fudge

Monday, 11 July 2011

Over the Hedge

At the very bottom of the garden hidden away behind the chicken house was a gap in the fuchsia hedge. If you scrambled up the slippery moss covered bank and pushed the branches aside it was possible to jump down into the field below.

In the early autumn there is a magical moment just as the sun rises when a mist steals up from the sea and rolls across the field like waves breaking on the shore.

As the sun grows in strength the mist shimmers and evaporates.

Autumn is the season for mushroom picking. Overnight delicate white capped field mushrooms with velvety brown pleated underside spring up on the brow of the hill that leads to the valley








Beyond the brow of the hill a swathe of green sweeps down towards the sea.

From a very young age I would take off across this field and head for the beach.  Many of the beaches on the South Devon coast are linked by cliff paths and so I would beach hop between the two closest to where we lived.

Challaborough, the smaller of the two beaches is set in a deep rift at the bottom of the valley a patchwork of fields dotted with sheep stretching high above.  Challaborough also boasted a Caravan park.  

The caravans when I was young were mostly small and a little dingy but for me the place held the thrall of the holiday maker!  People from all over the country, from towns and cities, people with different accents, some from different countries.

It was exciting, vibrant, different and for a couple of months each year I would savour that difference. 

These were people who didn’t know my name.  People who didn’t know I wasn’t one of them. People who weren’t one of us.

There was little to do in Challaborough other than sit on the sand or swim in the sea but there was a small café, The Dolphin and as I grew older the influx of summer workers to the area became part of the lure.  

Summer meant new faces. Summer meant boys!  Teenagers working through the summer, Boys to practise newly acquired flirting skills on and, sometimes, to share an illicit, innocent kiss.

Along the steep, sandy cliff path bordered by rocks lay the next cove.  

This was the third part of the village I've spoken of before, Bigbury on Sea.

By the carpark  was a large café  where I spent the summer after my 14th birthday working.  A few gift shops set in the rock beside the steep stone steps that led to the sands and, to one side, the Tom Crocker, a restaurant at the end of an indoor walkway in which a village scene had been fabricated.  Little cottages with roses around the door but through the windows all that could be seen was the blank wall of the walkway behind.  

On the outside, a holiday makers village idyll, on the inside, bare brick.

When the tide was out the sand stretched in a wide golden band across to the jewel in the crown of our little seaside village.  

Burgh Island is approximately 2 miles square.  It boasts the most beautiful 1920’s Art Deco hotel.  The Pilchard, a quaint stone built pub and, at that time a small gift shop come café.

There is a path running past all of this and it winds it way around the island to a ruined chapel at the top which was at one time part of a Monastery.

Burgh Island is deserving of a post of it's own.  It's history is fascinating.  It's been visited by the rich and the famous from The Beatles to Churchill (who it is said met Eisenhower there in the run up to the D- Day invasion) Edward and Mrs Simpson, Noel Coward and many more as well as being the location for many films and drama series.


When the tide is out you can walk the mile across the sand to the island and, when the tide is in, you take the sea tractor!  The sea tractor is a mighty beast with steps up to the open platform, just a couple of railings to stop you falling the 15 feet into the sea below.

When I was very young the Island was owned by my best friend Lucy's parents.  The hotel was a very different place to the beautifully restored, very exclusive 1030's retreat it is now but it had a certain shabby charm and was a part of the community in a way that sadly seems to have been lost.

Many of the things from my childhood have disappeared.  The scramble of eclectic gift shops no longer line the stone steps.  The Tom Crocker and village street are long gone, converted into exclusive and very expensive holiday apartments.  The hotel on the island is surrounded by security fencing and no longer accessible to the curious holiday maker but the sea tractor remains and, if you look past the modernisation and 'improvement' you can still see the Bigbury of my childhood.  The rocks around the island where we used to take out a boat to fish for mackerel and sea bass, the rock pools teaming with sea life, the golden sands remain unchanged and the tide still sweeps in from both sides of the island twice a day.