The late September weather here in Devon was so glorious that I was moved to write a piece for the Guardian Travel Writing Competition. They didn’t select it but I still like it and I have reproduced it below. I know it’s not science writing but I enjoyed doing it and any comments will be gratefully received! Here it is:
Two pleasures at the coast
I look away, embarrassed. I had been absent-mindedly watching a man across the grassy car park peeling off his wet suit to reveal, well, no swimming costume! I look elsewhere: several VW camper vans, two ageing Minis and just arriving, a surfboard on top of an ancient black Morris Minor. Dotted around are surfers in various states of dress and undress getting ready for the waves. We are at Bantham Beach in South Devon and this is pure theatre. It’s an unseasonably warm, very sunny, late September day and Hazel and I have taken a day out to indulge two pleasures.
Our first pleasure is the Coast Path. Suitably booted, we head up the path beside the beach but we are stopped in our tracks by the first sight of the sea. Picked out by the sun is an ever-changing pattern of intersecting white arcs as semi-circular waves process up the beach towards, but never reaching, the low dunes. In the waves we see black dots; for a moment we imagine them as cavorting seals but these are in fact the surfers. The unlikely backdrop to this scene is the green bulk of Burgh Island with its white wedding cake of a hotel perched on the tip, more theatre!
On the coast path at this time of year there are few flowers; one or two Sea Pinks remind us of the loud drifts of these flowers decorating the cliffs earlier in the year. Here and there, the yellow and white daisy-like flowers of Sea Mayweed seem to be celebrating the Indian summer with us. The coast path now skirts the golf course. Large signs warn golfers ambiguously, “You are driving near a public footpath”, but they do respect our safety. Our destination is Thurlestone, named after the pierced or “thirled” stone forming a natural arch just offshore. As we walk, the great stone arch emerges through the haze surrounded by shimmering patterns on the sea created by the low autumn sun.
After a brief sandwich stop on the cliff overlooking the arch, we head back to Bantham for our second pleasure, the sea. Now it’s our turn to get those wet suits on and we pick up our body boards and head through the dunes towards the beach. It’s low tide so we have a long walk but the sea beckons invitingly and the suns warms us. The water is refreshing but not cold; the rising tide gives strong surf and we are rewarded with a continuous succession of waves. This is the best surf we have had this year, almost every ride is good and sometimes two waves combine to give an unexpected acceleration. It’s so exhilarating and we share knowing smiles with other board riders. Around me, people are literally frolicking in the sea and I get a feeling of pure pleasure. Later as we struggle out of our wet suits in the warm sunshine, Hazel sums it up, “That was fab”.