In the Spring after second world war, sixteen year old coalminer’s son, Robert Appleyard, follows the river Wear out of the city of Durham and away from the mining village where his father and his father before him, worked at the coalface, with its “creaking , clanking mine-heads and the dark-grey dust that on still, clear days seemed to settle everywhere.”
The war has awakened in him a sense of adventure and a wanderlust to see what was beyond “the end of the street where the flagstones gave way to fields.” He tramps across the country, finding work on farms and smallholdings, a day here and there, following the sun and resting when it was time to rest.”
After a few weeks, he ends up at a ramshackle cottage near Robin Hood’s Bay, the home of Dulcie Piper, a cultured, sometimes foul-mouthed, generous woman, whom he regards as “elderly.” He stays and works hard in the Summer sun, swims in the sea and reads while she provides him with beautiful food from her well-stocked pantry and books.
When he clears the meadow in front of the house, restoring the view of the sea, she is unimpressed. She says she “ had a falling out with the sea.” When he restores the studio at the bottom of the garden and he, also, discovers a mystery from Dulcie’s past.
Resolving this mystery deepens their friendship, reconciles Dulcie with her past and changes Robert’s future.
The novel paints a beautiful picture of the North of England after the war. There is a sense of the War as a dark shadow in the background, even though it’s over. Nature and the landscape are celebrated through the eyes of the sixteen year old. It’s impossible not to share his joy watching animals and birds, listening to the noises at night or in the early mornings. Changes in him are reflected by changes in season.
The offing is “a distant stretch of sea where sky and water merge.” I feel that Robert’s eyes have always looked towards the offing and his friendship with Dulcie, which is authentic, warm-hearted and funny, helps her to lift her head and look out again to the sea.