The other afternoon as it was somewhat milder, I decided to pop Arthur in the car and head for the coast. I felt we both needed an injection of seaside, salty air, a nightmare for the hair and fur but an invigorator for the skin if properly protected.
Though not keen on by-passes of any kind, I’m often awestruck as you head for Weymouth by the complete contrast in the weather as you drive up through and over the Ridgeway and that first glimpse of glassy blue in the distance beyond the hills, as you spy the far-reaching sea.
Heading for the front, I found a parking space and together, wrapped up warm, we headed for the promenade, the wind blowing in our faces, my eyes watering slightly as we found ourselves a covered bench in front of the Royal Hotel.
I spent my very early childhood here on this beach, my parents saving up all year round to bring us to a little B&B run by a mother and daughter who were called the Walkadines for a week every summer.
When I look at the clean, white sands of Weymouth today, I’m struck by how incredibly small and narrow the beach area actually is in comparison to my memory. Aged three to six, it seemed absolutely enormous, miles and miles of wide open, magical freedom that my feet sank into and made it feel like walking in treacle.
There were the Donkeys, a very rare treat, with their pliable, velvet noses padding along bored but affable, the wooden swing boats that pulled your arms out of their sockets surrounded by sulky teenagers and the sand sculptures, often strangely of The Pietà, a trifle bizarre for a British sea front but who am I to judge.
When it rained, and it often did, there were homemade egg sandwiches made that morning on a towel on the bed, eaten huddled together on the covered wooden benches on the pier or time spent in the penny arcades where a shilling went a very long way. So much excitement and colour, so many strange and wonderful sights and smells, a veritable kaleidoscope for a little girl living at the top of a block of flats in central London the rest of the year round.
My father, usually so distant and indifferent to us, seemed to unbend, to blossom during those weeks, building awesome sand cars and boats that we could actually sit in, burying us up to our necks like mummies and paddling with us, holding our hands at the water’s edge.
Along the front, we see ‘Gloucester Lodge’ where I feel the weight of history on my shoulders, a tangible link to Weymouth’s once Royal past. Built by the Duke of Gloucester, it became the favourite residence of Queen Charlotte, George III‘s wife and in 1796, it was where Princess Charlotte, the future Queen of England that never was, first stayed when she visited Weymouth. Often forgotten, having died in childbirth aged just twenty-one, this heir to the English throne was the only child of the disastrous marriage of George, Prince of Wales and Caroline of Brunswick.
She led a sad and miserable life for a future monarch, a pawn between her warring parents and a virtual prisoner of her jealous father. Perhaps one of the only times she knew a modicum of freedom and happiness was when she had stayed in Weymouth. Knowing that she, too, walked this promenade, breathing in the fresh, briny air deep into her lungs, the warm sun on her face seems so strange today. Faded and partly down at heel, this little seaside town once hosted such distinguished company, and it doesn’t really seem fair, its glorious past behind it as it nestles on this fabulous coastline, its pale sands and safe, shallow waters still second to none.
I wonder if she, too as a three-year-old, would lay on her belly in the sand, the sun on her back, sifting it through small fingers where eagle-eyed, she would pick out minuscule, long, bone-white spiral shells, about 1mm in length and keep them in a matchbox? Somehow I doubt it, but it’s a nice thought.
Having spent an hour people-watching, enjoying the bracing air and treating ourselves to an ice cream (despite the chill), we venture out onto the beach itself.
I know before I start that I will regret this in the long run. That for weeks to come, I will find sand in my car and in my clothes, that having spent extra time brushing them off meticulously, my toes, once pushed back into socks, will still fight with each other and blister, tiny grains rubbing and chafing delicate skin but it has to be done!
Boots removed and socks in my pocket, Arthur and I teeter and wobble across the sands together, down to the water’s edge. One more step and I’m there, Arthur holding back, the wind ruffling his fur. His ears, which have a language all of their own, flatten just slightly, and I can feel him saying: “OK, I’ll accompany you, but I think you’re mad, and I’m not going in!” Hey, ho, I take that extra step, and an unexpected squeal escapes my lips unbidden, the shock of the icy cold water flooding my feet, making me laugh out loud. Tail wagging and front paws pacing, he shares my joy………..from a distance!
We stand together, staring out over the vast expanse that is the English Channel, the sea itself a deep, forest green with shades of turquoise, the sky a vivid blue with the clouds, stark white scudding along. With the wind whipping my hair across my face, eyes scanning the horizon, I put my left arm down to hold hands with my younger self, there at the edge of the water. Together we take a moment just to enjoy our worlds colliding before a small red Shiba Inu reminds me that it’s time for tea, time to brave the socks and make our way home, windswept and uplifted.