A while ago I wrote a piece about a walk I took with my daughter. As it encompasses some basic ideas that are important to me about walking on beaches I quote it here:
A short walk on Seatown Beach
Things go with things on the beach. It could be green lighters or yellow plastic beads or orange peel and orange string. Today it’s a quartz day. (When is the quarter day? What is a quarter day?) I remember the winter day when it was a mermaid’s purse day here at Seatown: mermaids’ purses and whelk egg sacs.
Once, at Burton Bradstock, I recall the day it was a spider crab day and it looked like a spider crab picnic had taken place before we came: everyone must have sat in a mile-long line and scraped sweet crab meat from the carapaces while looking at the sea. Maybe the picnic reached all the way toPortland, stretched out along Chesil Beachin a sticky-fingered, salty-lipped line parallel to the foaming breakers.
But today it’s just a quartz day. Not clear, not rose, just grubby-stained day-to-day quartz. It’s not something that usually catches my eye on Seatown Beach. Often the sparkle I do notice on a sunny Sunday at Seatown like today is the iron pyrites grains in the sand: black sand, lightened by rust and fools’ gold.
The first thing I had noticed is the beach is steep today. Two layers and steep today like Eype Mouth or maybe more like Shingle Street in Suffolk where the pebbles roll off Orford Ness like bagatelle balls. This means that Hannah will be disappointed. There is a whole different feel to the beach and fossils are not on the menu, the best places being covered with gravel. But that is later.
Hannah goes on ahead, working towards the “best buy” section. Not “sell by” and “best before” but recommended. I adopt a meditative pace: head down as I head down the beach.
The sun is September summer strong; no more shiny hot nights but the day is butterfly-basking baking on this beach. A red admiral skips before me and later I see more. I also see a speckled wood I am sure: there’s no wood for miles so perhaps I am not so sure, it was only a glimpse.
It’s obligatory for boys to skim stones on arrival at the beach, so I oblige of course. It’s a good stone-skimming sea: calm, flat and blue. Deep blue, Prussian blue in places and at the horizon. Lighter in places, pale and cold but never so blue as the sky blue sky.
A pebble of old red sandstone accompanies me for a while. It is smooth, all roughness removed in its erratic journey from Devon. After a while in my hand it seems smother still, marble smooth but not cold like marble. This has warm blood oozing ever so slowly through its grains. I have loved old red sandstone since I discovered the beaches of Pembrokeshire. This pebble is joined by flat grey stones with white lines – a favourite theme – a pinkish metallic grey with a sparkling pale granite gash of belemnite, and various other stones with spots and alien communications. They stay in my hands until totally dry when I see if they pass the magic test: can their beauty live out of water? Only the gash and old red sandstone pass. I cast the lifeless ones back into the brine to be reborn.
I am not chatty today, but there are not many to say hello to. Even the sea only mumbles. I try to ignore all the illiterate people with dogs and decide it will do no good to get uptight. I decide it is not my job to tell them dogs are not allowed on this beach. They are probably nice enough people but I studiously avoid catching their eye, not just because I’m not chatty today but because a friendly word might make them feel I am condoning their canine capers. They know they are guilty of ignoring the signs – let them stew in the juice of that guilt, I’ll not assuage them with a smile.
Hannah and I sift through the gravel and sort green glass and fossils of brittle stars. There are lots of thunderstones today and I collect a few. They prevent nightmares don’t they? Our fossil finds are small and unremarkable, though I am pleased Hannah accepted the pentagram-studded shale I found; the star map of the ancients. We may not have found many fossils but we found and shared a little peace, quiet and time.
As Hannah takes a mid beach line, my walk back is water-in-the-shoes close to the just turned tide. My eyes are magnetically scanning the wet union of brine and silica imagining I will find some shiny black haematite. There is none today, though there is silver. At first I thought it a feather, a small white feather vibrating in the breeze. Then it was clear, a crescent moon silver sprat beached, flicking the sand with shining scales. It twitched in my hand for a brief while as I gently cast it back to its world. It was only one sprat but perhaps it was a message from the deep that more beach walks are needed as more sprats are coming.