The Perfect End to Summer – Holiday Memories to Treasure

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet here on the Sussex Field Notes blog; I’ve been away – away from the screen and social media, and for a few days even away from home, to-do lists and any cares of the ‘real’ world. And it’s been heaven.

Early Friday morning, (was it really only a weekend or so ago?) we left home at sunrise and headed west to Devon. The drive turned out to be a long one; miles and miles of average speed cameras restricting traffic flow on the motorway, a road closure near the edge of Dartmoor, and a wilful sat-nav that has a penchant for the narrowest, hilliest, winding lanes it can lead us down. I was in the passenger seat, so had the benefit of the views. Sussex glowed in the first of the days light, Hampshire was familiar in its coat of greens and golds until the New Forest spilt a splash of purple heather-clad heathland beside the road. Dorset whispered of the ancient landscape of Wessex, with barrows and earthworks populating the undulating hillsides, giving way to a glimpse of blue sea and the even more ancient Jurassic coast. At long last we crossed the Devon border. This was a holiday not a rush-hour-journey, so I picked out on the map what appeared to be a fairly direct route across Dartmoor with the bonus of scenery and character. The road turned out to be mostly single track with a few passing places, with yet more uphill and downhill bends. My other half in the driving seat wasn’t too impressed, but even he had to agree that when he was able to glance out the window, the view was certainly pretty. Grey granite tors, guarded by grey sombre sheep, crested each hill. A tapestry of dwarf shrubs – heather and gorse, spilling and tumbling down the flanks of the land to the narrow grass edged road. Wild stocky ponies grazed or sunbathed at the roadsides, manes and tails whipped by the wind. I wish we could have paused for longer in the village of Widecombe-in-the-moor as each stone-faced, thatch-roofed cottage oozed history, whilst more ponies, foal at foot, grazed on the green in front of the pub, overlooked by the brooding church. The moor however wasn’t our final destination. After a lunch (ploughman’s sandwich for me, pasty and packet of crisps for him) at the picture-perfect Postbridge, we headed yet further west, then south, to Wembury.

Wembury, wonderful Wembury. There are some places that however long you are away, the moment you return they sing to your heart in that same old way that makes you love them so much more and so much the same. Here, there’s no phone signal or mobile data, no reception for ‘musts’ ‘shoulds’ ‘buts’… just birdsong and the sea, loosing track of time, and endless cups of tea.

We spent the next two days on the beach, in the rock pools, wet feet and glowing faces, or in the cafe eating the best pasties and drinking the best hot chocolate. Sitting in the evening cool we discussed the day with the pair of robins on the terrace outside our cabin, or just sat saying nothing at all. A grey morning in white cotton sheets, playing battleships in bed – he won 3 games out of 5.

On the third day we walked the coastal path, looking down at the tide washing over the rocks we’d been clambering on the day before, the waves filling and refreshing the rockpools we’d gazed into with awe. Turnstones, oystercatchers, rock pipits and wagtails picked at insects and morsels of crustacean or mollusc from the stranded seaweed. Another pasty from the cafe. Another stiff climb up the hill beside the church, to breathe deeply the view of the Mewstone, ‘gull island’, across the waters of the bay.

A bended knee and a solitaire; love in the salty sea air. (I said ‘Yes’ of course!)

This morning, when the car was packed and the cabin tidy, I wasn’t quite ready to leave. Wembury has that effect on you. So it was a walk down to be beach, for one last look at that view. Just shy of high tide, the beach hadn’t yet been disturbed by holiday makers. A crow patrolled the strand-line, a wagtail pottered over the sand. The rockpool world that we had explored was still lost underwater, and a stiff breeze chased summer from the sun. A sparkling of white flashes on the horizon, seen through binoculars, swirled and dived and glinted – a flock of gannets feeding. One bird flew closer too, passing just beyond the rocks on stiff wings with inky tips, cream-yellow head fading into the bright white of a long neck and body. Everything about a gannet is long, pointed and stiff. A wind cutter, fish spearer.

Its nice to think of that same bird now, wheeling over the waves, where an island and a church look back at each other. There will be other visitors to the Old Mill Cafe tomorrow, the tide will bring fresh seaweed to the shore, and I will always be able to think of blackberries sweetened by salt spray and sun, cushion stars and beadlet anemones in shimmering rock pools, and a bench with a view on a windy hilltop.

After a long drive back across four counties, we find home just as we left it, perhaps a little more golden, the orchard apples a little riper.

Time to dive into September.

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