Singing of what I love so well

A warm day in Septem­ber sees John Lewis-stem­pel take a day trip to the sea­side and ends with him thank­ing his lucky stars for the sight of the full har­vest moon and haunt­ing hares on his beloved Here­ford­shire farm

Country Life Every Week - - From The Fields - Il­lus­tra­tions by Philip Ban­nis­ter John Lewis-stem­pel

E catch the early-morn­ing tide of cars. It’s still dark and the town names of the mid-wales moun­tain land (Peny­bont, Rhayader, Capel Ban­gor) flash in the head­lights like nav­i­ga­tional buoys. I hardly need the guid­ance. I’ve done the jour­ney so many times, I can do it on in­ner sat­nav. We’re driv­ing to Borth on Cardi­gan Bay, be­cause that’s where Here­for­dians go for a day at the sea­side. Al­ways.

My grand­fa­ther, who was a farm man­ager for the Pru­den­tial, had seven days a year off. Ac­tu­ally, by the time he’d done the ‘vol­un­tary’ trip to the Hop Ex­change in Lon­don, the ‘would you mind?’ lunch with the pin-striped bosses and the ‘needs must’ visit to his brother-in-law, Willi, a sheep farmer on the Gower, his down­time was re­duced to four days.

Willi was al­ways glad of an ex­tra pair of hands, as his own were un­fea­si­bly spindly for farm work. He had car­i­ca­ture Plan­ta­genet fin­gers (think Rowan Atkin­son in Black­ad­der), which was wholly ap­pro­pri­ate, as Willi was a straight-down-the­ge­netic-line de­scen­dant of Ed­ward III. Now I’m farm­ing my­self, Pop­pop’s four days off per an­num seem pos­i­tively ex­trav­a­gant. This trip to Borth is my sole day off this year. Ac­tu­ally, it’s 50% a bus­man’s hol­i­day.

We land at Borth’s top end as dawn breaks. Out be­yond the lack­adaisi­cal break­ers, gan­nets high-dive into a sea the shade of mercury. Even on this sparkling In­dian

Wsum­mer Sun­day, the colour of the West Welsh sea will never ad­vance above grey. Vapours of her­ring gulls screech overhead. We too­tle down the town’s long, long, one­horse street and play the mirth­ful fam­ily game: what’s changed in Borth since last time? Noth­ing! It’s the Welsh sea­side town pre­served in 1960s brine.

We beach at the dunes be­side the Dovey es­tu­ary. Tow­er­ing sand hills, bristling with mar­ram grass, the dunes are a na­ture re­serve. Thus a stonechat, perched on bend­ing rag­wort, does the meet and greet. Never was a bird bet­ter named. It talks at us, in the pre­cise noise of two flat peb­bles be­ing slapped to­gether: chak, chak.

The dune com­plex is so vast we es­cape through the val­leys into a pri­vate world. We jump off the top of the dunes into sand­pits spooned out by the wind, we play foot­ball on the beach. We take Blue­bell, our black labrador, for a swim in the sea. We watch her seal head pad­dle to and fro and chase balls for al­most an hour. Our dogs are on a rota sys­tem for Borth, be­cause ev­ery dog should have its day by the sea. Im­prob­a­bly, Blue­bell swims un­der­wa­ter for yards at a time. This will be a fam­ily story to be passed around, to be­come as smooth as a peb­ble by the telling.

Ah, but time runs out; we have to catch the night tide home. How­ever, first there’s what I term a ‘rit­ual’, but my wife and two chil­dren call a ‘chore’. We col­lect dried sea­weed, mostly blad­der­wrack and kelp, un­til we have six sacks full, yes sir, yes sir. I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that six sacks—for­merly filled with 25kg of H. J. Lea Oakes Or­ganic All­rounder Nuts (a com­ple­men­tary feed for

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