There are beaches, and there are beaches. And if there is one beach that encapsulates my childhood summers it’s here;
On the basis that something required a little effort to be worthwhile, we subscribed to the theory that it isn’t a real beach unless it you had to scramble up or down cliff paths for at least 20 minutes in order to get there. Beaches that you could just drive to, with their handy car parks, ice cream vans and other evidence of civilisation were for a quick swim, but to meet my youthful criteria a proper beach had to have a stream to dam, rocks to scramble, a decent stretch of sand for tide fight castles and some body boarding, rock pools to wallow in, and if at all possible, a cave.
Of the tiny handful that passed the test, Gara was our favourite, and I don’t think there’s a year that passes in our family album without a photo of my sister or I on its familiar sand; a six month old Zee being fed a bottle by my older cousin, her hair still wet and salt tangled, me, that same summer, examining the catch from a rockpool which what H would easily recognise as my ‘concentraty face’, or any number of either of us jumping from the big rock, whose height varied from summer to summer with the shifting sands.
Where else was I going to take Elma for her first trip to the beach.
I’ve not been myself since well before Kitty was born, fates and tides having aligned to keep us away, but it hasn’t changed. It hasn’t even shrunk, like so many familiar childhood haunts seem to do with the passage of time. There was our favourite cranny in the rock for making camp, with that ledge that was always perfect for drying swimsuits, the stream sputtering down the valley, pooling at the bottom, just waiting for the onslaught of buckets of sand. The jumping rock was the right height for climbing (though I’m afraid none of us did), and while a springs tide kept most of the rock pools under water, the sea rippled out from the breakers all the way to France.
And once we had Elma tucked up inside her little sun tent to roll, chatter and peek at us through the portholes, and Kitty occupied with the very important task of digging the biggest hole ever ever ever, I did what we always did, persuaded Dad to come for a swim (although as he tells it it was closer to badgered).
Bear in mind I’m a little behind myself and this is early July. Before the heatwave. At the end of many many weeks of pouring rain.
I’m not going to lie. It was cold. Really cold. The cold that requires my patented sea swimming technique – run in, swim 20 strokes, check nothing has fallen off due to frostbite, relax and enjoy it. But once I’d acclimatised, or possibly just gone numb it was truly lovely. No splash pad or pool can ever really rival the sea.
So we dried off and warmed up to eat our ham sandwiches, tomatoes, apples and a good hunk of Auntie Zee’s lemon drizzle cake, we snoozed in the shade and rolled in the sun,
and jumped wave after wave – with just a bit of help.
And after we got home and bathed the salt off two warm and sleepy little girls and tucked them up in bed, there in the bottom of the bath, as there always used to be, was that tiny swirl of sand, the true marker of a lovely day.