It had been a long week, full of hot sunny weather that we couldn’t get out into, pressing our faces to the office windows, watching the butterflies and blue skies, too busy with work and the usual ‘being-taxi-to-our-children-with-their-hectic-and-much-more-exciting-lives-than-ours’ duties.
It was one of those weeks when, if you did snatch two minutes with a cheese sandwich and a coffee in the office garden, the moment you parked your bottom on the bench the postman would knock, and when he’d whistled his way back up the drive, the phone would ring, and an urgent email would ping through, and when you did thrash your way back out to your sandwich, it had turned into a crispy sun lounger for flies.
It was one of those weeks when you started to wonder if it was all worth the effort, and whether in fact, the better option would be to book a bunch of one-way tickets to somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere and get the heck out of dodge, armed only with a Lonely Planet and sun hat, dropping your phone into the bin as you flip-flopped out of the departure lounge. This is my recurring hipster daydream, the one where I’m barefoot and dreadlocked, roaming the land without two responsibilities to rub together.
We didn’t of course…buy the tickets. No matter though, because suddenly it was Friday, and we were without children for the weekend, and lo and behold the hot sunny weather was uncharacteristically still gracing us with its presence.
We couldn’t get out of the door fast enough. The Friday 5 o clock bell tolled loudly in my head and we were in the van and driving, somewhere, anywhere…
‘I know!’ I yell, the lightbulb-shout more shiny and enthusiastic than normal, exaggerated by a week of pacing the stuffy window-filled office like a stir crazy tiger as the perfect English summer wafted on by. We’d been given the tip-off about a local beach we’d never been to. We could vaguely recall the rough vicinity…we were on the way, faster now, like we’d switched on the blues and twos, heading for the weekend.
Thirty minutes later we were standing on a rocky precipice loaded like donkeys; bbq, beach towels, brioche buns, swimming costumes, picnic rugs and of course, wine. We had it all, be it strapped to us or hanging from us or rolling behind us. We looked down at the beach, our destination, a slither of biscuit-coloured sand yawning across the distance, fast disappearing under the encroaching tide, a buzzard circling above us, plaintively mewing at the promise of dusk, and it dawned…we were only half way down a very long trek down a very steep cliff, and the sun was on the wane. What to do?
‘We don’t even have a torch with us.’ I moan. ‘I’m too hot, tired and hungry to walk back up with all this stuff…I was so looking forward to it.’ I moan some more, the buzzards aren’t the only ones who can mew plaintively.
‘Let’s camp.’ Husband has always been the more pragmatic and less moany one.
‘What do you mean camp? We don’t have a tent.’ I say, Catherine wheels of excitement starting up in my widening eyes.
‘Let’s wild camp.’
We fairly skipped down the remainder of the slate chip path towards the beach, my short summer dress brushing past the coconut scented yellow gorse and yards and yards of bright green ferns, stretching out and down towards the shore, stock still in the breeze-less evening, studded with clumps of purple heather and the pink and blue lollipops of thrift and sheeps bit, like jewels in the coastland crown.
The tall formidable sides of the exposed slate cliffs presided over us, layer upon layer of dark grey history on show, peppered with verdant green moss, the momentum of the steep incline making the going easy, my hem catching on press-ganging thistles every now and then, the lanky beige marram grass tickling my shins.
The smell of salted flora hung thick in the air as the heat cloyed around our bare legs and necks, our bodies begging to be dunked in the lazy sea below, the blue of forget-me-knots. Our tummies growled at the overdue prospect of sticky barbequed fayre, our dry throats in need of cool lubrication.
It was as though we had left real life behind and squeezed through a kissing gate into a work of fiction, a lush and fertile Jurassic land from a time gone by, a mock-up of how we’d like life to be, a reconstruction of our mind’s-eye when imagining our perfect place.
We reached some steps, carved out into the slate, a winding staircase with hair pin bends, leading, eventually, to the beach, only there wasn’t much beach left to speak of, a single fawn coloured band of sand hugging the undulating black cliffs and bending around the curve of the tide like an iris wrapped around a dilated pupil.
We looked to our left and saw a ledge of jagged grey slate jutting out over the silvery sea, which rolled like molten metal now, lapping at the retreating sun. The precipice was overhung by yet more slate creating a shelter, an inviting nook, a small cranny, just the right shape for us and our barbeque…the perfect Friday night hideaway.
