Beesands, after the storm
The morning after the storm (well, actually, the second storm, as ‘St Jude’ got all the media coverage and attention a week ago, whilst this particular storm front remained largely ignored) felt scrubbed, clear and clean. The light in particular was razor sharp, the early winter shadows deep-etched into the land. It’s Monday morning, and it’s Monday morning after half-term. The dog walkers, like the sea, seem calm and relaxed today in this winter sunlight. They sit and chat while their dogs play around them, on the beach, with each other. What are these conversations about? Are they about the storm over the weekend which brought us howling south-westerly winds and 30mm of rain? Are they about the wonderful quietude of this place on this morning? Or do they talk about nothingnesses, what Aunty said at Sunday lunch, what ball the dog chose to play with this morning.
Since the weekend there has been a tanker parked in the Bay, an unusual site. At other places around this coast we are used to seeing tankers ‘stacked up’, parked up and waiting for the price of oil to rise. We had a rash of this a couple of years ago when the price of oil was ‘low’. Tor Bay was full of tankers then, but today it seems odd to see this one lone tanker sitting between us and Forward Point. We were even more surprised to see it again this morning, still here. We could only surmise that the sea had been exceptionally rough and that this tanker was maybe having some trouble and came into the safety of the Bay. As we arrived this morning there was a massive container ship looking as though it was about to head straight into Start Point, although this was a trick of this extraordinary winter light. Nevertheless it was much closer in than you would normally expect, testimony perhaps that it too was staying inshore as possible before heading out.
N swims. It is getting close to the time, she says, where she must don her ‘shorty’ wetsuit, but for now she continues to head off wearing only a bathing suit, a bright red hat – not even gloves today, I think. She says the temperature of the water is slowly but very perceptibly falling, still far off it’s annual low of around 9 or 10 degrees, but almost as far from the late summer high. Must be mad, the onlookers chime, as steady and reliable as clockwork clocks, enjoying their own approbation whilst enjoying the sight of someone swimming, entertaining and being entertained by the water.
The water outflow is flowing again here at Beesands, for pretty much the first time since the height of summer. When the freshwater Ley overflows its limits, the water comes here, to flow out into the sea. It’s hard to believe that only a matter of months ago this pipe was standing up far from the beach, whereas for the past six months or so it has rested on the changed contours of the sand. Hard to remember, too, that in the big storms of last spring this pipe’s concrete casing lay broken and battered, surrounded by the smashed remains of the sea defence. Now the water flows gently from the Ley, disappearing into the shifting sands of the beach long before reaching the edge of the sea.
I walked on virgin beach this morning, visited only by animals other than human. Why is there something satisfying about this, as though I had walked terra incognita? I look back and see only my own footprints, as though I have conquered something. There are loops where dogs, free of their owners and the restraint of the leash, had wandered or dashed from the lane onto the beach and back again, either called or of their own free will. Otherwise, even the birds seem still to be resting up from the battering of the storm, not yet re-emerged. Normally the beach when this empty of people is full of wagtails, doing their peculiar energetic leaping dance, bobbing up into mid-air from the invisibility cloak provided by natural camouflage and the darkness of wet sand.
Ultimately it’s the winter light that makes these days so special at the falling of the year. We can forgive nature’s intemperate and uncontrolled dash to decay when the light so shapes the land and sea like this. I can reach out and touch the horizon, and when I do it will cut my finger. Today there is no softening of the light as sea merged into sky, no disappearance, only forever and then a sudden stop as the sea falls off the edge of the earth. What a cascade that must be.