Anvil clouds and squalls
Christmas Day with dramatic layered skies. A stiff southwesterly continuing even though after the tremendous blow of earlier days this was supposed to feel mild.
We are the first to arrive at the car park at Slaton, unsure of where to go in search of a possible swim. After the storms it seemed hard to imagine that we would find suitable conditions anywhere, but thought Slapton was worth a try. As we arrived so did the rain, half hail, half sleet, and so too the first family arrived clearly determined to follow their Christmas Day tradition of a beach barbecue. A neat stainless steel portable barbecue in the hands of the ten year old is the first to emerge followed in swift succession by table and a bright yellow beach umbrella. Behind them is a massive anvil cloud rising from the coastal cloud bank. Clouds sit in layers and out to sea there is a huge squall sitting over the winter, black and raining hard. We know that in two minutes or ten it will likely reach us because we can watch it moving slowly towards us. Just as N thinks she might head into the water, the rain arrives, slashing hard in the wind, hitting the car windscreen like needles or tiny pebbles. The yellow umbrella has moved, further down onto the beach, less convenient to the car, but not so exposed to the southwesterly wind. We give up the idea of swimming here as the rain gets heavier and harder.
By now one or two more cars have appeared and there are early pre-Christmas lunch walks happening, remnants of families perhaps ejected from the matriarchal home as lunch preparations continue.
We move further up the coast to Hallsands. This is the beach closest to Start Point, and therefore tucked farthest into the Bay. With winds coming from the south the bulk of the headland protects this beach, in theory anyway. Even here the sea is frothy and immense although there seems to be a less extreme swell here than further round the Bay.as we arrive a family staying nearby is heading back to the house after their early morning stroll on the beach, fully bundled up against the bluster and rain. Otherwise we are alone. Someone in one of the new houses is putting out some rubbish, perhaps the remains of wrapping from early opening of presents. As N studies the sea’s behaviour we realise that there have been huge changes here, just as there had been at Beesands the day earlier. A part if the sea wall and part of the huge rocks that make up the sea defence are now lying on the beach partially blocking the outflow from the stream. Clearly at some point in recent days the waves have been violently crashing and pounding the sea wall (such as it is here) and re-enacting a flavour of the violent storms that destroyed this village almost exactly one hundred years ago. Then, there was a coincidence of three factors: high winds, high tide and particularly high spring tides which pushed the water higher than it had ever been before. Part of the village had already been badly damaged the week before, making this storm the final event for the community here. The narrow road that wound between the two rows of houses in the village this time collapsed, possibly weakened by the damage done to the houses nearest to the sea the week before. The village was now impassable, the inhabitants of the houses on the far side of the collapse stranded. Over the next few days many of those front houses fell into the angry Atlantic, and what remained of the road also collapsed causing great damage to ghee second row of houses. The village had come to a final end.
On Christmas Day 2013 there was no danger of further house collapse. The houses that remained from the old village are way up on the promontory, the new houses set back considerably from the beach. The encroachment would have to be many metres before these houses are affected. It wont happen this century, probably, but probably will at some point in the future as the sea continues to reclaim this small island we live on.
The sky continued to shift and change as sun warred with dense rain clouds. Thunder was later reported in some places although we did not hear any here. Just as the day before, the light at the lighthouse was on, presumably because of the dense sea mist caused by the heavy breakers throwing up large amounts of moisture into the air. N eventually counted the waves patterns enough to feel comfortable with going in for a brief swim – the usual incredulity registered by passing dog walkers. Eventually the rain abated and the winds died, at least for the next day and a bit. Now they are back with a vengeance.