Things have certainly changed over the past few months and I admit to a certain naivety when it came to my expectation of returning to pre-Covid 19 life. I’m still taken by surprise when new restrictions are announced, such as the recent requirement to wear face-masks in my little local bakery and butchers. So as a family we have spent more time escaping to the great outdoors, where the change isn’t quite as noticeable. I have also felt a need to visit local spots that I haven’t been to since I was a child, after reminiscing over childhood days out with my husband.
When I was little, my dad would occasionally take us to the Moors. The trips were often spontaneous; we’d pile into the back of whatever van he happened to have at that time and end up at a wild swimming spot on Dartmoor. We’d eat cheese sandwiches and sugar biscuits and drink warm orange squash out of big bottles. Our day was spent paddling, searching for newts and climbing on warm granite rocks.
With my mum I remember trips to the local beaches that were more organised. Other family members would join us and we’d be dotted along the beach, choosing the perfect spot on our arrival. The windbreak would go up (I can hear the tap, tap, tap) along with a parasol and our thermos coolbox would be wedged in the sand; my mum would spend most of her day brushing the grains off of our picnic area in a futile attempt to keep it clean. Periodically she’d gather her hair into a topknot and slip into the ocean, swimming breaststroke out to her chosen depth, before returning to guard our plot and hand out sandwiches.
I loved both types of day. On the beach I would spend hours in the sea, my body being pummelled by the tide and my hair would hang in thick untidy strands like seaweed. Usually by the afternoon I would have made new friends, either local children or tourists on holiday that invariably I would never see again, but it didn’t affect the fun that we had. When it was time to leave I would trudge back to the car wrapped in a damp towel, carrying a myriad of buckets, spades and sandy shoes. Scrubbed clean, I would lie in bed tingling from too much sun and drift off to sleep feeling as though I was still in the waves. It was the oddest sensation, but the sign of a satisfying day at the beach.
Recently I have felt a pull back to the places that I visited, but this time as a parent with my own children. Wrapped in the nostalgia is a sense of comfort and security and the knowledge that life has barely changed at these outdoor spots. One of these destinations is Shaldon, which offers two beaches; one at the mouth of the estuary in the small town and the other, the Ness, which is reached by a tunnel. As a child, the long damp tunnel made me feel as though I was in an Enid Blyton book and I’d imagine discovering a secret smugglers cove.
Shaldon is reached by passing over a long bridge from Teignmouth and when the tide is out you can see people cockling below with their buckets and rakes. I remember when we’d have a big bucket of cockles soaking in cold water outside our back door and the next day when my mum would cook a steaming saucepan full of shells on the stove. She would eat the cockles out of a little dish, soaked in vinegar, using a toothpick. I always thought they looked vile, but perhaps it’s time to give them a second chance?
Out of the two beaches at Shaldon, my children prefer the estuary beach in the town due to the small jetty that they can jump off of when the tide is in. Charlie (eight) and Freya (six), spent the first couple of visits watching other children run and throw themselves into the cold depths, before they plucked up the courage to do it themselves. On our last visit Freya encouraged a little girl to jump in with her and they leapt in together, holding hands like best friends, despite only knowing each other for a few minutes.
When the tide goes out, you can walk fairly far out into the estuary, but I recommend wearing water shoes. This is the time for exploring the small pools of water for little crabs, fish and other creatures that are often whisked from their habitat into a colourful plastic bucket holiday home for a short while.
I have replaced the cheese sandwiches and warm orange squash picnics of my childhood, with hotdogs on the beach that I cook on a small camping stove and a flask of hot chocolate on chilly days. We have also visited the local chip shop, eating freshly cooked fish and chips on the green by the bowling club with its pastel houses and extravagant floral displays, the local bakery which is famous for its uglibuns and my favourite, the Clipper on the seafront. They do a delicious falafel, avocado and halloumi wrap which is far removed from anything I ate as a child!
Shaldon has a few small boutique type shops selling seaside themed goodies and a gallery filled with shell art. It’s a compact and picturesque town, easily discoverable on foot and you can catch a small passenger ferry boat from Shaldon beach over to Teignmouth if you wish to explore its larger neighbour. Whilst there are many beaches in Devon to discover and certainly bigger and more beautiful options, Shaldon has a familiar cosy feel to it that I find comforting during these times.
When I sit and watch the children making beach friends, content with just a jetty to jump from and a bucket full of sea creatures, I hope that it’s these days they remember not just from the pandemic, but from their childhood as a whole. When they look back I want them to remember the exhilaration of jumping from the jetty for the first time, the warmth of being wrapped in a huge beach towel whilst cradling their cup of hot chocolate and the memory of lying in bed at night, tingling from too much sun, feeling the pull of the tide as they drift off to sleep.