Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A short walk to Reculver Towers on a bracing day

It was blowing a force 8 one morning in Herne Bay and the 21 year old me had a plan. I would take my 6 month old daughter to Reculver Castle, but via the coastal route. I had no car that I could legally drive, and there was a lot of fresh air flying around to be had. It would do us both good.

Leaving behind the elderly, curtain-twitching neighbors who made up at least 70 percent of Herne's population at that time, we made our way past the minor attractions of the main front that were shut down for the winter - the wheels of the little, French, push-chair buggy squeaking rhythmically as I walked it along.

Soon, the provincial beach gave way to a huge and sweeping curve of reinforced concrete and we came across the backs of about 20 assorted people - wrapped against the wind and rain like a string of jetsam that had somehow blown itself 90 degrees against the incoming tide. They were all watching something ahead. They dared go no further because of the thing they were watching, so we stopped behind them and watched too.

A great swell of grey water was coming inexorably inland, gaining height and vehemence as it approached the concrete quay, then smashed itself against the 30 feet of flat masonry before dragging itself backwards over the edge in a 20 foot high, foam-flecked, falling mountain before repeating the process and taking another run-up at the Coast Guard's station.

As we watched transfixed, I began noticing a pattern, and counted during the intervals between the repetition of it. Great chunks of the North Sea were battering against the coast at that point, and their times of arrival and departure could be predicted to the second.

As one wave began rising slowly and heading inland, the other spent itself against the walls of the station. By my calculations, if I ran toward the incoming wave we would arrive just as the other was washing itself back out to sea, giving us enough time to run the 500 yard stretch on the other side before the new wave hit. I say 'we', but of course she had no say in the matter - she could not even talk yet. It was a good plan, and the only way we were to reach Reculver by foot that morning.

To the horror and incredulity of the assembled by-standers, I began running like a madman toward the tower of foam-flecked water, pushing the child in front of me in the flimsy buggy. It must have looked like a double suicide mission, or - more accurately - one suicide and one murder.

My daughter loved it - squealing with delight as we charged toward the massive wave which was exploding on the concrete in front of us.

My calculations were correct, and we arrived at the Coast Guard station just as the last rivulets of water were running backwards through the iron hand-rail and back into the ocean, but I dared not stop - the next mountain of water would be there any second, and as I looked to my left, I could see it rising up and hurtling toward us like a side-on steam train.

What I hadn't calculated for was the Coast Guard, though, who - having seen me running toward the station (and what to his eyes must have been certain death by drowning) with the push chair - expressed his anger and disapproval by letting off a prolonged blast of the gigantic fog horn just as we passed about 20 feet beneath it.

These foghorns are made to be heard about 10 miles out to sea, so the noise when you stand right next to them is utterly paralysing. Well, it paralysed my daughter anyway, and she went ridged with shock in the buggy. It's a good job she was strapped in, because she would have rolled out like a wooden board if she were not.

Like I said, I could not afford to stop running and comfort her, as the next 25 foot wave was well on it's way and we had to get out of it's path, so I shouted words of reassurance above the noise of the storm as I ran, and we arrived - as I had forecast - on the safe stretch of promenade a few moments later, when the tons upon tons of water hit the concrete behind us. She was almost over the shock of the fog horn by then.

What an absolutely bloody irresponsible thing to do. I should have been locked up for it, and I think I would have been if the mob on the other side had found the courage to do what I had just done and run across to arrest me.


  1. My goodness. I never knew a day on the beach could be so much fun.

  2. So you were athletic back then?

  3. What I wish to know Tom is 'have you continued to take this kind of risk throughout your life?' - and has said daughter grow up to be fearless?

  4. You (both) were indeed very lucky Tom.

    On the occasions when I get to go fishing at the coast I've never taken the sea for granted and would certainly never 'time' a wave as they are really so unpredictable.

    Monsieur Hulot at the beach...

  5. I'm athletic still, Iris. I just can't run anymore.

    No to both questions, Weaver.

    I know Chris.