and puppies, no fretful waits for coffee or hungry queues for chips.

Our cold-weather visitors tend to be a more peaceful flock. Of the those that come to the Suffolk coast in winter, I routinely fall for cormorants. Their sheer unlikeliness, their awkward, ill-proportioned flight.

They move like pterodactyls from a science-fiction movie, it’s as if they don’t belong in the real world. Sometimes, when I’m swimming I’ve watched them fly right across the horizon, skimming the surface of the water, flapping their too-small wings like moths heading off to bump their heads on a far-away bulb.

Their stretched-out bodies look out-of-balance for flying. In the Galapagos there is a species of cormorant that doesn’t fly at all. Without predators these particular birds have evolved solely for fishing.

Cormorants – they’re also called shags (there’s a lovely rhyme for them) – have large webbed feet. These power their swimming and provide propulsion when they fish.

Watching them from the perspective of a swimmer, it’s as if they magically disappear. They’ll fly close and round, and then they’re gone, diving down as far as the sea floor or in deeper seas, 60 metres, to spear fish with their sharp pointed bills. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot them reappear, but don’t hold your breath.

Great British Life: A coastal resident. Photo: Belinda Moore A coastal resident. Photo: Belinda Moore

Eventually, they’ll drag themselves out of the water and clamber on to a nearby rock or construction to spread their wings and dry their feathers in the wind. They aren’t waterproof like ducks or gulls and instead absorb seawater so that they don’t become buoyant. It means that they can dive deeper without being pulled up by air under their feathers.

In heraldic designs, cormorants have been used to symbolise the cross of Christ; robust and sacred wings outstretched in face of the weather. The cormorant was chosen as the emblem for the Ministry of Defence Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham. I once saw one posing, wings outstretched, balanced on top of a large bright orange buoy at Oulton Broad in front of a quayside of visitors. Show off.

When I’m swimming in the cold sea, the sight of their outstretched wings look to me as if they’re welcoming me, opened wide in a fond embrace, encouraging me to join them.

Great British Life: Sunrise over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore Sunrise over the Suffolk Coast in winter. Photo: Belinda Moore

The Common Cormorant or Shag

by Christopher Isherwood

The Common Cormorant or shag

Lays eggs inside a paper bag.

The reason you will see no doubt

It is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds

Have never noticed is that herds

Of wandering bears may come with buns

And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

(I thank my mum for this poem.)

About Belinda Moore

Belinda Moore lives on the Suffolk coast. Her blog, North Sea Fan Club, is about swimming in the sea... and thinking about it.