Travel and curiosity can often lead us to new places we'd like to call home. Jo Tinsley, editor of the Ernest Journal and namesake of our own Tinsley the Tote Pack, took some time during a photoshoot with us to muse over what it is to arrive at the unknown and grow your home.
Words by Jo Tinsley | Photography by Jim Marsden
Often, it can be tempting to focus on great adventures and journeys and not what it feels like when you actually reach a destination and settle for a while. I find that it takes time to connect to a new place, and to find meaning in the day-to-day. I moved to Brighton two and a half years ago, and it’s taken me about this long to put down roots. For me, it’s been about establishing routines and rituals: running along the seafront, swimming between the piers, combing the shingle for hagstones (pebbles with natural holes bored through them, said to bring luck), walking down to the beach on a Sunday evening to watch starlings swirl around the pier like smoke.
My work – as an author and travel writer, founder of Ernest Journal and editor of Waterfront, a magazine celebrating our connection with water for Canal & River Trust – easily becomes overwhelming. And so each weekend, I shake off the tension by spending time outdoors: exploring trails and Sussex curios, ticking off sections of the South Downs Way (a long distance path that threads along the spine of a chalk ridge), expanding the orbit around my new home a little further each week. Sometimes I go with friends, but often I’m on my own: recharging on nature, just me and my squeaky left hiking boot.
The geology of Sussex feels completely new to me. I grew up in the Pennines; I’m used to gritstone and granite, heather moorlands, reservoirs. Sussex is chalky: crumbling cliffs and dry valleys, flint strewn fields, figures etched into the slopes, and pale mud that clogs up my hiking boots. It even sounds dissimilar from anywhere I’ve ever lived: skylarks rising over downland; the rasp of waves on flint pebbles; the strange calls of lapwings.
To settle in with the landscape, I find myself returning to the same places, getting a feel for them in different weathers and seasons. I’ve walked and re-walked the meanders of the River Cuckmere countless times, watching geese grazing on the flats and stomping up to the rolling downs, which are topped with wind-bent trees. I’ve returned time and again to Hastings Old Town, picking up kiln-roasted salmon from the Rock-A-Nore smokehouse, wandering around the black wooden sheds used to store fishing gear, browsing through the thoughtfully-chosen books at Hare and Hawthorn, taking a ride on the East Hill Cliff Railway.
I’ve always had a fidgety energy and a million ideas. While long walks calm my racing mind and take the edge off the constant chatter, cold water presses the reset button. I swim in the sea, rivers and lidos to manage anxiety, a reoccurring challenge that, at its mildest, can make me feel floaty and not ‘in the room’, and at its worst pushes me towards panic attacks. Cold water snaps me back to reality and shakes off whatever’s occupying my mind. I’ve become addicted to this immersion; when you spend your days regulating your energy, it’s such a relief to relinquish yourself to the water.
Recently, I’ve moved into my own space: a little attic flat with views of the sea. I’ve filled it with plants and pictures that mean something to me: a framed nautical chart of the Discovery Islands in Canada, which I kayaked around for issue five of Ernest; paintings by local artists Eric Ravilious and Sybil Andrews; maps of places I desperately want to visit such as Lofoten in Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland’s Westfjords.
Right now, it’s the tail end of a long winter and I’m restless. The early part of my year teems with deadlines; the days are too short. It’s a time for nesting, setting intentions, staring at OS maps. Come late spring, I’ll start to stretch the working day: a 7am walk over the Downs to Saltdean Lido for a swim before heading to the studio; an evening amble to Lewes to do a few bracing lengths in the spring-fed Pells Pool. It’s these small steps – these simple rituals – that help bed me into a place, allow me to find some emotional stillness, and give me the energy to plan the next great adventure.