It seemed like a ludicrously long time since the last walk. Somehow life has conspired, or the weather has been too shitty, or we’ve been otherwise engaged with the new allotment, or… take your pick of one of the host of reasons/excuses.
Things have changed since the last visit to Mattiscombe, becoming evident almost immediately as there is now a parking attendant at Start Point, which must mean that it’s summer, but which also means that we need to pay to park. Glumface. We decided to go ahead and buy a ‘season ticket’ (really a carnet of 10 for a considerably cheaper price). I don’t particularly object to paying to park here: it’s privately owned and there are costs involved in maintaining the facility for public access – and it’s free in the winter, so that seems OK. Parking charges have become one easy-sell way for local councils to bring in some of the money that central government is stealing from them. We’ve heard loads in the media about cuts to public services at central government level, but we hear much less about the stealth cuts that are happening as a result of huge cuts to local authority block grants. If we think ‘austerity’ is hurting now, it really is only just beginning… One of the results in this tourist-focussed part of the world is that councils are trying to close public loos, including in places where they are raking in huge sums from parking fees. At nearby honeypot Bigbury-on-Sea where the council brings in more than a quarter of a million pounds in car-parking charges, they are closing the loos in winter, saving a measly few thousand pounds. The Bigbury beaches are almost as busy in winter as they are in summer, particularly on weekends, so this seems a terribly mistaken policy. But I (massively) digress… At Start Point there are no services at all other than the most wonderful place to be.
The next startling change, apart from being able to step out of the car without being in danger of being blown off the cliff, or becoming immediately soaked in the driving rain, was the immediate sense of freedom, or being able to breathe in warm-ish air and not having to add a hundred clothing layers before setting off. The walk down to Mattiscombe beach (I wonder where this name comes from, as it shows on no map that I’ve been able to find) was much quicker yesterday than it has been since we started walking here back in November. The walk down, for the past six months, has been dominated by impassible mud and by necessary detours up hills and along cow tracks to try to find a useable route. Not so now: it is possible – indeed easy – simply to follow the main patch, which is dry. An easy walk.
The dryness is actually a little alarming. The earth looks like late August, dry and cracked. This has happened for the past few years now, and we have ended up with nasty, cold, wet, miserable summers. The difference (so far) this year is that the prevailing winds are continuing to be from the east and northeast, which not only adds a bite but keeps temperatures down. This time last year we had had the hottest April for many years, followed by the coldest and wettest summer for decades; this year we have just had the coldest April on record, albeit a very dry one. What does it portend?
There was a wholly new quality to the light yesterday. Unlike the brilliance and clarity of those sunny winter days, there was instead a different kind of bright: there’s a new depth to the colours, and indeed more colours. The rocks seemed to shine differently, the sand glistens, the rock pools are practically invisible because the water is so clear. The horizon has a slight softness but the sky has a new blue, a warmer more inviting blue that winter sun can never intimate.
Startlingly, the gorse was not only in full bloom, which it seems to be at random times throughout the year which I’ve never quite figured out, but the warmth of the sun brought out its perfume. Gorse smells wrong: its perfume is of fake coconut, the kind of fake coconut that is used in Ambre Solaire suntan lotion. So when you walk by this spiky, prickly plant you feel as though you should be walking on a warm faintly-tropical beach surrounded by oily-fleshed and not always terribly attractive bodies.
It’s time to get life back in order and do this more often.