March 8, 2015
I felt like a stranger. A life-eating job followed by nasty winter weather and then illness has kept me away from the beaches lately. I’ve been lonely for the sea, hearing it from the house on those days when the east wind is favourable, seeing its spray-leavings on our windows. But finally here we were, walking along Slapton Sands and greeting it like old friends. N did not swim today. A recent surgery meant this probably wasn’t a good idea just yet, so we just meandered along the beach.
There have been huge changes since the last encounter. We were walking along a sandy beach where before this would have been described as a pebble beach. In the last couple of months, 30,000 tonnes of beach has been moved in hundreds of dumper-loads from the northerly end of the beach at Strete Gate to the southerly end at Torcross. There is a regular longshore drift that moves sand and pebble and rock from the Torcross end of the beach to the Strete Gate end, the result of the strong prevailing current and winds. This effect was magnified in the storms of the winter before last; the winter that tore metres of coastline away and damaged houses all along the Bay. This winter has mercifully not displayed the lethal combination of current, wind and tide that attacks this particular bit of coast, so we have been spared further damage. The engineers created massive mountains of sand, at Torcross piling it high up the sea defence wall, and along the beach here near the Memorial Car Park creating three large berms, only one of which was there before the devastation of early 2014, if my shifting recollection of a shifting landscape recalls correctly.
The berms will presumably ultimately be washed down naturally by wind and tide to keep the beach shored up. Although the County Council has provided no technical information to locals – or anyone as far as I can see, it seems logical to assume that when waves threaten again, they will eat away at these berms thus creating more beach, rather than simply scouring away what beach is there. The lack of information caused the Council to be ridiculed in the local press and local TV. The piled up sand and pebbles, particularly at the sea wall in Slapton where the effect was most noticeable and in front of the noses of residents of the village, of course ‘washed away’ at the first storm. This was exactly what the engineers planned, but the papers were sounding loud about ‘all the money that has been spent only to see it washed away in one storm’. Lack of information always causes grief. Why won’t bureaucrats understand that?
The late winter sun still casts its glorious long shadows creating a landscape of palpable dimension. It was breath-taking today, after a day mostly made up of winter mizzle. A slow clearing brought us to a late afternoon with a clearing sky and temperatures hovering above 10°C – closer to 13°C in reality. The wind abated for a while, although later it was beginning to build again in preparation for the promised rain tomorrow. It’s been an extraordinarily dry winter. I haven’t looked up the statistics, but even being stuck in the house for the last month or so I’m still aware of just how dry it has been. It seems likely that February will be close to record-dry. Slapton is a popular place, and there was a goodly number of cars in the car parks, and of course the ice cream van (who seems to show up regardless of weather or temperature). The beach told the story of today’s activity, with human footprints of all kinds, and mad wild dog skids and runs. Beaches are for dogs.
Looking at the images I shot carelessly, I am astonished to see the fantastic sky – N and I both realised that we spent all the time looking down at this new sandy beach that we didn’t really realise just what was happening above us.
Although the walk was quite short, it brought life back to me – life that had been missing for far too long. It’s time to get serious about doing this most days, learning new this ever-shifting landscape and its living beauty.