These passing October days have been crisp, clear and calm. Invigorating. Life-affirming. All that was wonderful about this October was encapsulated for me one afternoon mid-month when I walked a stretch of the coastal path.
Park the car; pass the church; downward into the old green lane.
The sunlight is playing with the leaves: turning a merry gavotte, cavorting and prancing and flirting with fronds. Dappled shade dances on the path ahead: the banks and the ancient slate walls are stippled and daubed with a myriad patterns.
The lane is alive with life. It could almost be spring!
A noise ahead alerts me: in the midst of this lively greenery I find a man with a leaf blower. All the glorious crispy, crunchy leaves have been neatly blown into piles for collection. Where I had first been walking they had already been collected. I wonder, do we need our country ways swept clean? Oh, the temptation to kick through those piles, to restore this old pathway to its genuine, messy, October glory!
The path had seemed spring-like? With all trace of autumn leaf swept from the ground – yes, most definitely!
But beyond the workman, the path is more appropriately strewn. And the delicate waterways that criss-cross alongside and underneath the path are suitably adorned. Much better!
Down the path I go, down along this ancient, canopied green lane, breathing in the sweetness of the green and the earthiness of the ground. Steadily down the hill I walk, until – taking me by surprise as usual and thus filling me with delight – the path spills me out into the open, with clifftops rising on either side and ahead, the billowing silver-grey clouds meet the glassy silver-grey sea and beckon me forward.
One final scramble onto the beach.
The tide is out this afternoon. The cove is vibrant: with a colour palette so rich, so harmonious that it takes my breath away. This photo does not do it justice.
I would be happy to rest here all afternoon, revelling in the lavishness of colour; the piquancy of seaweed, the mellifluence of waves pushing forwards, stretching, straining, reaching just that little bit further, almost there, almost touching …. and being sucked away, drawn again back to their watery core. Back and forth, back and forth, there is a gentle, hypnotic quality to softly lapping waves that muffles – drowns out – the cries of the gulls and the murmurings of voices behind me. I could stand for hours at this watery edge, at the confluence of these two worlds. I reflect on the coarseness of the brown-grey sand; the angular folds in the rocks; the determined grasp of the barnacles and the creamy foam and excitable bubbles which merge the boundary between land and sea.
I could be happy, and return home now, replete having walked nowhere else.
But it’s not what I set out to do…
I cross the sand, clamber over the stile, toil up the steps and stride out along the clifftop. The beach is behind and below me. I head west into the sunshine.
I pass very few people: just one couple near the beginning, with whom I stop and chat, exchanging pleasantries. How warm, how friendly, how polite we are: how cordial and contained. But really, I hope, we are sharing a different dialogue. For we should have been shouting out loud: flinging our arms, our joy and our delight skyward. We should have been expansive in our praise, faces aflame, eyes alight: embracing this vista of sky and sea and rolling green fields punctuated by hedgerows and walls as ancient as the hills.
Perhaps we were, underneath our British reserve. I know that inside, I was.
Walking westward, towards Lantic Bay, autumn at last comes clamouring to the fore. No more seasonal confusion, no mistaking this for a springtime walk. And now I meet no one. The view from here is magnificent. Magnanimous, munificent, unstinting in the giving of its bounty.
Looking east, looking west, the fall to the shoreline is a tangle of bronze and gold. The path stretches ahead and behind me, with not a soul in sight. Yet how can I feel alone, how can I feel isolated in the midst of all this? I am revelling in nature and the privilege of solitude.. Almost at Lantic – from Lansallos Cove to Lantic Bay… Almost there. The sight is tantalizing.
Yes! Here it is! Bathed in sunshine: deserted and utterly dazzling.
I resist the temptation to take the goat’s path down to the beach. It’s a stiff climb back; I’ve been walking for a while. And as it drops with the afternoon’s passing, the sun is losing its skirmish with the clouds and colours are losing their brilliance.
On the skyline when I turn: St Ildiernia’s church. Just beyond the church I know I shall find my car, and a few minutes later, civilization. Time perhaps, to strike for home.
A single boat glides silently through the waters below me. And I ask myself: who can fail to appreciate an afternoon such as this?
Who can fail to feel their spirits soar with the seagulls? High on the wing they fly. Up, up they climb – and then swoop low to dance on the waves in the glistening wake of the boat.
Not I, is my answer. Not I.