Lovely muted walk from Gara Rock round to Mill Bay and then back to Gara Rock car park. Muted because it was a grey winter’s day, with none of the dramatic low winter sun that makes everything stand out with such depth and clarity. Muted because although there was a decent north-easterly wind blowing, for almost all of the walk we were sheltered from it. Muted because the sea also remains unruffled by the nor’easterly, despite the fearsome reputation of that term (which belongs to a different coast on a different continent but has entered the language as a metanym).
Starting at Gara Rock always a slightly surreal experience because there is a large development there that has been being built for at least the last fifteen years. There used to be a simple tea room there which walkers would often stop at – was there a hotel? I can’t remember, but if there was it was muted and appropriate to the location. Of course the new build is neither muted nor appropriate, built on a lavish scale (comparatively) and with harsh landscaping and hardscaping that seems unlikely ever to mature into something soft and forgiving to the eye. Goodness knows just how many ‘development companies’ (strange phrase, that) have gone bust on the back of this expanse of glass and concrete. But finally it seems that it will be finished for this coming season, barring some calamity. Ironic that it is being completed during a recession that only seems to be affecting the poor, the unemployed, the sick and the young. None of those groups will be staying or purchasing here.
The stagnant light softens all the colours, the sea becoming a turquoise-green instead of the blue that reflects a sunnier sky. Grass and lichen glow with colours that feel more autumnal than spring-like. Indeed, Spring seems to be taking a holiday, as the temperatures have plummeted over the past couple of weeks. The winds have prevailed from the east and north-east instead of the more typical south to southwest, bringing colder, murkier air. Temperatures have hovered between 1 and 4 here on the coast, down well below freezing at night further inland. The snowdrops are happy, but the daffodils are refusing to open. The few trees that came into blossom seem confused, halted in their progression to leaf.
We took the lower path, which winds narrowly and near the edge, sharing it with sheep who cling to the cliff edge only occasionally looking up from their grazing as if to wonder just how they are going to get back in one piece. As they push past the gorse they leave bits of themselves attached. N said that she was glad it was dry and had been for a while: this path would feel quite treacherous if it was muddy and slidey like it must often be. Gorse is such primeval stuff, and often signals death and rebirth at the same time, with so much dead wood visible, and charred wood from where swaling has attempted to control by burning. This time of year it is in bloom, as it often seems to be, adding a rich yellow and when the sun shines, a bizarrely foreign scent that smells just like whatever suntan lotion it is that smells like coconut (Ambre Solaire I think). Not real coconut of course (which actually doesn’t small that much) but the fake kind that’s meant to suggest tropical beaches and sun sun sun.
The sand beaches along this stretch are spectacular, literally golden sand. Today you can see that it has been quite busy, with loads of footprints and pawprints cutting up the surface of this gloriously fine surface. As we head into the inlet and towards Mill Bay we pass through wonderful woods that are a tangle of wind-bent and wind-braced shapes. More spectacular are the trees we find on the path up from Mill Bay back towards the Gara Rock car park. First a tree with a clearly defined bark that should make it easy to identify, the other with a very particular profusion of pendulous branches that are a shape neither of us have ever seen before. Neither N (who always knows these things) or I (who almost never does) knows what kind of trees these are. They have If anyone can identify them, we’d love to know what they are.
The latter have clearly been planted deliberately, because they form a short allée in the middle of the path – an odd mark of the formal amongst what is otherwise a reasonably wild and obviously ancient path. Hard to imagine just why and when they were planted, and by whom. It’s hard not to revel in these trees and the fantastical shapes they make against the grey winter sky.