The full moon from last night still hangs in the western sky and is sufficiently bright that there is only a false dawn as the sun brightened eastern sky meets the moon half way. Nevertheless beneath the tight lattice of tree branches darkness temporarily holds the field and I have to tread carefully down the pathway strewn with the slippery remnants of autumn leaves. There is not a sound, breathless, the trees stand still and cut out any sound from the distant road. Mine was the only car in the car park whilst the dog walkers remain in their centrally heated havens, but who can blame them as it is bitterly chill and even the birds cannot raise a dawn chorus.
It is high tide at Watcombe and almost imperceptible waves ripple against the base of the sea wall leaving not an inch of sand exposed. The sky meanwhile resembles an accident in a paint factory with reds, oranges and yellows splashed over blue fading to purple and a few grey clouds. Sunrise is still 10 minutes away but I hurry into the water and push hard into open water to see the sun at its best.
Even when I can see it the seal’s head is dark against the rocks, it must have been some 6th sense that made me scan the water in its direction. However after I splash energetically with my arms and legs; a signal that seems to mean ‘I don’t want to play’, it is content to roll on its back exposing a pale mottled belly to watch me swim by.
The clouds across the horizon are now lined with gold and pale rays rise into the sky whilst the softly swelling surface of the aquamarine water is smeared with colours that flow, melt and reform. Meanwhile the windows of the houses along the cliff top of Babbacombe Bay shine out and are answered by pinpricks of light stretching around the coast past Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton and beyond.
I’ve been pootling about and admiring the view and the current has carried me across the mouth of the bay and now the headland is closing up the view of the beach, I’ll be in Exmouth if I’m not careful. I am also now coming to realize exactly how cold the water is, about 8°C at a guess and over the past weeks and months my guesses have been pretty much spot on.
It’s a full on 10 minute swim back in and it looks like I have had the best of the day for the time being at least as there’s a bank of thin cloud across the sun turning it hazy. What’s more it has turned noticeably chillier as I stamp back up the steep slope to the car in the hope of stirring some feeling back into my toes.
I do suffer extreme beach envy when I see photos other people post of white sandy beaches stretching unblemished to a sun bleached horizon under a tropical blue sky, where the sea is crystal clear and packed with aquatic life, but here has its moments too, count that as a great start to February’s polar bear challenge.