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Dancing in the Wind
by R L Tilley

At Hartland Point we watched through shifting fog as Lundy appeared and disappeared and the great foghorn of the light blasted to warn the shipping.

From Padstow 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 sailors say.

The rotting, 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.

Later, at  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.

A  black dog came out of the mist at Hartland Point, it’s 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 place.

The  coast  path emerges onto a road on Hartland Quay Hill which winds down to the Quay where the old Harbour Master’s house is now an hotel.

That  day 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.

Copyright R L Tilley 2007