Sunday, September 03, 2017

Summer Under The Radar


As I had half-expected, Article 111 – Ouroboros At Large – lit more than a few short fuses. Anonymous online abuse spewed forth within twenty minutes of publication, which proved, with unintentional irony, the very point I was making. No matter; but it reinforces my reluctance to allow comments on the page. Emails, on the other hand, are always welcome, and the majority remain thoughtful and good-humoured. Keep them coming. I always find time to read them. This post promises to be a much gentler affair.

The best summers are those that promise never to end. This has been one of them. Not everyone will agree, since I have heard a wide range of horror stories from friends. Many involved airports, before holidays even began. (Here, I ought to be very grateful. During my 20s alone, I managed to visit more than fifty different countries, in five of the seven continents. Flying was unadulterated pleasure, and air passengers, generally, were both respected and respectful. Once abroad, it was pure bliss to point a hired car toward the horizon and just go, through small-and-quirky towns and lost coastal villages, eating and drinking with the locals, learning foreign languages, and allowing a novel ‘elsewhere’ to unfold before one’s eyes.)

Air travel, in the present era of cattle class and jihad, though, is oppressive. (Having dark hair, brown eyes and a vaguely Mediterranean look is an added inconvenience.) Intrusive ‘security’ searches, cramped seating and being obliged to endure selfish, drunken cretins have become the accepted norm (Figure 112.1). On arrival, rip-offs lurk in every corner of every city and resort. Restaurants, hotels and car-hire firms are the chief offenders. (A friend and I were once chased down a Milanese back street because of our inadequate 10% tip for lousy service.)

Figure 112.1: A summer paradise? How so?

Copyright © 2017

What, then, is the remedy? Fly-abroad-only-when-you-have-to is one. As for holidays, given the inevitable stress of air travel, and Sterling’s temporary weakness on the foreign exchange markets, is the answer not obvious?

Yesterday began as follows. At 9:00 a.m., we left our hotel, a comfortable old whitewashed pub, at a crossroads in the middle of a grassy nowhere, and drove along a quiet lane over rolling fields to the nearby town (pop. 1,600), on the eastern extremity of the island. Across the strait, the mainland mountains were topped with morning mist, which would surely be burnt off by the sun well before midday.

We walked along the jetty to its recently-renovated, wooden-decked pontoon end. A small white motor boat bobbed gently next to its mooring. On board, its turbo-charged engine disturbed the silence. We set off northward, maintaining a constant 200 metres between us and the rocky shore. Looking back inland, atop a tree-covered hill was an 11th-century motte-and-bailey fortress. Although open to the public, its restoration having been completed only last year, it retained a derelict, even ghostly, appearance. Further along, almost at the land’s end – not the Land’s End, in Cornwall – stood the ruins of an ancient monastery next to a disused limestone quarry. The entire area looked forsaken, but beautiful just by being so.

Beyond the coastal tip, we sailed around a well-maintained lighthouse, fully operational, flashing once every five seconds, but unattended for almost a century (Figure 112.2). In the near distance lay a solitary offshore island, uninhabited and virtually inaccessible – to humans, at least. A protected area for the conservation of wild birds, flocks of white-breasted cormorants and kittiwake gulls looked out from the cracks and ledges of imposing cliff faces rising sheer from the sea.

Figure 112.2: Man (almost) overboard

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Having looped around the island, we completed the offshore circuit and stepped back onto the jetty at 11:30. Back on the road, the rural lanes were almost clear of traffic. We criss-crossed the island to its opposite (western) extremity, following a narrow, winding lane to a dramatic clifftop. Perched on an exposed islet, accessible by a truss footbridge, stood another lighthouse, its brilliant whiteness causing it to glow under the midday sun (Figure 112.3). We trekked 412 steps down the cliff, then another 75 up a magnificently-restored spiral staircase to the top of the tower. The breathtaking panorama was well worth the breathlessness.

Figure 112.3: The 360° view from the top of the lighthouse is well worth the killer trek.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

After picnicking on the clifftop, we navigated a labyrinth of lanes in search of the main northbound road. After twenty minutes, we reached somewhere truly magical. Turning off the main road onto a single-lane track, we located a solitary parking space alongside a rusty gate leading to an isolated lake of perhaps 30 acres (Figure 112.4). Bisecting the water was a straight, narrow causeway, perhaps an old quarry track, which was alive with exotic-looking flying insects. Some were recognizable. There were numerous bright blue damselflies, hovering and fluttering above the water, if a little camera-shy, their wings tucked in when at rest. Others I could not identify. We learned later that it was a private lake, stocked annually with brown trout, and home to some rare aquatic plants. The boys were more interested in skimming stones, investigating some abandoned rowing boats, and were reluctant to leave.

Figure 112.4: Almost hidden from the world, this small, two-part lake is a geographical gem.

Crown Copyright © 1985

Continuing northward, we reached a small fishing port with a sheltered natural harbour (Figure 112.5). There were around thirty people roaming its sandy beach, kids fishing for red crabs and mackerel from the top of the sea wall, cafés with decorated verandas overlooking the bay, and cliff-faces which looked to be a geologist’s paradise. Formed presumably by coastal erosion over millennia, the colours and shapes of all the different rock strata were indescribable.

Figure 112.5: If you recognize this place, please keep it to yourself.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

At 4:30, the day was beginning to quieten down – not that it had ever been noisy or hectic. Air temperature was probably still 20°C, and the bay water had been warmed by the sun since mid-morning. We kicked around in the waves for an hour or two until the sun began its descent above the western headlands beyond the bay. As we left, a boat with a single white sail drifted into the harbour (Figure 112.6). It was met by a couple of grizzled old seadogs ready to carry a few open containers ashore. Fresh seafood for the locals’ dinners, I thought.

Figure 112.6: There are clues, if you look closely.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

Our clothes dried in the sun on our way along the esplanade to the car. We drove the remaining ten miles back to town, windows wound down and listening to ELO and Gerry Rafferty. The car seats and footwells were a mess of sand, damp socks and sausage roll wrappers, but none of us gave a damn.

It was almost 7:30 when we reached an open-fronted (three-or-four-table) bistro on the pretty main street. The staff were unconcerned by our unkempt beach-bum appearance. They could see that we had spent the entire day outdoors and cherished every minute of uncomplicated freedom. My younger son’s trousers were still rolled up to his knees and spilling sand everywhere, yet no apology was necessary. We ordered more (award-winning) fish and chips than we could eat, relived the day, then wandered down to the promenade from where we had set sail in the morning.

At the western end of the prom, about a dozen men were, in defiance of the fading light, playing bowls on a well-tended green which was surrounded by colourful late-flowering shrubs. Laughter echoed from a small beach-shack pavilion, its front guttering festooned with coloured lights. We stopped to watch for a while before returning to the car via the waterfront. It was gone 9:00 when we stumbled through the hotel doors and upstairs for a hot bath.

That was just a single day. We have enjoyed many of similar quality throughout the summer – no queueing, no rip-offs, no ‘security’ delays, no antisocial drunks, no jam-packed beaches, and no passports required. The glorious, unblemished ‘elsewhere’ that I have tried to describe is, technically, part of the UK. Find it, if you can. I am saying nothing more.

Copyright © 2017 Paul Spradbery

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.