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
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