Judith Wildwood – Living on the edge of the world

Interview by Alan Cleaver.
Life on the edge of the world: Judith Wildwood is one of a handful of people who live on Braystones’ shorefront

Life on the edge of the world: Judith Wildwood is one of a handful of people who live on Braystones’ shorefront

JUDITH Wildwood has a unique perspective on the world – which is not surprising as she lives on its edge.

She is one of a few dozen people who live on the beach at Braystones, in wooden single-storey homes that started life over 150 years ago as huts for men working on the railway.

Their location, tucked into the side of the railway – but on the same side as the sea – makes them some of the most precarious homes in Britain.

The tide will generally lash against small, fragile walls in front of the houses – and during a storm the wooden structures take the full blast.

“I am incredibly lucky to live here,” says Judith – which on the calm, bright, sunny day I visited her is easy to appreciate. The blue and white home looks out on the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man and what must be jaw-dropping sunsets.

“The summers are absolutely breathtaking,” Judith said, but added: “In the winter, though, you cannot remember what the summer was like.”

Some of the recent guests to Judith’s home have been Barney, Clodagh, Frank, Henry and Imogen – all storms with a particularly vicious sting in the tail.

And Judith has no doubt that these storms are getting worse, as global warming takes hold.

Warmer winters, stronger winds and higher tides are all taking their toll. On the day I visited Judith the ‘beach road’ – it is barely a track with a few stones in front of it – had just been put back, thanks to a man with a digger.

“You can see how much has vanished in the last 50 years,” said Judith, who has watched bigger and higher tides claim more and more of the beach.

So how do you survive on the edge of the world?

Some of the homes do have electricity – some of them having set up generators or turbines for that purpose.

Lighting is usually by gas canisters or paraffin.

Heating is by an open fire or gas. There is a telephone and some even have access to the internet.

For those who want it – though it’s hard to see why when you have one of the planet’s greatest views out of your lounge window – there is even a TV signal or you can erect a satellite dish.

And, yes, they do pay council tax – though it’s hard to see they get a fair deal for the facilities on offer.

There is waste collection and the postman finds his or her way up the beach (a letter simply addressed to The Blue and White House on the beach at Braystones will find its way to Judith).

Tesco will even deliver food to your door (the nearest shop is in Egremont), but the van sometimes needs a hand getting off the beach.

But other firms promising ‘national delivery’ are not usually adept enough to find their way across the railway crossing and onto the beach road. After six months Judith gave up waiting for the delivery van with a new bath to find this ‘lost’ part of Britain.

Braving Mother Nature: Judith rebuilds the wall in front of her Braystones home

Braving Mother Nature: Judith rebuilds the wall in front of her Braystones home

It’s a stark existence and in winter some of the residents will retreat inland but for those who make it through another winter it’s a reason to celebrate and be thankful.

While storm and flood coverage by the press has concentrated on the likes of Carlisle, Cockermouth and Keswick the forgotten world of Braystones has largely been overlooked.

Perhaps the reporters just couldn’t find it.

There is a wonderful archive of stories and pictures about the huts at Braystones at www.pastpresented.ukart.com. It’s not clear who has put this wonderful resource together, but it’s well worth a look.