Climbing the delicate sand dunes, my bare feet gracing the smooth sand, I reach the top of the grass-capped peaks with my eyes closed.
Last time, it was too busy. There were too many people and too much noise. Children skipped in the spray and shrieked at the cold water skimming their toes. The Sun was too hot and beat down ferociously on burnt necks. Sun cream and picnics were strewn on checked blankets that thrashed in the warm breeze. The bay was suffocating in summer: the people, the noise, the heat.
The water shimmered and shone in the bright light, like a blinking, blue eye, as cheerful exchanges drowned the air. Big smiles and bright eyes accompanied adults whilst there were ten sticky fingers and sandy toes for each child. The sand burnt underfoot and a pathetic puff of air ticked my skin. Collapsed sandcastles and holes were littered by plastic spades and buckets. Roars of happiness and desperate pleas could be heard for miles when the giddy ice cream van rounded the corner singing its promising tune.
The smell of sea salt and sand was masked by sickly and overpowering heat and overflowing bins, which were swarmed over by buzzing wasps. The taste of salty sweat hung in the air as the ocean continued to labour ceaselessly up and down the beach. Teens moved in packs, like wild dogs hunting on the African prairie, strolling and laughing, loudly and confidently, up and down the overcrowded beach. Dogs splashed in the shallows and swam after sticks and balls contently.
But when the tide began to turn, the cheerful people deserted the summer beach as one, as if the sea itself had asked them to leave. Then only I remained to see the sad and pitiful scene. Litter was wafted about by the lazy gusts of warmth and the once-smooth sand has been attacked as a colony of rabbits destroys a field. The waves yawned upon the beach but there was no awe-inspiring power. For a summer beach wears a mask of happiness, held up by the tourists. Then, when everyone leaves as the tide sighs, the beach is left sad and lonely.
Then I swallow a gulp of cold, winter air, bringing my mind back into the present. I open my eyes and look out over the dark waters. Calm and tranquillity wash over me as I breath in the scene that never fails to steal my breath. It always overwhelms me. A beach in winter is my escape.
Dark swirling waves crash against rocky outcrops and the dark sand. The white horses gallop across the beach in perfect harmony, playing with the limp seaweed and the scattered driftwood. The smooth, salt-stained timber is pulled, pushed, tossed and thrown by the white spray. Occasionally, the gnarled lumber clatters together and this echoes musically in the emptiness.
Seagulls screech mournfully overhead as they twist and turn in the harsh wind, fighting a losing battle. Their white wings glint in the pale sun as they dip and then fly: always moving, always turning, never giving up.
The crash of the waves and the cries of the birds echo hauntingly on the salty wind, which whistles piercingly and whips across my exposed face and neck. Sand, manipulated by the wind, claws at the back of my throat and salt is forced into the corners of my eyes, whilst the smell of the sea, the beach and the cold winter settle in my nose. Cold harshness scratches at my hands like unforgiving sandpaper, as on top of the sandy mountain range, the forest of Marram grass dances in the air, to its own rhythm. Not even winter will destroy its gaiety.
I feel the icy spray on my tongue, the thunder in my bones and the constant lulling of the waves repeated in my beating heart. This empty expanse of sand, of sea, of sky is always calming in a way nothing else can be. In this moment, I am completely alone and insignificant in the face of Nature’s power, and these thoughts destroy all worries from my swirling mind. I am at peace on Winter’s beach.
The grey towering sky overhead looms over some people menacingly, but to me the dark mass of clouds are a blanket of comfort wrapped lovingly around my shoulders by Mother Nature. The stormy sky and sea merge together at the horizon as brilliant flashing light strikes and illuminates the emptiness eerily. The jagged light exudes danger and power. This is Nature shouting its dominance at the top of its lungs. All of humanity is diminished in the heart of this storm. As the rain washes all my problems away, I settle into a state of serenity and contentment. In the back of my mind, the grumble of thunder vibrates like an old laugh, the shriek of lightning quietly reminds me of a scream and the regular pounding of the waves are the only footsteps I hear: these are the only ghosts of human presence on my Winter’s beach.
My eyes lazily wander over the landscape as they begin to plod their well trodden path. The angry slice of the cliff, then the pile of jagged rocks drowned in salty spray and crusted in barnacles, the graceful curve of the bay, the gradient of brilliant beige to the somber damp grains, and finally the emptiness itself. There is not a village nor a house, nor a family, nor a lone figure, nor a wild animal in sight. I am the only life to appreciate a beach in Winter and I appreciate it completely alone. The heavy silence accompanies me and it is the only companion I need. My bare toes being ticked by the sand, the wind dancing in my hair and the coldness seeping through my clothes – this is where I escape from the bustle of modern life: on Winter’s beach.