On The Beach
I end the day’s work on the beach at Porthcawl. It’s intentional, but this isn’t quite how I envisioned it. It isn’t raining, but it’s wet. That’s Wales for you. The grey air is full of moisture and the wind drives a fine spray over me. All day long I have hunched over the tablet I’m working on, trying to keep it dry while ploughing through variously obstructed footpaths. It’s not enough that I have to wade through 20m of deepening brambles before deciding whether I can reach the road just another 20m away (the answer has increasingly become ‘No!’ – call it the wisdom of experience), I also have to clutch a tablet to my chest beneath my waterproof so that I don’t risk losing all the data I have entered today. I’m midway through a Public Rights of Way survey in South Wales, but don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. It’s good work, it just has its particular challenges. Rarely do I get to wear normal trousers on the job, instead donning thick plastic waterproof trousers throughout – even if it’s not wet, I need them to protect me from the nettles, brambles and waist-high vegetation I seem to spend much of the day wading through (such are the joys of a summer survey). One sunny morning in the Garw Valley, when I foolishly decided to wear cloth rather than plastic, I made it just ten yards from the road before reaching into my bag for a change to make it through the thick vegetation that clogged the once broad ride through the forest. Anyway back to the beach in Porthcawl. I have crossed the low rocky shore that is composed of a grid of fascinating barnacle-covered blocks of marlstone to reach the beach. At low tide it stretches off into the mist with distant waves crashing far off in the murk. I pull my boots off with glee and scrape the soggy socks from my feet, then continue barefoot. Suddenly the motion of putting one foot in front of the other that I have been doing as work all day feels completely different. I’m still walking but the wet sand beneath my feet is so freeing and I head out towards the waves. The beach here shelves imperceptibly into the water and so a broad swathe of sand looks like it is covered in half an inch of water. Though there is a grey mist that blots out most of Porthcawl but the nearby golf club, there is also a brightness somewhere overhead. There are extraordinary shadows across the sand, every stick or stone leaving a dark echo in the sand. A man and his dog pass in the gloom and I am bewitched by the shadowy patterns they leave in the wet sand, a moment I wish I could somehow catch in a photograph. I’m not here to take in the scene though, I’m here to swim. Though it’s not classic beach weather, my bare feet have already confirmed the water in the saline pools is not that cold and I need a wash above all else. So I find a small oasis of dry sand and peel off my various waterproof items, then make a dash for the distant surf. Though there are distant surfers a quarter of a mile further along Rest Bay, I feel very much alone as I plunge into the roaring white waters, one second neck-high, the next little more than knee-deep. It’s not much of a swim but, as I lay back in the dark water and the surf pounds over my head, I beam with satisfaction. There’s nothing quite like taking an obtuse pleasure in moments like these and, as I march back towards the grey shore, I feel ten-feet tall. I think this is what the British seaside is all about, making the most of all weathers. It is a horrendous place on a sunny day, but it is so much more inspiring when the rain is driven across the promenade and the pier shakes in the wind.