Dancing in the
by R L Tilley
Point we watched through shifting fog as Lundy
appeared and disappeared and the great foghorn of
the light blasted to warn the shipping.
Point to Lundy Light
Is a watery grave by day or night.
If you are caught on a lee shore in a hard
westerly gale you can only seek miracles, the
smashed hulk of a motor vessel lay twisted on the
rocks below, her back broken, corroded by the sea.
The faint image of a Swedish name was
visible through the mist. The funnel was intact.
Months or maybe years of deep Atlantic tides had
smashed and twisted the sad cadaver of a
ship more and more. The rocky coast is stratified,
razor-like, lethal to shipping.
Hartland Quay, we learned that the wreck below
the light was some nine months old. The ship had
foundered intact. The deep Atlantic swell had
twisted and torn it on the rocks. On the
evening of the wreck the crew had been born to
safety by breeches buoy.
dog came out of the mist at Hartland Point, its
coat shaggy and wet.
Hello, dog, I said.
I wished I had something to give it. I did not.
It wandered away and soon was gone. It left
us in its wake with a temporary
feeling. Maybe the dog was a messenger. This is
all the time we have.
We walked back
up the hill, away from the lighthouse, and
started along the coastal path, an uneasy
undertaking in such weather. This was a wonderful
walk in spectral mists. The path ascended and
descended, twisted circuitously around streams
and over stiles and vanished into shrouds of fog,
and all the while, below, the Atlantic crashed
against bleak rocky shores, the precipitous,
stratified cliffs, and the foghorn of the
light blasted warning far across the waves. Also,
across the several miles of deep Bristol Channel
seas the light at Lundy winked. We passed ancient
dry stone walls. A sheep posed atop a dry stone
gatepost peering bleakly ahead of itself.
It was a mad
journey over clear brooks dropping to the
sea. Mad and wet, tossed in winds and mists all
the way down wet green paths to Hartland
Quay and its smashed harbour walls and bouldered
beach and impossible to think there was a time
when ships put into that wild boulder strewn
coast path emerges onto a road on Hartland
Quay Hill which winds down to the Quay where the
old Harbour Masters house is now an hotel.
the Atlantic was a wild grey swell crashing onto
an impossible shore. We stood on the beach under
the hotel and by the ruined harbour wall gazing
at the giant strata of cliffs and spring water
cascading down from green heights onto the beach,
Impossible to launch or beach that day. My hair
danced in the wind. The wind danced upon the seas.
The seas danced upon the shore. Atop the cliffs
the grasses danced in the wind. It was all
a wild, abandoned dance of nature which would
endure forever. Yes, we would surely die. Yet the
dance would go on and on and on...
So, on up
Hartland Quay Hill to the coast path again.
We walked westwards as the wind dropped.
Great grey mountains of cloud gradually
rolled away to the east as the mists diminished
and soft rays of sunlight illumined, flame-like,
the wet grass with a magic iridescence. We
stepped carefully over yellow snails and black
slugs. The great sea was at our
shoulders, to the north, and as we walked the
path to Speke Mill Mouth the sky became all blue,
and October gold flooded the world from the
distant sun. We took a path over unenclosed tors
to Speke Mill Mouth amazed at the glaring
green all around us in the golden light. Our path
led us by an isolated cottage, where goats were
tethered outside. A small boy ran indoors.
A little further on we paused on a bridge over a
stream, bright and clear, which flashed out into
a pool which flowed down the cliff face creating
the falls. Shining pebbles lay on the bed
of the stream and green tendrils of aquatic
weed waved in the current. There was a bright clarity
in the world. We stood at the cliff edge and
watched the falls drop to the golden, still
beach below. Then we looked around us at the
untrammelled green of the tors, the distant
footpaths, the majesty and wildness of the place.
We sucked down great lungfuls of clean air, and
yes, I loved it, the sheer physical beauty
of the world. We descended the precipitous path
to the lonely beach and stood facing the sea
as the night sky threatened from the west. It was
a long walk over green darkening fields, passing
shadowy sheep and mystery vehicles and dry stone
walls to the road east, and it was cold and dark.
R L Tilley 2007