Wave watching is a traditional Brighton pastime – we’ve had no shortage of splashing spectaculars during this wet, wild winter. A very high tide arrived around lunchtime today, as columns of families and dogs ignoring or oblivious to advisories set forth for the Sunday seaside stroll.
On calmer days Brighton’s undercliff presents a safe, sedate seawall route, a gentle promenade or pedal to savour stunning views. At low water shingle gives way to the chalky floor of the shore – a maze of weedy pools to be explored. But when the wind whips up the water it’s a wild and potentially hazardous way. Waves batter concrete blocks designed to keep high seas at bay, swamping wall and walkers with foam and spray. The council might urge caution but the draw of a besieged shore is irresistible exhilaration for free thrill seekers.
While seasoned tide twitchers set out suspecting soaking is in store, the less sea savvy meet soggy, salty surprise. Skies are bright but the channel is churning brown from last nights’ screaming squalls. On the uncleared concrete walkways we wade through tossed up seaweed and dumped marine detritus. Spumes of spray splash skyward, clifftop high – obscuring the horizon with curtains of glinting foam – which plummet dumping salty water on anyone not canny enough to see it coming.
Pebbles are pounded and occasionally hurled and we pick a way over chunks of chalk sodden by relentless rain, crumbled and crashed. Those wise to waves wear waterproofs and wellies – others suffer very soggy socks. Beyond the sea wall pebbles pile up now higher than the path – their inland march blocked – for now – by concrete barricades. Meanwhile the council are considering what more to do in our defence.
But this is Britain and and the comfort of a cup of tea is never far away for sea assaulted wanderers. The bastion of the cafe at Ovingdean has stood the storms – and is slipping steaming cups through sturdy shutters – which are sipped while waiting for the water to abate and allow us a safe route home.
It’s Candlemas today – and dawn brought yet more deluge drowning drains in rain. This middle of winter or beginning of spring (according to creed) halfway between the darkness of our shortest day and the equinox promise – when light and dark break even. However, if ancient lore is to be believed, the balmy sun is sign that we have more winter wildness to withhold.
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again…