It was never easy getting down to Long Sands. There was a sort of path which was surprising in itself as I imagine it could not have been used more than a dozen times a year. I have seen footprints in the sand, but only once in 5 or 6 years. The path survived the wet year of ’12 but it must have been majorly compromised and the whole hillside has been on the move ever since, 300 feet down to the beach. Mostly now I walk along the foreshore at low tide from Short Sands or on a very low spring tide around the headland from Scabbacombe, but the swimming is poor at low tide; all rocks and boulders. High tide is the best swimming, straight off the sand, but that means the cliff path.
The hillside has been on the move again over the last month, that much is immediately apparent from the top few feet of the descent which has become noticeably steeper. A small section of the path becomes evident through the grass, early spring flowers and the last of the previous year’s bracken. Then there is scree, 200 feet of slip sliding slatey rock flakes down to the pebbles. This does not put me off but it does slow me down, which under the circumstances is a good thing.
Down on the beach the bitter wind is completely absent. Instead the sunshine blisters the pebbles, I can feel the heat radiating up from the sand and I am very much looking forward to immersing in the flat calm water. First however I need to walk to the far end of the beach. As the tide is falling it is flowing south, sweeping the sand to this end of the beach and filling the water with chaotic, milky swirls. Whereas, at the far end, as I could see from the cliff top, it is considerably clearer.
There is a profound sense of isolation. The chance of meeting anyone is almost zero. Mansands has no doubt a handful of visitors, Scabbacombe Beach was criss-crossed with footprints. But here I am in my own little world. I’m not quite sure why I enjoy it so much, maybe it a case of stop the world I want to get off as I am by nature a busy idiot, but I have always empathized with those photos of the American Mid-west where a road heads straight for the hills across a plain devoid of any evidence of the hand of man other than the road and parallel yellow lines. I am presently reading Feet of Clay, Ffyona Campbell’s account of her trans-Australia walk and walking the section of road across the Nullabor Plain; 181 kilometres of dead straight road. I could dig that.
The water temperature is 10.2C. Nice.
The beach shelves steeply at this end and I am quickly swimming and a few yards out from the surf the water clears to deep emerald green. The billowing, snow white clouds reflect in the ruffled surface. Out past the farthest rock there is more swell in the water and waves cascade over the rock diving down deeply filling the water with bubbles that burst back to the surface as white froth long after the wave has passed by.
There are four oyster catchers on the rock a bit further in. I swim into their blind spot then drift towards the rock, edging round until they come into view only a few feet away. They are startled into flight, wings whirling, ducking and dodging across the sea, whistling their angry cry. They are such attractive birds. However, time to head back in, I have to slip-n-slide back up the hill yet.