A Bout de Souffle

The thick fog that blanketed the countryside last night had by mid-day been chased away by the sunshine though the air remained breathless, but turning from the coast road into the dead end that would take me to the cliff top I again entered a world of obscurity.  The fog swallowed the car, the trees, houses and road and the whole was lit with a sulphurous glow by the late afternoon sunshine.

Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming

Silence.

I love fog, the way in which it cuts out everything, and as I walked down the treacherously slippery path trees loomed up ahead of me as even the sun’s glow was dampened down.

Walking in the clouds.

Yet as suddenly as the clouds had enveloped me now they rose up above me.  Below, left and right the coast stretched clearly away beneath a ribbon of cloud that capped the cliff top.  Yet the silence remained.  There was no sound of waves on the beach below, the water so calm it merely surged softly in over the rocks and pebbles without a splash before sliding back into the sea.

Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming

The Gentlemen’s Bathing Place is a quaint piece of Victoriana, a hangover from the time when modesty dictated that the sight of men in their swimwear would be too much for the feeble female sensibility.  Men and women must be kept apart at all costs.  One hundred years from there to budgie smugglers and thong bikinis.

100 years has been moderately kind to this place.  A few of the azure blue tiles with their white lettering have survived, not the sea but vandals and more in recent years as I recall a time when the name was obvious but now you have to know what it said in advance.  The lower steps have been rounded by grinding pebbles and various metal fixings are now reduced to rust stains.  However, the main platform perched 20 feet above the pebbles is still there.  Other parts are marked only by splodges of crumbled concrete dabbed amongst the fluted rocks back as far as the steps down the cliff.  Steps and handrail that were themselves in part swept away by a landslide 3 years ago.

Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming

For a few years after that event swimming here was pointless as every wave and tide picked up the dark red mud, the sea turned to blood and had you gone swimming you’d have got an instant russet spray tan.  The water now is clear of mud and where it deepens is tinged a hue of blue-green.

Above the clifftop the sun is setting and the sky is burning.  Meanwhile the fog advances and retreats, funnelling down the hollows in the cliff, the trees turn ghostly and then coalesce.

Stepping over the sand and pebbles the water quickly deepens and I am soon swimming in dark, mysterious water beneath a darkening sky.  The air is cooling at an almost perceptible rate and now I am breathing out white breath.

The first cave is tall and thin and reaches back deep into the hillside.  At the back of the cave the sea surges onto a pebble beach but this is not the day for exploring back there in the gloom as I know there are some rocks covered in sharp barnacles and my toes are still very sore from last week’s misadventure.

There is another cave here too.  It is more a scoop taken from under the floor of the quarry, but with a balcony above the water after which it is consequently known to all as Juliet’s Cave.  All is still and silent and the cave pours forth dusky shadows that ink the water ever darker whilst across the bay the lights of the houses shine brighter.  Clearly it is time to head back while I can still find the way.  Changing will be a hurried affair mind as it is quite a long way back up that slippery narrow path under the trees and it already looks very dark in under there.

Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming

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