Pushing through waist-high undergrowth, my feet slipping in the dry, sandy soil as they try to find the almost-obscured path, I pause to brush the sweat from my eyes. This had better be worth it.
The sun is almost directly overhead, and the car park is a good few miles behind me, but I’ve heard whispers that this is the place to visit. I swig lukewarm water from a bottle in my backpack, swat away a cloud of tiny, whining flies and continue.
The crickets are deafening. They’re everywhere, zithering their rasping melodies into the air, where the sound hangs as though stunned and amplified by the heat – noise and the refraction of hot air coming together to form one, shimmering sense-scape, punctuated by the languorous flapping of butterflies.
Tendrils of hot coconut drip from the glowing furze bushes and seep into my lungs, the scent so thick it seems to rest on my skin.
Briars clutch at me as I pass, and a sharp scratch across the front of my shin makes me curse out loud in shock. I look down, seeing tiny beads of red welling across the tan I’ve been working on, the soreness of the wound out of all proportion to its size. I brush the blood away, irritated at the mess, licking my fingers to remove the red smears. My mouth clags with the iron flavour, and I reach for more water to loosen it.
Looking back down the hill, I see the pathway through the open, leading into the woods, and somewhere, distant, my car. Ahead I see rolling curves of green, speckled with wildflowers and bees, not giving anything away, and yet there is that peculiar lightness in the sky, which speaks of reflection from water…
One last push. I give myself a mental shake and press on. One hot, tired foot in front of the other. Climbing slowly until a tantalising glimpse of deep, clear azure beckons me forward. My energy recharged by that magical view of the sea, the spring returns to my step, and I ignore the slipping of feet as I run towards the crest.
It. is. breathtaking.
Huge, grass-hatted rocks stand sentinel against the tides, sheltering beaches of golden sand. The sea, so deeply blue in the distance, fades to a pale, almost insubstantial shimmer near the shoreline, marked only by the white frill of surf. Pools left by the tide’s retreat refract the light upwards, blinding me and shining an ever-moving white filigree against the boulders they hug.
The breeze floats up to me, cooling and salty, bearing with it the distant sound of waves tumbling gently over themselves onto the beach as the sea breathes in…out…in…out…and my own breath slows to match its pace.
I fling myself down near the edge, burrowing into a sunken, grass-padded nook, the scent of hay and sweet clover mingling with the smell of the sea. With my head cushioned against the sturdy earth, I lie, absorbing the aroma of this solitude; drinking it in with my whole being – stretching out and feeling the prickle of grass against my legs, shoulders and the small of my back; the tickle of an inquisitive ant on my shoulder; the tightening of skin as the sun works its magic and bakes me with glorious warmth; the slowing of the heartbeat as it begins to tune into the ancient rhythms of earth and sea and sky and vast, aching, sparkling emptiness.
I close my eyes and begin to drift off, cradled in nature’s beauty, with the symphony of breaking waves and busy insects weaving a lullaby – deliciously alone yet simultaneously connected to everything alive.
The bus squeals to a halt, jerking me rudely from my reverie as it overshoots the stop.
The woman next to me hits me with her shopping bag as she lurches up to leave. She smiles a terse apology as she joins the queue of people trying to pass the boarders. A man crowds in and sits next to me, trying to shake his umbrella into the aisle, but splashing the legs of everyone around. He pretends not to notice. So do we.
Dischordant chatter increases in intensity as the newcomers find their seats and settle, then drops to a hum.
Rain plunks determinedly against the outside of the window, barely visible against the grey sky and the smudged blurs of people walking past; for the collective breaths of jam-packed humans have fogged the windows and the insides show stripes of deeper colour where the weight of those exhaled sighs has become too great and drips have run down, forming pools of wastewater on the window seals.
The doors of the bus hiss shut, the slam reverberating through our bodies as we hang on, ready to pull out again into the busy traffic and wait for our turn to leave the moist, damp-reeking crush of humanity to be expelled into the watery streets.
I purse my lips in irritation and scrunch my eyes shut, trying to ignore the trickling discomfort of being in close proximity, in raincoats, for too long. I will my brain to block the sound of mobile phone conversations, the insistent ‘tsst-tsst-tsst-tsst’ emitting from the headphones of the kid in front of me, and turn my mind’s eye away, soaring through the roof of the bus, up past the dark, low-based clouds, and out – bursting into the sunshine and fleeing the confines of reality.
Zephyrs of imagination wend me away, depositing me safely once more atop the warm and ocean-scented clifftops of my mind.