A wall of fog hangs on the hill between the town and the sea. A dirty smudge drifting along the coastline like steam from a train, weaving in and out of castles and dunes covered in marram grass. In Northumberland we call these isolated strips of mist sea frets. They occur when warmth passes over the chilly North Sea, causing moisture in the air to condense, and are fairly common along the east coast between April and September.
There is something magical about this seasonal fog, which creates an icy vortex on a summer’s day. Life pauses as moisture clings to moss and cow parsley twinkles in the gloom. The temperature drops dramatically inside the fret, the absence of swallows swooping in the sunlight creating a muted world.
Sometimes the fret will evaporate in the heat like a shiver down my spine, and campions in hedgerows will swivel their faces to the sun. Other times it is stubborn, refusing to shift all day.
My home, between beach and hill, means I can chase the sun with a good chance the fret won’t catch me. While eider ducks are bobbing amongst the bladderwrack, blurring in and out of a misty focus, up in the Cheviots the heather will be warm and buzzards will be floating on thermals. Seen from the top of Yeavering Bell, the sea fret is a gauzy ribbon, tied fast to the tides.
A breeze will often blow it inland in the evening, frosty fingers reaching out and holding me in their grasp as a Dickensian world unravels outside my window. The birds fall silent once more: black-headed gulls on chimney stacks and sparrows nesting in the neighbours’ hedge. For a time the sea fret has claimed the town, clawed it back from the uplands. It intrigues me that this weather phenomenon requires heat to exist, yet leaves an icy sprinkle wherever it goes.