Once upon a time, when my Mum was a little girl, she and all her family would go on their summer holidays all the way from the Midlands down to North Devon, to Putsborough and what was then the Clifton Court Hotel. Fast forward a few decades and what was once a seasidey hotel is now a set of apartments, and on one of their last holidays to the north shore Mum had commented to Dad how much fun it would be to rent a flat for a week, round us all up with our families and spend a week making sandcastles.
So that’s what we did. Dad rented a fantastic four bedroomed apartment at the top of the building, and he, we and my sister, brother-in-law and the small nephew moved in for the week. It wasn’t perhaps the original plan, but it felt rather lovely to be going on a holiday that Mum sort-of organised.
We left Warwickshire under cloud and as we crossed the county boundary to Devon the weather seemed to pick up, and by the time we got to Putsborough the skies were blue and the sun was shining. Putsborough is pretty much the apartments, a couple of other houses, and the beach. So we went to the beach.
Down the hill trailing bodyboards, buckets, spades, sandcastle flags and those little sand molds that look like dinosaurs or fish depending on how you squint at them, down the steps, over the little rocky puddle at the bottom, and on to the sand.
That first afternoon the tide was all the way out and the beach seemed to stretch to the horizon. We made camp mid way between the cliff and the sea, Dad surfed, my sister and I swam and the boys played cricket, made sandcastles for the girls and tried with varying degrees of success to stop the small nephew from consuming all sand within reach.
And of course we introduced the girls to the sea.
We came back many times over the rest of our week; walking along the bay to Wollacombe by the coast path for a lunch of pasties and ice cream and then back along the beach, coaxing two tired little girls, one of whom wanted to be carried and the other of whom really really didn’t and much preferred wandering in circles, usually in the wrong direction; or running down from the apartment before supper to make a giant sandcastle and carve Kitty’s name in metre long letters in the sand so that we could watch the tide wash it all away again from the balcony during supper.
And then on our final day we packed bags full to bursting point and spent the whole day getting sunned and sandy. By the time Elma and I arrived down the hill after her morning nap the master craftsmen had already built a ball castle (complete with tunnel) a sit in boat, and the foundations for Cinderella’s castle under the watchful direction of my elder daughter, and having discovered that if you dug a moat there was enough water in the sand to fill it, H set about constructing what initially looked like a tunnel to Australia (as he and Elma slowly disappeared until only the tops of their heads were visible from behind a pile of sand) but turned out to be a deluxe paddling pool. It had a sandcastle encrusted border (until Elma squished them) and at one stage a bridge across to the castle (although the engineering on that one rather failed – sorry, I’m informed that the sand was of the wrong sort, the engineering was naturally excellent!!).
The girls were in their element, splashing and pouring water, and when they’d had their fill of the pool we went down to the sea to watch the surfers and to find even more puddles for Elma to scramble about in. Only when she actually started to get a bit chilly could we tear her away to go and find some warm dry clothes for a bit.
I’ve written before about how much the beach was part of my childhood, the sea in all its tempers a constant background to every holiday, every half term, every moment not in school, and while I love where we live now, I do wish the coast were a smidgen closer so that I could give them even a fraction of the same luxury I had. There’s just something so incredibly magical to me about being near the sea; that wide horizon and huge skies that make you feel you could reach out and stretch forever, and the hypnotic scrunch, roar or tiny splash of each new wave coming in to break. It’s water for my soul, as much as for a swim.
But perhaps I feel like that because of how I grew up, maybe that’s not the way my girls will respond to the sea, perhaps they will want rolling countryside, green as far as the eye can see, and the damp coolness of the wood at the end of the village. All I can do is provide a little seaside exposure, and perhaps hope and trust that the love of the sea is there in their genetic make up – and on the currently available evidence I think I might just have a chance!