The last dying rays of the setting sun gave a fiery glow to the dark green sea stretching out smooth as glass from the curved sandy cove. The last summer evening walkers ambled languidly along the softly lapping shore, murmuring delight at the bright red sun settling slowly down amidst the golden cloud pillows drifting lightly across a turquoise, crimson and amber sky. An old man limped his barefoot way along the tide line leaving footprints in the sand that the quietly rising tide would so gently wipe clean.
Gulls swept noisily past gliding effortlessly towards the sea wall and the orange glow of the towns’ street lights, hoping to find one last snack of seaside chips before the darkness overtook them. Low down across the water, three cormorants flapped their silent way home, three black shadows silhouetted against a blaze of colour.
The ghostly moon waxed large and full, spreading a pale silvery light across the dull light sand. Wispy clouds trailed in its wake, feathery and lightly drawn out into long luminous strands. Venus shone brightly, outshining the dim and distant stars glimmering and shimmering in the midnight blue sky. Far away from beyond the sea wall came the late night voices – shouts and cries and laughter, as the pubs emptied. Car doors slammed and engines roared. Lovers old and young strolled along the sand, hand in hand or arm in arm, bathing in the light of the moon and hearing the quiet crunch of sand beneath their feet before vanishing again into the night.
High tide brings the soft green shore crabs scuttling along the waters edge, searching the driftwood and shiny brown weed glistening on the sand. They bustle here and there stopping only to quarrel or threaten with snapping pincers waving jerkily in the salty air. Fish fry scatter, desperately jumping and skittering along the millpond surface trying to escape the swirling grey forms of sea bass darting hither and thither, herding them to their doom. The dark mirrored surface swirls and bubbles with snapping jaws and spiny fins on silver scaled backs, glinting in the moon.
Beneath the sea the freshly covered rocks wave their fronds of sea wrack. Red and green anemones wave their palm-like tentacles in a slow night water dance. The prawns that have hidden all day beneath stones and in deep crevices begin their nervous wanderings. They walk in flocks like underwater transparent sheep following each other looking for fresh grazing. Large blennies with huge distorted heads and cavernous mouths, slip out to lie camouflaged on the barnacled rocks, lying in ambush for the unwary. Orange spotted plaice flap quickly in little flurries of sand and then lie still in perfect invisibility. The placid sea is full of hunters and the hunted.
In the late hours of night a breeze springs up, rippling the green blue desert. Waves lap, growing ever stronger hour by hour as the cold light of false dawn spreads across the sky. The moon has gone and the sea withdraws from the fresh washed sand. Dawn’s harsh ice blue and pale yellow light peers slowly over the still sleeping town.
The Beach by Day
Mid-morning and the families and couples troop down to the golden yellow sands in straggling lines like overburdened donkeys sinking into the soft sand with every footstep. Wind breakers, multi-coloured parasols, deckchairs, picnics, cool boxes and of course the towels and rugs, fishing nets, buckets and spades, are carried on backs and in arms. Toddlers stop every few metres to begin their play, irritable voices carry on the light sea breezes, and a hundred decisions on the best spot are made and revised and changed again.
Overhead a bright saffron sun beams down from a cornflower blue sky. The sea is turquoise becoming a deeper blue out towards the horizon. Sailing ships and a few windsurfers glide effortlessly backwards and forwards. Low tide and the wet sand near the waters edge is ribbed and hard as concrete to walk upon. A few swimmers brave the morning cool water, splashing into the foaming waves. Parents hold the hands of small children, splashing through the shallows, up and down the waterline.
Flooded by a tide of busy human ants, the beach becomes alive with movement. Sandcastles rise from the flat sand in great crenulated mounds, pennants fluttering proudly. Washed up draped seaweed and shells adorn the castle walls like natural jewels. Moats are filled endlessly with buckets of water that drain slowly back to the sea again. Sand carvings of boats and leaping dolphins begin their short tide life, admired by passing wanderers and beachcombers.
Great games of beach cricket, football and rounders begin. Frisbees sail through the air like U.F.O.’s hanging in the light wind. In the kaleidoscope of coloured towels and rugs and parasols, white and brown bodies lie, eyes hidden by shades, reading paperbacks. Old men close their eyes while the sun’s warmth seeps into their old gnarled bones. The molten sun rises higher to its zenith.
The lifeguard keeps his steely watch over the crowds of waders and swimmers. The sea keeps up its endless pounding rhythm, washing away all cares. A trail of people in caps and sunhats make their way backwards and forwards to the ice cream van or the beach caf nearby. Families sit round in groups munching sandwiches, drinking and laughing.
The exposed mussel-strewn rocks are dotted with rock pool explorers crouching with their fishing nets and buckets. The pools are deep underwater gardens populated by strange spotted and stripy creatures and exotic fish. Swaying jungles of red, brown and green weed wave and ripple in tiny unseen currents. Shoals of darting green and silver fish flash swiftly between the sunlit shallows and the dark crevices and holes hidden from the sun. Children with nets silently stalk the waters, squealing with delight as their nets bulge with struggling crabs and prawns. Time slips away.
Late afternoon and the beach is emptying. The tide reclaims the shore and the gulls scavenge the sand for picnic droppings. Tired children sulk and cry as parents pack up to go home. Buckets full of bright sea-washed stones and empty crab shells begin their journey away from the sea. The sea wipes the footsteps clean.