Staying in a leaking tent in a downpour is pretty miserable, I admit. As much as I like to be ‘one with the elements’, when the elements start dripping through the roof onto your socks then it’s time to make a move. So, embracing the downpour, we scuttled into the car and headed for one of our favourite beaches on Anglesey.
There’s a small layby for parking which has become a lot busier over the years. Even in this weather there were a few other cars already parked. Down the track, past a bush covered in knots of tent moth caterpillars, we spotted the few other hardy souls wandering through the downpour in the distance. Not just us that likes a bracing walk! As the sodden sand mingled with the surf, we tracked footprints along the shoreline, rain dripping from our noses.
Porth Nobla is along the coast from Rhosneigr, just before (or after, depending which way you’re coming!) the better known Cable Bay. Down a small track, there is a nice sandy beach, plenty of rockpools, and a path around the headland to the Neolithic burial chamber Barclodiad y Gawres. The burial chamber is amazing, although the entrance is barred off. Peering into the gloom you can make out artworks, and there is usually an lovely array of gifts left just through the bars too.
This time, the rain was driving and we stayed on the beach. Clambering over rocks, pointing out anemones and winkles, wandering up shingle to find dragons eggs (definitely not just a pebble). I was more than happy to find some exciting coloured seaweed. I’m sure one day I’ll learn to identify it! An oystercatcher flapped at us as we stumbled near its nesting site, and we wandered back down to the sand, not wanting to disturb it. I’ve been coming to this beach for my entire life. Seeing how it changed between each visit is always interesting, tinged with a little nostalgia as I remember family holidays as a small child, a teen, a young adult. Now I’m approaching middle age, walking the shoreline with Mr. GF. Anchoring a bit of myself with each footstep, hearing the echoes of years past.
I’ve always wanted to stay in Tyn Towyn, the little white cottage at the top of Porth Nobla beach, but never have! Every time I wander past I think I’d love to stay there. Winter would be fantastic, rain lashing at the windows and no mobile signal. Right up my street! It looks great in any season, and I imagine early morning swims in the summer and books and blankets in winter. We have wild camped on this beach previously, lying on sand above the high tide line with the milky way hanging in the dark above and waves breaking along miles of coastline. Good times, and way less rainy. 5am camp coffee with the rising sun, bacon butties and sand in sleeping bags.
Back to the present and by the time we got back to the car, we were the only ones left in the lay by. We peeled our wet coats off, dripping onto the car seats. As the windows steamed up we were looking forward to hot chips from Rhosneigr on the way back. We planned paracord washing lines to dry our clothes once the rain had passed and headed down the road, leaving the wild waves behind.
Wandering along the shoreline is one of my favourite pastimes. I was born at the edge of the Peak District, as far away from the crashing waves of the shoreline as possible in the UK. I’m not sure if that explains the feeling that pulls me to the sea, to the edge of this island, where the legends and tales are saltier, the winds a little wilder. My husband hails from the long coasts of Norfolk and regales me with tales of boats, bridges, coastal erosion and longshore drift. He talks of waves and tourists and the sea as a constant. It is another world to me, a child of peaks and plains. When we visit, we park up, eating chips in the car, watching the blink of ships miles out to sea in the inky blackness.
Now we live in Yorkshire, with wild moorland, rocks, peat and those liminal spaces, but again, far away from the coast. The occasions I get to travel to the beach are special, and I roll up my trousers and wander amongst the froth of breaking waves until my toes are numb and raw pink from the cold.
On the beach, I look for treasure. Sparkly sea glass, shiny shells, even a coin or two after a storm. Maybe even real treasure – eye to the ground, eyes open to the possibility of a doubloon or two sparkling under a pile of drying seaweed. Who knows?!
Anything can be treasure, though, on a beach. I love the different seaweeds, although am no naturalist and can never remember the names. The big horsetails, with their sturdy roots and giant fronds. Long, string-like pieces that whip back and forth in sea breeze. Familiar bladderwrack, interspersed with nameless chunks of yellow or lime green, slime, plastic, rope, and the occasional dead crab. The unmistakable tang of low tide.
Last visit I spent time spotting the most vibrant pink seaweeds, contrasting starkly with the dull brown lying along the tideline. Pink seaweed! Another piece, and another! I collected them in my hands, slimy and wet, and laid them out on a nearby rock. For me, that day, pink seaweed was the best treasure I could find.
My husband picked up an old pulley, washed up by strong winds and huge waves. Orange brown rust bloomed all over, tiny shells and stones sunk into the metal. We wondered where it came from – a ship, a small boat, part of a cargo? Was it broken and thrown into the sea somewhere miles from land? Was it lost by a local fisherman bringing in the catch? The pulley stained our hands orange and made rusty mess everywhere, but we still brought it home, to wonder over.
The coastline is wild in a different way. Finds can be from anywhere in the world transported by the currents. Shells and animals from deep below the waves, places humans haven’t yet discovered. A beach is a place of meeting, of the known and unknown, earth, water, air. A place of treasure, always.
The winds blow the sea into crashing, foaming waves. Rain drives pin pricks into faces, clothes soaked through, feet in the sea-froth and alive, alive, soul singing in this tempest. One foot in front of the other along the shoreline, wild smiles as wide as the horizon. The rain falls harder, smashing into crowns on the wave tops, thundering from rock and headland, in our ears and eyes and souls.
Later, I comb the tideline, for after the storm is the best time for seekers. I collect plastic rope and crisp packets, chocolate wrappers from far away, shards of who-knows-what now broken down into coloured, sea-bleached pieces. But alongside the plastic, I also collect treasure.
First is driftwood, a small piece, lighter than air, dry and salty and filled with holes. A mermaid’s purse – two, in fact, one small and brown, the hole in the casing showing where new life began a journey into the sea. The other is huge, black, glistening and intact – I lie it gently in the shallows and let the waves take it away.
Oily seabird feathers lie scattered and I pick a small one, white with a streak of brown, to remember the wind that still ruffles the tops of the waves and ties my damp hair into salty knots. As the tide slowly recedes I comb the shining pebbled sand for sea glass. First one piece, translucent and glittering. Then another, and another, as my eyes tune into the spaces between shell and stone. Soon my palm is full and I grasp tightly to the pieces, feeling them scrape against each other as I secrete them safely in my pocket.
Finally, seaweed to bind. A long piece that reminds me of a shoelace – I hold it to the air and it whips back and forth in the sea breeze.
Days later, at home, I lay my finds out and begin the sea totem. A small piece imbued with wind and sea and wildness. Carefully, I wrap old rope and seaweed around the driftwood, attaching feather, egg case, sea glass. Elements of a place, of time, become one. Next time I visit I will release it, undo it, return each piece to the place where it belongs, but for now it stays with me, bringing that wild place home.