Sea Pinks and Coconut Ice-Cream
We are at my parents in North Devon for half-term – perhaps for the last time. After fifteen years of living here, the house is up for sale. We determine to make the most of the week, whatever the weather.
The South West Coastal Path is a riot of wild, ramping, vintage colour that, today, is set against a turquoise sea. There are mounds of sea pinks, pillows of wild thyme, and cushions of white sea campion; the felted yellow-and-red flowers of kidney vetch merge with dwarf gorse (with its scent of coconut ice-cream) and there are pockets of smaller blooms: the tiny pink flowers and sedum-like stems of English stonecrop, delicate milkwort and the trembling blue stars of spring squill. But best of all, the burnet rose is blooming. The low, woven nature of this rambling rose sprinkles flowers amongst everything else. This most thorniest of our native roses is by far the most romantic. The creamy white flowers are soft as the best lawn linen.
Above Longbeak headlands we search for the shadows of basking sharks, noting the new cliff edge and the old fenceposts that are now half-buried below. There are stonechats on the walls of the 18th century Salting House.
Holidays here are all the children have ever known, no matter what the season. We’ve carried each of them along here – and now, here they all are, racing swallows along the clifftops of Efford Down’s gentle slopes.
We reach the octagonal storm tower at Compass Point. Bude comes into view, then, perhaps for the last time. Spray is flying over the Barrel Rock, its eponymous barrel raised on a salt-rusted pole on top of the breakwater. The current pole was the propeller shaft of the Portuguese steamer wrecked around the corner in 1917. The beach is squeezed full of people at just past high-tide and the disconnected sound of a fairground reaches us. We cross the sea loch onto Summerleaze beach, and walk around the walls of our beloved Sea Pool (today, a fitting, 1930’s pistachio green) to Crooklets beach.
Amongst the crowds, a linnet comes to drink from the stream that runs through the shingle of the upper beach. We head over Maer Down and scramble down the rocks to all but empty Pearces Cove. Over the glittering sea, Lundy Island is lucidly visible. We always meant to go. The clarity in the weather means there’ll be hell to pay tomorrow; even now, a mackerel sky is building.
From the beach, the slumped cliffs are like collapsed bookshelves of stacked and toppling volumes of geography. At intervals there are sand martin colonies and kittiwake nests and, running out by the rocks, an otter’s footprints, heading for the café.