Some beaches are for summer & others are not. The sort of beach that we explored for the first time on Tuesday was one of the latter.
The popular impression of the quintessential beach day out is one of bright blue skies, ice creams, deck chairs & inflatables, picnics and quite often sunburn. Although I love to be on the beach in the summer, I’m not inclined to squeeze myself between the crowds on the popular beaches and fight for sunbathing space. I’m more likely to visit in the evening as people are leaving and the sun is still warm or maybe go to the Lido at Penzance instead. My favourite way to experience the beach however is in the off season, when the waters are grey & misty, the shores are windswept & all sorts of interesting critters and treasures are thrown up on the sand.
I love examining pretty seaweeds, barnacles & venturing into dark caves so when our Tuesday off was grey & delightfully moody, Jon & I knew it was the perfect day for the beach because luckily for me, those are his favourite things to do too.
B E D R U T H A N S T E P S
Did this enchanting stretch of beach get its name from the giant stacks of weather & tide beaten rocks that run along the stretch of coastline or because of the perilously steep staircase leading down to the beach?
Jon’s guess was that they were named from the intriguing rocks which in a ‘local legend’ dating back to only the 19th century. These stacks were believed to be associated with the giant ‘Bedruthan’ that supposedly used them as a short cut however according to the National Trust’s resources, the name of the beach being referred to as Bedruthan Steps predates the traces of the giant related myth and is instead believed to refer to the staircase which due to storms & constantly crumbling cliffs have been replaced and restored many times over the last two centuries.
This beach is not a safe beach; for one, you may not swim at any time. Uncanny tides & rough currents would sweep you beneath the swell in moments & the fact that the beach is entirely submerged at high tide with only the one staircase for access means that if the tide were to rush in, you would be entirely cut off and drowned. There is a even an ominous looking metal gate halfway down the steps that is locked in storms & approaching tide to deter people from venturing onto the beach. It’s wide and enormous, filled with little pools of aquamarine water but it’s not a place to bring children or pitch up your deck chair on a sunny Sunday.
It’s a National Trust site so there’s parking and you can enjoy this stretch of coastline without actually going down to the beach. There are various walking trails past historic points of interest such as ancient burial mounds and mine shafts & it’s worth visiting this site at both high and low tide to experience the different atmospheres.
In the summer, grey weather is tiresome, cloying and frustrating but in October, it’s exactly what I want to soothe my soul & fuel my imagination. Jon is from Penzance and hasn’t seen a great deal of the coasts further afield so we ventured Northwards to Watergate bay where we stopped for a really chilled out lunch in the beautiful lounge-style cafe/restaurant open to non residents. After coffee, a Louisiana Shrimp Po-Boy for me (Halloumi Burger for the non flesh-eater) and a delicious non-alcoholic cardamom & clove G&T, we recovered from food comas and headed just a little further up the coast to the windswept & enchanting Bedruthan.
We were like small children in a theme park. Both avid lovers of the coast, the beauty to be found in the natural textures of rock & moss formations & detritus swept up, we scurried from cave to cave, sand-pool to sand-pool, filled with contentment, both high on fresh air & imagination.
It was impossible to say how long we were there for; caught up in the dreamy surreality of this enormous space, the pale sea that sweetly merged and blended into the clouds, feeling so far disconnected from every day worries like emails to reply to and washing to put on. I never feel more human and alive than when I’m lost far away in my childish world of imagined fantasies in a space like this, pretending that I’m shipwrecked and allowing myself to imagine that I could find ghosts of smugglers, signs of mermaids and selkies. With the wind in my hair and salt water spray cooling my cheeks; it’s days like this that I’m truly living, all other days spent toiling and performing menial chores are just leading up to and facilitating days like this – moments of raw feeling & inspiration.
We spent so much time on the beach that I realised eventually we were the last people there. The tide was creeping inwards and we had wandered quite far down. I looked around for Jon who I knew had wandered off to search for seaglass beneath the cliffs. The rain was really beginning to come in at this point too and I began to notice for the first time that I was actually quite sodden through.
We hurried back across the wide beach, reaching the steps again in plenty of time and began the steep ascent putting my soft doughy body through its paces. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and when we made it back to the car eventually (Do you know what it’s like trying to walk anywhere when you’re both photographers? It takes flipping ages!) the rain really was coming down.
We never managed to do the walk to Porthcothan so we will need to visit this bit of coast again soon & maybe at high tide to see it differently. There’s a million and one places I need to show Jon and would love to visit in the autumny/early winter light. Cornwall is beginning to go into slumber mode now ready for the next few months of hibernation, meanwhile I’ve never felt so inspired and content to embrace the world around me as it is, winter and all.
I’m fuelled with dreams of exploring places; in the damp mist on the shores of Bedruthan, it was easy to fool myself that I was someplace like Oregon or Washington coast – places I am desperate to visit. Iceland, Norway, Canada, Skye… places with little islands and grey beaches, weird rocks & beautiful seabirds. For now, I’ll make do with all the amazing spots we have in Cornwall and look forward to all the incredible beaches that belong to the paler months.
I read that there is mining history around here – miners tunnelled into the rock from the beach. These buildings were possibly once used as count houses but in the Victorian times, with the construction of Newquay as a popular resort destination, the Victorians began to take their carriages out to the Steps to observe the incredible sights for themselves and this would have acted as a horse-park (replaced now with metal cars). One of the rocks was once known in records as ‘Bess’s rock’ as it was believed to resemble queen Elizabeth however the rocks are beaten and worn and morph constantly over the years so the rock no longer bears that resemblance.
This autumn, we’ve had an abundance of Portugese man’o’war [Phisalia Phisalys] jelly fish washing up on our beaches. These jelly’s have extremely poisonous stings and must be observed with great care. We’ve seen a fair few so far and my friend Laura calls them Neon Death Pasties which I think is the most accurate description of these beautiful little hydrozoans. Look but don’t touch. I was miffed to see some guy mindlessly stomping on them a few weeks back on Porthleven beach. They may be washed up and not really think but some were still living and it just seemed plain mean and showed these poor sea creatures no respect. These ones that we found washed up were still alive.
Beneath these rocks is where we hunted for treasures but it’s a dangerous stretch with bits of cliff in danger of cascading downwards. In hindsight, it was probably inadvisable… reckless young folk and all that. oops.
We didn’t find much treasure but some was better than none! Every little glistening piece of soft round glass fills us with excitement and joy at our luck and Jon is pretty good at sniffing out seaglass. Hufflepuff’s are pretty good finders don’t you know 😉 (That ones for all you very-potter-musical fans out there)
I felt so tiny in this place of giants.
Giant rocks, giant cliffs & giant seas.
and I was happy, because nothing I could say or do would make a difference in this world here.
It wasn’t my world, but I did belong in it,
a small creature, but living nonetheless.
And to be living was the greatest gift,
So I marvelled in it,
and thanked the sea & the wind for giving me the dreams,
that made living so wonderful.