IT sounds wrong to say we went to the beach on Sunday. Having been brought up in Cornwall, I know I should really say we went ‘down beach’, but since Sunday’s outing was to a Devon beach perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if I break the old habit.
Cornish beaches, so often nestling tantalisingly at the foot of cliffs (think Poldark) almost always require mountaineering skills to get to them. Such efforts were well-rewarded for our family when I was a child: a cove of our own, rock pools, egg sandwiches, six swims, elaborate sandcastles, and sometimes the shocking joy of seeing bookish, sensible Dad, transformed by flapping swimming trunks, run into the sea, perform a handstand and run back out again to the sanctuary of a towel and his place on the rocks beside Mum. “That’s it for this year!” he’d tell my sister and me when we begged him to do it again.
Later, the trek back up perilous snaking paths lined with tufts of pink sea thrift, occasionally pausing to look back wistfully at the shimmering blue below, seemed an interminable, aching, effortful way to end a perfect day.
There was no such effort involved in Sunday’s outing ‘down beach’, where, thanks to the geographical differences between dramatic south Cornwall and gentler south Devon, there were no cliffs to negotiate, no ‘down’ at all, as we were able to park the car within a level walk, all of half a minute from the beach.
This was just as well, as mountaineering is not yet in the suite of accomplishments of my grand-daughters, toddler Poppy and her newborn sister, Clemmie (aka Drinky). In fact Clemmie stayed for the most part firmly anchored to her mummy’s front in a sling contraption, only occasionally testing her lungs in competition with the gulls.
Poppy, on the other hand, scampered and capered as only two-and-a-half year-olds can when given the freedom of a beach and access not just to her daddy on a rare day off but also to her granny who fancies herself as an ace builder of sandcastles.
In fact, Poppy and I built more roads than sandcastles, using large flat pebbles to pave a route between Camp Baby and our chosen play area some distance away. It was when excavating for tiny pebbles for her collection – milky white and humbug-striped ones being particularly favoured – that Poppy found real pirate treasure.
“Look at this!” she exclaimed, pulling out a shiny 10-pence piece, for all the world a modern-day doubloon, albeit more silver than gold. I shared her excitement as we dug for more. Never mind that our efforts were in vain. Finding one piece of genuine treasure was quite enough to make Poppy’s day.
I blessed whoever had let it slip from their purse or pocket. They can never know how much their loss meant to a little person who likes nothing more than an adventure with a happy ending.
For us adults the day had a happy ending, too, because this lovely beach proved to have everything a family could want or need for seaside comfort. (Everything, I noticed, except the hat, scarf and gloves I could have done with to augment my three layers and wind-proof jacket.) The shop, selling every size and colour of bucket, spade and much else, is next to the café offering exceptionally good locally produced food and in front of a block of loos that deserves prizes for cleanliness.
I was terrifically uplifted by the whole outing – and I hadn’t even been the one who’d found the treasure. Or perhaps I had.