Saturday, 28 March 2015

Surfing bays, the ravages of nature, Jill, and the YHA

Sated with Padstow, I drove westwards a few miles to the surf-battered coast that faces the Atlantic. Two bays in particular, both first seen fifty years ago in 1965: Treyarnon Bay and Constantine Bay. Places I could speak about con amore at indefinite length. I'll try to keep it short and sweet. (But will fail miserably!)

Treyarnon Bay was the location of my family's first tenting holiday in the UK, in August 1965. It wasn't the very first holiday under canvas. In June 1965, after only a couple of practice sessions in the back garden, we went down to the south of France with another family - a long, three-week tour beginning at Le Havre, then proceeding via Le Mans and Clermont-Ferrand to a place called Le Grau du Roi, south-east of Montpellier, genuinely on the Mediterranean shore. From there, we had returned to Le Havre via Toulouse, Royan, and the Normandy beaches near Caen. The husband of the other family, Les Hinton, had been at the 1944 D-Day landing on one of the 'British' beaches, and wanted to take a look.

I think it was very brave to take cars with a 1965 standard of reliability all the way to the Med and back, with little trailers for the camping equipment in tow. I'm not sure I'd personally be so debonair about not breaking down catastrophically, so distant from Blighty. But we got away with it. I was frustrated not having a camera of my own. But Dad had his box Brownie, and Les Hinton had his 'proper' camera, with colour transparency film loaded, and took at least two shots of everything (a recommended practice in pre-digital days, when you didn't get an instant peek at what you had just taken, and had to wait for the film to be developed before detecting any errors). Afterwards Mr Hinton kindly gave us a set of duplicate slides, which I still have.

But as usual I'm digressing! Back to Treyarnon Bay. I've been coming here whenever possible at intervals since the last family holiday here in the early 1970s. It draws me. It's partly nostalgia for a lost part of my later childhood, partly a pilgrimage, a place where I can be - in a sense - with the spirits of Mum and Dad and my brother Wayne, all dead and gone. Of course, lacking any faith or belief, I don't literally mean that I 'feel' their spirits. It's more a vivid summoning-up of memories that stay forever fresh and keen, and never seem to fade. The sounds of the waves, and the cry of the gulls: these both help as well. Nowadays I commune with an easy mind, enjoying the Bay as much as the memories. But back in 2010 I came here and howled in pain for the loss of all my closest family - see Grief at Treyarnon Bay, published on 14 November 2010. But I cheered up, and resolved to forge ahead and make the most of life, and forget that I had been the sole and possibly undeserving survivor. So what if I had lived on, while they were no longer around? Chance had spared me. Don't knock it. Just be glad to be alive.

And on this visit, in March 2015, I was indeed glad to be alive and kicking! There was a stiff breeze, but the sun was still shining on the waves, and it was impossible not to feel exhilarated. I remained thoughtful however. How relentlessly destructive nature is... It scoured the beach of sand, even if it did put it back. It eroded the cliff top, already worn from holidaymakers' footfalls. Substantial iron seats, solidly set on a concrete base, were getting rusty and undermined by storms. This one, for instance.

My goodness. A quite modern seat, but in a terrible state.


A memorial only twenty-one years old, but corroding badly, and liable to slide onto the rocks one winter soon, if not saved. Who was she? She died aged only forty-four. She might have been at Treyarnon on several of the summers that I was there too. And I'd survived her. (I'm beginning to regard longevity as a really big achievement in itself!)

Had her seat always been so rusty? As it happens, I have some past pictures of it. Here it is in 2012, three years back, with two holidaymakers on it:

And here it is in 2010, on that day of grief for my dead family, looking distinctly under attack from salt-laden gales:

I'm guessing that originally it was thickly painted, but it all flaked off within a few years. A lesson, then, to use ocean-grade stainless steel, and not to place the seat so close to the cliff edge! It makes you think deeply about the impermanence of everything man-made.

There were other memorials scattered about in the turf, all facing the sea, and all providing a place to sit down and watch the waves come in. This one was fashioned from the trunk of an old tree in a Treyarnon resident's garden:

7.7.1940 -29.9.2013

Although made of wood, two years in the Cornish wind and rain hadn't yet done much to this seat. I hoped it would last many years. Two other memorial seats caught my eye, both made of stone, and both rather quirky:

The not-very-visible inscription says:


Clearly they both liked to raise a toast to the Bay! Cheers, then!

This elaborate seat-and-table arrangement must have cost a packet. The flowers bear witness that the person commemorated was indeed loved. What a view! All the way over to Trevose Head. What a pity that the inscription wasn't very clear. 

In Loving Memory Of
23.6.73 [carving of a motorbike, seen sideways on] 2.9.00

In the stone oval set in the back of the seat was a celtic serpent. Presumably this was the twenty-seven year old victim of a tragic road accident? A reminder that death snatches away without warning, and sometimes violently. My brother died from head injuries in a car accident not caused by himself.

Just a little further on, and I reached the sweeping sands and dunes of Constantine Bay. But they were repairing the clifftop track, so I didn't linger. Besides, I wanted some tea. I'd bumped into a lady called Jill while slowly walking the turf at Treyarnon. We spoke. She asked me my name, then gave me hers. She seemed very nice. She had lived at Constantine Bay all her life. She was slightly older than me, sixty-five to my sixty-two. She could recommend the fare at the YHA hostel that overlooked Treyarnon Bay, and would normally have been delighted to share afternoon tea with me, but had a Parish Council meeting or something similar to get to. I watched her depart:

I hope I encounter her again on a future visit. Odd to think that when I was a very awkward teenager at Treyarnon back in the 1960s, she might have been there on the sand too, a bit older and probably a lot less awkward. What brings people together, and what keeps them apart, despite repeated proximity?

The YHA occupies this distinctive building, up on a rise:

The glass doors at the front are where the café is, and the public are encouraged to pop in. It's not just for YHA members. I popped. It was lovely inside, because the café faced in just the right direction to catch all the sunshine. It also had a wonderful view of the Bay. An American girl greeted me - her 2015 job abroad? - and cheerfully served me with tea and a scone, although she could have rustled up a variety of yummy cooked things, had I wanted it. I relaxed, and enjoyed this welcoming place out of the wind.

I was quite a way from my base, the caravan at Great Torrington in Devon! I soon had to depart, first using the YHA female toilet - some friendly students showed me where to go. Then it was cross-country to the A39, and an exciting dash north-eastwards in Fiona. I wanted to get back before dark. She did not let me down.

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