In the western armpit of Rame sits Polhawn, one of my favourite beaches. I am quite taken with Rame at the moment, the first and last of Cornwall on the south, sheltering from the east winds, collecting the prevailing sou-westerlies. In normal times, it is largely bypassed even in the height of summer, the arterial roads going straight past it.
The odd, pyramidal shape of Rame has always been visible, from my childhood beach of Pentewan, from my bedroom in Looe, where at certain times the winter sun rose just so, clear and dim red over the cleft. And now from Keveral Farm, it sits closer and it pulls me to it quite often, with its wind hollowed chapel, an early Christian barnacle. Rame had a significance for sailors in previous centuries, as it was often the last land of home seen from the decks of the ships embarking from Plymouth.
The south-east coast of Cornwall possesses a good deal of great beaches. Despite being considerably more hospitable than the west or north, other than the busy spots of Looe and Polperro, it is quiet, sparsely populated and peaceable. I think objectively, Lantic Bay is one of the best beaches in England if you like your beaches untouched and untamed. Nonetheless, Polhawn, so close to Plymouth, is my favourite. This is, like most things, probably inherited. Indeed the whole of Rame feels inherited, it feels like my Father’s area, like I have a taproot here. But I have spoken of that before.
The water here at Polhawn is perennially clear so I have taken to snorkelling in the recent run of spring sunshine. Snorkelling is a magic thing. How humans can make themselves as aquatic as possible is quite impressive at a certain level; artificial skins, fins and eyes we can don to allow us to pretend to be marine. On the other hand, even with the garb, all it takes is a considered look at the movements of a fish, or better yet, a curious seal (a scary experience at first, bigger than you expect) and you realise how clunky and ungainly we remain. Always when snorkelling I fight with a strong sense of vulnerability at some point, of being prey, but conversely I realise also that even here in water, in alien elements, we are intruders, most things flee from us as they do on land. Perhaps we really have over the centuries managed to instil an ingrained fear in all wild creatures that know what we are and what we do.
Despite this, it is nice to be free from terrestriality and perfectly alone in my un-element. Awkward fins find their relative grace and I am away into cold blue. I think my favourite memories of late are resting in the oarweed, watching the wrasse. Characterful, colourful creatures with their strange almost human-like teeth, you can actually hear them grinding and chomping at various things on the rocks through the water, busy lives they lead. I’m thinking of starting spearfishing, though I wonder though at my ability to shoot things dead in their natural environment, it is a primal urge and I do like fishing for food, though this urge is a good candidate as to why everything rejects us. Also, for some reason, spearfishing is straying close to the cluster of activities like jet skiing, F1 and airsoft, that is in my mind, labelled under “things twats do”.
Polhawn is part of, but also separate from, Whitsand Bay. That giant curving stretch of cliff and sand that offers a little slice of the north coast on the gentle south, with its long golden sands and surf. I was always told Whitsand is too dangerous for swimming, full of deadly undertows, this is not quite accurate but there are indeed rips here, inevitable in such a wide, open bay.
The most striking thing, to me at least, about Whitsand is the architecture. At some point someone built a wooden chalet on this exposed bit of cliff and then someone else thought to do the same and so on. The effect is now a shambling and unique tumble of idiosyncratic huts and homesteads that dot the furzy heights from Tregantle Fort to Polhawn itself, also named after a Napoleonic fort nestled here, indeed this section of coast, so close to Plymouth, is littered with formidable stone 19th-century defensive forts. The chalets themselves are a testament to people building what and where they like, all pointed towards the ocean, only ocean on their minds. A few are basically on the beach itself and many seem to be totally cut off, reachable only by a warren-like network of cliff paths. Only twenty years or so ago they were worth peanuts, undesirable and remote. Now they are going for up to half a million, for what is unavoidably a shed. Strange, really. It is somewhere I have always to live. I don’t know of anywhere else in Kernow like it.
So, I am surviving lockdown by keeping firmly within my local area, I am lucky to have such a rich one. It is a time to find detail and not yield to the constant urge to go further afield to new places. Every walk, even on the most familiar ground, can provide new things. I forget that quite a lot.