The fate of Dunwich, the Suffolk town that disappeared under the sea and whose church bells, according to legend, are heard tolling beneath the waves, has long exercised a hold on the English imagination. There is something melancholy about the sea silently wresting back land that we have made our own, which is why Chris Smith's warnings on the future scale of coastal erosion are likely to inspire a good deal of dread.
Mr Smith cautions that as the sea devours England's eastern coastline, hard decisions will have to made about what can be saved through engineering and what will have to be sacrificed.
The natural reaction of some is simply to protest and say no; something must be done. But what? After his walks on Southwold beach, the Prime Minister will have seen one at risk.
Whether, like Canute, his response will be to try to defy the sea's powerful and irresistible demands, or bow to what looks like the inevitable, is unclear. But we may have to reconcile ourselves to more Dunwichs in future, and accept this as part of the price of being an island nation.