So we set up camp. We opened the wine, we looked at the view, we waited for the barbeque coals to go grey, we sighed at the view, we lay down our beach towels and picnic blankets, stabbed at olives, chatted over the week gone past, and marvelled at the view, we dodged the smoke as we threw food on to the grill, read our books in silent companionship, listened to the crickets and rock pipits and perpetually glanced up at the view.
The View…what a view.
The waves roared on to shore, foaming plates of white rushing over the blue, grey and green of the sea, like swirling paint being mixed on an artist’s palette.
We would get immersed in our books, or the cooking, or chatting, then we would look up, and the sheer natural beauty of The View would assault us as if for the first time that evening. It changed minute by minute as the sun dropped out of sight. Bright greens and turquoise blues, to sultry silvers and calming greys, to warm oranges and sweet apricots as the sky dripped with colour from the sun’s goodbye, and finally to the deep blacks and navy blues of night. The View changed, but never disappointed. The sun had gone but the magic hadn’t.
We rationed our food, drank down all of our wine (an anaesthetic for the mattress-less night to come) and made our bed. We lay the beach towels and one of the picnic blankets on the slate chippings, with the other picnic blanket to go over the top of us, and a teatowel and swimming costumes as pillows (I’m not the pillow police but they could have been plumper it has to be said).
The beauty of having no torch was that we had no choice but to follow the natural order of things. The sun was down so we had to stop reading. We lay down and counted the stars instead. We competed over how many shooting stars we could find and how many constellations we knew the names of (not many, just the usuals, you know the ones), we made wishes, we pulled the blanket tighter around us as the balmy day turned to the cool of night, we listened to the waves and marvelled at the midnight sky as we drifted off to sleep.
We woke around 5.00am as the sun crashed in to our curtainless day. I would normally be grumpy if woken at 5, but when you open one eye to see the sky bathed in an ethereal airforce-blue half-light, daubed with smudges of a rose-pink sunrise and framed with a silhouetted line of tufty eye-level coastal grass, like comedy grass, any ideas of grouchiness completely dissolve.
Sunrise is such a special time, when few are awake, and it feels like you’ve lassoed a rare and unobtainable part of the day in which time is suspended, and you can observe your life from a distance, all thoughts sharper and clearer somehow. Still drowsy, the push and pull of the outgoing tide rocked us back to sleep under the protective eye of the full moon above.
We were all out of charcoal so we gathered twigs and moss for the barbeque to cook breakfast. Noodles and cake no less..we are so rock and roll. The sun inched round, switching on the valley slice by slice, warming our bones, and the gulls arrived, ambushing the melodic dawn chorus with their screeching, revving up the day.
We finally made it to the beach, which involved lowering ourselves down the final section of cliff by rope, where the steps had been washed away by storm damage. We mooched and moseyed all day long, wading through the sun-warmed water of the rock pools, swimming in the icy cold of the Atlantic, sunbathing, picnicing, exploring, shell-collecting. We baked in the late afternoon heat until we could bake no more, and then it was time to leave.
We return home, refreshed, jubilant, rested, surrounded by a thermal layer of inner calm (admittedly this bit only lasted for a morning), proud of our own spontaneity. Even our teenagers are impressed with our wild camping yarns, and that always feels good. They may even let us walk next to them in the street for the next few days.. don’t be silly...nothing could be that impressive.
I know what you’re going to say, this is all a bit mawkish and over-romantic, it couldn’t really have been like that…honestly, apart from the state of our backs when we woke that morning (I may never walk the same again, my forty-something back forgives nothing), and the fact that our water supply ran out half way through the second day (couldn’t even Google how to suck water out of grass or other such survival skill as gloriously there was no phone signal) and we smelt like we’d spent the night inside a smokehouse (that coastal wind always catches you out, it’s a ninja), it truly was as magical as it sounds.
A mere 24 hours spent 10 miles away from home, yet all thoughts of work, responsibilities, bills, chores, teenagers and putting the bins out were forgotten, and it cost nothing. A moment out of life. Go on, go and do it…pick a warm summer’s evening, and sleep with nature, we can’t recommend it enough.