Wednesday, 27 September 2017


Two days ago I intended to go to Bude, in North Cornwall, but ended up at Sandymouth instead, which is a few miles to the north of Bude.

You can, at very low tide, walk along a vast continuous beach from Sandymouth to Northcott Mouth and then to Bude Haven. Or indeed walk the clifftop between these places, for a section of the South West Coast Path links them. In good weather either way - beach or clifftop - is exhilarating. I contented myself with sections of beach half a mile northward from Sandymouth, and half a mile southward. I wanted sunshine and a paddle in the sea. I got both.

There are several shots of me in this post having a wonderful time. I felt carefree and full of wellbeing. I hope the shots capture that.

But I also wanted to drive home what the point of living in North Cornwall might be. At any age, access to coast like this must blow all cares and fears away. A young person facing difficult exams should come here. Somebody in a mid-life crisis should come here. An old person who is getting close to the end of their life should come here. The sea, the cliffs, the wind, the sunshine, the sheer emptiness of the beach: all of these elements will soothe, inspire and restore.

Sandymouth (and quite a lot of nearby coastline) is in the care of the National Trust. Leaving the A39 (the 'Atlantic Highway') just south of Kilkhampton, and passing through the village of Stibb, eventually brings you to the NT car park. Being an NT Life Member, I had nothing to pay.

From the car park (which had a modern café and nice toilets adjacent) a track led down to the shore. The beach came into view quite dramatically, a V-shaped defile in the cliffs (which just here were low) opening out onto pebbles. But the sand wasn't far away.

Immediately I saw a waterfall, the clear water gushing noisily onto the rocks. Armed only with Tigerlily, my Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone, I took a shot, uncertain whether her camera would cope with the speed of the cascade. I didn't want a mere blur.

I needn't have worried. My goodness, Tigerlily's camera managed a shutter speed of 1/1,250th of a second, and froze the little water droplets in their flight! It's astonishing what the latest phone cameras can do.

The next thing I noticed was the rocks. There were several types, of varying colour and hardness, but all sedimentary, and all tilted at a crazy angle to the horizontal. They were also contorted, having been folded by immense pressures. If geology is your thing, this is a place to come for some textbook examples of folding, tilting, catastrophic slippage and faulting, and the erosive effects of a savage sea.

Below the present cliffline were rows of dragons' teeth, the worn-down remains of where the cliffs once were. No old-time sailing boat or ship would ever have survived contact with these. This remote area was indeed Shipwreck Alley, as much as anywhere else along this section of coast, and surely had been a haunt of the old-time wreckers.

I then turned my attention to the sea. The tide was still going out, exposing a vast wet beach. Northward lay Duckpool and Steeple Point, with one of the white dishes at the GCHQ tracking station visible. Southward lay Menachurch Point and Northcott Mouth, with Bude Haven out of sight in the sea spray.

I took my shoes off. I thought the damp sand would feel cold, but it didn't. I walked to the sea, and braced myself for an icy immersion as a ripple washed towards my feet. But it was all right. The sea water felt half-warm. Was that normal hereabouts for late September? Perhaps the Gulf Stream was functioning well this year. Those hurricanes hadn't sucked away all of the tropical heat. I was soon splashing my way along the water's edge, just for the hell of it. It was fun. And it was gratifying that the phone could capure the splashes so well, and somehow the mood also.

I wasn't the only person to respond to the sea and the sunshine. There were couples here and there enjoying it all just as much.

I seemed to be the only person there on their own. How the world was built around two people getting together! But I felt fine. I loved the distinction, the freedom, of oneness.

More strikingly-contorted cliffs. More dragons' teeth to rip the bottom from any vessel that the sea drove onto this shore. And something else. Orange growths, like giant fungus, attached to the rocky teeth. I had a closer look. Was it a sponge? Or something quite different? Where the waves had battered it, sections of this growth had been torn away, and its structure exposed. Hundreds of long, thin trumpet-like plants (or animals?) crowded together into one solid mass.

It looked creepy to me, and I didn't touch any of it. Was this a product of global warming? I couldn't remember seeing anything like this before. I took some shots, so that later on I could look it up and identify it, then walked away, glad to leave it behind. It didn't seem wholesome.

By this time I'd long given up any notion of driving onwards into Bude itself. So there was no rush to get away. I sat on a rock, rubbed the damp sand from my toes, and let the sunshine dry my feet.

It was a moment for contemplation. It was a moment to consider again the benefits of moving from Sussex to some spot between Bude and Barnstaple. But I'd been through all the pros and cons before. The conclusion had been, and still was, that in old age Sussex would be the best place. For the present, and for some years to come, I could easily come here as a holiday visitor. I was still able to travel 250 miles without the slightest issue. But one day I wouldn't be. And, rather sooner, I would become disinclined to face the upheaval of moving, and uprooting myself from where I was in Sussex. Sussex had better medical facilties, better amenities all round. But it didn't have beaches like this.

Expect this to be a recurring theme that won't go away: the pull of the sun, the sea, and the wild empty coast versus the pull of convenient living in a crowded county a bit too close to London.


  1. There is a lot to be said for traveling alone, free to go where you will...

  2. Thats my back garden .... !
    Truly glad that you see why we live here
    come back and enjoy it any time you feel the need.
    hugs and happiness from the Sea side



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