Mam used to tell me stories about the people who came before us. She said our ancestors understood the sea. She told me all these stories, about how – hundreds of years ago – not in her time, or my time, but someone’s time – people would come to this place only in the spring and summertime. Only when the bees were buzzing and the world was full of life. Because it was only then that it was safe to be here. The sea was always here, you see, not far from where you’re standing now, on this ground that used to be bogland. You could hear the sound of it lapping, the waves sighing, it was always close by back then. And it would rise up, as the weather turned cold and the autumn storms blew in. The ground would get boggy, the marshland turned salty, and then it would come, the waves that swallowed the earth, covering the bog as far as the eye could see. But it happened every year. The people knew it would happen. So they’d pack up their things, untether their animals, and move to higher ground.
“We were walking people back then,” Mam said to me. “We knew when the time was right to move on. We’d move up to the hills for the winter, keeping ourselves warm in the caves, going out only when needed. And then in summer as the sea receded once more, we’d be back down here, in our summer lands.”
I don’t know how Mam knew these things, but she did. She knew everything. People whispered sometimes that she was a witch. I didn’t think she was. Really, she was just someone who knew the old things.
Anyway, my name’s Susanna. But you can call me Chicken. Everyone does. It’s on account of the fact that Mam kept chickens in those days. Selling eggs was how we made our money, enough money to live off, that and the little apple orchard out behind our cottage. We’d make our own cider and sell that too, but that was Mam’s job. Mine was being in charge of the chickens.
I liked taking care of my chickens, but they were mighty stupid. You know, they’d always get themselves into the most ridiculous situations. They’d try and escape all the time, out of the orchard, and I’d find them under hedgerows and sometimes even stuck down in the reen – that’s the river – that cut along the bottom of our field.
If you turn around right now, you can see the reen behind you. – look to the LEFT you’ll see the reen flowing into the lake, it’s ancient…
The reen’s job was to keep the seawater out of our fields and keep everything drained and dry. So if it was summer, and the water in the reen was low, the chickens sometimes went down there to bathe and splash about. But I’d always worry they’d try the same trick in winter, when the water level was so much higher. Because, you know, chickens can’t swim. They’re so stupid, really they are.
Apart from Betsi. She was my favourite chicken. I think she was actually quite clever. She used to lead all the other chickens around. And she always came when I called her name. Yes, I liked Betsi best of all.
But even Betsi, despite how clever she was, couldn’t fly. Did you know that? Chickens can’t fly. They can flutter – up to their perches or to get away from a fox. But they can’t fly. Sometimes, Betsi would look up at the blackbirds nesting in the apple trees above her head and I’d always think she looked a bit wistful. Like she was thinking, I wonder what it’s like to be able to get so very high up?
Anyway, I’m so glad you’re here. Come with me. I’ve got so much to show you. So much story to tell you.